Immovable monolith of a nationalist state


Immovable monolith of a nationalist state

Despite the idea that the ANC could be dislodged at the ballot box, the numbers place such a renewal out of reach. What may be expected, wished for or even imagined? asks ISMAIL LAGARDIEN.


THE possibility of a new executive, government and parliament is rising on the back of the feeling that 2024 will be the 1994 of those people who were born in the democratic era, or who were too young to vote 30 years ago. An electoral victory that would lead to this trifecta is highly improbable. The numbers place such a renewal out of reach. What may be expected, wished for or even imagined?

The most likely candidate to lead such a national renewal is Rise Mzansi, which is led by businessperson Songeso Zibi, his followers in the Rivonia Circle and a shadow retinue.

The first problem Zibi faces is getting past the insults, name-calling, demonisation, gaslighting and scapegoating, notably by African nationalists and ethno-nationalists of a particular kind. This “problem” is a powerful, multi-headed wild beast that rules over revolutionary tongues and over hearts that beat in new puritans who will do everything possible to gain or hold onto power and authority rather than submit to democracy. It's biblical stuff.

When Zibi makes it past the election and into the national legislature, which seems likely, he will need lengthy showers to wash away the stuff thrown at him on the hustings. He will, also, inevitably, shed all the clothes he wore during the campaign.

The second problem in the way of renewal is probably more difficult. You can slay beasts and demons on the way to the New Jerusalem, but the foundations of the city are deep. Enter the deep state (no, not that right-wing version).

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How deep is your state?

The most recent conception of a “deep state” came to prominence during the years of Donald Trump. It became a right-wing meme that was as conspiratorial as it was dangerous and, of course, open to manipulation. Staying with the biblical theme, one respectable person,  Dr Rick Barr, identified a link between an imaginary leftist “deep state” that conspired against Trump and a passage from the Bible.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world,” a fellow named Paul (we cannot be sure which one of the four Pauls mentioned in the Bible was the author) supposedly wrote in Ephesians 6:12.

Anyway, over the past six or seven years, rhetoric of a “deep state” subverted confidence in the US government, and we were led to believe it stood in the way of Trump. It is possible, however, to step away from the more conservative, ideological and biblical discussions and focus on the actual state and government that was recreated after 1994.

The ANC, the most explicit of African nationalists, elided the state (the apparatus that is responsible for day-to-day administration) and the government, and elected or appointed leadership which, in a democracy, effects control over state apparatus for a defined period. Except for the national legislature and the judiciary (barely), there is little daylight between the ANC, the government and the state.

If, however, we reclaim the term, pull it away from its conservative moorings and redeploy it, the idea of a “deep state” in South Africa is not out of the realms of possibility. In the South African context, it explains or refers to the identity and operations of formal institutions, of the intelligence and security establishment, with the state/government linked to corruption, conflict, withholding justice from particular racial, ethnic or religious groups, and with its main representatives serving as a comprador class or economic managers.

How else does one explain the extensive presence of ANC leaders on corporate boards of directors? It is probably the most explicit example of the old Soviet nomenklatura, which gave the Communist Party complete control over who got a job. It is in its composition, or the way that the state was put together since 1994, where we may find the biggest challenges to renewal.

Nomenklatura loyalty

Whatever one may think of it, African nationalism became the driving force of transforming the South African state after 1994. This transformation was necessary (this should not be conveniently lost in the blend of anger and incredulity) though it remains insufficient. Transformation can never be an end in itself.

To get a grip on the way the post-apartheid state apparatus was put together we may look at the way the Broederbond, the “vanguard” of Afrikaner nationalism, went to work to ensure “survival of the European way of life in South Africa”, starting in the 1920s. After 1994, the ANC’s objective was, correctly, to make the public service more representative of South Africa’s population.

The comparison (between Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism) has been run in various ways over the past several years, but the following is a relevant and standout passage, drawn from the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Secret Organisations headed by Justice DH Botha in the early 1960s.

“The Bond is a service organisation intended to serve the Afrikaner. It’s sphere of operations is the work of the Afrikaner people as a separate historical, Protestant-Christian, language and cultural community. The activities with which the Bond occupied itself from time to time are determined by the needs of the Afrikaner people at that historical moment."

With the notable exceptions of “protestant-Christian, language and cultural community”, the post-apartheid government established a state that served the needs of the African majority as its main objective. An important initial part of this state-creation was to employ or appoint people who were members of the governing party, or at least loyal to it. This is what we have come to understand as cadre deployment and cadre employment. How does one shift senses of responsibility and notions of the common good away from the fiat and decree of a party that believes in democratic centralism? This loyalty is on the records of the highest office in the country.

Imagining a modern party

Zibi is not the only candidate in next year’s election. He will surely not appeal to the nationalists (ANC) or the ethno-nationalists (EFF), nor the revolutionaries (are there any left beyond Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa?) On the national stage, Rise Mzansi represents what I would describe as a modern party. Much like the way that the idea of the “deep state” has been turned on its right-wing/biblical head, the “modern” is flipped simply to point out that the ANC remains a traditional revolutionary/nationalist party and the EFF is similar, with the notable exception it more explicitly scapegoats “non-Africans”.

Here I'm often reminded of the leap from nationalism to fascism that Benito Mussolini made. Michael Ebner of Syracuse University in the US made the point, about a decade ago, that World War 1 presented “nationalism and militarism” as the keys to revolutionary upheaval. The ANC and EFF retain paramilitary movements, which sets them apart from most other serious parties that will probably contest next year’s election.

Rise Mzansi’s closest rivals are the DA and ActionSA. The DA is a throwback to apartheid’s parliamentary oppositional politics. It is at once milquetoast and stale. There are more reasons for expiry dates on consumables than to indemnify the manufacturer. ActionSA is a DA in a tantrum. At least when John Steenhuisen leaves the DA will not collapse. Not sure about Herman Mashaba, or even Julius Malema for that matter.

Rise Mzansi presents itself as fresh, hip, trendy and a break with the past. Next year will be the 1994 of the younger generation. It will shave off support from the DA, the ANC and probably ActionSA. Who knows, it may even convince a few Freedom Front + supporters. I was there, in the parliamentary press gallery, when Jacobus Hercules van der Merwe said he would never serve under a black president. Then he joined the Inkatha Freedom Party of the late Gatsha Buthelezi.

It will not be a surprise if Zibi can lead Rise Mzansi through the 2024 election and beyond. It is “beyond” where he will have serious challenges. Unless he enters coalitions or makes serious compromises, Zibi and Rise Mzansi will be in opposition “beyond” 2024. The big surprise would be if Zibi, and any new party that emerges from next year’s election, can dislodge the deep state and secure administrative justice.


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