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Israel’s shadowy role in Guatemala’s dirty war

By Gabriel Schivone. The Electronic Intifada

Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s Dirty War that left more than 200,000 dead has not been met with justice. William Gularte Reuters

Last year was a busy one for Guatemala’s criminal justice system.

January 2016 saw the arrests of 18 former military officers for their alleged part in the country’s dirty war of the 1980s. In February last year, two ex-soldiers were convicted in an unprecedented wartime sexual slavery case from the same era.

Such legal proceedings represent further openings in the judicial system following the 2013 trial and conviction of former head of state General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court very quickly annulled the trial (finally restarted in March after fitful stops and starts, but currently stalled again), a global precedent has been set for holding national leaders accountable in the country where their crimes took place.

And in November, a Guatemalan judge allowed a separate case against Ríos Montt to proceed. The case relates to the 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Erres.

Ríos Montt was president from 1982 to 1983, a period marked by intense state violence against the indigenous Mayan peoples. The violence included the destruction of entire villages, resulting in mass displacement.

Mayans were repeatedly targeted during the period of repression that lasted from 1954 – when the US engineered a military coup – to 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala during that period, 83 percent of whom were Mayans.

The crimes committed by the Guatemalan state were carried out with foreign – particularly US – assistance. One key party to these crimes has so far eluded any mention inside the courts: Israel.

Proxy for US

From the 1980s to today, Israel’s extensive military role in Guatemala remains an open secret that is well-documented but receives scant criticism.

Discussing the military coup which installed him as president in 1982, Ríos Montt told an ABC News reporter that his regime takeover went so smoothly “because many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” In Israel, the press reported that 300 Israeli advisers were on the ground training Ríos Montt’s soldiers.

One Israeli adviser in Guatemala at the time, Lieutenant Colonel Amatzia Shuali, said: “I don’t care what the Gentiles do with the arms. The main thing is that the Jews profit,” as recounted in Dangerous Liaison by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.

Some years earlier, when Congressional restrictions under the Carter administration limited US military aid to Guatemala due to human rights violations, Israeli economic and military technology leaders saw a golden opportunity to enter the market.

Yaakov Meridor, then an Israeli minister of economy, indicated in the early 1980s that Israel wished to be a proxy for the US in countries where it had decided not to openly sell weapons. Meridor said: “We will say to the Americans: Don’t compete with us in Taiwan; don’t compete with us in South Africa; don’t compete with us in the Caribbean or in other places where you cannot sell arms directly. Let us do it … Israel will be your intermediary.”

The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather program attempted to explain the source of Israel’s global expertise by noting in 1983 that the advanced weaponry and methods Israel peddled in Guatemala had been successfully “tried and tested on the West Bank and Gaza, designed simply to beat the guerrilla.”

Israel’s selling points for its weapons relied not only on their use in the occupied West Bank and Gaza but also in the wider region. Journalist George Black reported that Guatemalan military circles admired the Israeli army’s performance during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Their overseas admiration was so unabashed that rightists in Guatemala “spoke openly of the ‘Palestinianization’ of the nation’s rebellious Mayan Indians,” according to Black.

Military cooperation between Israel and Guatemala has been traced back to the 1960s. By the time of Ríos Montt’s rule, Israel had become Guatemala’s main provider of weapons, military training, surveillance technology and other vital assistance in the state’s war on urban leftists and rural indigenous Mayans.

In turn, many Guatemalans suffered the results of this special relationship and have connected Israel to their national tragedy.

Man of integrity?

One of the most haunting massacres committed during this period was the destruction of the El Petén district village named Dos Erres. Ríos Montt’s Israeli-trained soldiers burned Dos Erres to the ground. First, however, its inhabitants were shot. Those who survived the initial attack on the village had their skulls smashed with sledgehammers. The bodies of the dead were stuffed down the village well.

During a court-ordered exhumation in the village, investigators working for the 1999 UN Truth Commission cited the following in their forensics report: “All the ballistic evidence recovered corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel.”

Then US President Ronald Reagan – whose administration would later be implicated in the “Iran-Contra” scandal for running guns to Iran through Israel, in part to fund a paramilitary force aiming to topple Nicaragua’s Marxist government – visited Ríos Montt just days before the massacre.

Reagan praised Ríos Montt as “a man of great personal integrity” who “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” Reagan also assured the Guatemalan president that “the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency.” At one point in their conversation, Reagan is reported to have embraced Ríos Montt and told the Guatemalan president he was getting “a bum rap” on human rights.

In November 2016, however, judge Claudette Dominguez accepted the Guatemalan attorney general’s request to prosecute Ríos Montt as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre, pressing him with charges of aggravated homicide, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Among the 18 arrested this year was Benedicto Lucas García, former army chief of staff under his brother Romeo Lucas García’s military presidency. Benedicto, who was seen by some of his soldiers as an innovator of torture techniques for use on children, described “the Israeli soldier [as] a model and an example to us.”

In 1981, Benedicto headed the inauguration ceremony of an Israeli-designed and financed electronics school in Guatemala. Its purpose was to train the Guatemalan military on using so-called counterinsurgency technologies. Benedicto lauded the school’s establishment as a “positive step” in advancing the Guatemalan regime to world-class military efficiency “thanks to [Israel’s] advice and transfer of electronic technology.”

In its inaugural year alone, the school enabled the regime’s secret police, known as the G-2, to raid some 30 safe houses of the Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA).

The G-2 coordinated the assassination, “disappearance” and torture of opponents to the Guatemalan government.

While Guatemalan governments frequently changed hands – through both coups and elections – during the 1980s, Israel remained Guatemala’s main source of weapons and military advice.

Belligerence at the border

The Israeli military-security complex casts a long, intercontinental shadow over Guatemalans who are still fleeing the consequences of the dirty war.

In some areas along the US-Mexico border, such as in Texas, the numbers of migrants hailing today from Central America (but only from the countries combusted by US intervention – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) – has begun to outpace the number coming from Mexico.

According to information provided to this author by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office in Arizona, many Guatemalans who have perished while crossing these desert borderlands originated from among the indigenous Mayan areas hit hardest by the 1980s genocide: El Quiché, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango.

Southern Arizona has also seen a spike in undocumented Guatemalan migration. US firms and institutions have been collaborating with Israeli security companies to up-armor Southern Arizona’s border zone.

The Israeli weapons firm Elbit won a major government contract to provide 52 surveillance towers in Southern Arizona’s desert borderlands, beginning with the pilot program of seven towers currently placed among the hills and valleys surrounding Nogales, a border town split by the wall.

More towers are slated to surround the Tohono O’odham Nation, the second largest Native American reservation in the US. Already the number of federal forces occupying permanent positions on Tohono O’odham lands is the largest in US history.

