What is going on in KZN?

Paul Trewhela says there is a pattern, with a specific focus on SACP in KZN

What is happening in KwaZulu-Natal?

Consider the following, over the past four years:

* Seven impoverished young men die completely needlessly in KZN just days after Christmas (six from exhaustion, one by suicide), in a grotesque so-called "fitness test" of the KZN provincial government to which over 30 000 young people are subjected, in application for only 90 posts. The responsible provincial executive member, KZN Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Minister, Willies Mchunu, dismisses calls for his resignation as "premature" and irrelevant.

The South African Press Association reports that an "unknown number" had "collapsed due to the heat. Many were taken to hospital. The SA Communist Party in KwaZulu-Natalcommended Mchunu for his swift action." Mchunu, a former chairman of the SACP in KZN, is a member of the Central Committee of the SACP.

In the same report, Blessed Gwala, a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party in the KZN provincial legislature, states: "What happened in Pietermaritzburg was a classic display of being power-drunk, to an extent treating ordinary suffering people as subhuman.

"No one in their right mind could in the first place short-list about 35 000 people for just 90 jobs."

* In the period leading towards the five-yearly national elective conference of the African National Congress held in Mangaung/Bloemfontein in mid-December, there is national and international media coverage of massive expenditure of public funds to the benefit of the President's clan and home village at Nkandla in rural KZN. In March the Supreme Court of Appeal rules that corruption charges against the President may be reviewed.

* In scenes of jubilation, the State President is re-elected leader of the ANC at Mangaung little more than a week before the deaths in KZN of the seven young job applicants. A factor in his re-election is a reported 35 percent increase in party membership in KZN allegedly achieved in only five months, resulting in a proportionate rise in KZN delegates to the conference which elects him. Two days before the elective conference, the Constitutional Court rules that his most senior supporters in Free State had won their place as delegates by "unlawful and invalid" methods, and are required to vacate their places.

The day before the Constitutional Court ruling, the State President and his leading supporter in Free State, Ace Magashule - provincial premier and the most prominent delegate chosen by "unlawful and invalid" methods - speak at the opening ceremony for the re-named Bram Fischer International Airport at Bloemfontein/Manguang. Standing beside them, Fischer's younger daughter, Ilse Wilson, states that her father would have "felt pain" at the "greed and obscene desire for money and the extravagant expenditure" now prevalent in South Africa. She describes this as a "cynical betrayal of the sacrifices which were made in the Struggle for democracy."  

A week later, Pierre de Vos - professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Cape Town - writes on Daily Maverick that the Constitutional Court found "widespread irregularity, if not fraud, involved in the Free State elective conference."

This includes failure to provide ANC members with an "opportunity to lodge objections about the accuracy of the preliminary audits of branches, despite the fact that the ANC rules itself provided for such a process." Members in one branch were "disallowed from participating in the elective bi-annual general meeting in breach of the right to participate in the activities of the ANC." 

In another branch, no audit was conducted, "thus disqualifying members of that branch from being represented." With other branches, members of the national audit team (who were also members of the ANC's National Executive Committee) had not attended auditing meetings, thus "denying the affected branches representation at the Provincial Conference", while other individuals who did attend the provincial conference had not been "elected at a properly constituted branch general meeting."

Professor de Vos continues: "Reading through these lists of irregularities, it is difficult not to conclude that those in charge of the Free State ANC and some NEC members who supported the re-election of the PEC (and perhaps President Jacob Zuma), at best turned a blind eye to serious irregularities and pre-conference vote rigging and at worst participated in it."

There is no reason to believe that ANC internal processes were significantly different in other provinces, such as North West, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and even KZN itself.

* In a statement issued three weeks before the ANC national elective conference, the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party states that it is "appalled" at "continuous misuse of state resources to campaign for the ANC" on the part of Willies Mchunu, the KZN Transport, Community Safety and Liaison minister. It alleges several instances of malpractice involving Mchunu.

 "We will consult the Public Protector in order to put a stop not only on Mchunu's behaviour but on the ruling party," the IFP continues. "State resources should not be used for campaigning purposes."

