Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, writes in the book, Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment, that:”Beneath the specific events that I experienced, I recognized a universal story—the story of what happens when human beings find themselves at the mercy of cruel circumstances that have been generated by an inhuman, mostly unseen network of power relations.” He goes on to share what he was told by the former senior US Treasury Department official, Larry Summers, who, talking about insiders and outsiders said that, “insiders never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders do or say.” Because of concerns I have about the content of our political and economic discourse, another thing I wish to share with you from this book is the following: “Whenever a politician in the know gives a journalist an exclusive in exchange for a particular spin that is in the politician’s interest, the journalist is appended, however unconsciously, to a network of insiders. Whenever a journalist refuses to slant their story in the politician’s favour, they risk losing a valuable source and being excluded from that network.”
What took me to Varoufakis is our narrative of corruption which is narrow, is partly an exercise in misdirection and seeks to erase the sins of colonialism, apartheid coloniality and neo-apartheid. Another thing which took me to the idea of the deep establishment and that of insiders and outsiders is a documentary on Nokuthula Simelane that was aired on Power FM this morning. Nokuthula Simelane is a member of the African National Congress (ANC) underground who disappeared into thin air during apartheid. She probably suffered a fate similar to that of Patrice Lumumba who, at the behest of Belgian authorities, was dissolved in sulphuric acid. Simelane may not have been dissolved in sulphuric acid but I have no doubt she died a very gruesome death. I also have no doubt that, in our post-apartheid setting, the truth about her death, that of Ahmed Timol, as well as other truths about the true nature of apartheid and post-apartheid betrayal are being marinated in sulphuric acid. The weak appetite of the ANC and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the truth about what really happened to Simelane, Timor and others suggests that, in relation to the murderous apartheid regime, not all who fought apartheid as members of the ANC were outsiders.
The outsiders are those who genuinely fought against the demonic apartheid state. To their ‘comrades’ in the ANC they were insiders. Therefore, they were insiders both in relation to the liberation struggle and the forces that sought to undermine it. Today they are insiders in our post-apartheid government and are insiders to the forces that seek to turn the ANC government and the ANC itself into extensions of, as well as, instruments of neo-coloniality. The retention of their status as insiders is contingent on their compliance when it comes to ensuring that the truth about the neo-colonial features of our post-apartheid reality remains hidden in truths about the sins, failures and weaknesses of the ruling party. Vusi Pikoli says in a sworn affidavit that he was suspended when, as head of the NPA, he wanted to prosecute apartheid operatives who either did not apply for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or whose applications for such amnesty were not granted. A former minister of justice told Pikoli in a letter not to go after these apartheid operatives because they would ‘come after us’. My own interpretation of the political interference by ANC deployees is that it was informed by the fear of what would happen if the former or current handlers of some ANC leaders were to be prosecuted.
As Summers warned Varoufakis, to repeat an earlier point, “insiders never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders do or say.” Apartheid handlers and apartheid agents in the ANC are still insiders in what is a post-apartheid conspiracy of silence. Fortunately for them, their apartheid sins and post-apartheid conspiracies of silence have, to the popular imagination, been made less grotesque than the post-apartheid crimes of corruption and other things venal and nefarious that ANC members have been committing against the people and the state since the advent of democracy in 1994. Maybe it is for this reason that we engage in narrow debates about corruption as well as narratives of misdirection, deception and counter-deception. Lest i be deliberately misconstrued by some among us, let me repeat what I have already said ad nauseam: It is my view that, by the time Jacob Zuma handed over the keys to the Union Buildings to Cyril Ramaphosa, corruption in South Africa was no longer endemic. It had become systemic, that is; the dominant culture in both the public and private sectors. The difference between the private sector and the public sector is that the former is not transparent about corruption within its ranks. In case i am deliberately misunderstood by the apologists of private sector corruption – corruption is a crime against the people especially when it is committed by an organisation that was part of the liberation movement. That said, why is our focus on corruption generally to the exclusion of other crimes against the people. Chief among these is the crime committed against families who will never know what happened to their loved ones or their remains as long as the insiders remain loyal to their Faustian pact and conspiracy of silence. Another is the crime of inequality. This too is a crime against the people, particularly those who are victims of apartheid, which, unfortunately, is not vivid in the popular imagination because of who it implicates. It implicates the interests of those on whose behalf apartheid handlers became ANC insiders during apartheid. It implicates policy Askaris who have appended themselves to the economic interests of those for whom apartheid, a crime against humanity, was committed. This, must not excite the popular imagination. The sins of the ANC must be so indelible a stain in our political consciousness that our popular imagination must suffer irreversible amnesia when it comes to the sins of white minority conquest, rule and dispossession. The corruption of ANC leaders and members must replace apartheid as a crime against humanity.
