SA is just a holding company - guess who your new boss is
At least Chinese rule will provide lots of work for budding totalitarians within the ANC
Depending on whom you ask and who’s paying them, the identity of South Africa’s current president varies wildly.
Julius Malema, for example, keeps insisting that our real president is Pravin Gordhan. Half of the ANC will tell you that it’s really Jacob Zuma, or at least should be. And if you buy him lunch at Wimpy and dry-clean his camouflage onesie, Carl Niehaus will tell the world it’s you.
All of them are, of course, hopelessly mistaken. Because, as of last week, the real president of South Africa is Xi Xinping.
China’s decision to pour enormous sums of money into the ANC’s two en-suite toilets (Eskom and Transnet) has raised a few alarms. Some commentators are worried about the terms of the loans: Peter Bruce cited the recent case in which Sri Lanka surrendered an entire port to China after it failed to repay its debt. At what point, we wonder, will Richards Bay become the People’s Democratic Revolutionary Harbour Facility (African Sub-Directorate) Number 6b?I understand these concerns, but I must confess that I am not particularly worried about our sovereignty, mainly because we’ve never really had any, at least not in the way nationalists, patriots and similar fantasists dream about.
We’ve been a distant franchise of a Dutch corporation, a productive asset for a British mining operation, a loyal client of American and British financiers and French arms dealers, and a piggy bank for three brothers from Utar Pradesh. But this thing we call “South Africa”, that politicians use to frighten and enrage and divide us, is simply a holding company.
I know it’s not a pleasant idea, but in a capitalist world built on a great creaking, rocking scaffold of debt, everyone is owned by someone else. (If you believe the EFF, perhaps because you have a weakness for human windsocks that pivot wherever the prevailing populist breeze is blowing, you might even think that your columnist is owned, perhaps by Dali Mpofu’s favourite bogeyman, “the new Stratcom”. I wish. I’ve been leaving my card in strip clubs and at shooting ranges for weeks and still haven’t had a single offer from the Broederbond.)
If we accept, then, that we have always been and will always be owned by foreign powers, then China seems as good a boss as any. Sure, at last count there were 41 journalists in prison in China, but 41 journalists in prison is what some in the ANC and EFF call a good start. And yes, opposition politics isn’t really a thing in China, but democracy is so 20th century, don’t you think, King Goodwill? (It also can’t hurt that China is a booming market for cigarettes, and more cigarettes mean more smuggled cigarettes, which means more money for the EFF. At last! Economic freedom in our lifetime, depending on how advanced our emphysema is!)Of course, not everyone will benefit from Chinese ownership of South Africa. Satirists, for example, will be unemployable because they’ll be indistinguishable from journalists.
For example: on Sunday we read that a large number of ANC officials will be sent for training with the Communist Party of China – an organisation dedicated to preventing anything resembling a democratic election – on how to campaign in a democratic election.
Now, asking China to help you contest a free and fair election is like deciding that the best way to become a secular humanist pacifist is to join al-Qaeda. It’s laughably absurd. Except these days it’s just the daily news, and satire will soon be dead, killed by fatal exposure to a real world that feels increasingly surreal.
Still, at least Chinese rule will provide lots of work for budding totalitarians within the ANC. According to an unnamed insider, Ace Magashule “said we could learn a lot from the Chinese on the issues of strategy and propaganda”.I don’t know about learning a lot: I can’t imagine the Chinese textbooks on strategy or propaganda are particularly long. Indeed, I imagine they consist of a single sentence, respectively, “Establish one-party rule forever” and “One-party rule is fabulous and if you disagree we’ve got a lovely little re-education camp with your name on it!”
I’m also not sure these lessons will help Ace’s crack squad of brainwashing candidates. The ANC is now so committed to incompetence that it could run in a one-party election and still lose.
But it is true that China can teach us some important lessons: about where we are and what me mean in the world; about how many of our liberal ideals we are willing to sell, and at what price. And the most important lesson of all: that he who pays the piper – or keeps the lights on and the trains rolling – calls the tune.