Alan Bersin, a senior figure in the US Department of Homeland Security, described Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, Mexico, as “now our southern border” in 2012. That “southern border” was heavily militarized during Barack Obama’s eight years as US president.

We can safely expect that militarization to continue during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric during the presidential election campaign suggests it is likely to be intensified.

During the dirty war, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled over this border into Southern Mexico. Today, Israel assists the Mexican authorities in Chiapas with “counterinsurgency” activities largely targeting the indigenous Maya community.

Though media reporting on Guatemala’s connection with Israel has dissipated, Israel’s enterprising efforts in the country have never diminished. Today, Israel’s presence in Guatemala is especially pronounced in the private security industry which proliferated in the years following the so-called Guatemalan peace process of the mid-1990s.

Ohad Steinhart, an Israeli, relocated to Guatemala at this opportune moment, originally working as a weapons instructor. Roughly two years after his 1994 move to Guatemala, he founded his own security firm, Decision Ejecutiva.

Steinhart’s modest 300-employee company is small compared with the colossal Golan Group, Israel’s largest and oldest private security conglomerate in Guatemala.

Founded by ex-Israeli special forces officers, the Golan Group has also trained Department of Homeland Security immigration agents along the US-Mexico border. The Golan Group has employed thousands of agents in Guatemala, some of whom have been involved in repressing environmental and land rights protests against mining operations by Canadian firms. The company was named in a 2014 lawsuit by six Guatemalan farmers and a student who were all shot at close range by security agents during a protest the previous year.

Guatemala’s use of Israeli military trainers and advisers, just as in the 1980s, continues. Israeli advisers have, in recent years, been assisting the current “remilitarization” of Guatemala. Journalist Dawn Paley has reported that Israeli military trainers have shown up once again at an active military base in Coban, which is the site of mass graves from the 1980s. The remains of several hundred people have so far been uncovered there.

The mass graves at Coban serve as the legal basis for the January arrests of 14 former military officers. This past June a Guatemalan judge ruled that the evidence is sufficient for eight of those arrested to stand trial. Future arrests and trials are likely to follow.

Scholars Milton H. Jamail and Margo Gutierrez documented the Israeli arms trade in Central America, notably in Guatemala, in their 1986 book It’s No Secret: Israel’s Military Involvement in Latin America. They worded the title that way because the bulk of the information in the book came from mainstream media sources.

For now, Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s dirty wars passes largely without comment. But Guatemalans know better than most that the long road to accountability begins with acknowledgment.

Yet it is unclear how long it will be before we hear of Israeli officials being called to Guatemala to be tried for the shadowy part they played in the country’s darkest hours.

Gabriel Schivone is writing a book on US policy towards Guatemala.

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At site of 1936 sit-down strike: UAW Members Resisting Honeywell Lockout, Now in 8th Month

By Frank Hammer.

“You brought a breath of fresh air!” That’s how two UAW Local 9 officers summed up the impact of solidarity activists who converged on South Bend, IN on January 5, 2017 to show support for Honeywell workers locked out of their jobs for over 8 months.  More than a dozen UAW autoworkers, retirees and allies drove from Chicago and Detroit despite snow gusts and sub-freezing temperatures to bring encouragement and donations to the 320-member local.

The Local 9 members at a Honeywell Aerospace factory in South Bend, Indiana and the 42 workers at their sister plant in Green Island, NY (members of UAW Local 1508) have been locked out since May 9, 2016 over a contract dispute.  They make braking systems and wheels for commercial and military aircraft, including the Boeing 737, the Boeing B-52, and Lockheed Martin F-35. The average wage was $21.83 per hour.

The dispute is not over their wages.  It’s Honeywell that’s demanding deep concessions in their new 5-year contract, including the elimination of cost-of-living increases and pensions for new workers, cuts in overtime pay, subcontracting out work, restricting representation rights, and more.

Workers rejected Honeywell’s demands by a 90% margin two days before the lockout, and again by 70% on November 23, 2016, even though unemployment benefits were running out.  The locked out workers draw $200/week payments from the Union’s strike fund (and health insurance), plus donations flowing in from a variety of sources including community groups and other union locals which is keeping their food pantry stocked.  Some have found other employment; many have seen their savings depleted.  Six days before the December holidays Honeywell demanded another vote on the identical (modified) proposal presented in November, but local leaders Todd Treder and Bryan Rodgers told Honeywell via a UAW representative, “no dice.”

“They want to bust our union”

In an interview with Treder and Rodgers on the day of the solidarity action, the local reps said the number one objection by the membership was not monetary, but instead about union seniority and other quality of work life rights won over decades of negotiations.  They were even willing to make some concessions on increased co-pays and deductibles in their health care, but the company insists on the right to unilaterally change health coverage, premiums and deductibles.

According to Treder, Vice President and spokesperson for the Local, “3 weeks before the previous contract was set to expire, the company made their proposal by presenting our 2011 contract, with lots of red lines across all the contract language they wanted taken out.  It’s clear to our membership; they want to bust our union.  The company knew full well what it was doing.”  The November vote occurred on nearly the same day that, 80 years ago, workers staged a successful 8-day sit-down strike that forced the then-Bendix Corporation to recognize their UAW local.  , The South Bend plant occupation was a precursor to the 44-day sit-down strike initiated on December 30, 1936 at GM factories in Flint, Michigan.

Honeywell ‘s history with lockouts

Honeywell was prepared to play hardball. Long before the contract vote, they began outsourcing work and shuttling in replacement workers hired by Strom Engineering who followed UAW members around, attempting to learn their jobs.  Strom Engineering markets itself as providing temporary workers – otherwise known as scabs – “to ensure consistent production in the event of a labor disruption.”

“The steps followed by Honeywell,” Rodgers said, “follow a very definite script of not one but two other lockouts waged in 2011 and 2015 against United Steelworkers Local 7-669 at a Honeywell uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill.”  Treder added, “The lockouts there lasted 8 and 13 months.  When Metropolis plant manager Dean Palmer was reassigned to South Bend months before our contract was set to expire, we knew something was up.”  Rodgers said, “The tactic backfired, and unified the local.”

Honeywell says it needs to rein in costs because the aviation industry has hit some “turbulence.”  Yet industry sources report new multi-billion dollar contracts for hundreds of new aircraft, including India’s Spice Jet airlines.  Honeywell International is highly profitable; its stock price quadrupled over the past ten years to $115 per share. CEO David Cote was paid $34.5 million in 2015 and cashed in another $36 million in stock options.  He is in line for a $168 million pension when he retires in March.  The company had record profits of $4.77 billion in 2015.

