Jacob Zuma: A victim of white monopoly capital ?
Par Sean Muller
The evidence available contradicts the propaganda the South African president and his backers are attempting to disseminate: Zuma has been, not a victim, but a friend of both white monopoly capital and organisations linked to Western intelligence agencies when it suits him.
These are dangerous and unsettling times in South Africa, with numerous public institutions seemingly captured by a cabal around President Jacob Zuma: the public broadcaster, the intelligence agencies, the National Prosecuting Authority, and dozens of state-owned entities from the behemoth national power utility down to water boards. The judiciary, which has been a thorn in Zuma’s side merely by virtue of making even-handed decisions, may also be in the firing line. And there remain fears that despite an infamous initial failure there may be a renewed attempt to capture the Treasury for nefarious purposes.
Two important rhetorical claims have been made by the pro-Zuma camp in the last year, particularly the astro-turfing group Black First Land First, to distract from state capture by the Gupta family. Zuma himself has recently embraced these claims. The first is that charges of state capture are a way for ‘white monopoly capital’ (WMC) to persecute Zuma for pursuing ‘radical transformation’ of the economy. The second is that Zuma is a victim of Western intelligence agencies. Ironically, there is some evidence that this propaganda strategy was concocted by Bell-Pottinger, the public relations firm that once worked for Margaret Thatcher and produced propaganda for the US government during the Iraq war.
But what does Zuma’s own recent track record suggest?
Zuma and Western intelligence
While still fighting corruption charges and campaigning for ANC president, Zuma was happy to associate himself with dubious white businessmen. His visit in 2007 to Stratfor, an infamous private intelligence agency based in the United States, is particularly interesting given subsequent smears against the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela as a ‘CIA spy’.
Stratfor was already 100% convinced in July 2007 (6 months before Zuma was elected ANC president) that he was “the guy that’s going to be the next S[outh] African president”.One document reveals that after Zuma became president, Stratfor put in a proposal to provide consultancy services to him, though it is unclear whether the proposal was accepted. This does, however, make claims about being persecuted by Western intelligence agencies seem extremely disingenuous.
Zuma the social conservative
The framing of Zuma as a left-wing individual who supports redistribution is similarly misleading. Despite his initial support from the ANC’s left-wing alliance partners – the South African Communist Party (SACP), Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – it appears that Zuma is actually a social conservative who only pandered to the left of the alliance in order to get elected. One example is his adoption of the phrase ‘radical economic transformation’. A sop to the left, this phrase in fact lends itself to virtually any interpretation. In the absence of further explication, it merely serves as a useful rhetorical device.
Zuma has shown his true colours elsewhere, such as in his criticism of social grants where he expressed a conservative dependency theory that goes against a large body of evidence on the South African case. Ironically, whereas Zuma claimed social transfers to poor South Africans were unsustainable, the National Treasury – attacked by Zuma supporters as being conservative or ‘anti-transformation’ – produced a report showing that they were fiscally sustainable.
Zuma made similar remarks about the provision of free housing, which is no small irony given that only after a Constitutional Court judgement did he refund the state for undue benefits he received for his own rural mansion in Nkandla. (And some calculations suggest he benefitted handsomely despite this repayment).
Zuma has also been implicated in using the State Security Agency (SSA), and significant public funds, to create a phoney labour union. The objective of this was seemingly to undermine the radical new union in the platinum sector, AMCU. Furthermore, it has transpired that at the time of the Marikana massacre an SSA agent was playing the part of key negotiator for the mining company Lonmin.
But Zuma appears to be not only anti-poor and anti-labour, he is also anti-intellectual, as revealed in his infamous remark about ‘clever blacks’. A number of analysts and ANC stalwarts have suggested that this remark, and the attitude associated with it, contributed to the ANC’s loss of its majority in the province of Gauteng in the 2016 local government elections.
‘Selling off the family silver’ to white monopoly capital
One specific example that completely contradicts the Zuma narrative involves the (majority white-owned, monopolistic) Naspers and the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Naspers is a global media company with its origins in one faction of the apartheid National Party government and given its ownership and dominance would arguably qualify as a member of any 'white monopoly capital' grouping. A critical contributor to its early success was obtaining, through a non-competitive process, the first private television broadcasting license in South Africa in the mid-1980s. This history is sometimes repeated as part of the pro-Zuma narrative when Naspers-owned newspapers report critically on Zuma. What is not mentioned is how the broader Naspers stable appears to have benefitted handsomely from decisions actively pursued by Zuma and his cronies.
The first instance relates to South Africa’s incredibly fraught plan and policy for the digital migration of broadcasting. In short: ANC policy converged on the view that encryption would lead to the best outcome for consumers. Naspers’ satellite television company MultiChoice opposed this, for reasons its competitors and independent experts claimed were based on a desire to maintain its monopoly.
Government initially followed ANC policy, but then Zuma sacked the incumbent minister (Yunus Carrim) and appointed Faith Muthambi who proceeded to defy the policy of her own party. Under Muthambi and her apparatchik Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC signed a contract with MultiChoice which contained a clause contradicting the original government position on encryption. It also reportedly sold its archives to MultiChoice at a price that has led to the deal being described as “selling off the family silver”. Motsoeneng is reported to have received a massive bonus linked to this deal.
Even more intriguing is a subsequent report that Naspers CEO, Koos Bekker’s unhappiness with the government’s stance on the issue was a major contributor to Zuma’s otherwise inexplicable sacking of the Minister of Communications. The report suggests that Bekker knew of the Minister’s sacking in advance, mirroring reports of similar (albeit much more extensive) knowledge held by the Guptas in relation to other ministerial appointments.
Evidence not on Zuma’s side
The evidence available contradicts the propaganda Zuma and his backers are attempting to disseminate: Zuma has been a friend of both ‘white monopoly capital’ and organisations linked to Western intelligence agencies when it suits him. This may explain why some right-wing commentators believe Zuma is preferable to many alternatives, while the SACP has been one of the pivotal forces recently in pushing back against Zuma’s machinations.
* Seán Mfundza Muller is a South African economist, with experience in the public sector and a keen interest in the dynamics of South Africa's political economy.