Monday, August 07, 2017

ZUPTA-- The Ugly Politics Of South Africa


Everyone knows who Nelson Mandela was-- not "everyone," but all normal, aware people who didn't vote for Trump. The 1984 Specials song, top 10 throughout Europe but barely top 100 in the U.S. (although #1 on alternative stations like KUSF where I was a dj at the time) helped, of course. Listen to it; it holds up. Nelson Mandela was the world's pre-eminent anti-apartheid hero; he served 27 years in prison before becoming South Africa's first democratically-elected president (1994), and is widely considered the George Washington of South Africa. The far right-- in South Africa and in the U.S.-- labeled him a Commie but he is better known as a beloved Nobel Peace Prize laureate. However, few in the U.S. know anything about South Africa's politics post-Mandela, who retired from the presidency in 1999. His successor was the always controversial Thabo Mbeki, who resigned in 2008. The following year Jacob Zuma (JZ) was elected president. Despite an incredibly corruption-scared administration, he's still president today, and still surrounded by gangsters enriching themselves-- and Zuma-- at the expense of the country.

And that brings us to today, where calls for Zuma's resignation (or impeachment) are constant and deafening. Largely due to the corruption and political turmoil, the country's bonds are rated as "junk." Zumba is a racist, a homophobe, unimaginably crooked, more than a little authoritarian... and a polygamist with 6 wives.

Over the weekend, The Guardian's Simon Tisdall wondered if Zuma's political foes have finally found the means to topple him. Now we're going to meet some new characters, the Gupta family. Tomorrow the South African parliament will hold a vote of no confidence as "persistent allegations of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power may finally be catching up with him." If there's a secret ballot tomorrow-- a possibility-- he'll probably lose the vote.
[Zuma's] ANC holds 249 of the parliament’s 400 seats. The opposition, principally composed of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), will need 50 ANC defectors for a majority. A revolt on such a scale would once have been thought inconceivable in a party whose post-apartheid watchword is unity. But extra-parliamentary pressure for change is intense and growing.

Major street demonstrations are planned in Cape Town this week. A petition signed by more than a million people demanding Zuma’s removal has been presented to Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, by the DA leader, Mmusi Maimane.

“South Africans from all walks of life have stood up together and said, ‘Look, we have got to a point now where we must ask Ramaphosa to do the right thing’,” Maimane said. “The question is, what is he going to do?”

The answer could determine who, sooner or later, succeeds Zuma as ANC leader and president of South Africa. Regardless of what happens in parliament, the ANC is due to meet in December to select an heir. Ramaphosa is one candidate. Other possibles are Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize, Mathews Phosa-- and speaker Mbete. The extent of the line-up indicates how divided the ANC has become.

Both Ramaphosa and Sisulu, the presumed frontrunners, face a dilemma. They have repeatedly condemned Zuma-era factionalism, looting and so-called “state capture” – self-interested influence exercised by private businesses and individuals over state policy-making. But if Zuma falls, the main raison d’etre of their campaigns will fall with him.

The Spear by Brett Murray
And there is another problem: if Ramaphosa or the other presidential hopefuls back the parliamentary revolt, they will doubtless be lauded by the opposition. But many ANC members, who will choose Zuma’s successor in December (or sooner), may condemn them as traitors. Zuma supporters thus have reason to hope he will survive this no-confidence vote, as he has five others. Ramaphosa, who has been officially endorsed by Cosatu, the powerful trade union federation, has continued to argue that remaining silent about wrongdoing by the state and within the ANC amounts to a “betrayal of the struggle”. “The ANC is your ANC. It belongs to you... Nothing should stop you [from speaking out],” Ramaphosa told a Cosatu conference in May.

The opposition also includes high-profile individuals with no stated interest in the presidential succession, such as Pravin Gordhan, the former finance minister sacked by Zuma in March. Gordhan warned recently that state capture was crippling the country’s economy. If South Africans allowed the rot to continue, he said, “we are going to slump into a 10-year disaster.”

Much of the controversy over state capture centers on the relationship between Zuma and the wealthy Gupta business family, and alleged bribes and kickbacks associated with government contracts. Speaking to the BBC, Atal Gupta said the claims, including those made by Ramaphosa, were based on misunderstandings and misinformation, and denied any wrongdoing.

Controversy has also arisen over social media work undertaken by the British PR firm Bell Pottinger to defend Gupta businesses against the allegations. CEO James Henderson has admitted his company’s approach had been naive, but denied any intention to fuel racial tensions through use of terms such as “economic apartheid” and “white monopoly capital” (which Zuma has claimed lay behind calls for his resignation).

State capture has become a metaphor for the wider political and economic ills afflicting South African society. In a damning independent report last May, entitled Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa Is Being Stolen, researchers from the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Stellenbosch, funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, accused “Zuma Inc” of turning the country into a mafia-style fiefdom.

It stated: “Commentators, opposition groups and ordinary South Africans underestimate Jacob Zuma, not simply because he is more brazen, wily and brutal than they expect but because they reduce him to caricature.” In reality, the report said, Zuma had presided over a concerted political project to repurpose state institutions to channel money to his cronies in a shadowy elite.