In a “dear colleague” letter to the locked out workers after the second contract rejection, Honeywell executives expressed “extreme disappointment” with the South Bend Local.  “Our offer is fair, reasonable and consistent with what other U.S. unions within Honeywell have already approved, including another UAW local in Michigan and your colleagues in Green Island (UAW Local 1508, which voted to ratify the company’s offer, but failed to offset the large no vote in South Bend).  We worked hard to provide the union with our best offer and it will not get richer.”

Then-Indiana Governor Pence undermines locked out workers

According to labor journalist Mike Elk, “While President-Elect Donald Trump has tweeted out denunciations of defense contractors for cost overruns associated with producing F-35s, he has yet to call out  Honeywell for asking the Department of Defense for reimbursements from the cost overruns of the cost of hiring and training scab replacement workers, who make brakes for the F-35 and F-18.

“In fact, his Vice President-elect Mike Pence, as the Governor of Indiana, attempted to block the workers from receiving unemployment benefits. Although workers locked out from their jobs in union disputes, are entitled to unemployment benefits, Pence personally intervened to slow down the process of Indiana resident receiving the benefits; thus delaying the workers from receiving benefits for nearly two months.”

“Return to Our Roots”

UAW officials have lent support to the locked-out workers, facilitating donations received by the local, and filing unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB (which is dragging its feet).  Last year they helped with rallies in South Bend and in Albany, NY – where they protested a government decision to award Honeywell an $18.3 million contract for brakes for the Navy’s F/A-18 plane.  However, when the local leaders arranged the second ratification vote in November (with no recommendation),  UAW officials advocated a “yes” vote.  The UAW website has been mum on the lockout since.

The Autoworker Caravan, in conjunction with UAW Local 9 and St. Joseph Valley Project/Jobs with Justice (Indiana), will hold a “Return to Our Roots” solidarity rally in South Bend on Saturday, February 11, 2017 to mark the 80th Anniversary of the UAW Flint Sit-down strike. Unionists and allies are urged to support the courageous Honeywell workers, and to join in!

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Raising Kobanî from Rubble

By Manisha Ganguly. This article was first published on Real Media.

It’s been two years since the liberation of Kobanî in Syria from the Daesh (ISIS) stronghold. The area, lying on the Turkish-Syrian border, was of strategic importance to Daesh, due to the direct access it provides to continental Europe. In September 2014, Daesh had surrounded Kobanî, which had caused thousands of civilians to flee into Turkey. With the rising civilian death toll, the Kurdish resistance had retaliated to recover territory. On the 27th of September, 2014, US-led coalition air strikes began in the area, accompanied by the advancing Kurdish fighters. Finally, on the 26th of January, 2015, the YPG Commander, Polat Can announced: “Congratulations to humanity, to Kurdistan, and the people of Kobanî for the liberation of the city of Kobanî!”

Since then, however, the struggle in Kobanî, one of the three cantons in the autonomous region of Rojava, continues on a new forefront. Following the defeat of Daesh, the job of reconstruction was assigned to the newly-formed Kobanî Reconstruction Board. The Board was faced with the insurmountable task of not only clearing the tonnes of rubble from smashed buildings, but also of navigating mines and booby-traps left behind by occupying Daesh forces. Added to this was the increasing necessity of restoring 80% of the city’s infrastructure destroyed in the air-strikes and battle, as dispossessed civilians who were left without access to food, water, healthcare, returned to the war-torn town. But first, it was necessary to assess the level of damage before the rebuilding was initiated.

Hawzhin Azeez (32), who had moved to Kobanî from Australia in October 2015 to help with the rebuilding process as member of the European Kobanî Reconstruction Board, says, “The lack of information emerging from Kobanî made it essential that we have someone on ground to compile the data, reports and statistics needed for the European Kobanî Board to support the rebuilding process. But difficult border issues, and the ongoing embargo from Turkey and northern Iraq into Rojava, made it unable for me to leave. Besides, when I arrived in Kobanî I realised that the amount of work required far outweighed what I had assumed would be the scope of my work.”

Rebuilding: From Minefields to Hospitals

Hawzhin is from south Kurdistan herself, and was tasked with compiling reports which ranged from healthcare, water, electricity, to a list of mines and unexploded ordinances in the town. She was also part of the massive archival project undertaken by the Kurds, to document the rebuilding process. “We believed strongly that the rebuilding of the city was a historical task that required detailing for future generations. As someone who has a PhD with specialisation in rebuilding in post-conflict and war torn societies I can attest that the degree of rebuilding of the city was unprecedented.”

The five-stage rebuilding process by the Board, involved securing basic necessities like shelter, food and water for the returning civilians, followed by clearance of the rubble for easier transportation. The third stage involved building of plants and factories to supply the construction materials needed for the rebuilding process, followed by the rebuilding of infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals itself. The final and most critical stage, which is still pending, is local economic development necessary for recovery of the community.

At the heart of this process, she says, lies the three pillars of the Rojava Revolution: democratisation, gender liberation and ecological sustainability. “For instance, we built a bakery with the aim of creating jobs for women. The bakery is now being run with the help of a Christian organisation on the ground called AVC International and women are working in the bakery.”

The rebuilding process has seen remarkable success, considering the paucity of resources available and the embargoes imposed on the region. Over 70% of damaged roads have been restored, two hospitals have been rebuilt and another two added, including a health clinic. The 15 schools rebuilt now host over 50,000 students, and another school for the orphaned children of Kobanî is being set up in cooperation with the Free Women’s Association of Rojava (WJAR). The Tishreen dam, liberated from ISIS on the 26th of December, 2015, provides round the clock electricity to the region.

The Rebuilding Process

However, a lot of NGOs have been hesitant to provide aid to the Kobanî Reconstruction Board, which, being an official institution of the Canton, is linked to the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party founded by Abdullah Ocalan). In response, Hawzhin co-founded the Hêvî Foundation (hêvî is Kurdish for hope) to cater to the medical needs of the civilians. “We believed we can bypass some of the restrains the Board faced. Recently Hêvî was able to transfer 20 tons of urgently needed medicine including much needed Polio Vaccination, insulin and antibiotics to Kobanî. An ambulance catering specifically to gynaecological health, donated by the Christian organisation AVC International, was also delivered by us to Kobanî’s hospitals. Another 20 tons of medicine is also on the way and will arrive in Kobanî soon.”

The Board, composed of engineers, doctors, architects, and other professionals, is formed of two halves: the European section, and the Kobanî one. The former includes Kurdish and non-Kurdish activists and experts, with offices in European countries such as Germany, Holland, England, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, to help with fundraising. While the European Board has an even sex ratio, the Kobanî Board was mostly male-dominated. “I was the only female on the Kobanî Board because the people on the board were either architects or engineers, construction workers or people who maintained the large number of heavy building machinery and equipment that we had- all unfortunately still male dominated work, especially in a place like Syria where women have been traditionally barred from these types of work”, explains Hawzhin.

