IT WAS the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who said: “No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” While the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarked: “We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us” and still Thomas Mann opined: “If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.”
The reason I take the opportunity to provide readers with some philosophizing on the ‘history of ideas’, rather than the ‘idea of history’, is that there has been a lot of solipsising lately on the issue of liberalism and its purported antithesis, socialism, in the runup to and aftermath of the DA federal conference, billed as the ‘greatest opposition event ever’.
For those who might not already know, a solipsism (or circular logic) according to the urban dictionary is also “the belief that the person holding the belief is the only real thing in the universe. All other persons and things are merely ornaments or impediments to his or her happiness.”
Just how this applies to South African politics will become clearer. To begin, there has thus been a plethora of verbiage surrounding a relatively new idea in popular discourse, that of ‘black liberalism” with equal bouts of critique from humdingers, curmudgeons and opinion-makers on the left, schooled in dialectical materialism and political economy.
Thus A black liberal is not an oxymoron was followed by Black liberalism is an apology for capitalism and Richard Pithouse The liberal licence to kill and more recently, Mmusi Maimane’s Building an African liberal agenda.
Jara opines that McKaiser’s “reclaiming of liberalism is ultimately flawed because it does not question capitalism’s core logic — the rights, freedoms and power of capitalists to maximise profits on the basis of appropriating the commons through the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the exploitation of labour and natural resources.”
Pithouse on the other hand raised an awkward caveat whilst attacking liberalism at its historical core, by listing its alleged policy sins. Despite its many problems, and yes, there are some positives, there is at the face of it, a common dilemma of seeing everything one disagrees with as mere “ornaments or impediments to happiness.” In South Africa,” writes Pithouse ” a high price has been paid for the ease and frequency with which attempts to assert principle in struggle — including commitments to feminism, democracy and, on occasion, even basic honesty — have been denigrated and dismissed as “liberal”.”
All this was water off a duck’s back so far as Maimane was concerned. A rallying speech by the leader of the old “Liberal Party” was big on building liberal sound-bites but short on substance: “As African liberals, ” he said “we have chosen a hard road. We have chosen to stand up to dictators and bullies of all stripes, even when it is politically incorrect to do so. We have chosen to defend the free expression of ideas, even for people with whom we disagree and whose views make us angry.”
One invariably gets the same point though.
Hence one of the reasons for writing this piece, partly out of respect for Pithouse, who defends civil liberties in the same way that Maimane does, but does so without suggesting any alternatives to the two dominant poles in South African politics, nor bothering himself with a critique of the abysmal track-record of the dominant political movement, is to provide readers with some all important context. That’s the ruling party whose ideological framework is abundantly socialist versus the avowed liberalism of the major opposition,
Please feel free to arrive at your own conclusions.
As “bookish revolutionaries” to use Julius Malema’s phrase were debating the pros and cons of liberalism viz. vi. historical materialism and its view of all history being the result of ‘a dialectical clash, of opposing forces’, South Africans were being entertained by the spectacle of the National Mineworkers Union (NUM) threatening to end its support for the African National Congress (ANC): “if government continues with its renewable energy programme,” said NUM, “clean power would “destroy jobs and create ghost towns in coal mining areas.” Please bear with me.
Earlier last month the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) along with Transform RSA, and the coal-truckers industry, had attempted to interdict the Dept of Energy from signing a raft of IPP renewable contracts to no avail. That ripe Marxist language and dialectical critique emanating from our unions, was geared towards a previous era of the steam engine, coal factories, fossil fuel barons, and coal-faced workers suffering under the whip of capital, and not the emerging 4th industrial revolution predicated as it is on digital innovation, open source electronics, and abundant energy distributed amongst the commons, in a dematerialised world in which the unions too, own shares, was becoming clear.
The trouble with soviet-style super-socialism and its advocates in the unions, many of whose members appeared outfitted in fatigues and whose leaders, some of whom bore a close resemblance to Fidel Castro, began with the protagonists wanting to ‘monkey-wrench the entire system’, the self-same mixed ‘market socialist’ economy which taxes and hands out benefits, and whose state owned utility Eskom and its mega-coal projects, meant that these very same unions derived further benefits from any extension of coal-contracts that were also part and parcel of the Gupta corruption schemes. It is important to note as Min Radebe did, there was no direct connection between the threatened closure of some coal powered utilities ending their life-cycle and the IPP programme.
