Phillip Dexter
Phillip Dexter

The ghost in the machine

Anyone observing the “Spook Wars” between elements of the intelligence community should be forgiven for thinking that this is just a testosterone driven phenomenon, or a case of “my secret gadget is bigger than yours”.

In reality, this disturbing phenomenon, most recently seen before the ANC’s Polokwane conference, is a feature of the ongoing social, economic and political crisis we in post apartheid South Africa face.

The processes of class formation and accumulation of wealth on the one hand and the related struggle for political office on the other, have rendered citizens as passive observers in a faux gladiatorial contest between different fractions of the elite, who position themselves for deals as our economy is perpetually restructured. In the course of this struggle, they lay waste to our institutions, our organisations, our values and principles, so valiantly fought for by generations that have past or are passing.

The effects of this political phenomenon ensures that the poor remain poor, the workers do all the work, the leaders pretend to “lead” and the profits stay the same. What can be done to break this mould of South African politics?

Richard Mdluli, Bheki Cele, Jackie Selebi, Mo Shaik, Bulelani Nguka — what do they have in common? All of them are accused and sometimes themselves accuse others of being apartheid agents, spies for foreign agencies or just criminals. “Spook wars” have become an indelible feature of our polity.

Prior to 1994 a similar pattern was evident in the apartheid regime’s intelligence services. What is it that has reduced the combined “intelligence” of the ANC and the former NP to warring fractions in the NIA, SASS, SAPS CI and elsewhere? Given the struggle over resources in and around the state, it would be surprising if this were not the case. But the intensity of these battles is alarming. Criminal charges, death threats, possible assassinations and other dodgy things seem to be the order of the day.

Given the levels of corruption, racketeering and general “tenderpreneurism”, it is not surprising that the protectors of information have become peddlers of the same, selling “secrets” to the highest bidder. In the course of this, enemies are made, murders are committed and the mission of these important services — to protect the citizens of the republic — is abandoned. The accumulation of wealth through the state has become the primary mission of so many, leaving the idea of service to those few idealistic and romantic souls who dare to continue to think that they make a difference in a rotten state.

Yet, it is hardly any different in the corporate world. White-collar crime is rampant. Corporate assassinations are not uncommon. We have muggers at train stations and muggers in the JSE. The latter are slightly better dressed. At a lower level, investors are fleeced of their money. “Mashonyisa” charge high interest rates and high service charges and the customer gets screwed. The price of just about everything from books to cellphone calls, from electricity to bread, is rigged in favour of the corporations. Poor service is not confined to the public sector. It’s just glossy and “sexy” in the private sector.

In our communities, violence, crime, substance abuse and just plain meanness are common. Social cohesion and social capital, where they exist, are constantly under attack. So, where did we go wrong?

Ours has been a revolution in difficult times. We are afflicted by paralysis of the left, while the moribund right make hay. Even the innovation that one sees from capitalists in other parts of the world is lacking in our country. Ours is a stagnant and lazy capital, made so by the conditions of monopoly and unfair competition that stifle innovation and cost saving in the economy. As for our labour, it is so compromised that it even stands by helplessly while its own members are treated as chattel slaves by the family of the president. To expect this movement to actually strategically lead the process of change in our country is like waiting for a miracle.

It is clear from the reports that the so-called intelligence document that was written for or by Mdluli, was in some way interfered with by, among others, Blade Nzimande, the erstwhile general secretary of the SACP. This is not dissimilar to the famous Browse Mole report that was leaked to substantiate the claim that there was a conspiracy against the then deputy president. In the course of that struggle, the spooks tied labour, elements of capital and of the ruling party into a coalition to unseat the then president. Now their objective seems to be to preserve the current president’s power. In whose interests do these spooks therefore act, since they are meant to be independent of the political processes in our country?

My submission is that the nexus between capital, political power and crime now resides in the intelligence agencies. The project that brought Jacob Zuma to power was one masterminded by organised criminals who pose as politicians and businessmen. This network spreads across the labour movement, the ANC and SACP, into government and in business. It rigs conferences, decides who gets appointed to what posts, who gets which business deals and even who should be the president. The only way this rotten structure can be defeated is for citizens to stand up and be counted. We must organise and vote it out of power. We must demand there are no more secrets and the death of the ghost in the machine.