The transition from a European lifestyle to living in a war-ravaged city had been particularly difficult for her. “I remember when I initially arrived during winter, due to lack of water, electricity and heating gas I would shower once every two weeks which was very hard. Not only were there differences in language, but there was still significant tribal and patriarchal values that existed on the ground. Navigating the space between being an insider-outsider, the language barriers, my feminist values within a male dominated, construction environment was incredibly difficult.”

She admits, however, that these factors conferred upon her privileges unavailable to local women, that helped her negotiate. “I used these privileges to set up regular weekly meetings with the women in the office. For instance, I was shocked to realise that the women and girls who had been working for a year had no idea what their legal rights to maternity leave, holiday and sick leave was. We promptly invited the Women’s Board (the Women’s Ministry) who were responsible for disseminating this information.” In post-war Rojava, where most of the households are now female-led due to male deaths on the frontline or conscription in the police force, mothers are legally given one hour off work to check on their children.

Escalating Conflict: Embargoes and New Offensives

The escalating conflict with the liberation of new areas from Daesh control, with the added lack of aid and resources in liberated areas which are being diverted to help these new areas, has created a significant problem for the Board. In addition, the embargo from Turkey and northern Iraq has made access to humanitarian aid even more difficult. Newly liberated cities such as Manbij have resources sent from Kobanî and Cezire cantons (liberated), which leaves the donor cantons with barely enough to sustain themselves with.

The Kobane Reconstruction Board [Hawzhin is lower right of the flag]

With the impending Raqqa (Daesh capital) operation and the constant influx of civilians from bombed areas such as Aleppo and Azaz, the situation is expected to worsen over time. “This is a massive influx for a completely embargoed population, yet efforts are being made to support, house and feed the displaced population, because there is no alternative but humanity- in contrast to Europe’s literal billion dollar deals to sell off refugees to Turkey which has one of the worst human rights records in the region, especially in relation to its treatment of refugees”, says Hawzhin.

“During my time in Kobanî there has been numerous times where refugees have been shot point blank for seeking safety. More disturbingly, Turkish border guards often shoot at passing innocent civilians who are not getting close to the border and who are simply going about their day, driving or opening their store”, she continues.

To combat the embargo, the people of Kobanî organised themselves into agricultural and dairy co-operatives to sustain themselves. However, the lack of media attention on their struggles has presented a significant problem for fundraising.

“As Kurds we are familiar with blanket media silence of the massive oppressions, violences and massacres that our people experience across all four parts of Kurdistan. Currently, the murder, extra judicial killings of activists and civilians, the imprisonment of democratically elected HDP party members, the destruction of homes and villages, and offices of our representatives across Bakur of Kurdistan is occurring openly and with vile transparency on the part of the AKP government. There has been little to basic references to human rights violations by the Western media”, she says angrily.

However, the trajectory of Kobanî over the past two years, despite being fraught with difficulties, has presented unique possibilities for self-organised democracy along feminist lines, on principles of cooperation and mutual aid. “We have imagined and tried to create a society different from the status quo, which had defined the relations between different ethnic and religious groups as those based on survival and resource wars. Ours has evolved to include co-operation, and mutual co-existence. It has involved a gender revolution. A democratic revolution.”

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The Corruption of a Dream

By Oupa Lehulere. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

“Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”

— Honoré de Balzac

The SASSA scandal currently unfolding is probably the most dramatic expression of how far the African National Congress (ANC) has traveled since its days of opposition to apartheid. [SASSA stands for South Africa Social Security Agency, which is the agency that pays social grants to about 17 million beneficiaries.] Under apartheid, ANC activists were associated with laying down their lives in defending and advancing the interests of the mass of the people – in particular the black working class. Today, the cadre of the ANC is associated with stealing from the mass of people they used to die for. It is now commonly accepted, including in the ANC itself, that the corruption and theft of public resources is not just an isolated problem in the ANC. The general South African public and the ANC itself now accept that the problem is deep and systemic.

Anti-Apartheid Struggles

In every newspaper, social media, and television platforms and in everyday conversation the corruption in the ANC is now standard diet, and therefore the SASSA scandal would seem to be just one other scandal among many. But the SASSA scandal, on the contrary, is important in one respect: it allows us the opportunity to develop an understanding of ANC corruption as being made up of different kinds. As a result of the political struggles in the ANC around which the SASSA debacle is unfolding, this scandal gives us an opportunity to look into a part of the ANC's corruption that the mainstream and middle class press shies away from – the legalized corruption that the ANC has presided over for over 20 years.

Corrupt Alliance

The corruption of the President Jacob Zuma and Gupta family alliance (aka ‘Zuptas’) is clear for all to see – and it is clear to all but its beneficiaries, that it must be opposed and struggled against. What is equally clear is that Pravin Gordhan and the finance ministers that came before him have presided over the growing impoverishment of the mass of black working class South Africans. Under their watch, wealth has become more concentrated in South Africa and has remained deeply racialized. It is equally clear that the development of the black middle class has not moved beyond flashy clothes and flashy cars – under their watch this class remains as precarious as ever. It is also undeniable that there is really no serious black big bourgeoisie to speak off – except a couple of pin-up boys who are exceptions that prove the rule.

In the public domain – and in particular in the media – the focus has been on the most visible part of the problem: the Zuptas. Indeed, Pravin Godharn and his bloc in the ANC have been held up as models of good governance and clean government who will save South Africa from its ‘descent’ into a banana republic. No connection or relationship is established between the corruption of Zuma and his supporters in the ANC, and Gordhan and his “clean governance.”

In the course of the SASSA crisis it began to emerge that there may be deep interconnections between the corruption of the Zuma group and monopoly capital in the form of Alan Gray (owners of Net1 and Cash Paymaster). Note also that another Mr. Clean, ex-Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, booted out by Zuma on account of his commitment to “good governance,” has also ended up at Alan Gray. Ex-Minister Nene is no flash in the pan when it comes to the revolving door between government finance leaders and finance capital. We know that ex-Finance Minister Trevor Manuel is now one of the big chiefs at Old Mutual, that other giant of South Africa's monopoly club. Soon after leaving the Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni joined Goldman Sachs, the U.S. investment banking house notorious for its scandalous if legal behaviour all over the world. It also turned out that the bankers of SASSA are none other than the ‘white monopoly capitalist’ most hated by Zuma and his side-kick, College ‘Oros’ Maine – the Ruperts.

How did it come to pass that the most corrupt section of the ANC is connected in all these ways to “white monopoly capital”? Further, how do the “clean” politicians of the ANC also end up in the same bed of monopoly capital? Is there, indeed, a more than passing connection between corruption in the ANC and “white monopoly capital”? Is there a connection between the break up of the ANC currently underway and white monopoly capital?