One can see an emerging pattern here, a similar problem experienced during the Cold War 1950s, the problematic Marxist vision of ‘willing workers of the world’ uniting under a shared common cause to fight off the bosses and shareholders in any country, in order to become, what exactly?
The Soviet Union?
Here in the South Africa of 2018, a period no longer marked by communism and the Cold War, the unions were essentially complaining about the potential loss of a paltry 30 000 jobs, whilst jeopardising the creation of 60 000 new jobs in the economy, and more to boot. The unions was prepared to compromise air quality, emissions, the health and safety of millions, while ransoming the entire country with regard to climate change. One could not get more solipsistic and obstinate if one tried. In the eyes of union bosses, what mattered most in this struggle, was happy workers. The poor seeking jobs and thus a growing and sustainable economy, in which economic models were not based upon annual bailouts, but upon reality, the facts behind an economic model which worked, for these persons, the poor for all intents and purposes, did not exist.
So let’s give a bash at answering the moot question left unanswered by our nation’s critics. What are the alternatives to the liberal market economy, if any? And since I am not a liberal as such, let me explain briefly, as economic scholer Zhang Weiwei does, one such model, the China Model, significant in that it has pulled millions out of poverty and unlike the West, has not experienced successive periods of boom and bust. And before I do, let me place my civil rights cards on the table, since I don’t support many of the authoritarian elements still at play within the China of today.
The guiding philosophy behind the ‘China Model’, according to Weiwei can be summarised as “Seeking Truth from Facts not from Dogmas, whether East or West.”
Weiwei goes on to say: “From examining the facts, leader Deng Xiaoping found that neither the Soviet Model nor the Western Model really worked, hence Beijing decided to explore its own way of development appropriate to China’s own national conditions.”
The system he says is oriented towards people’s livelihood. “Whether economic, social or political reforms, they must all be down-to-earth and produce tangible benefits … in material, cultural and other terms. This is why China has succeeded in lifting over 700 million people out of poverty, accounting for nearly 80 percent poverty eradication in the world.”
Special economic zones in which economic experiments are allowed to prove themselves first before being adopted by the broader system, are another factor attributed to China’s success.
Food for thought in a country which, despite its ideological stance, is still top of the list of the Gini coefficient marking ours the most unequal society in the world.
THAT some commentators and journalists are rising to the defense of paramilitary politics in South Africa is not all that surprising. Far-right spokesperson Simon Shear, whom the Daily Vox’s of the EFF and the urgent topic of whether self-proclaimed “Commander in Chief” Julius Malema, is a fascist or not, needs to be congratulated for setting the matter straight. insists is required reading on the subject
Yes, the EFF are a Marxist-Leninist party, and if anything, Malema is a Stalinist not a Fascist in the traditional sense of the word.
That Hlongwane should find himself quoting the author of a piece purporting to debunk Affirmative Action, and thus “The case against Affirmative Action” is typical of so many on the authoritarian left, who see in Malema many of the macho characteristics and atavistic impulses they too, would wish to emulate, yet also find the need to meekly reinterpret their party dictator and thus to apologise for his often strident and offensive comments, which exist alongside the steady racial barrage and ideological violence of his many lieutenants.
Hlongwane rushed into criticism of Van Onselen’s piece on the EFF, calling Malema a fascist, a piece which he believes is “an ideologically inconsistent mess, but the overall intended effect is to take concepts such as whiteness (no matter how many times that this doesn’t refer to white people, but a social construct of power), socialism, and even black consciousness off the table.”
If taking Affirmative Action off the table, to promote Milton Friedman, as Shear does, while dissing the new dawn Ramaphosa ANC and its politics of unity and centerism, the Maimane DA and its equal opportunity ‘property rights for all’, and thus the Rainbow Nation, isn’t in the same league, as dismissing all Marxists as simply the descendents of proto-fascists, then I don’t know what else would rate as a critique of the authoritarian centre of the new paramilitary left?
