Of old white capital and new age plunder

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Dear Comrades who support President Zuma because of ‘white capital’,

I agree with you. Well, not on the Zuma bit. That evil old mouse is friends with capitalists and gangsters of all colours and I fail to see how that helps anybody other than a few Russians, Italians and Indians living in mansions previously reserved for Oppenheimers. I also don’t understand those of you who, when a taxman is found stacking mysterious wads of money into his own bank account go “Yay! Black empowerment! Look how they are taking that money from big capital!”  Or those who ask for ‘Gupta money’ on Twitter “because we need to have our own mines and shopping malls.” Who is ‘we’ and what are ‘we’ giving the Guptas in return?

But yes, capitalism is still a problem. As are its old white overlords.

Alas, for those of us who once believed in the communist alternative, ‘real existing socialism’ did not really improve poor people’s lives. With bad clothing and bad services came oppression, sometimes famine, and often terror. Then that system collapsed. Then there was the victory of capitalism, triumphant, in our faces, now twice the monster it once was, with the 1 % owning as much as the 99% and even less hope for the poor.

So there is a need for a new progressive answer to white Western capitalist exploitation. But we need to avoid, as happened from Soviet Russia to Angola, the emerging of a new elite –the pigs in ‘Animal Farm’- who start to behave exactly like the old oppressors. Without falling into that trap, we should still try to realise the old dream ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need.’

Stopping plunder

This is, I believe, how the old SARS under Pravin Gordhan saw its mandate. (We’ll still come to the accusations of ‘neoliberalism’ against Gordhan and the Treasury. For now just this.) Having a functioning tax service is perhaps the single most important tool to make the rich pay for the people’s needs. With that tool also come strict banking rules and oversight. These pillars of financial regulation are not capitalist inventions, on the contrary: they were wrangled from them, pillars of protection of the people against plunder by the powerful and greedy. Vintage corporate raiders – the ones who plundered wealth from the colonies, the mafias, the old-style white bosses as cartoonists used to draw them with their top hats and big bellies- always liked it very much if they could just pay a minister, a sheriff, or a king, to do ‘banking’ any way they pleased.

In our despair about old and new capitalism, therefore, let’s not forget that ordinary people, through long, hard, struggles, did manage to build some structures to reign in unfettered greed. The fact that some old white overlords have come to embrace their leashes -since they realised that these also contribute to stability, peace and growth-, are no reasons to now break the system down again, just because some newcomers want to start plundering just like their predecessors once did. There is no such thing as equality in plunder rights.

Back to the jungle

But the economy is still in white hands, you say, and yes, surely that must change. This question became lit for me when an old comrade, let’s call him Mike, poured out his heart when he visited us one evening, not long ago. He spoke about bumping in to white bosses all his life, always in the painful context of their superiority. He recalled the job interviews at work, where whites would come out of with five times the salary he was to receive, for the very same job. It was clear that he still wants to klap the old white geezers whom he meets in public spaces, when they benevolently pat his shoulders and urge him to keep up the good work (old chap).

“We must take it from them,” he gestured. “Just take it! The land, the companies. I can’t live like this anymore.” He acknowledged immediately that there was a risk that ‘us darkies’ would “run things into the ground.” Many ‘darkies,’ after all don’t have centuries of overlord management experience, let alone the backing of other overlords internationally. (Institutions have, of course, also been run into the ground after almost all revolutions, including by formerly oppressed who were not darkies at all.)

“But maybe that must happen,” Mike finished, with a very deep sigh. “Maybe we must go back to zero. Back to the jungle. Start all over again.”

I don’t think he was really serious about wanting to live in a jungle, especially since he drove away in a Porsche. But that evening I learned that apartheid’s evil was not just black poverty, or torture, imprisonment, or death, but very much about the constant torment of white supremacy itself.

Crap coal and white accountancy

But again, that ‘we’ that is going to do all the ‘taking’ is probably not the adolescent girl trying to pass exams in a dysfunctional school.  Without our institutions protecting us, it will be the biggest black thug going into the ring with the biggest white thug. And frankly,  do we care whose turn it is to screw us? We should not be bullied into paying for crap coal dished out by the new mafias, just as we should not dish out taxpayers money to old white accountancy firms to concoct jumbled ‘reports’ about political enemies. Remember how KPMG, and Bain, and Grant Thornton, were and are raking in millions to help charge that very puppet of ‘white capital,’ Pravin Gordhan?

Capitalists go wherever the money is. Just like thieves. When they don’t like your money, they’ll go after somebody else’s. When they don’t trust your state companies, they won’t put their money there, as FutureGrowth has decided. The good thing is that they’ll put it back when the companies do well. The Rand will pick up then, too, even if Zupta-paid-Twitter would like us to think that Pravin Gordhan personally manipulates the currency out of sheer determination to escape arrest.

There is no such thing as a capitalist not loaning to a perfectly great company, or manipulating a currency just because he doesn’t like the face of a President. Currency manipulation occurs differently. Like when an insane Zupta decision sinks the Rand, thereby increasing both the Zupta mining income (earned in hard US$) as much as food prices for South African citizens (who only have Rands). And no, you can’t demand that the Reserve Bank ‘protect’ your currency by pretending it’s worth more than it is. That’s like telling your child that the small biscuit you are giving him is really a Mars bar.