In light of the SASSA crisis it is important to move beyond the smokescreens and hype put up by South Africa's mainstream media and its analysts, and explore the deep connections between corruption and neoliberal governance (popularly known as ‘good governance’) that is promoted by Pravin Gordhan and his supporters.

Distribution of Wealth

The wealth of any society is distributed among its various social classes through a range of mechanisms. In capitalist society, the means and processes of the distribution of society's wealth range from the division of wealth between wages and profits; the markets in which goods are bought and sold serve to distribute wealth between the classes; for example, in the agricultural commodities market the wealth is extracted away from the small farmers and other producers toward financiers who control the world's global markets in agricultural commodities. The system of taxation in a country also serves to distribute wealth between the classes; and the way the government (in any country a key economic actor) produces, buys and supplies goods and services to the mass of the population also serves to distribute wealth between the classes. The entire capitalist economy is organized around the making of profit for the capitalist, the owner of factories, shops, mines and farms: the means of producing goods and services. The entire system, therefore, is essentially about the way the wealth that is produced is distributed among the capitalists, the middle class, and the working class or poor people in a country.

Theft vs. corruption

In any society there are people who steal something from others. Corruption, however, is not just theft (though in many cases it includes theft), but involves an illegal, hidden and unethical use of access to resources and power to transfer wealth and power to the benefit of oneself or for the benefit of one's associates. Corruption can be done for a range of reasons, including for personal enrichment, enrichment of friends or relatives, and/or facilitating access to resources and power by yourself, friends and relatives. In the history of capitalism and in the formation of the capitalist class, corruption (and sometimes even more violent crimes) constitutes the most important way of creating wealth for a new capitalist class. In addition, as a result of the constant threat to the wealth of the capitalist resulting from competition and the instability of capitalism, capitalists must periodically engage in corruption – this illegal, hidden and unethical transfer of wealth and power – to maintain their wealth.

Legalization of corruption

In South Africa, for example, the wealth of all the rich white capitalists is founded on the theft of the land, the minerals beneath the land and other resources of the country. Also, it was founded on the exclusion from power of all social classes and groups from the black majority. During the process of the formation of the South African state in the early 1900s, the black middle class of the time – led by the ANC – attempted to get themselves included in the new power arrangements of the Union of South Africa, but this was rejected by the white capitalists and their colonial government in Britain.

An important step in the development of any capitalist class is reached when the wealth this class acquired by theft, corrupt and illegal means is transformed into legal wealth; when they write and rewrite laws to legalize their wealth. For example, the land that was stolen by white settler capitalists over many years in South Africa was legalized with the Land Act of 1913. The initial legalization of corrupt wealth requires that the capitalist class creates a range of laws that maintain this ill-gotten wealth. These laws include property laws and by-laws (in cities and municipalities), laws around setting up businesses, the organization of state policies and taxes that favour the reproduction and maintenance of that wealth, and so on. Meetings between individuals and corporations to organize this corruption are sometimes legalized – and this is referred to as “lobby-groups” and so on. In many countries, such as France, “lobbyists” get paid a lot of money and spend a lot of money (legalized bribery) to persuade those in power to act in the interests of certain power groups.

Power and corruption

Once a capitalist class or section of a capitalist class has legalized its corruption, it has an interest in ensuring that the corruption of competitors is not legalized. By keeping them illegal, the ruling capitalist group can obstruct, weaken, or punish at will its competitors. At times, it may “turn a blind eye” to this corruption as long as it does not threaten its rule. It can also periodically use this dark side of capitalism to strengthen its position without running a risk of becoming illegal – in other words the established capitalists can “outsource” corruption.

Because of their power these groups have created their own system of justice, in which they all agree to pay “traffic fines” for this corruption and theft. In South Africa recently, a number of banks agreed to pay “fines” for manipulating the rand. This parallel system of justice, which includes legal institutions like the Competition Commission, whitewashes corruption and allows powerful groups in society to evade the normal process of criminal justice. Along this line, think also of the bread cartel, which colluded to rob the poor of their already meagre wages and grants.

Distribution of Wealth and Corruption

Corrupt groups in society – such as the ANC cadre or groups of new capitalists like the Afrikaner capitalists after 1948 – draw the wealth they transfer to themselves from different parts of society. There are four main sources of wealth, or circuits of wealth, from which the corrupt groups can steal. The first is from the capitalist class itself. There are many cases of this corruption in the financial markets, and daily we hear of reports of “insider trading,” which is corruption between and among financial market traders to steal from the capitalist class itself. The second is from the state. The third is to steal directly from the middle class, and fourth, they can steal directly from the working class. Corrupt groups focus on the lines along which wealth is distributed in society, where they “intercept” this wealth behind the scenes and direct it to themselves and friends. The wealth can be “intercepted” within the circuits of wealth of particular classes, as well as when wealth moves between the different circuits. Corrupt groups do not in general create wealth, they redirect it and consume it once it is produced.

The line of distribution on which corrupt groups focus depends on the power this group enjoys in society. For example, groups like investment banks and currency trading groups are able to redirect wealth that is circulating in the financial sector by corrupt means. As I have argued, they have created their own systems of justice to ensure that their corruption is legalized. In order for corrupt groups to intercept wealth from the capitalist classes and the middle classes, they need control of important institutions like banks and large corporations.

Weaker groups of emerging capitalists are forced to focus their corruption on less powerful groups in society – such as the working class. In order for them to intercept resources within the working class, and to intercept resources that move from the state to the working class, they need access to political office. Political office allows these groups to intercept transfers from the state to other classes as well, but their lack of power forces them to focus on transfers from the state to the working class.

The 1994 Transition Blocks Black Capitalists

A number of key agreements made during the negotiations before 1994 have come to block the formation of a new class of capitalists. Their elements were:

a. Constitutionalism and constitutional continuity

The constitutional and political settlement at the dawn of democracy constituted the first line of defence against the dangers that democracy posed to the wealthy groups in society – in particular to white monopoly capitalist interests. While not being the only elements of the settlements that served to block the redistribution of wealth, the ones we would like to highlight are:

  1. the transformation of South Africa into a constitutional state.
  2. the adoption of the concept or doctrine of ‘legal continuity’, which meant that all laws and agreements that were passed or entered into during colonialism and apartheid remained valid and could only be changed through the legal process.
  3. the new dispensation made it unconstitutional to punish anyone for any offence committed in the past if no law said it was an offence at the time.
  4. the capitalist corporations continued to be “juristic persons,” and this meant that all key rights conferred by the new constitution to protect people against abuses of apartheid (such as expropriation of property for very low compensation) also protected capitalist organizations.