An authoritarian cabal whose pundits are apt to quote Marx, Fanon and Sankara, while forgetting that the anti-hegemonic ideals propagated by these politicos were essentially founded upon humanism and the love of freedom as much as they are bound up in dialectical materialism. Marx was a fervent champion of press freedom, even if this means tolerating the excesses of the tabloids, writes Mark Thomas, citing Marx himself who said the “press, in general, is a realisation of human freedom,”
Not only does the belligerent EFF have a ‘war council’, in possible contravention of our pacifist constitution, but in many ways, its paramilitary operations have centred around the cult of personality which has evolved around Malema. A man whose daily diatribe and steady output of race-talk exists right alongside the politics of hate, symbols of outrage, and acts of political thuggery, which are emblematic of both National Socialism under the Nazis and Communism under Joseph Stalin.
Racism, hostility and ideological cant, all too familiar for many South Africans who may remember similar periods in which paramilitary organisations have graced the political stage, often urging violence, whilst seeking to play the parliamentary card of political privilege — thus it is almost impossible to check Nuremberg Rallies if they happen to happen in Vereeniging, or to counter Malema’s aggressive “cut the throat of whiteness” comment in the runup to an election in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Whether it be the brownshirts and swastikas of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and the late Eugene Terreblanche or the Red attire of ‘White’ Communist Party leader W H Andrews, known as ‘Comrade Bill’, one of the Red leaders of the 1922 Rand Revolt, the denouement and rationale in authoritarianism, dictatorship and obedience to a leader at the expense of personal freedom, has always been the same.
In 1932 the South African Gentile National Socialist Movement of Louis Weichard emerged and quickly became known as the Greyshirts because of their clothing.
In 1939 a fascist and racist group known as the Ossewabrandwag (OB) was founded and along with its volkish symbolism, was also inspired by Adolf Hitler.
All were local South African fascist groups, and one should add that the term fascist does not necessarily connote a direct causal link with the politics of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Yet his fascist progeny have invariably emphasised ethnic, class and racial differences. Thus for the fascist right, it was Aryan race rhetoric which was used to organise amongst the various poor white immigrant communities, while for the fascist Afrikaner Reds, it was a strange mixture of class revolt and cruel desire to preserve economic advantage over their fellow black workers, and thus race privilege amongst the ranks of those with jobs, that drove their Marxist fantasy and inspired revolt.
A third not insignificant group known as New Order, emerged in 1940 under the leadership of Oswald Pirow.
In the case of Julius Malema, like his nemesis Jacob Zuma, the imperatives of equality and civil rights for all, outlined by our constitution, appear to have been bent by sleight of hand and trick of tongue, into a perverse demand for land but only for those within the political laager, those closest to the Red authority at the Red centre, while the constitution itself is seen as merely an impediment to the leader’s ultimate stated goals of power for the sake of power and Totalitarianism by any other name. Malema’s Newcastle statements on slaughtering the opposition and land ownership for example, contradict his recent statements at New Brighton, all part and parcel of the get elected at any cost, and by any means campaign, and therefore the leader’s poetic license to say whatever needs to be said to any group, at any given time.
It was an admixture of right-wing groups, (and quasi-leftists), some armed with socialist ideas such as volkscapitalisme, which eventually became the National Party, a political organisation responsible for apartheid. The NP was openly affiliated to the International Gentile Movement, and sought special privileges for the Afrikaner to the exclusion of all other ‘race groups’ while creating an authoritarian state, a country whose economy still shares many of the defects associated with the socialism of former Eastern European Bloc countries.
Like these earlier periods, the misreading of seemingly egalitarian texts, whether the Bible or Das Kapital, combined with a volatile confluence of popular disgruntlement with the ruling party, racism in the form of anti-white hostility, and the lure of the land debate, all appear to have invigorated the paramilitary EFF party. Its leader, Julius Malema, not an emerging leftist ideological oracle, has been catapulted into media headlines, as the ranks at the forefront of the authoritarian left swell, and as demonstrated, are articulated by apparatchiks and gauleiters, who are not ashamed to draw ideas from the fascists on the far right when it suits them.
