The crude excesses of power

2009-10-06 00:00

LAST week was a bad, bad week for South Africa. It began badly and it ended badly, with ominous import for the future.

The perceived danger is that the state — that great organ of coercion, Friedrich Engels’s “bodies of armed men” — is being degraded into an instrument of brutality and self-enrichment, to the advantage of certain selfish sectional interests, as a kind of Mafia. One has every reason to fear this.

If this were so, it would amount to a betrayal of the anti-tribalist heritage of the African National Congress from the time of its foundation as the Native National Congress in 1912, and prior to that, of the ethics of Mahatma Gandhi’s initiation of modern liberation politics in southern Africa in the years between 1906 and 1914.

The events of last week suggest that the ANC which opposed the anti-Indian pogroms in Durban in 1949 is no more, or at least is morally decayed.

Local ANC political bosses in Durban have endorsed and shielded, even if there were to be proof that they had indeed not initiated, a xenophobic and murderous pogrom launched on the nights of September 27 and September 28 against a peaceable community of shack dwellers, the Abahlali baseMjondolo, who quite properly include a number of Xhosa- speaking residents, at Kennedy Road in the Durban area, as reported last week.

There is no excuse for anyone who claims to be a democrat in South Africa not to condemn the local ANC state authorities in KwaZulu-Natal for their brutalist support for the pogromists, and there is no excuse not to provide support to the victims. Local state authorities arrested and traduced the innocent, and permitted the guilty to escape.

In a statement issued on October 1, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, supported the brave and principled condemnation of this outrage by Bishop Rubin Phillip, the Anglican Bishop of KwaZulu-Natal, who has provided an outstanding example. Archbishop Makgoba said: “I share Bishop Rubin Phillip’s view that it is a profound disgrace to democracy, that militia have been allowed to drive out the leaders of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement, and many hundreds of families with them.”

He continued: “When we remember how much we suffered, and how hard we struggled, in order to ensure that an armed minority could no longer exert oppression and deny freedom of speech, of opinions and of dissent, it is completely unacceptable that such intolerance should rear its head again in a different political guise.”

It was bad enough that the week began with a pogrom endorsed and shielded by local political and state authorities.

What followed at the end of the week made clear, however, how certain narrow, private and sectional interests now dominate the state in its most crucial department for actual and potential political control of the population, its secret intelligence services. On October 2, President Jacob Zuma promoted Mo Shaik —  brother of the more famous Schabir Shaik, released by Zuma on alleged health grounds from a 15-year prison sentence for corruption — to head of Secret Services in a reorganised, centralised and more powerful State Security Agency.

The worthiness of Mo Shaik for control over the secret services of the state may be judged from his political and family connections.

Paul Holden provides an easily accessible profile in The Arms Deal in your Pocket (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2008), which states:

“Shaik, Mo: former head of ANC intelligence in SA, Shaik claimed in 2003 that Bulelani Ngcuka had acted as an apartheid spy, a charge later dismissed by the Hefer Commission of Inquiry. He admitted under testimony during the Hefer hearings that he had made the allegations against Ngcuka in order to protect the honour of Jacob Zuma. He is brother to Schabir, Chippy and Yunus Shaik.” (pp.272-73, Appendix A).

Holden’s biographical note on Mo Shaik’s brother Chippy reads as follows:

“Shaik, Shamin ‘Chippy’: A key mover and shaker in the arms deal. Chippy Shaik was appointed as the chief of acquisitions for the Department of Defence in 1998, and was a key player in the evaluation process that led to the eventual selection of the preferred suppliers in the arms deal.

“In 2001, the Joint Investigation Report slammed Shaik for failing to recuse himself from meetings at which the selection of [his brother] Schabir Shaik’s African Defence System as a subcontractor to supply the information management system for the corvettes was discussed.

“He has subsequently been alleged to have received $3 million from a successful bidder in the arms deal, but has never been charged on any count of corruption. In 2008, Shaik’s PhD degree was withdrawn by the University of KwaZulu-Natal after it emerged that he had substantially plagiarised from other sources in writing his thesis.” (p.273, Appendix A).

It is public knowledge that Mo, Shamin, Schabir and Yunus Shaik were part of Zuma’s underground military and intelligence apparatus within Umkhonto We Sizwe in the Natal-KwaZulu area in the late eighties, during the last years of the apartheid regime, known as “Operation Bible”. At this time, Zuma was head of counterintelligence in the ANC’s feared Department of Intelligence and Security, known as iMbokodo, the grindstone. Schabir Shaik subsequently became Zuma’s personal financial adviser, extending to him significant unpaid loans.

The appointment of Mo Shaik to such a crucial position in the state inevitably recalls the judgment of Judge Hilary Squires in the Durban High Court in June 2005, when he found that the “payments [Schabir] Shaik admitted to having made to Zuma — and Zuma admitted to having received — were made ‘corruptly’, that his [Zuma’s] intention was to ‘use the weight of his political offices to protect or further [Schabir] Shaik’s business interests’.” (Padraig O’Malley, Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, Viking/Penguin, 2007. pp.434-35).

O’Malley goes on to quote a comment by Yunus Shaik immediately following the conviction of Schabir. The passage states: “The Shaik brothers are unrepentant. ‘After the verdict’, says Yunus, ‘Mo and I discussed among ourselves whether Schabir could have done things differently. And we agreed ... that he should have done what he did. He honoured the bonds of friendship. We are proud of our brother’.” (p.435)

This appointment recalls Zuma’s own aborted trial for corruption. It suggests that an improper degree of personal loyalty attaches this new spy chief to the old spy chief of the eighties, for perceived reasons of factional self-interest and in defiance of the criterion of the public interest. All semblance of civil service impartiality has been abandoned in this most partial and self-serving of appointments.

At the same time, the pogrom attacks at Kennedy Road, and the mendacious, menacing and insulting official responses from the local ANC authorities, cannot fail to suggest the possibility of a state programme of actual or implicit Zulu hegemony, carried out by means of brutal force and institutionalised corruption, to the benefit of Zuma’s intimate supporters. There is an exceptional weighting in this administration to political loyalties rooted in KwaZulu-Natal, and grounded in a noxious regional power apparatus, as the fate of Abahlali baseMjondolo shows.

In a country of historically fractious racial and ethnic divisions, this is a recipe for disaster that would make the late Mbeki administration, for all its entrenched self-interest, look by comparison like a haven of civil security.

If there was one matter which it was essential for Zuma to have made clear from the first days of his presidency, it was that there would be no ethnic favouritism in his administration. The entire political and constitutional fabric of South Africa is now threatened. So too are the traditional foundations of the two parties of government since 1994, the ANC and the SACP.

A recent comment by Richard Pithouse, of Abahlali baseMjondolo, is worth considering. In an article “Apartheid under a new guise”, on Times Live, Pithouse writes: “When society is very weak in relation to political elites, the point can be reached where politics, in its debased sense, no longer sees any need to hide its crude excesses. On the contrary, it tries to legitimate itself precisely via the public spectacle of its own power. There are occasions when we’ve come very close to this point …”

Shaik’s appointment as controller of the secret services would seem a further indication of this.

One applauds the example set by the leaders of the Anglican church in KwaZulu-Natal and in Cape Town, in opposing spiritual and moral principle to the conduct of this government. Any decent person should follow their lead. —

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