Twin threats to South African democracy

Paul Trewhela says the country is in very dangerous waters

South Africa is blatantly in crisis.

Created under the guiding hand of Nelson Mandela, the country's constitutional order now faces two great threats, represented - separate, hostile to each other, but conjoined - by the warring brothers, Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema.

It is vital for the unity in discord of these hostile brothers to come into public discussion across the whole society, so that a democratic solution can be found.

What is at issue is the threat of destruction of the Constitution, with a return to violence, dictatorship, racism, tribalism and the massive downgrading of South Africa's economy and society.

The present state of affairs, under which the ANC has governed for the last 22 years, is unsustainable. The longer this continues, the greater the threat of mass violence and the destruction of the country's vital institutions, with increasing ungovernability throughout the society.

Not only the Constitution, but the ANC itself - as the country's oldest national, unifying political structure - cannot now survive without remedial, democratic reform.

At the head of government, Jacob Zuma presides as the despised and humiliating figurehead of all that is rotten in the state of South Africa. This is where the crucial but weakest link in the Constitution - the party-list electoral system, with its top-down regime of corrupt and unaccountable politicians - has brought the country.

No-one has analysed the electoral law so concisely as RW Johnson, when he wrote: "the new electoral system - unique in the world — was in reality a scandalous political bosses’ charter. It is not unusual that PR lists give power to party bosses who draw them up. What made South Africa’s electoral provisions unusual was that there were to be no constituencies at all and no possibility for local communities to have any control over their representatives or to choose who they might be.

"Even when MPs resigned or died there were to be no by-elections so that political leaders would be spared even those sporadic expressions of grass roots feeling," he continued.

Any elected representative who disagrees with the line decreed from above can be “thrown out of parliament” by the party bosses, who have the power to “redeploy” elected representatives into or out of parliament at a second's notice without consulting the voters.

And yet, as Johnson wrote in his book, South Africa: The First Man, The Last Nation (published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in London, in 2004), the electoral system is "the key to the workings of the new political system", and is thus "the most important item" in the Constitution.

He also added that when the ANC and the NP reached agreement about this key link in the Constitution, they "kept it secret." (pp.207-08)

We still do not know even the names of the individuals who drafted this undemocratic flaw in an otherwise admirable Constitution - its fatal weakness.

It is this party-list electoral law, resulting in cadre deployment of servile, corrupt and incompetent hacks to positions of office throughout the state, which was the political mother of the Zuma presidency. In this sense, its faults are systemic and not primarily personal or individual. Under this system, any successor to Zuma can do the same damage, and even worse.

In this sense, the Zuma crisis is profoundly political and constitutional, and goes to the heart of the history and moral philosophy of the nation.

It is in this light that the opposition to the Zuma government by Julius Malema, the EFF and their fellow thinkers in the #Fallist political campaign by university students and others needs to be considered.

Here we have a totally new element in the history of black political thinking in South Africa since the time of WB Rubusana, DDT Jabavu and John Langalibalele Dube. It is not wrong to analyse this new political doctrine as black fascism.

When a president of the Students Representative Council at Wits University states that he "loves Adolf Hitler", as Mcebo Dlamini did in the Wits student newspaper Vuvuzela in April last year, that he admires Hitler for his “charisma and organisational skills” and that “we need more leaders of such calibre” – then this is something unheard of from the era of Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko or Chris Hani.

In the same way, when Yamkela Fortune Spengane wrote in an online article last August attacking Sipho Pityana that “the leadership of the ANC has from the late 1940s been blatantly in the pockets of the Jews of the Communist Party who financed most activities” - then this was the ideology of Nazism, as set out in Hitler's book Mein Kampf and carried out in practice in the Holocaust.

Spengane continued: “Like Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe were the ones that bought Liliesleaf farm, that was to be the first headquarters of MK. Like it was Joe Slovo who was the first head of MK. Like Lionel Bernstein wrote the Freedom Charter. Like Jews were the legal counsel in cases of ANC leaders, a big example being Arthur Chaskalson and Joel Joffe who were two of the three defence lawyers in the Rivonia trial and were Jewish.”

It is not hard to see that it is from ideology like this that purely fascist slogans, "Kill a Jew" and "F*** the Jews", were placed on the Wits campus at the end of last month.

In South Africa, this was the ideology of Hitler’s white followers, the Greyshirts. During World War Two it was the ideology of Balthasar John Vorster, who later introduced legalised torture with the 90-day detention law in 1962, while minister of justice, and of Major-General Hendrik van den Bergh, later the head of BOSS, the Bureau of State Security - both detained as Nazi sympathisers.

When, earlier this month, Julius Malema stated outside Newcastle Magistrates Court that "We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now" - this was in the context of this new ideological movement.

The Democratic Alliance spokeswoman, Phumzile van Damme, was not wrong when she stated that such "violent and threatening language" has "no place in our constitutional democracy.”

In the same way, the DA MP Michael Cardo was not wrong when he argued in an article in the Sunday Times (13 November) that the language of the #Fallist campaign comes from the "volkisch (racial) thinking that animated the Romantic nationalism of the 19th century and produced the totalitarian movements of the 20th century."

Malema's proposed land take-over across South Africa as the solution to the problem of poverty is a reactionary fetish and mystification of rural society, identical with the Nazis' Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) programme in industrial Germany in the 1930s. No more than in Germany, the land has not been the predominant element in South African economy for at least 130 years, since the discovery of gold in Gauteng.

The Malema land programme in a modern urban society would starve the cities, and duplicate the misery of Mugabe's land take-over in Zimbabwe. It would be the equivalent of the cattle-killing famine brought about by Nongqawuse among the amaXhosa as a response to British colonialism in 1856-57. It is plainly reactionary.

Together with the rising tide of breaches of the Constitution by the Zuma government, this anti-constitutional ideology of race-hatred, Blut und Boden and mass killings from one of the main strands of opposition politics makes it clear this is the most dangerous time for South African democracy in a generation.

Either there is radical democratic reform, or South Africa goes down the slope to catastrophe.

* Paul Trewhela was editor of the underground MK news-sheet Freedom Fighter during the Rivonia Trial