Hence the internal contradictions of the ANC itself, a party which risks losing elements within come the 2019 election, that have always aligned themselves with dictators from Lenin to Fidel Castro, and thus the politics of Hugo Chavez and Jacob Zuma. These “fascists” may have just found themselves a new political home. We wish them well.
NOTE: Gauleiter was the second highest Nazi Party paramilitary rank, subordinate only to the higher rank Reichsleiter and to the position of Führer.
National Treasury has adopted the DA position on private property in effort to stem the massive shift in allegiances over the land question. “From April, the Treasury and the department of human settlements, will spend an estimated 1.6 billion rand over three years to reduce the backlog of residents without formal ownership of their homes by among other things, paying the legal conveyancing required to get the deeds registered to the proper owners.”
IN an EFF press briefing screened by SABC, Julius Malema appears to be toying with his party’s claim to Zulu and Xhosa traditional land, in addition to all land and property in rural and urban areas.
At first he comes out firing from the hip on the Ingonyama Trust then quickly seems to realise that he is risking retaliation, provoking an aggressive response, he then appears to defend the right of the Zulu king to engage on the issue.
It’s like watching an individual with a dissociative or integration disorder.
The EFF, whose leader is a Pedi, want all land in the country – rural, urban, agricultural and residential – to be nationalised, and subsequently leased out to citizens by the state.
Herewith my experience attempting to relocate a Telkom line, Ed.
My first call to the Telkom operator from the line that is going to be relocated is unsuccessful, thus beginning a series of similar unfortunate phone calls. Each time I am asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, a case of pretending to be in the information age?
I explain that I am moving from Woodstock to Muizenberg. I give the exact street address and room number of the apartment, a duplex near the Beachfront. The person tells me the address is on google maps but not on the Telkom system. I need to give the ‘name’ of the apartment, she says. I tell her, I don’t know the exact name, but surely the street address and room number will suffice? She puts the phone down on me.
I arrive at my new address, and call Telkom again from a mobile phone. After about 40 minutes on hold, with an obsequious rich voice assuring me that I am being attended to, I give up, (It seems Telkom have two voices, one when soliciting services and another when demanding money — that irritating old apartheid Tannie must work when it comes to bad debts).
Next call I eventually get through after 20 minutes. Each call consumes an enormous amount from my capped mobile contract. There is no toll free relocation number to assist persons such as myself. No attempt to finesse the plight of those unfortunates wishing to relocate. I duly give the details of the apartment, including its “name”. “It’s a totally different area, says the operator, you will have to get a different number.” Fine I say, when can you relocate the service? I am told the relocation will take up to 7 working days.
Wishful thinking, after the expiry of this period, I call Telkom one again, only to be told that the relocation can take up to 21 working days not including weekends.
DAY 16, I get an SMS arranging a morning appointment, enter @yes or @no. I sms my acceptance. D-Day arrives, beginning with an early morning sms addressed to Dear Customer, ‘a Telkom technician has been dispatched to install your telephone line for your order today, your continued support is appreciated.‘
By mid-morning I am beginning to not appreciate. By midday I am positively livid. Then I receive a mobile call from the “technician”, a person apparently contracted by the company to install my line. ‘I was at your address in Woodstock this morning’ he says, all Gung ho. “You weren’t there.” I explain that he has attempted to reinstall my line at my old address, and that I am in Muizenberg not Woodstock. “That’s the order I got. Its a totally different area he says.” I tell him that his company appears retarded. He puts down the phone and I don’t get an opportunity to question him as to why he didn’t call first thing in the morning. I suspect that he is simply happy to get paid a call-out fee without doing any work, a new loophole being exploited by outside contractors, that are also rife in the insurance industry.
Thus at the end of the day I receive yet another Dear Customer SMS, assuring me that a technician has been dispatched, no such luck, except for the lucky fellow who has now probably billed the company twice.
DAY 17 AM, I call Telkom, am once again asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, before being referred to another person for assistance. I barely have time to repeat all the information once again, before my mobile phone cuts out, victim of diminishing finances.