The report called on South Africans of all backgrounds to “defend the founding promise of democracy… by doing all that is necessary to stop the systemic and institutionalised process of betrayal.”

The no-confidence motion comes against a backdrop of increased disillusionment with the ANC, as evidenced by last year’s local elections, when the DA and EFF made significant gains. While Zuma’s unpopularity is undoubtedly to blame, so too is South Africa’s worsening economic performance.

Comparing South Africa with other emerging countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2017 survey makes alarming reading. Growth has declined sharply since 2011, it said, partly because of electricity shortages, falling commodity prices and policy uncertainty. Unemployment is up, at 27%, while youth unemployment was 53% in 2016.

Low-quality education, high crime rates, healthcare deficiencies and violence against women are cited as continuing problems. A third of South Africans live on or below the poverty line, the survey found. And more than a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid, inequality remains stark, with the top fifth of the population earning 40 times more than the lowest.
Writing for Bloomberg last week, Ana Monteiro explained the Gupta family for U.S. readers. Keep in mind, Gupta lies as easily (and believably) as Trump and it's likely that everything he ever says is as true as what Trump says.
A raft of emails leaked to South African media about how the Gupta family have won billions of rands of contracts from state-owned companies and influenced government decisions through their closeness to President Jacob Zuma isn’t authentic, family member Atul Gupta said.

“There’s no authenticity of Gupta Leaks at all,” Gupta told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview. There is every-day “perception-mongering to drive their own agenda,” he said.

Companies controlled by the Gupta family, who are friends with Zuma and in business with his son, were dropped by their South African bankers, brokers and auditors, and the nation’s graft ombudsman implied that the president allowed the family to influence cabinet appointments and the issuing of state contracts. Zuma and the Guptas deny the allegations.

News organizations, including the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, have reported that they have as many as 200,000 emails they say expose dealings by the family showing influence over the government and state companies.

Public-relations firm Bell Pottinger LLP [another criminal outfit, steep in rich-people entitlement and corruption and refusing to act until they were forced to] ended its relationship with the Guptas’ Oakbay Resources and Energy Ltd. and in July said it had hired the law firm Smith Herbert Freehills LLP to probe its work for Oakbay. It fired a partner and suspended three other employees after a preliminary investigation into its work for the Gupta family exposed “inappropriate and offensive” activities, it said.

The Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition party, accused Bell Pottinger of pushing “white monopoly capital,” a term used by politicians including Zuma and members of the Black First Land First movement, as the main cause of inequality in the country. At its July conference, the ruling African National Congress rejected demonizing the concept as the primary driver of the country’s problems -- a setback for the faction that supports Zuma’s favored candidate, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him as the party’s leader in December.

“White monopoly capital, if you go research any revolutionary speech in this country, always exist, meaning I don’t know where this term comes from, believe me,” Gupta told the BBC. “I don’t think it belongs to any of our professional advisers. I will be shocked. They are very credible people, I believe they should not do anything like that. Neither us nor them.”
Bell Pottinger is Britain's biggest PR firm-- the top execs all get knighted and they're basically the scum of the earth-- and is on the verge of collapse over the Zuma-Gupta (Zupta) scandal. Bell Pottinger's founder, Lord Tim Bell, quit in disgust last year after the company refused to get out of bed with the Guptas. They now stand accused of running a racist Fake News social media campaign on behalf of the Guptas to help Zuma. Several of the culprits, including partner Victoria Geoghegan, were fired. Bell Pottinger has had experience in this area since the Bush regime hired them to do the same thing in the context of the Iraq War.
Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson, who had previously denied any wrongdoing by his company, was put on the spot on today’s BBC Radio World at One by reporter Manveen Rana who skewered him for the company’s dubious choice of clients and activity in this campaign (Henderson didn’t do that badly, considering he was standing on one leg).

Unfortunately for him just about every utterance was contradicted by Bell who claimed he’d warned the company off the Gupta brothers but his advice had been ignored.

Bell, who’s famously said on many occasions that his (then) company would represent anyone (past and present clients include Chilean dictator General Pinochet, Bahrain and, according to its Wikipedia entry anyway, Rolf Harris) sidestepped the question of ethics by pointing out that the campaign for the Gupta brothers’ Oakbay company had cost Bell Pottinger valuable clients including Investec and South Africa’s Richemont, which owns Cartier and Dunhill among others.

Bell Pottinger has always sailed close to the wind but had cover from the outspoken and proudly libertarian Bell who’s view was that PR companies were like criminal barristers, you took on the brief if the client could pay.

The rather more conventional Henderson now has to fight the Bell corner-- with Bell in the other one.
Watch this incredible program on two videos, which was played this weekend on NPR and has made Americans aware of the scandal roiling South Africa:

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At 5:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much here seems to run parallel to the us, though more extreme in scale (as of today).

For perspective on what western finance did to the fledgling RSA and Mandela, see Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine".

After learning how the west corrupts developing countries' economies under the guise of "helping" and how the usa operates as a thinly veiled klepto-kakistocracy, it's no wonder RSA has devolved.


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