The doctrines of constitutionalism, constitutional continuity and illegalization of retrospectivity were not enough to defend monopoly capital. Monopoly capital did not trust the new black elite as it was not always clear if the black political elite now in government would resist the pressure of their constituency to redistribute wealth. The capitalist class, through a range of means, intervened to create other lines of defence against the pressure for redistribution of wealth.

b. The capture of the ANC

To protect the interests of monopoly capital, determined efforts were made to capture the ANC as an organization, and these efforts were already successful by 1992. In that year, the Mail & Guardian organized a retreat at Mont Fleurs outside Cape Town, where the consensus about a free market capitalist road began to emerge. Some of the people present were to be key in the adoption of free market economics or neoliberalism in post-apartheid South Africa. They included Trevor Manuel, Tito Mboweni, Rob Davies, Saki Macozoma, Jayendra Naidoo, and some of the biggest capitalists, Christo Wiese, Derek Keys and so on. It was these series of engagements that ended in the capture of the ANC by monopoly capital, and resulted in the adoption of “Growth, Employment and Redistribution” (GEAR) policy by the ANC in 1996.

c. Flags of convenience

Another line of defence put up by (white) monopoly capital was to ensure that key capitalist organizations are protected against the South African state – which was black and could not be trusted – by foreign governments. Following the ascent of Trevor Manuel to the Treasury, five of South Africa's large corporations were granted permission to become “foreign companies” by shifting their “home” addresses to London and New York. This move allowed these companies to move their wealth overseas. By 2001 the companies were exporting more than R7-billion in profits made in SA overseas. The ‘flags of convenience’ of these companies meant that they were now protected against South African people by their new-found “parents” – the UK and U.S. governments. From being South African companies, they now became foreign investors in South Africa! While the big five companies expressed this process in the most visible manner, the strategy of ‘flying flags of convenience’, even without moving the primary listing to foreign countries, has continued. Today almost half of the biggest companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are controlled by foreign shareholders. Almost 75% of the companies have 30% or more of their stocks owned by foreign shareholders. This level of ownership is enough to control a company, and with the resources at the disposal of these foreign groups they are able to exert a major influence on the South African economy and on the South African state.

d. Privatization of state enterprises, or starving SOEs of investment

Wall number four was also put up, and this mainly involved pressure on the new South African state to privatize the key assets of the state. If privatization was not possible, the state allowed these assets to fall into neglect so as to allow the “private sector,” meaning the big capitalist, to create “new industries” to substitute the state industries. Private health is one such example – the decline of state health has led to the consolidation of the rise of private health.

The debacle around SASSA is another example of how the decline in the capacities of the state, a direct product of the neoliberal policies pursued by successive ANC administrations with the Finance Ministry at the vanguard, has led to the current situation in which a state organ cannot even process payments, notwithstanding the fact that the South African Revenue Services run an equally large, modern and sophisticated electronic system of filing and payments. Add to this that the entire Department of Home Affairs platform is now digitized and uses modern biometrics, and we can see how the SASSA crisis is one manufactured by vested interests.

Fortress Capitalism

These four lines of defence created a fortress around capitalist organizations and the privileged white middle class, and ensured that their wealth would be preserved. This defence of capitalist and white privilege and power ensured that any new group of black capitalists that wanted to become rich could only be rich on one condition: by the mercy of white monopoly capital. This is how many ANC cadres such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Patrice Motsepe became rich. This condition, however, was a recipe for conflict. Not only would the black working class grow restive over time, but the black middle class and the aspiring black bourgeoisie would have to find ways around these walls of defence. This battle was what set in motion the battle for the ANC.

This battle began to take shape around what was called “the class project of 1996” (a code for the capture of the ANC by monopoly capital and neoliberalism); the battle grew into the Polokwane project that brought together Julius Malema and the ANC Youth League, Zwelinzima Vavi and COSATU, the black petty bourgeoisie at the local level (mainly in the bureaucracy of the local state), and sections of the aspiring black bourgeoisie such as Tokyo Sexwale and Ramaphosa. At this point in the battle, people like Nene and Gordhan were part of this broad church.

Corruption and the battle for the ANC

The policies implemented by the government of Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel blocked the emergence of a class of big black capitalists that could challenge white monopoly capital. The rich few blacks they produced were too dependent on white monopoly capital. Their policies also began to have a negative effect on the working class and the small and fragile black middle class. As unemployment rose and the black middle class struggled to survive, the tide turned against Thabo Mbeki's leadership in the ANC, and he was overthrown at Polokwane in 2007 and recalled in September 2008. This overthrow of Thabo Mbeki was seen as the end of the “class project of 1996,” and a new regime at the Finance Ministry was thought to be at hand with the accession of Pravin Gordhan to the helm. It was not long before the Polokwane bloc came up against the many lines of defence put up by monopoly capital. It must be remembered immediately on becoming president, Zuma was on his way to London to meet “investors.”

Although this bloc had come to political office around the rhetoric of “radical economic transformation” based on the Freedom Charter – much as the Zuma bloc is now again trying to do – they had no real programme or plan on how to break through the stranglehold of monopoly capital and the defences it had put up over more than 20 years (1990 and before, to 2009).

Without any programme, the new Polokwane bloc could not break through three of the four lines of defence put up by white monopoly capital. The economic situation of the middle classes – their key constituency – had been deteriorating and their indebtedness had been rising in the 15 years or so of the new democracy. As an historical bout of bad luck would have it, they also came into political office against the backdrop of a global economic crisis. This meant that even the crumbs that had been dished out to the Tokyos of this world were drying up. Black participation in the JSE began to decline, monopoly capital and its international counterpart demanded fiscal discipline and austerity and the state as a redistributive mechanism was frowned upon even more by those who held economic power in society.

Thus the Polokwane bloc and the class it represented – the petty bourgeoisie, now dependent on their position in the state – had only one option to survive: through corruption, tenders and doing business with the state that employed them.

Earlier I argued that there are four sources of corrupt enrichment in capitalist society. Recall that I argued that the first line is to divert resources from within the capitalist class. The second was to extract resources from within the state through large state contracts. The third was to extract resources from the middle class, and fourthly, from the working class. Three of these remained blocked, and only one (extracting resources from state transfers to the working class) was now open for this class and the Polokwane bloc.