What strikes me is how the supposed digital sophistication of the company is turning out to be a highly complicated, analog affair, as if kilometres of copper cable would need to be hauled from one suburb to the next, merely to accommodate a simply change of address. The same obfuscation is apparent in the world of plumbing where a simple hot water geyser, basically a large kettle, is turned by a trick of the imagination, into an ancient steam engine necessitating the attendance of a team of engineers in the minds of the victims of the charlatans of the profession.
Walking on the street on the way to recharge my mobile, I notice a man working on a Telkom cable box. I ask him what he is doing, apparently he is an apprentice. Soon a technician arrives in a van. I relate my tale of woe. He asks if I have the order number. He makes a note and takes down my mobile number. He says in all likelihood the other technician won’t get paid. Will he help me?
There was a time when Telkom was a purely analog company, replete with switch boards and physical switching of calls. One could call an operator to place a collect call, while the post office handled telegrams, the antecedent of email and sms. Then the Internet and the Information Age arrived. Instead of rebooting, the company carried on providing copper cable, assured of its monopoly on telephony, a mantra of the volkscapitalisme under the old National Party, a socialist status quo which continued under the ANC, only to see wireless operators and the invariable march of progress and free enterprise, beat it to the punch in terms of sheer numbers.
South Africa has a history of late adoption of technology and, aside from cellular, Telkom is no exception. After killing off Internet dialup services the company begrudgingly offered broadband in 2005, some 20 years after the technology and the Internet had caught on in the West. For two decades the only form of Internet enjoyed by South Africans was thus to be had via Internet Cafes and exorbitant cellular contracts that really take the joy away from surfing. Then Telkom shifted into wireless and also listed on the JSE, an example of a ‘hybrid SOE’ with both government and private investors, punting hybrid technology while seeking to compete with the new wave of optical networks. As I write this, there are now various offerings of fibre cable by the three big mobile operators, (Cell C, MTN, Vodacom) and all are pretty expensive in comparison to copper. So far as price is concerned, Telkom’s offering is cheaper by yards. Technology such as G-Fast has extended the lifespan of copper.
The cost of delaying the inevitability of the Information Age, and the need for competition, has been a loss of economic activity and productivity that spans a generation. For South Africans champing at the bit, it is the ANC and SOE Minister Lynne Brown who needs to take responsibility. Like the Nat Minister who famously opposed the introduction of Television, Brown has consistently punted the anti-technology, anti-Internet views of the labour-left coalition governing the country, at the same time as claiming to be rolling out services, part of the talk left, walk right approach which has dogged the party. (Who can trust the party these days?)
While mobile networks connected consumers to the new world of Android and Google Apps, it is fibre cable which holds the promise of allowing consumers to turn into providers of information, while bringing IT capacity to small businesses seeking to compete on the international stage. South Africa’s digital economy is still in its infancy, and the cost of retarding growth for purely political and ideological reasons has demonstrated that when it comes to labour rights, one may want a dash of Marx but when it comes to a flagging economy, what you really need are economic theories based in the here and now, geared to the problems of the day, not the 19th century.
DAY 17 PM Once again I get through to an operator. According to her, my order of 1 August is not on the system, but technicians ‘were at my premises yesterday’ she says, sadly the order was, surprise surprise, cancelled. She promises to follow up, to see what happened. I tell her that aside from the internal inquiry in the company (and a potential suite for damages) I still need my service to be installed at my new address as guaranteed. Since the company is an SOE, liability is restricted. I probably still have a shot at a complaint to an Ombud, but there is precious little I can do to stop the behemoth from needlessly damaging my own business. R50 airtime later and I am once again cut off by Vodacom, which appears to eschew calls to other operator service numbers. Calling service numbers is a bit like playing slot machines in R20 increments.