* On 18 July 2011, a group of men known as the "Kennedy 12" - all members of the shackdwellers' organisation, Abahlali baseMjondolo - are acquitted in KZN by Magistrate Sharon Marks on charges of public violence, assault and murder, 21 months after having been arrested. The Transport, Community Safety and Liaison department of the KZN provincial government, however, headed by Willies Mchunu, had issued a statement issued on 28 September 2009 - immediately after attacks on the shackdwellers' settlement at Kennedy Road, resulting in the deaths of two people - which declared: "Criminals, who are holding the Kennedy Road residents hostage, must be arrested without delay".

A month after this official statement by his department, in an article published under his own name, Willies Mchunu accuses a critic of having "peddled lies, titillation and gossip" concerning this statement. ("The Kennedy Road Informal Settlement controversy: the ANC side of the story", The Witness, 20 October 2009) He writes that "we as government" had issued orders to "set up a special police task team to hunt down the criminals who were involved in the incidents that occurred", which he further characterises as "criminal attacks".

Nearly two years later, on the same day as the acquittal of the Kennedy 12, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) comments that Magistrate Marks dismissed all of the charges "after she labelled the state's witnesses 'belligerent', 'unreliable' and 'dishonest'. Magistrate Marks found that, while she had no doubt that violence had taken place in theKennedy Road informal settlement in late September 2009, there was no evidence that the Abahlali activists had been responsible. She expressed disquiet that police identity parade witnesses had been coached to point out members of an Imfene dance group closely associated with Abahlali - rather than anyone who had been seen perpetrating any of the violence."

According to the executive director of SERI, Jackie Dugard, the verdict raises "worrying questions about police complicity in attempts to repress Abahlali's legitimate and lawful activities on behalf of poor and vulnerable people living in informal settlements across South Africa".

As I commented at the time in an article on Politicsweb: "Here Magistrate Marks put her finger on a crucial feature of the entire episode - gross ethnic chauvinism (in other words, racism) on the part of the attackers, in violation both of the Constitution and the founding principle of the ANC. All the accused are isiXhosa-speakers, all are amaMpondo. The Imfene dance is an Mpondo cultural tradition. All the attackers - including the two men killed in the fracas - were isiZulu-speakers, yet not a single isiZulu-speaker was ever arrested. No isiZulu-speaking person has been charged with any offence relating to the affair. The entire criminal investigation and forensic process, lasting nearly two years, and dismissed with such damning finality by Magistrate Marks, bore the marks of a brutal drive for tribalist hegemony carried out by the ANC provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal, with Willies Mchunu its foremost official."

Reported at the time of the attack is a tribalist threat, allegedly shouted by the attackers: "The amaMpondo are taking over Kennedy, Kennedy is for the amaZulu".

* A clue to the mindset of the current political drive in KZN was provided just over four years ago, by a longstanding former member of the SACP and the ANC. In a resignation statement from the SACP and ANC, issued in Durban on 15 November 2008, Stephanie Kemp - a former political prisoner, former member of the Provincial Working Committee of the SACP in KZN, a veteran member of the ANC and a member of the SACP since 1962 - gives a picture of a fanatical and violent political culture in KZN. She writes of "strident" language, of "stirring up hatred", "horrifying crass rudeness" which "replaced any notion of discussion", "increasingly violent" language, an "increasingly worrying climate of divisive hatred", a "violent and anarchic culture", "vindictive rhetoric against the justice system" and a "dangerous leadership apparently intent on plunging our country into violence and thuggery."

Ms Kemp is the former wife of the ANC veteran and Constitutional Court judge, Albie Sachs, and is the subject of his book, Stephanie on Trial (Harvill Press, London, 1968). 

Her resignation letter warns of "a clear threat to our democracy and reckless disregard of South Africa's national interests".

She concludes with a grim prophecy: "Images of Rwanda, east DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], Kenya and Zimbabwe loom large. Zanufication seems well underway."