A new situation had arisen because in the Polokwane struggle monopoly capital and its allies in the ANC lost control of the ANC. The Polokwane bloc had breached one of the four walls of defence set up by capital – they had recaptured the ANC. This immediately opened up the possibilities of extracting resources meant for the poor working class communities, especially via the local state. The only option open to a weakened and defeated black middle class was to extract resources from the line that distributed resources from the state to the working class. At all levels of the state, but particularly at the local state, the new black elite has been extracting wealth for its consumption from resources meant for the working class and the poor. The scale of this corrupt extraction can be seen in the reports of the Auditor General year after year since the transition began. Billions and billions of rand are “lost” every year to “wasteful,” fruitless, and unauthorized expenditure. We can see this extraction from broken RDP houses, unfinished school buildings, pot holes on roads across the country, non-delivery of text books, waterworks that are sabotaged in order for fictitious tenders to be created, and the list goes on without end. The SASSA crisis currently unfolding represents a particularly ugly version of how this group is intercepting resources meant for the working class, but it is only the most visible one because it is now unfolding around a single date, April 1.

The control of the ANC by the Polokwane bloc, however, did not bring with it the power to breach the three other lines of defence set up by monopoly capital. The constitutional and legal defences are still intact, and litigation against the Zuma state has intensified at all levels. Also, massive capital flight and export continues, and various means are implemented to accelerate this. Lately, transfer pricing has become a favoured means to export profits to overseas destinations. The swindling of the middle class, especially the affluent white middle class, remains the preserve of big capital and its banks, which are jealously guarding the banking space for new entrants and find all manner of ways of collapsing upstarts that want to disturb the current division of the market into spheres of influence.

The struggle currently underway (Zuma vs. Gordhan) in the ANC owes its specific origins to a number of key developments since the victory of the Polokwane bloc. The basis of these developments is the fact that the Polokwane bloc had no real programme of how to confront monopoly capital. The rhetoric of the SACP and COSATU, themselves closet believers in neoliberal policies, was clearly not enough to confront the “beast” that is monopoly capital. Confronted with these defences, the bloc folded and fractured in a hundred different directions. Some of the key modalities of this fracture included:

  1. Zuma, who had no programmatic or political interest in the struggle against monopoly capital, went back to his old ways of responding to the intractable nature of the transition: petty corruption. Remember that before his rise to the throne, Zuma was facing hundreds of petty corruption charges. What the new situation opened up was more of the same: resource extraction of the pettiest kind. So followed Nkandla, a large dose of petty theft.
  2. The Treasury under Gordhan was recaptured by monopoly capital, as he was forced to continue dishing out all the neoliberal formulas of his predecessor, Trevor Manuel. The continuation of the Treasury's orientation toward neoliberal economics of monopoly capital was facilitated by the difficult conditions of the global economic crisis on the one hand (he came into the Treasury just after the crisis), and the lack of any programme (besides rhetoric) on the part of the Polokwane bloc. Without any programme, the man who was going to put an end to the “class project of 96” had no clue on what was to be done – and when you don't know you just keep going. Zuma's propensity for petty corruption, his lack of any real ideas (big or small) on any issue and his patent helplessness in running the ship of state – all these facilitated Gordhan's capture by monopoly capital.
  3. The entry, or rather re-entry, of sections of the Polokwane bloc that had pretensions to being big capitalists also dampened any appetite for a fight with monopoly capital. The likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, deeply indebted to monopoly capital, deeply intertwined with it (Lonmin) had no appetite for this fight and did not believe in radical economic transformation. The attitude of this faction was that it could be rich by being “clean,” and were clearly at odds with the Zuma group of petty thieves.
  4. Those who still believed in the rhetoric of the Freedom Charter, like Julius Malema and Irvin Jim, now came face to face with the fact that no amount of radical rhetoric can shift the entrenched nature of monopoly capital. They also came face to face with the fact that the Zuma section of the bloc and the Ramaphosas of this world had no appetite for the fight, and for the rhetoric as well. They split off from the Tripartite Alliance and the ANC, and went on to continue with their rhetoric and theatrics.
  5. In the course of all these struggles (the run-up to Polokwane and the immediate beyond), COSATU became less and less of a force to be taken seriously by the other factions in the Polokwane bloc. The Marikana massacre bled the key actor in the pro-Zuma blocs in COSATU – in particular the NUM – and with Numsa leaving the sorry state of COSATU is there for all to see.
  6. The South African Communist Party (SACP), as usual, puts its head in the sand, throws around a bit of rhetoric, and hopes that history will lead to socialism in the end. Caught between the petty corruption of Zuma and Gordhan's shift to the right, the SACP defends Rupert (anything but the Guptas), likes the rhetoric of “radical economic transformation,” and in general swings wildly between the two main protagonists in the struggle of the excluded petty bourgeoisie against white monopoly capital.

These lines of fracture of the Polokwane bloc led to the alignments of factions in the ANC that are now playing out a new, and maybe last phase, of the disintegration of the ANC. In the immediate conjucture of the SASSA crisis, the alignments look like this:

In the corner of monopoly capital stands Gordhan. As the conjuncture of circumstances would have it, the SACP and COSATU stand in this corner. As a result of his anti-Zuma orientation, Julius Malema find themselves (temporary?) allies of Gordhan, and therefore of white monopoly capital. In the other corner stands (?) Zuma, his family, the consuming black petty bourgeoisie at the local level, and of course the Guptas.

Enter the Guptas

The arrival of the Guptas on the scene (initially introduced by the Mbeki bloc), and their linking up with the Zuma bloc, has led to an intensification of hostilities in the struggle for the extraction of resources from the state. Up to then, there was no actor in the Zuma or Polokwane bloc more broadly, who had the appetite and resources to fight white monopoly capital. Also, up to then there was no actor that was involved directly in real production – people like Ramaphosa are stock millionaires, not real production capitalists.

The importance of the Guptas in this battle cannot be understated. The Guptas are providing four key elements that have been lacking in the Zuma bloc. First, as we indicated already, the Guptas are a producing capitalist group and not just a group of consuming individuals. Second, the Guptas have financial resources that can “take on” big capital in South Africa. Third, the Guptas have the organizational skills that come with organization of production, and they have had to “organize” the whole bloc, even to the extent of dishing out cabinet posts!

Fourth, if the Guptas succeed in making inroads into the circuits of wealth that run between the state and large capitals – the state enterprises are key in this circuit – they may well break into the heart of the circuits that run within the capitalist class itself. An important project of the Guptas will be that of having its own banking arm. This aspect of the project will also give it access to extracting wealth from the affluent middle classes, or in the beginning from the black middle classes. With the ability to issue loans to the middle class on a significant scale, and backed up by access to large state contracts – it will most certainly be game on!

In the short term, the most important strategic goal is to capture the Treasury, currently the most important bastion of monopoly capital within the state. A common error in the analysis of what is clearly an important strategic project for the Guptas – the capture of the Treasury – is that the Guptas only want to “loot.” Now, the idea of looting is always associated with corruption, in particular with consumption, and not production. This is a fundamental error of theory and analysis.