Never fear, the mobile counter at Checkers offers various SIM packages with free connectivity deals, there is Vodacom’s Free Facebook connect, and a Cell C free for R12 Whatsapp deal. But no free service numbers across networks. No allowance for error on anyone’s part. Then there’s the fine print, in order to purchase a new SIM one needs to RICA the SIM, and in order to comply with the legal result of the USA Patriot Act, renamed The Democracy Act in South Africa and all resulting from a suite of post-911 global Anti-Terror and Anti-Money Laundering legislation, one needs to provide paperwork such as proof of address on the off-chance I might be spying on my government, or part of an international terrorist syndicate. If adult persons such as myself find it hard going getting connected, what about pensioners and the infirm?
The 20 year one-horse cable race provided courtesy of the ANC reminds one of the joke about flogging the dead horse. A committee has been appointed to inquire into why the dead horse is not doing its job.
DAY 18 I go into town, recharge, only to have mobile data suck my account dry. Neglected to turn it off, me bad, buy hey why is the default plan always pay, pay, pay? I get to a Telkom outlet, only to speak to a Tony Ehrenreich lookalike, replete with golfing shirt. He claims he can’t help me, since “this is a Telkom mobile outlet” and “we’re a mobile company”, but nevertheless puts me on a free line to a helpdesk. I speak to the operator, assured that my precious mobile units are not being eaten. The operator is adamant that the address where my new line is to be installed is in Woodstock not Muizenburg, I ask her if she is perhaps a foreigner? No, she says she grew up in KZN. Never been to Cape Town? No. Never studied geography? No. ‘Cape Town, its a major a metro, you should visit Muizenburg sometime, you would like it,’ I say. She duly completes yet another reorder and issues a reference number. I get home only to open my Telkom bill, to find there’s an offer of a ‘free cordless phone, our housewarming gift to you,” in fine print at the bottom of the damn thing. To receive it, I would have to apply for a relocation online. Is this all just a perverse case of reward and punishment? The corporation is punishing me for not applying for a gift, via the appropriate channels?
DAY 21 I receive yet another chummy “Dear Customer” sms, this time thanking me for ordering a telephone service for my new address. Apparently my “order” is receive attention and further communication will follow. The sms thanks me for choosing Telkom. “your service provider”
DAY 24 I am admitted to the online club of fuming Telkom users, each one with a jarring story to tell. There’s the guy whose service failed, who then upgraded to a 20mb line, expecting better service for more money, only to find he was now being billed for a service unavailable to the area he lives in, and to make matters worse, he is now blacklisted for refusing to pay up. Or the customer who got told Telkom don’t install cables in ‘black townships’ due to supposed cable theft. (whatever happened to fibre to the curb or fibre to the home?) Or the lady whose four year saga involving payments and no-service really takes the cake in terms of limited liability and refusal to abide by a government decreed service mandate, one of many election promises made by the ruling party. A litany of complaints involving failure to repair lines, even in popular metro areas. The abuse of debit orders. A culture of ineptitude and buck-passing, and abdication of responsibility.
As the Peter Principle dictates, ordinary people will always rise to their own level of incompetence. See this article on Von Mises theories on bureaucracy.
DAY 25 Am considering building my own telco. Another SMS arrives, this time with a more serious tone: Dear Client, Telkom will send a representative to your premises to fulfil your request … we have scheduled an all-day appointment for Monday. That’s right, an all-day appointment productivity sink. The company also demands various documents such as a certified copy of my ID. So much for being a loyal customer. Or perhaps they’re just concerned I may have changed my identity in the past 5 years that I’ve been getting service from them. Enough time to take those hormone shots?
1) Fire No 1 and pay back the money
2) Cut back on five hour lunch sessions, R1bn wagyu steaks for No 2
3) Dump the Gupta Raj and the British East India Company kickbacks.
4) Reduce size of cabinet to pre-Zuma levels
5) Break up SOEs into smaller units, sell SAA.
6) Dump Eskom and introduce an Energy Commons
7) Introduce a Social Wage for all (including Basic Income Grant)
8) Household responsibility to provide home economics
9) Income equalisation for periodic work
10) Rent Stabilisation for those renting
11) Compulsory Civics classes for young scholars and new immigrants
12) Adopt David Robert Lewis’ Electronic Freedom Charter
13) Celebrate the Earth Rights we got into the Constitution
14) Hire competent staff at finance ministry