For those among us who are primary definers of political reality, there must be no greater crime than the moral decay of the ANC. For this reason, ours must be minds bereft of the capacity to engage in multiple conversations about what is going wrong in post-apartheid South Africa. All we must be able to do is to stare vacuously at those cast by the same primary definers as angels and devils in ANC factional battles. Whatever happens, our minds must not concern themselves with the implications of living in a country where the majority are outsiders because to do so is to condone corruption. In this regard, sections of the media and civil society, in their desperation not to be outsiders, must point us in the wrong direction because as Varoufakis so eloquently put it, “Whenever a journalist refuses to slant their story in the politician’s favour, they risk losing a valuable source and being excluded from that network. This is how networks of power control the flow of information: through co-opting outsiders and excluding those who refuse to play all.” This, however, is a tendency that extends beyond journalism. It extends to those who, consciously or unconsciously, are seduced by power and, therefore, the need to be insiders. In our post-apartheid context, this has two effects: First, it either shuts down or pushes to the periphery critical conversations about areas of our lives where there is no discontinuity between the ravages of apartheid and our neo-apartheid features, particularly in the economy where too many are still outsiders. Second, it causes us to skirt around the elephant in the (post-apartheid) room. As a result, we misperceive post-apartheid South Africa as a post-conflict society, non-racial society and a rainbow nation. Our country is none of these things. We are a post-conflict society only to the extent that conflict is latent and this has lulled us into a sense of complacency about the things which disturb our inner peace. What we are doing, therefore, by avoiding difficult conversations is to condemn future generations to an uncertain future, a future in which there will be no peace if difficult conversations about white magnanimity do not become part of the mainstream conversation about that which is wrong about our ‘non-racial’ society. What do I mean?
Our conception of the rule of law is created in the image of those who came to this country as conquerors. The land is in their hands. When it comes to the economy, the majority are outsiders and those who are in government see themselves as insiders who are in possession of hidden and esoteric knowledge about the mysterious and mystical dimensions of economic theory and practice. It is precisely because of this mysticism that the fact is lost on them that, without white magnanimity, transformation will remain something that is more distant than a mirage. In other words, is peaceful change possible without white magnanimity? Will the patronage of insiders always be enough to appease the outsiders? For me, the answer is obvious. The insiders need to understand that they too have partial access to the total reality that is constituted by their networks of power and patronage. They must understand that they have a limited understanding of the inner workings of the networks of power they have spawned. Because of this limited understanding, they will not always be able to predict the impact of their choices, decisions and actions on parts of the system or the network as a whole. This means that there is an extent to which they must cede both power and resources or risk having them usurped by outsiders. To put it bluntly, there will be no peace in this country unless we engage in multiple conversations, simultaneously, about inequality, poverty and corruption. Corruption destroys lives but inequality is more pernicious.
Therefore, as it was argued at the Mail&Guardian/DDP webinar last Friday, we must disaggregate corruption. In my view, we must, in part, talk about corruption in terms of two broad categories – corruption that is not allowed by the law and corruption that Lady Justice is blind to. For. Instance, it is not enough to talk about a ‘gangster state’ of corrupt ANC politicians and government officials. We must also talk about the kind of corruption that is not unlawful such as the global and domestic banksterism of banksters. In short, we must talk about corruption and how it destroys lives as well how aspects of the financialisation of the world economy have caused untold misery to millions of people around the globe.
Talking about the representatives of the deep establishment, Varoufakis says, “Barack Obama, Germany’s leadership, Christine Lagarde, indeed each of the persons I encountered and write about in these pages, believed they were acting appropriately but, taken together, their acts produced misfortune on a continental scale. Is this not the stuff of authentic tragedy? Is this not what makes the tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare resonate with us today, so long after the events they relate became old news.” I suspect Varoufakis is being too kind here. While I agree that the decisions of those who are part of networks of power can have a devastating impact on the lives of so-called ordinary people, and while I am willing to concede that their decisions may have unintended consequences, I struggle to accept the idea that they are cast as protagonists in an authentic tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. As we have seen in our own country, the master narratives of insiders and wannabe insiders tend to coincide with the counter-hegemonic narratives of outsiders. The problem, therefore, is the hubris of insiders. For their hubris, the ordinary citizen pays the high price of being condemned to conditions of underdevelopment. It is for this reason that a narrow focus on corruption is beneficial to insiders in the main.