Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
5 February 2009

Why?

That old counter-revolutionary Max Du Preez has an interesting column out talking about the arrogance in government. Let me quote at lenght:

Arrogance and utter contempt for the ordinary citizen. That’s the ruling ANC’s most serious disease, one that could possibly see their fortunes dwindle to that of an opposition party in five years’ time.

The arrogance didn’t start after the ANC became the government of a free South Africa in 1994. It goes back a long way. When I visited the ANC leadership in Lusaka in the early 1980s I was struck by what I then thought was extraordinary pride and confidence. My friends in Swapo and Frelimo had warned me that the ANC was “high and mighty”, but the ANC was the party I saw as my political home then, so I ascribed the ANC’s over-assertiveness to a form of patriotism.

I was wrong, of course. I had glimpses of the ANC leadership’s arrogance in the 1980s when I was made aware of the severe treatment meted out to dissidents in the organisation and the way wishes and needs of the foot soldiers in the military camps were ignored. But I didn’t want to “play into the hands of the enemy” and didn’t speak out then.

The period between 1990 and 1994 was dominated by the negotiations with the National Party government and spreading the influence of the ANC among the electorate. And the period between 1994 and 1999 was the sweet time we had under Nelson Mandela.

When Thabo Mbeki took over as president in 1999, the old arrogance started showing again and it got worse during his second term in office, when the lines between the party’s interests and the state’s interests were becoming very blurred.

Mbeki has such a bad case of it that he did crazy things, like firing his deputy, Jacob Zuma, without the party’s sanction, protecting the commissioner of police who was under suspicion of being a gangster, and firing the man who wanted to prosecute the commissioner.

In fact, it was probably as much due to arrogance than to a lack of morality that the ANC leadership allowed itself to be sucked into taking vast amounts of money for themselves and for the party during the arms procurement transactions. We are the liberation movement; we are the state; it is now our turn, was the theme.

Mbeki’s arrogance led to his unceremonious toppling as party leader at Polokwane and then as president. Most South Africans outside the small Mbeki camp thought what happened at Polokwane was good for democracy, but sadly the post-Polokwane ANC is no less arrogant and contemptuous than the Mbeki-led ANC.

Sadly I have to agree with Du Preez. The blue light shenanigans is for me just a prime example of that arrogance. Why should every second bottle washer and assistant deputy mayor have body guards and speed around in convoys when ordinary South Africans cannot even afford a taxi fare? What makes politicians in government – at the moment mostly ANC types – think that they are so important that they are better than the rest of us. Why do they forget that in a democracy they are supposed to be OUR servants?

The racists out there have their answer, but I do not buy that of course.

It seems to me arrogance is born of power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is why American Presidents almost always land up in some scandal or another – no matter how kind and wise they started out. Once you get a taste of that blue light life you start thinking you are better than the ordinary citizens and that you deserve to be treated like a king.

In South Africa the transition to democracy made this worse because there was no revolution so the new state was just placed like a band aid over the old so the bad habits of the old regime often was taken over by the new. This is why it took so short a time for the ANC to turn so arrogant. That and the fact that “the masses of the people” vote for the ANC.

Of course in real terms only about 40% of eligible voters voted for the ANC in the last election, but because people get disillusioned with politics and the grubby politicians who run politics, they often stop voting and political parties like Zanu PF before 2000 can get larger and larger majorities in Parliament with less and less support from the people.

In the next election for me the most interesting number will be the actual number of votes garnered by the ANC vis-a-vis the number of eligble (not registered!) voters. That will say much about the legitimacy of its mandate and whether it has any reason to thumb their noses at the masses of the people.

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