The Eskom contract around the Tegeta coal mining contracts is a classic example of the processes of the legalization of corruption. It therefore provides an interesting example of how monopoly capital and its “fourth estate,” the media, would cry wolf while they themselves engage in similar kinds of practices. The main purported “sin” of the Guptas is that they got “paid an advance” on coal that they did not have, and in turn used this advance to purchase the mine and later deliver the coal. Now, this kind of financial engineering is standard practice with the likes of Goldman Sachs (see Goldmans Greek debt swindle), derivatives of all kinds (remember that what triggered the global economic crisis was the housing loan derivatives), and in many cases straightforward theft of state resources.

If we leave the world of financial engineering (that is the legalized theft of social wealth) the Eskom deal is classic in another and more important sense. The formation of large capitals in South Africa was underwritten by massive state subsidies over several decades. And guess who was key in the provision of these subsidies? Eskom! For decades, while the black working class had no access to electricity, Eskom ran the lowest electricity price regime in the world for big capitals. A combination of cheap electricity (Eskom), cheap steel (ISCOR) with cheap labour was the recipe that created today's white monopoly industries. The Tegeta deal is borrowing from an old book.

South African monopoly capital is aware of the threat posed by a victory of the Guptas: the Guptas may just succeed in legalizing their corruption alongside that of white monopoly capital. Sensing this, big capital and its allies are putting up a fierce resistance, and this threatens to break up the ANC completely. The battle for the Treasury expresses this issue most acutely, but the battle is equally acute across all the big state enterprises.

Public Opinion

Of importance in this struggle will be the battle for the hearts and minds of the population. Who will be able to win the battle for public opinion? At this point in the battle the Guptas and Zuma (a minor player in this historical drama) have the odds stacked against them. Almost the entire media sings from the same hymnbook: the Guptas are corrupt, they are a danger to the “nation,” (here xenophobia even comes into it) and they should be denied citizenship, etc, etc. On the other hand, it is easy to mistake the noise of the media for real support for the Gordhan corner.

June 26: Freedom Charter Day

The Guptas may therefore be under siege, but they have a crucial trump card, so to speak. Although the Polokwane project has broken up, the systemic social, political and economic problems that brought it into being do not only still exist – they continue to deepen. The economics of austerity implemented by Gordhan continue to pulverize the black middle class and the black working class. The levels of indebtedness of South African consumers has been steadily rising, and the only remaining question is when the tipping point will be reached: when are we going to see large-scale and politically explosive defaults among the middle classes?

On the other hand, the ANC has steadily lost credibility in the working class, as shown by the local government elections of 2016. As a result of this, the working class has become a passive force, as shown by its stayaway from the August local government elections. A combination of pressures on the black middle class still dependent on the state and its tenders, and a passive working class mean that Zuma and his faction may have lost the battle for the media, but they remain firmly in charge of the ANC. Sensing this, Zuma and his faction have “conjured up the spirits of the past to fight their current battles”: they have resurrected the rhetoric of “radical economic transformation” that initially launched the struggle against the “class project of 1996.”

These layers of the ANC apparatus see Gordhan's “clean government” crusade as directed against them. They see a repeat of the “class project of 1996,” and they are learning in the process not to depend on their traditional allies – the SACP and COSATU. Through its various factions in the ANC – in particular the Premier League – this group is digging in for a bitter fight for the ANC. This fight will break the ANC to pieces, but for this class there is no other option.

The consequence of this alignment of forces is that the Gordhan group has to try and launch assaults from outside the ANC. Thus the need for “stalwarts” and all kinds of “eminent persons” that appeal to the Zuma bloc to desist from the road of corruption. Their capacity to contest within the structures of the ANC has been considerably weakened by their association with monopoly capital and its vanguard in the person of Gordhan.

Free and Egalitarian South Africa?

At the heart of the Zupta versus Pravin battle is a battle between two kinds of corruption. On the one side is a corruption that has not yet been able to legalize itself, a corruption of excluded sections of the black middle class and those who aspire to be rich capitalists. At this point this corrupt faction steals directly from the poor, but it seeks to legalize itself and “play” in the greener pastures of corruption in the circuits of wealth that move within the capitalist class and the state itself. On the other side stand the front troops of legalized corruption – the corruption of white monopoly capital. Behind their appeal to the “rule of law,” to “clean government,” to “anti-corruption” stand the defence of privilege that has not only excluded aspiring black capital, but has produced a deep, structural and enduring poverty of millions of working class South Africans.

The prospects of a victory of monopoly capital, a Cyril Ramaphosa victory in the ANC, and therefore a recapture of the ANC is currently looking extremely slim. On the other hand, the Zupta bloc is facing formidable odds as it tries to breach the walls put up by monopoly capital. What South Africa may indeed be facing is what Marx called a “peace of the graveyard,” a “common ruin of the contending classes.” With monopoly capital unable to flush the Zuptas out of the state, and the Zuptas not able to impose a deal that legalizes them as co-thieves of social wealth, we may see a ruin of all classes.

In this whole battle for Treasury and the state between Zuma and Gordhan, the real elephant in the room is this: how did it come to pass that almost 40 million South Africans are dependent on meagre grants handed out by the state? This is the real inheritance of Mbeki, Manuel, Nene and Gordhan and the big capitalist groups they represent.

Both the monopoly capitalists and the Zuptas have corrupted something very precious in South Africa's history – they have corrupted a proud and militant tradition of struggle for social justice; they have corrupted South Africa's dream of a free and egalitarian nation.

With a ruin of all classes increasingly looking likely, the only way out is for the working class to come out of its period of apathy – but this will constitute a whole new historical period. •

Oupa Lehulere is an activist in the social movements and is currently based at Khanya College, a social justice and movement building institution based in Johannesburg, South Africa. This article first published by Pambazuka News.

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The New Leader of The Revolution? Nina Turner Gives Rousing Sermon at MLK Jr. Monument

by Sydney Robinson. The Ring of Fire Network.

On a grey Saturday afternoon, former Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner addressed an assembled crowd in front of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., calling on them to act in the spirit of the civil rights leader and take inspiration from his struggle for the fight ahead.

Sounding an awful lot like a reverend herself, Turner inspired all who listened with encouragements about the future, spreading a message of unity. She called on progressives to come together, with one hand reaching forward to climb above the struggle, with the other hand reaching behind, to pull those still struggling further skyward.

To Turner, though we feel we are facing dark times ahead, it is just a reminder of where we have been.

“The mountain might be higher, but we’ve been here before. The valley may be lower, but we’ve been here before.”

And just like we have done before, we will face the seemingly insurmountable obstacles ahead, ever fighting, ever reaching, for the things we as a united people deserve.

‘And guess what, sisters and brothers? We can’t have a testimony without a test, and we are being tested right now for whether or not we’ve got courage enough, hope enough, fight enough, love enough to do what is necessary.”


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