It’s true that the financial regulatory institutions may favour the old white overlords, simply because at present they have all the dollars and the coal. The banks will not empower new entrepreneurs for the sake of the revolution. But guess what: they don’t need to. Because we have the state! An entire state! Controlled by the people’s party, mandated to carry out the programme of the ANC. You could black empower properly yesterday.

Those bees that you see flying around

Ah, but that is just it, you say. The state is restricted by that damned neoliberalist Treasury. That is why we are not making headway. OK. Maybe there should be more Keynes in the policy and less GEAR. Please make your proposals.  But you know, as I do, that opening the coffers of the Treasury would only mean money for those who are, as in good old Animal Farm, more equal than everybody else already.  (Also, stop saying that having shares in companies is a thing that proves you are ‘owned by white capital.’ It doesn’t.)

Also, there is a lot that could be done for black empowerment without changing any policies already. Land affairs, for example, could implement land reform and assist black rural communities, if only you had competency there. And please don’t start shouting about the handful of Eugene Terreblanches who won’t sell their land. The state is already the biggest land owner. As for black industry, of course we could groom it. It baffles me that this hasn’t happened; how billions have only been wasted on enriching leeches, instead of in starting subsidies to real entrepreneurs.I still remember an exasperated IT shop owner in Tembisa asking me “if BEE was real or if it was just one of these bees that you see flying around.”

So I cringe, every time I hear a revolutionary leader scream ‘racism’ instead of actually doing something about it. Yes, the hair thing at former Model C schools is terrible, but the white old biddies at Pretoria Girls High don’t hold any power, do they? We could train black teachers to take over from them in a heartbeat, if the education department wasn’t so busy dishing out jobs to SADTU. We could take care of our sick if hospitals focused on stock and maintenance instead of on buying expensive equipment that is never used simply because it’s all about the cut one gets and not about the fact that equipment is useless without a roof, a power cable and regular upkeep. Patients die. You know all this.

Deaths by mining

The state –again, if only it was efficient- is also the only defense we have against the worldwide capitalist empire. Not very long ago, an Australian company was chased out of the Eastern Cape after a long and hard struggle in which people died. They had been left to fight all by themselves. A well-functioning state could have defended the villagers. It could have forced the mining company to conduct itself differently, too. Environmentally-sensitive mining happens in Norway, in Canada, and Australia; why not here?

But not only did the ANC government not protect that community: the local bigwigs enthusiastically sold out for their own personal benefit. The story reminds me of Mozambique, where officials on the highest level have come to work with capitalists and gangsters to plunder the forest, the gem stones, the ivory and the rhino horn. They also control police death squads who silence critics. The Mozambican journalists I work with in www.investigativecollective.com document this every day.

The answer, by the way, is not to investigate and jail every individual who self-enriches. Personally, I would declare an amnesty for everybody who has pocketed some riches, including the President, if that would get us out of this mess. Jailing people may feel good, but won’t help save the institutions. What is urgently needed is efficient management: in the oil sector, at SAA, PRASA, Denel, Eskom, SARS. If the new plunderers who aim to take over from the old ones could be satisfied with just filling their pockets! If only they would also keep the companies going! But I guess they haven’t discovered how to do that yet. Maybe they should ask white capital.

Blessers of a special type

So, let’s agree to save the state. Let’s stop appointing vassals and arselickers, who in turn only reward others of the same ilk instead of doing their job. Let’s especially stop humouring those who call themselves ‘blessers.’ I hear of one who summons his minions just to come sing praises to his expensive shirt and to call him the ‘greatest blesser.’ No one does any actual work in his institution.

The proud use of that word ‘blesser,’ by the way, is revealing. ‘Sugardaddy’ was already bad, but ‘blesser’ surely tops it. You are johns, guys; prostitutes’ clients. Not gods. You may screw a lot, but your sperm is not the holy spirit.

Now for the man at the centre of all this blessing. The one who anoints the vassals and their hangers on, the one who has an entire League at his bless and call, the one who doesn’t care about who governs what, or in what way, as long he or she is loyal. No, he is not the only problem. Neither are his current Indian friends, -strangely, his friends are never struggle Indians- or his other vassals. But they are actively building a patronage network in which the whole country stands to be ‘blessed’ in that very particular way -without vaseline, as Julius says.

This will result in a paralysed state where nothing works except, it seems, a special police and a secret service agency. (Some of you say that we must respect these institutions. So the only institutions we must respect are those where criminals already reign?)

Mantashe says he wants to sort out the ANC. I hope he succeeds. But it will not be a simple matter of everyone being friends again. I won’t be friends with fakers, blessers, looters, pimps and arselickers. Mostly I will never ever be friends with that arse in chief –that evil old mouse- who is stealthily sowing his corrosive seeds and planting his parasites to feed off everything until there will be nothing left.

I hope that poor Dilma Rousseff, the ousted former President of Brazil, -by all accounts a progressive and dedicated head of a developmental state- will never get to hear that she was likened, by some of you, to this man. For he has shown, more even than betrayal of the Constitution, a betrayal of the non-racial and non-sexist values of the entire international progressive movement. His medieval web of patriarchal oligarchy, patronage, policing of opponents and backward thinking is no new answer to capitalist exploitation. It is very old. We should not do that again.

Evelyn Groenink is the spouse of Ivan Pillay, the former SARS deputy commissioner.

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