The great South African soapie

Has anything changed?

The guy in the middle is the ANC and his lying entreaties are addressed to Cosatu and the SACP while his real passion – and the furtive fumbling in the dark – are with business, global and domestic.

I commissioned that cartoon in 1999 and Cathy Quickfall did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.

In the intervening 11 years I have used this same cartoon on several occasions (here’s one) to ask whether the game has changed.

I believe this is still the game: the ANC’s vacillation between a “left” agenda (consisting of a combination of growing state welfare, increasing effective taxation on the wealthy and expanded intervention into shaping the economy’s trajectory) versus the promise (made more strongly in private) to global and local capital that it’s rights to property and the retention of the large share of profits are inviolate.

All governments are faced with a similar dilemma, but it is a peculiarly South African phenomenon that the “left” agenda is married to the ruling party through the formal institution of the Ruling Alliance and that the political choices have, for clear historical and structural reasons, been cast in ‘racial’ as opposed to ‘class’ terms.

The cartoon as constructed worked perfectly well for the end of the Mandela era as well as the whole of the Mbeki era – even if, in typical soap opera fashion, the relationships became so complicated and entagled that the essential nature of the clandestine affair became difficult to percieve.

The analytical challenge  for myself for 2011 will be to establish whether it holds true today.

There are indicators, including vaguely in the January the 8th statement and government murmurings about the New Growth Path, that hint that the grand French style affair might be coming to an end.

The rise of Jacob Zuma was, in part, the result of a tactical manoeuvre by Cosatu and the SACP to stop the deepening and elaboration of the affair between the ANC and some of the uglier strands of global capitalism.

The strategy seemed to fail when the Zuma administration appeared initially to be all about continuity of Mbeki’s economic policies combined with replacing his BEE beneficiaries with the Nkandla Crew – the worst of both worlds.

I am starting to suspect that a combination of the strategic choices that have been forced on Zuma (by manoeuvrings to his right) and the absolute imperative that the ANC increase delivery to the poorest South Africans (who are the majority of voters) bring us closer to the breaking of the triangle that the cartoon represents than we have been since 1994.

I will continue to gnaw at the bones of this question in this blog and I welcome any contribution you might make to this or any other discussion that takes place here.

One thought on “The great South African soapie

  1. Forgive me for using the Garden of Eden analogy. For interpretation Cosatu and Business should swap places, because business is older than Cosatu/SACP and hence first.


    The temptation of goodies for money (apple from Satan) led to business (Eve) persuing that route with vigour, because the prospect of wealth and power was very tempting, not realising (and being warned) that it would lead to destruction, by pollution, theft, greed, rape of resources, poisoning, poverty, etc., etc. (As opposed to natural multiplication of animals and plants which causes no pollution or resources rape, etc., and leads to abundance/enough of everything).

    And business, not being satisfied with her sin and apologising and reversing the direction (Eve making ammends), she approached the ANC (her government; Adam) and used her feminie charms (money and promises of things) to get ANC to partake with her. Two sins for business (partaking of the goodies and the enticing her government to join in and sin with her).

    And as we know ANC (and all the governments) did and do partake of business (money and things). One sin for government (Adam); listening to business (Eve) for the sake of the things/pleasures.

    And then came Cosatu/SACP, a second and somewhat disenfranchised sister of business, and therefore having committed the same first sin as business; goodies for money and power. Why disenfranchised? Because goodies for money, wealth and power is a backfiring mechanism that over time produces more and more losers.

    Nevertheless Cosatu/SACP, having also committed the first sin by being with business, approach ANC, and again with her feminie charms enticed ANC to get into bed with her. ANC’s (Adam’s) ego being tickled, partook and in this example appears to do so covertly (Communism is covertly running the country).

    ANC in doing it with both, can now publicly be awarded the lion’s share of the blame, while the greater sinners business and Cosatu/SACP (the continual rape and destruction of people and earth) hide coily behind their charms (pleasure from the goodies and in a great variety).

    Business and Casatu/SACP cannot seem to help themselves because the allure of wealth and power is still too strong and they know nothing else, but ANC should know better and switch back to ideal and vision.


    ANC/government should revert back to true altruism, which means rejecting the temptations of business (money and goodies)/Cosatu/SACP(votes), and set an example for the three to follow. This means business/Cosatu/SACP seeing ANC’s switch to true altruism and them doing the same.

    Pie in the sky? It certainly looks like it, but the other way will strip the planet eventually of the oxygen we breath and all the money made between the business/Cosatu/SACP will not be able to buy it back.

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