7 December 2007

Take The Gap

The SACP Johannesburg Central Branch will gather for a braai in Rhodes Park, Kensington (cnr Kitchener Ave and Langerman Dr) from 15h00 this (Saturday) afternoon. Bring your own drink. Click here for full details.

Now: When is an error a mistake, and when is it a lie? There were a couple of big ones yesterday (Friday).

First there is the one that is typified by the article (linked below) headlined “Zuma's aides prepared to oust Mbeki early”. The media have got the bit between their teeth and are rushing off in one direction.

Zuma’s “aides” do not have to oust Mbeki early. Mbeki’s cause is disintegrating already without need of any further assistance from the anonymous “Zuma aides” who are spin-doctoring the London media.

Mbeki is falling apart and that will open a gap. If Jacob Zuma hesitates to take that gap, somebody else will take it. It is very simple. There is no question of votes of no confidence in Parliament or of special general elections. Thabo Mbeki is a member of the ANC and can be told by the ANC to step down. That is all that is needed. If this happens now, JZ will walk in. But if it is left, Mbeki will collapse anyway. Another person could then find a way in front of JZ. At that point the Zuma goose will be cooked.

R W Johnson, in the Wall Street Journal (link below), opines that Mbeki is now “cornered”.

So why is Mo Shaik being wheeled out to say: “We won't topple Mbeki”? Why does ANC KZN Provincial Secretary Senzo Mchunu feel obliged to announce: “Zuma doesn't need 'short cut'” (see link below)? Are they trying to play peek-a-boo with the people? Hide and seek? Bait and switch?

Mistake or lie? Here is another, easier example. In Colleen Lowe-Morna’s diatribe in the Mail and Guardian, mercifully not available on the Internet, she writes: “Without delving into the possibility of corruption charges, Zuma’s court-proven patronage of Schabir Shaik must be of utter concern” (and proceeds from that to compare Zuma with Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko).

Yet that was just what was not “court-proven”. No consideration from Zuma’s side was demonstrated. Only the accumulation of small favours from Shaik to Zuma were shown, over a decade of time, during which the relatively short occupation of a flat by Zuma was grossed up to a purely notional, but very huge cash figure that was by far the largest component of the alleged “payments” made by Schabir Shaik. The judge then very precisely said that it did not matter that no “patronage” had flowed from Zuma to Shaik. What mattered was that the judge (Squires) was convinced, he said, but without evidence, that Shaik must have expected a favour. He would have been stupid if he didn’t, said the judge! It stands to reason, said the judge (his own reason, his Christian, Rhodie mind-set, and not Shaik’s Muslim, ANC one). Bang! Fifteen years! Confiscate all his millions and ruin him, too!

The same mistake/lie occurs in another article, “Zuma fear also a case of common class snobbery” by Pierre de Vos, linked below. The general tone and argument is quite different and even opposite to Lowe-Morna’s. This law professor comes as close as he can to saying there is no case for JZ to answer and the matter is rather more to do with snobbery and irrational class fear. He could even have used Lowe-Morna’s article as evidence for his case. And yet he casually repeats Lowe-Morna’s “mistake” by saying that “the deputy president of the ANC [JZ] had taken more than R1m from a convicted fraudster and then did some favours for that fraudster”. What favours were those, Prof? Saying it’s so doesn’t make it so!

Christi van der Westuizen’s book (excerpt linked below) has been withdrawn from sale because of a legal challenge on behalf of the monster, Eugene de Kock, who says he did not braai and eat meat while at the same time incinerating one of his victims nearby. This excerpt from the book is not about that. It is about (in our terms) how colonialism of a special type was preserved in South Africa after 1990, 1994, and 1996.

Click on these links:

Zuma aides prepared to oust Mbeki early, Sapa, M and G (662 words)

Zuma needs no short cut, Niren Tolsi, Mail and Guardian (567 words)

Native Paranoia of Mbeki, R W Johnson, Wall Street Journal (1299 words)

Zuma fear also a case of common class snobbery, Pierre de Vos, B Day (731 words)

How whites won the economy, Christi v d Westhuizen, M and G (1406 words)

Coming Events


  1. Maybe Mr Jacob Zuma never did favours for Schabir Shaik but both the Durban High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal found that Mr Zuma had done several favours for Schabir Shaik. My claim that Mr Zuma did favours for Shaik is thus based on the findings of two courts. You might disagree with the court finding, but you cannot deny the existence of the judgments and cannot say that there is not a case to answer - at least on an ethical level. Whether this constitutes criminal behaviour on the pat of Mr Zuma has NOT been decided by any court, but if one assumes the Supreme Court of Appeal was correct, then Mr Zuma has at best actred in a very unwise and ethically challenged manner.

  2. Professor,

    Greetings, and respect.

    If I had not read the SCA document and worked over the information in it so carefully I would be less eager to assert what I am asserting.

    I put down everything material down on a spreadsheet. I have been trained to do book-keeping as an accountant and in the same process I studied contract law. I am also in politics.

    Apart from the "Zuma matter" and all that it entails, I was interested in whether a general precedent was being set here that would cause difficulties in terms of fund-raising for political purposes.

