Monday, August 15, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Nationalisation and the Information Bill – Something Smells Fishy
(Political Opinion) by Nick van der Leek

One man, above all, has been spreading divisive talk about nationalization. In fact, the Youth League leader describes nationalization as economic revolution. At every opportunity, Malema has been encouraging his followers to be revolutionaries (economic revolutionaries mind you) because, he says, nationalisation will unite and reconcile South Africans. The punchline is that the poor have every right to benefit.

Meanwhile, a more passionate repartee has emerged elsewhere. “Are we talking nationalization whilst living off the profits of privatization? Is that the sort of revolution we want?” I’m paraphrasing, but this was Ferial Haffajee’s cogent response to ex-Sowetan columnist Eric Miyeni, whose column had about as much impact as a flame thrower on a tinderbox. I won’t go into the gory details, but the crux of Haffajee’s crime, according to Miyeni: He called the City Press editor a traitor to blacks, someone “deployed by white capital”, Miyeni said, who deserved to be lynched. It was a vicious spat, but it masked a far more ominous threat, one I’ll get to in a moment.

First, let’s examine Haffajee’s defense. She questions the following (Miyeni’s) view: “[L]et’s say Malema does have a family trust, that the trust is funded by black business…[who] made their fortune through government tenders. What the hell is wrong with that?” Haffajee answers: “What’s wrong with that is that it’s a text-book definition of corruption and cronyism…and it means politicians end up taking a chunk of the profits that [could] be better…[re-invested] to increase black capital.”

Now it’s useful to put both publications broadly into context. City Press, with almost missionary zeal, has been nailing the Youth league leader, Julius Malema. Recently, the City Press have reached a fever pitch with blistering allegations against the firebrand. Malema, undoubtedly, have felt these allegations hit their mark. Indeed, the singing allegations solicited elaborate reaction from the Youth League (who called a press conference to shadow box with smoke and mirrors), and only a few days ago, Malema claimed he would sue City Press for defamation. City Press are gamely sticking to their guns; they maintain their source/s are accurate, that Malema indeed has a secret trust for funneling ill-gotten gains through tender rigging, which amounts to…what were those words Haffajee used… Ah yes, “corruption and cronyism”.

“I'm taking you to court City Press for defamation of character. In your defence you'll be forced to reveal this ape," he said, referring to the source. But Marothi Ledwaba, the same legal counsel who failed to prevent a prior City Press story on Malema, claimed he didn’t know about plans to sue.

Interestingly, in defending their leader, the Youth League referred to City Press journalists and its editor as "puppets" of "masters" bent on the protection ill-gotten wealth. It’s interesting because Miyeni touched on the exact same topic, in the exact same way, using precisely the same logic. The implications of the City Press allegations are another complaint of corruption by the Freedom Front Plus against Malema. The questions do seem valid. How can someone build a R16-million house in Sandton on a salary of R25 000?

It was within this context of blistering attacks on the Youth League leader that brought about Eric Miyeni’s scathing critique of the City Press editor. Calling Haffajee a black snake suffering from self hatred, Miyeni was quickly fired in the uproar that followed. Justice Malala and Mondli Makhanya wrote an apology on behalf of the Sowetan titled “Sorry, Ferial and all”. Malema charactertistically came out in support of the disgraced columnist, calling him a victim of “white editorial rules” and wanted to meet with the Sowetan to demand an explanation for Miyeni’s dismissal (which says something about the relationship between Malema, Miyeni and the Sowetan vis-à-vis City Press, Haffajee and fact finding reports).

“If you don’t agree with the (media) cabal, they destroy you. We must support Eric,” Malema said. Since Malema explains his instant wealth is the result of “charitable” donations, perhaps his personal vehicle, a R1.2 million white Range Rover, is an aberration. Matome Hlabioa, the sponsor of the handsome vehicle, reportedly received over R200m in tenders from Limpopo province. 
Malema has other trinkets too. According to City Press: Malema has two homes worth R4.5 million which are not mortgaged, a love of Breitling watches which retail at R250 000 a pop, [but] his salary cannot cover his lifestyle – but revelations about his business interests may finally explain where he gets his millions.

How can Malema, and other politicians with their hands in the cookie jar, respond to such derisive reports? And what do Malema’s calls for nationalisation have to do with City Press, and the Information Bill? Well, potentially everything. Imagine that both happen: the ANC nationalise resources and the Information Bill is passed into law. Who will benefit? Immediately, and almost overnight, the ANC and its present leadership will be virtually assured of a longer lease on the reigns of power than present demagoguery permits. Given the state of the economy, and the huge number of dissatisfied and unemployed, South Africa’s leaders must be feeling troubled if not terrified.

It’s possible that nationalisation is unofficial ANC policy. The continued reign of the party, it can be argued, depends on the ANC being able to convince their prime constituents, the rural, unemployed poor, that free lunches are still on the menu, and free money (or land, or gold) is on the cards. Possibly the motive is single-minded greed: ANC heavyweights chomping at the bit for further self-enrichment. The only party-killer in the picture right now, after all, are the newspapers. And the courts. The Information Bill paralyses both. Each time a story leaks, it has the potential to sour both the deals behind doors and the voting public. The Information Bill (also called the Secrecy Bill} allows for an easier flow of capital, a simpler, less convoluted and certainly less risky order of business for the intents of the corrupt.

It is interesting that Cosatu, who are also clearly anti-corruption, are resolutely opposed to the Information Bill. Cosatu, however, are confident that nationalisation is just a matter of time. But a few days ago Cosatu economist Chris Malikane and two ANC bigwigs contradicted one another. Malikane said nationalisation was not a case of if but when, while South African Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba separately called nationalisation talk “harmful”. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan earlier this year also said that nationalisation was not ANC policy. ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza recently said the ANC has no policy on Nationalisation.

Is it just possible that the ANC are testing the water with Malema, checking public and business response to the Youth League, biding their time as they seek to entrench the Information Bill and secure fortunes (and feet in various doors). Such a secrecy bill will rid the likes of Malema of bothersome allegations and editors like Haffajee for good. And, of course, Malema is not the first ANC politician nor the only one to benefit from nationalization whilst living off the profits of privatization.

There is of course, another alternative. The ANC may be playing both sides, and they themselves may be afraid, and unsure what to do in the interests of the country. What, after, are the best interests of the whole country? By playing dumb (or at least, keeping their cards close to their chest) they avert inflaming the unemployed discontents, and uncertainty keeps the middle class and the capitalists on their toes, and the ANC relatively in control, but juggling both until the game is up.

Note: The original article appeared in the August 12 edition of the Free State Times.

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