There was a whiff of political thuggery in Jacob Zuma's opening speech at the elective conference of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) in Boksburg last weekend.
The extremism of his language provides confirmation of the warning last month by Siphiwe Nyanda, an underground hero of MK in the fight against the apartheid regime (and later chief of the SA National Defence Force and then a government minister), that MKMVA has been unconstitutionally transformed into Zuma's "private army."
Irrespective of any issues of business ethics that might or might not attach to General Nyanda, this is a warning from the very top of South Africa's political elite that may not be ignored.
The language of Zuma's speech comes out of the history of human rights abuses in the ANC in exile, as documented in three internal ANC commissions of inquiry (the reports of the Stuart Commission, 1984, the Skweyiya Commission, 1992, and the Motsuenyane Commission, 1993) as well as inquiries by Amnesty International (report, 1992) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Final Report, 1998. Volume 2, Chapter 4, Sections 98-180).
In his speech to the MKMVA conference, Zuma did not refer to his critics in the ANC of being political opponents of his candidacy in seeking a second term, or of his record and his programme, or of being political rivals, or any other term in the language of a parliamentary democracy - but as the "enemy within."
That "enemy within" is the language and mindset of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century - in Russia, Germany, Italy, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. It was also the language of the ANC security department in exile, Mbokodo ("the grindstone", in isiXhosa), of which Jacob Zuma was one of its top commanders in the period immediately before and after his return from exile, and in which Quatro, the ANC's main prison camp in Angola, fell under his authority. (Mr Zuma declined to appear before the TRC).
This is the language learned by Mr Zuma during his military training in the former Soviet Union. (He is tight-lipped about his CV, and his biography by Jeremy Gordin carries no information concerning his training as a very senior security official, normally undertaken under the Stasi secret police in the former German Democratic Republic).
The state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, reported his speech on the same evening as his Boksburg speech, as follows:
"The ANC had to beware of the enemy within its organisation, President Jacob Zuma said today. 'The enemy is always present in different guises, sizes and shapes,' Zuma said in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg.
"'OR Tambo warned us all the time,' he said, referring to former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo, who was quoted as saying: 'Beware of the enemy within; remain vigilant"'."
The SABC reported further verbal attacks in Zuma's speech on "alien tendencies" within the ANC, on those who wanted the ANC "to be destroyed in front of our own eyes", "people who don't like this revolution and are trying to destroy it."
Also in his speech (though not reported by the SABC) was the most deadly phrase used constantly in the killing, torture and incarceration of brave and honest individuals who stood up for democracy and accountability and against corruption in the ANC in exile: the lethal words, "enemy agents."
Here South Africa's President stepped into the boots of the former Mbokodo chief. As the TRC concluded, Mbokodo (as led by Zuma and others) had been "responsible for...gross violations of human rights...against suspected 'enemy agents' and mutineers." (TRC Final Report, Volume 2, Chapter 4, Section 180).
Here, the term "mutineers" covers the strangest so-called "mutiny" in history - a pro-democracy movement within the ANC in Angola in 1984, in which so-called "mutineers" wanted to be sent to the front, back to South Africa to fight, rather than continue to be squandered (as they saw it) in a pointless civil war far away. As the TRC concluded, the term "enemy agents" was the cover within the ANC in exile for a systemic regime of "gross violations of human rights."
True to its totalitarian heritage, the Young Communist League in Gauteng - mobilised as another detachment of Zuma's "private army", to use General Nyanda's phrase - called sycophantically the next day for a purge of "renegades", "ill-disciplined elements" and "elitist groupings" opposing Zuma. (The Times, 13 October 2012)
Now add the following to these menacing sentiments.
In a survey published the same day as Zuma's Boksburg peroration, the Mail & Guardian in its current issue carried an article by Niren Tolsi and Matuma Letsaolo under the front-page heading "Branches 'rigged' to boost Jacob Zuma," claiming Zuma's cronies have rigged ANC membership figures across the country to secure his re-election at the party's conference at Mangaung in December.
This follows massive coverage in the print media over previous weeks of exorbitant state expenditure to benefit Zuma's private fiefdom at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu Natal.
In his column this week, Justice Malala argues that as a result of political engineering of this kind Zuma is more or less "through" in his campaign to secure a second term, while his "hapless opposition is stuttering to a halt."
In the wake of the downgrading of South Africa's credit terms last month, Malala predicts: "The wanton looting of taxpayers' money, such as that to build Zuma a palace in Nkandla, will not abate. Expect more of the same as security legislation is used to stop scrutiny of such looting. The likes of Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi - who has started an investigation into who the whistle-blower on the R238-million Nkandla expenditure was, while failing to lift a finger to stop the rot itself - will be amply rewarded with promotions."
All this, while not a single policeman has been stood down, in the wake of the massacre at Marikana on 16 August, when - as reported with thoroughgoing professionalism by Greg Marinovich - there seems no doubt that individual miners were deliberately and consciously killed at short range by serving policemen, while either wounded, attempting to hide, or trying to surrender with their hands in the air - a massacre, worse than Sharpeville in its quality of cold-blooded horror (see here and here).
Since then, further research by Jared Sacks has provided serious reason to conclude that an undemocratic, intolerant and stalinistic trade union elite, as co-dependents in Zuma's political hegemony, provoked the events leading to the massacre of 16 August, with two killings of their own at Marikana five days previously.
The climate of unconstitutional, violent threat which permeated the MKMVA conference last weekend - an organisation whose leadership is already subject to legal action by its membership on grounds of alleged corruption and unaccountability - was put in further sharp relief by the speech delivered to it by Sidumo Dlamini, the president of COSATU, when he stated on 14 October: "We've got to have MKMVA members using their guerrilla military skills to work with us on the ground to defend this movement and our revolution as a whole which is being threatened by demagogues...".
This comes perilously close to the language of the coup.
It would be hard to think of further proof of Dr Mamphela Ramphele's warning last April about the perils of South Africa's "culture of impunity" and its drive "towards a closed, unaccountable and corrupt state."
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