Be­ware the ides of the Im­pe­ri­al­ists

In scape­goat­ing the West for his woes, King Jacob Zuma may have con­jured a self-ful­fill­ing proph­esy

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Vukani Mde

There you are one fine day, march­ing through the woods at the head of a royal army, ex­hausted but elated. You have just won a great vic­tory in bat­tle for your king and can look for­ward to a hand­some re­ward in land, loot, ale, slaves, wenches or what­ever else con­fers hon­our in the me­dieval uni­verse you in­habit.

In a clear­ing in the for­est, you chance on three witches, hud­dled over bub­bling caul­drons of rab­bits’ feet, frogs, hu­man re­mains and other para­pher­na­lia of witch­ery.

You ac­cept their praise and con­grat­u­la­tions with the hu­mil­ity of a sol­dier but, amid their in­can­ta­tions and mum­bled for­tune-telling, they pre­dict some­thing very clear and tan­ta­lis­ing — they have di­vined that you “will be king”.

Now, you are hum­ble but you are not with­out am­bi­tion. You have ideas about how the king­dom might be bet­ter ruled, how to col­lect more tax, how con­stant re­bel­lion against the crown should be han­dled — the usual stuff.

This witches’ prophecy is in­trigu­ing. It also presents you with a dilemma. The king is young, healthy and vir­ile, ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing an assem­bly line of heirs. How might you suc­ceed him?

If you did things to make the en­vi­ron­ment more con­ducive for the prophecy to suc­ceed, is it still a prophecy? Say you killed the king and his en­tire line of suc­ces­sion, thus leav­ing you as the only one qual­i­fied to be king and thus ful­fill­ing the prophecy. Have you cheated? Is it the prophecy or your own ac­tions that make you king?

I thought about the self-ful­fill­ing prophecy when news fil­tered out that the Amer­i­can FBI and var­i­ous Bri­tish anti-crime agen­cies have now opened in­quiries into the nexus of grand lar­ceny and cor­rup­tion that links Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma and his fam­ily to the Gupta em­pire.

Yes, there is a line of thought that leads di­rectly from Mac­beth to our pres­i­dent’s mount­ing le­gal trou­bles. I will ex­plain.

First, there is a funny, al­most de­li­cious irony in the rev­e­la­tions that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Zuma and his pals has now in ef­fect been in­ter­na­tion­alised.

Zuma is by all ac­counts and ev­i­dence a man with a healthy if some­times ill-ad­vised sense of hu­mour, our Chuck­ler-in-Chief, al­ways ready to laugh off the most se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions, from “Nkhaaaandla” to Sax­on­wold Cab­i­net ap­point­ments. The in­fu­ri­at­ing Zuma guf­faw has be­come the de­fin­i­tive im­age of an en­tire era of mis­rule.

I am cer­tain Zuma would al­low him­self a brief chuckle at this in­con­gru­ous turn of events in Washington and Lon­don were it not so deadly se­ri­ous for his own fu­ture, es­pe­cially given his now des­per­ate at­tempts to avoid spend­ing most of his re­tire­ment kit­ted out in an or­ange one­sie.

Here it is: Zuma has spent the past few years bor­row­ing heav­ily from The Tin-Pot African Dic­ta­tor’s Hand­book (Robert Mu­gabe et al, 1980), paint­ing him­self im­plau­si­bly as the vic­tim of West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ist mis­chief, and in­sult­ing his do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents (or any­one else who is un­pa­tri­ot­i­cally op­posed to theft) as agents and pup­pets of the Im­pe­ri­al­ists.

In this telling of it, Zuma is the rad­i­cal African(ist) lib­er­a­tor whose hard toil to free his peo­ple from poverty and in­equal­ity has spooked the im­pe­rial pow­ers, and they are now do­ing ev­ery­thing and us­ing ev­ery­one they can to un­der­mine his rule and de­stroy the ANC (be­cause he and the ANC are one and the same thing).

As an aside, we will ig­nore for a mo­ment the ridicu­lous in­sin­u­a­tion that a sys­tem of West­ern global dom­i­nance that saw off the Soviet Union, Mao Ze­dong, Nazism, Hiro­hito and even the god­damn Ot­tomans is some­how threat­ened by the rule of an in­nu­mer­ate school dropout with a pen­chant for pil­fer­ing from one of the world’s most mar­ginal economies.

No, the real irony here is that Zuma may have un­wit­tingly willed his own trou­bles with the Im­pe­ri­al­ists. Only the out­come will not be a heroic new strug­gle led by the man from Nkandla, but a broad­spec­trum in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that will tar­nish the ANC, di­min­ish South Africa’s stand­ing, pres­sure our frag­ile gov­er­nance in­sti­tu­tions to break­ing point and shame the legacy of Oliver Tambo, Nel­son Man­dela and a thou­sand oth­ers who paid dearly for the demo­cratic re­pub­lic on which Zuma has pissed for eight full years.

Now the Im­pe­ri­al­ists are at the door, knock­ing loudly and de­mand­ing to talk, when every self-re­spect­ing crim­i­nal knows no good comes of the fuzz want­ing to “talk” to you. The Im­pe­ri­al­ists are funny this way.

Of course, the sys­tem of global fi­nance that they pre­side over and po­lice is ca­pa­ble of tol­er­at­ing a great many dodgy deal­ings and un­savoury prac­tices.

But it has its lim­its. More­over, those lim­its tend to kick in ear­lier for coun­tries that show a pref­er­ence for award­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar state in­fra­struc­ture con­tracts to the likes of Rus­sia and China with­out even the pre­tence of com­pet­i­tive bid­ding. And when those con­tracts are ac­com­pa­nied by trans­par­ent back­han­ders and in­ex­pli­ca­ble “com­mis­sions” that flow through the im­pe­ri­al­ist bank­ing in­sti­tu­tions that they reg­u­late, well, you can hardly be sur­prised when the FBI, Scot­land Yard and the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice even­tu­ally come call­ing.

Here, un­like in the case of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, we can’t sim­ply gather our things and leave when we don’t like play­ing by the rules we signed up to. There is sim­ply no al­ter­na­tive to the dol­lar­de­nom­i­nated, im­pe­ri­al­ist-dom­i­nated sys­tem of global fi­nance for a small econ­omy such as ours.

That is why ear­lier this year, Zuma re­luc­tantly had to sign the Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Cen­tre Amend­ment Act into law, over the ob­jec­tions and hard lob­by­ing of his Gupta al­lies.

If South Africa came to be thought of as a rogue econ­omy in the global cap­i­tals of the West, nei­ther Brics nor all the anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist pos­tur­ing you can muster would be enough to save us from the dire con­se­quences.

Ul­ti­mately, whether we know it or not, or like it or not, that is a good thing. Where our own in­sti­tu­tions of pol­i­tics or gov­er­nance have patently failed us, the in­ter­ven­tion of the Im­pe­ri­al­ists may hold out the last hope to ar­rest and re­verse the tide, and per­haps even re­turn the es­ti­mated R7-bil­lion that’s found its way to Dubai for our pres­i­dent’s un­of­fi­cial re­tire­ment fund.

Would it be bet­ter if the charge were led by the Hawks, the South African Po­lice Ser­vice, the Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Cen­tre and the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice? Yes, in­fin­itely so. But it won’t, so South Africa will take its help from whence it comes.

Mac­beth and the witches’ prophecy: ‘Not so happy, yet so much hap­pier.’ What will be the end game for Jacob Zuma and his ‘vault­ing am­bi­tion’?

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