The Devil’s praise singers

The politics of kleptocracy

Former president Thabo Mbeki once suggested that the white man had entered into a Faustian compact, in effect selling his soul to the Devil for the illicit, short term gains to be made in Africa. He’s probably right: its difficult to look at the whole Imperialist endeavour and not see a clutch of scurrilous bandits raping and pillaging the continent.

(There is, of course, the little matter of the – plus/minus – R30m paid to Mbeki by a German shipbuilding company to guarantee it would receive a submarine contract in South Africa’s multi-billion rand arms deal, (Sunday Times, August 2008). But it’s water under the proverbial bridge as they say. As Rian Malan caustically observes,  “In the past two decades, South Africa has been stricken almost weekly by scandals that would have toppled governments in the West but seem almost meaningless here.”


Perhaps as a nation we have seen so many morally derelict rulers, been abused and deceived for so long (Rhodes, Verwoerd, Zuma – choose your rogue) that we are – if not resigned to our fate – then punch drunk. We stumble about the ring, dazed and confused, teeth punched out and eyes so swollen we can’t tell our opponent from the referee. Our faces are gashed and covered with blood, while Gedleyihlekisa* chuckles in his corner, his Gupta acolytes squeeze water onto their champion from Sahara branded bottles. (*“The one who laughs at you while physically hurting you” is the meaning of Zuma’s second name).

But what then are we to call the ANC’s betrayal of the people of South Africa, if not Faustian?

For this was the liberation movement of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Albert Lutuli and Walter Sisulu.

How did it all go so wrong?

In some respects it’s more disappointing than the banal colonial narrative: colonialism and its deformed apartheid offspring was always about shameless and gratuitous theft by grubby imperialists and calvinist bullies; but for a short while, the ANC owned the moral high ground, which is why it’s fall from grace is all the more shameful.

When did the ANC invite the devil into the bedchamber for an entirely different and unsavoury sort of congress?

Bonginkosi Madikizela wrote recently,

“The vast mass of Zuma’s sins lurk beneath the water. South Africa and the world know this. We know that his corrupt insider deals, capture of the state, manipulation of the police and prosecution, undermining of Parliament and zero policy direction for our economy all coalesce to paint the real picture of his terrible presidency. Yet the ANC stands behind him unwaveringly.”

This “vast mass of sin” is rummaged through by Pieter-Louis Myburgh in his book, The Republic Of Gupta – A Story of State Capture (published 2017).

Our president is a nightmare, no doubt. And if destroying this country was a particular talent of the apartheid leaders, then Mr Zuma’ bust should appear in some dismal little gallery rereserved for the worst of the discredited leaders of this country..

But Dale T. McKinley points to a far more insidious and pervasive culture of corruption of which Zuma is merely the most recognisable example.

“The real storyline is not one of good (past) ANC leaders versus bad (present) ANC leaders; not one of selective and individualist memories of contribution or propagating conveniently revisionist histories of struggle and sacrifice. In this story there are no unsullied and incorruptible individual heroes, no personal saviours and no constructed vanguards of the workers and poor who are going to save the day.

Rather, the story has a simple yet profound framing: what the ANC and its alliance partners have truly forgotten is that how one lives (and leads) is much more meaningful and important than where one lives, how much power and money one has or what institutional and social position one holds in society.

Until and unless that life lesson is (re)learnt, by both the ANC and society as a whole, South Africa will continue to mistake consequence for cause.”

This is how the ANC works – the unwritten methodology and practice | GAVIN HARTFORD | Daily Maverick | 24 April 2017

See also

Mistaking consequence for cause: Zuma and the real story of the capture of the ANC and the state | DALE T. MCKINLEY |25 APR 2017

Infinite tedium

“In modern times, the immortal longings of the mystics are expressed in a cult of incessant activity. Infinite progress . . . infinite tedium. What could be more dreary than the perfection of mankind? The idea of progress is only the longing for immortality given a techno-futurist twist. Sanity is not found here, in the moth-eaten eternities of the mystics. Other animals do not pine for a deathless life. They are already in it. Even a caged tiger passes its life half out of time. Humans cannot enter that never-ending moment. They can find a respite from time when – like Odysseus, who refused Calypso’s offer of everlasting life on an enchanted island so he could return to his beloved home – they no longer dream of immortality.

John Gray (philosopher)

Straw dogs

“…the idea of Gaia is anticipated most clearly in a line from the Tao Te Ching, the oldest Taoist scripture. In ancient Chinese rituals, straw dogs were used as offerings to the gods. During the ritual they were treated with the utmost reverence. When it was over and they were no longer needed they were trampled on and tossed aside: ‘Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.’ If humans disturb the balance of the Earth they will be trampled on and tossed aside. Critics of the Gaia theory say they reject it because it is unscientific. The truth is that they fear and hate it because it means that humans can never be other than straw dogs.”

John Gray (philosopher)

“Not everything in religion is precious or deserving of reverence. There is an inheritance of anthropocentrism, the ugly fantasy that the Earth exists to serve humans, which most secular humanists share. There is the claim of religious authorities, also made by atheist regimes, to decide how people can express their sexuality, control their fertility and end their lives, which should be rejected categorically. Nobody should be allowed to curtail freedom in these ways, and no religion has the right to break the peace.”

John Gray (philosopher)

“In the world as we find it, even the barest requirements of a life worth living cannot all be always met in full. Toppling a tyranny may trigger civil war. Protecting a broad range of liberal freedoms may result in the regime that guarantees them being short lived. At the same time, supporting a strong state as a bulwark against anarchy may worsen the abuse of power. Wise policy can temper these conflicts. It cannot hope to overcome them.”

John Gray (philosopher)

The comfort that comes with servility

“The truth that Dostoevsky puts in the mouth of the Grand Inquisitor is that humankind has never sought freedom, and never will. The secular religions of modern times tell us that humans yearn to be free; and it is true that they find restraint of any kind irksome. Yet it is rare that individuals value their freedom more than the comfort that comes with servility, and rarer still for whole peoples to do so.”

John Gray (philosopher)