    Let me put it like this: If a payment to a politician was made and no consideration received in return, then that could be now be construed as corrupt on the giver's side. If Schabir had made his payments, not received any payback, and still be held corrupt, because he was presumed to have expected something, then all such transactions (gifts to political people and to judicial persons, too) would be prima facie corrupt. That is going to make fund-raising very difficult.

    So I combed the SCA judgement to find the consideration, the quid pro quo. I did not find any! I found that they had totted up small, petty favours that Schabir had done for JZ over years of time, and then lumped in a huge "grossed up" item for the use of the flat, and called it Rx million. On the other side there is nothing!

    If you know better, please tell me about it. Otherwise, I am entitled to say what I said. If you can show me the consideration, I will be quite relieved in one way. What I am afraid of in terms of the general law is that any payment to a politician or to a party could be held as corrupt because the donor must, ipso facto, have expected a favour in return, according to the precedent set by Squres and supported by the SCA. I do hope this matter is going to be probed by the Constitutional Court, in these terms. I am afraid that all the JZ specifics will over-ride it, and by the way, I would say that Schabir's lawyers have been very remiss. They could not see the wood for the trees, in my opinion.

    Dominic Tweedie

  3. Dear Professor,

    Thank you for granting me another life in this exchange of ours.

    I can say that I follow your argument. I could counter it with a class argument, that says bourgeois society, including bourgeois parliamentary democracy, is and has always been about sanctifying otherwise arbitrary divisions of the spoils of capitalist exploitation. I could say, with justification, that bourgeois justice invariably favours the rich over the poor, and that arguments that hold up the “Mr Mkize” standard are only triumphant when Mr Mkize is not a party in the case, as in this case.

    I could say that the one instance in which Jacob Zuma was shown to have successfully benefited Schabir Shaik’s business was in his capacity as economic MEC for KZN, when he scotched the rumour of disapproval, and I could suggest that if he had been allowed to give evidence on this point, Zuma might have shown any number of Mr Mkizes who had also benefited from his interventions in this capacity.

    I could do all that but it would probably be sterile. What makes this case different, and once again I am relying on memory, was that the SCA itself decided to go deep into the philosophical question of what absolutely constitutes corruption in an inherently arbitrary system, capitalism, where the State and business are deeply, and intentionally, intertwined. I think they had to do this, because the whole story of South Africa for at least a century is the story of this relationship between business and the state, and in the recent past this relationship has been not less, but extremely more active.

    The SCA judges were looking for a unique distinction in the relationship of Shaik and Zuma that would allow them to find it corrupt, in contradistinction to all the state interventions that go on, of which every capitalist, large and small, expects many, and frequent ones. All these businesses expect the state to help them, not merely as a class, but individually, and as of right.

    Their search took the all the way back to the first “placaat “on the subject, made in the days of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company, within weeks, or at the most months, of one of the most celebrated cases of this sort (capitalist corruption), that of Jan van Riebeeck, no less. van Riebeeck had “traded on his own account” while in the employ of the company in Vietnam, I think by carrying stuff for Vietnamese in the company’s ships and being paid for it personally. The case may seem clear-cut today, but it did not at the time. The Dutch State was the very first fully-fledged capitalist state and here it was making new case law on the point of what is corrupt in a corrupt system, capitalism. What is robbery in a system of systematic robbery. Did they succeed?

    Obviously, in the case of van Riebeeck, they did not succeed. They had to let him off and the company sent him to the Cape, where he planted a hedge, and the rest is history.

    I think that the fact that the SCA was forced all the way back to the “placaats” (plural, but the effective one is the first one of the two) in the Shaik case is profoundly significant. It is as if the Shaik case has cracked open the entire history of South Africa as a modern state, bringing the still moist, corrupt heart of it back to the surface after all these years.

    What else could the SCA do? They simply mimicked the rulers of the Dutch bourgeois republic, (and Pontius Pilate) declared Shaik corrupt and washed their hands of the matter. No way were they going to find capitalism guilty.

    I put it to you that there is no way to define corruption in a capitalist society, because capitalist society is founded on corruption. The test that you apply is that of relative fairness: that a relative advantage is criminal is given to one and witheld from another, or intended as such. I’m not sure if this was extensively tested in this case. What was at issue was not the relative, but the absolute definition of corruption. And in that there was no material distinction found between the Zuma/Shaik conduct and any of a million other such relationships playing out on a daily basis and called normal (and vital, essential) commerce.

    The SCA opted to confirm itself. In an arbitrary world, we are the arbiters, it said.

    The SCA didn’t think twice about a middle-aged man, who had not hurt anyone, being stuck in jail for 15 years, and huge amounts of money confiscated from him. Like the old Netherlanders, the declaration, or the placaat, was more important than the immediate case, by far. What had to be maintained was the pretence that an absolute distinction can be made, rationally and on the basis of factual evidence. The judges were required to support the central myth of capitalism, and they obliged. Of what importance was Schabir, a man with very few friends, compared to the future of capitalism?

    That’s what I think.


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