We have a pattern here, from mid-November 2008 to late December 2012, with a specific focus on the SACP in KZN. It is not to be forgotten that President Zuma is a former member in exile of the SACP Politburo, that Willies Mchunu is a member of the Central Committee, that a leading member from KZN of President Zuma's government - Dr Blade Nzimande - is general secretary of the SACP, and that Stephanie Kemp's resignation letter comes as warning to the country from an insider within the SACP in KZN.

It is worth returning to the comment by Blessed Gwala, member of the KZN provincial legislature, on the lethal "fitness test" applied by the KZN government less than two weeks ago: "What happened in Pietermaritzburg was a classic display of being power-drunk, to an extent treating ordinary suffering people as subhuman."

This needs attention, especially after what veteran investigative journalist Greg Marinovich concludes from his own firsthand research had been cold-blooded killings of miners at Small Koppie at Marikana on 16 August last year by armed police under the authority of President Zuma's government. ("The murder fields of Marikana", Daily Maverick, 8 September 2012)

A political study published last year in the United States by a former Romanian Marxist scholar, Vladimir Tismaneanu, is now essential reading in this context in South Africa. Tismaneanu is now professor of comparative politics at the University of Maryland in the United States.

His book, The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century, is published by the University of California Press, 2012.

A review of the book by John Gray, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, entitled "Casualties of progress", appears in the current issue of the Times Literary Supplement (4 January 2013).

An earlier review, by Richard Overy, author of The Dictators: Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia (2005) and professor of history at the University of Exeter, appeared in theTimes Higher Education magazine on 13 September last year, and is available online:

Tismaneanu - whose parents, both Jewish, were initally members of the Communist political elite in post-war Romania - is interested in what the fascist states and the communist states had in common. He very carefully does not confuse the two forms. "Communism is not Fascism, and Fascism is not Communism. Each totalitarian experiment has its own irreducible elements."

As John Gray explains, however, Tismaneanu sees fascist and communist states as having been "alike in viewing mass killing as a legitimate instrument of social engineering."

Tismaneanu argues that "Communism, like Fascism, undoubtedly founded its alternative, illiberal modernity on the conviction that certain groups could be deservedly murdered. The Communist project in countries such as the USSR, China, Cuba, Romania or Albania, was based precisely on the conviction that certain social groups were irretrievably alien and deservedly murdered."

Whether the system is fascist or communist, its evil heart for Tismaneanu is the concentration camp. As Professor Overy points out, "The camp is for him the crucial link between them ... the place where all those socially or racially excluded were separated from society so that the rest could safely feel that their identity and security was bound up with affirmation of the irrational ideologies that animated the systems in which they lived."

Here, in "the camp", using a phrase from the Polish political philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, is the "Devil" in the history of the last century.

For South Africans, it is impossible not to consider here the significance in the ANC in exile of Quatro prison camp in northern Angola, as well as the instrument which built, filled and emptied it - the ANC security department, Mbokodo, "the grindstone", one of whose supreme commanders was President Zuma.

As with Quatro within the ANC in exile, fear was the great organiser in the twin systems of fascism and communism, a terrible cloud that is now returning to South Africa with each abuse in which - as Blessed Gwala says - people are treated as "subhuman".

Tismaneanu cites his fellow historian, Richard Overy, who argues that both fascist and communist forms of dictatorship relied on "creating complicity, just as they operated by isolating and destroying a chosen minority, whose terrorized status confirmed the rational desire of the rest to be included and protected." (Prologue, The Devil in History, p.11)

Tismaneanu is right about the origin of totalitarianism with Lenin, in Russia, when he writes: "When Lenin disbanded the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, he was sanctioning a long-held scorn for representative democracy and popular sovereignty." (p.20) In the constitutional state given sanction in South Africa in 1994, this cannot be forgotten about Lenin's followers, whether in KZN or elsewhere. 

This is not a place for a thorough examination of the thinking of Vladimir Tismaneanu and his fellow historians. What is essential is that reading and discussion of this book takes place in South Africa, where the subject is not just the past but the lifeblood of the present and the future.

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