Friday, November 29, 2013

Have apartheid's diehards in South Africa been trying to subvert the ANC government?

Another startling thought about post-apartheid South Africa, from Barry Gilder, who did intelligence work for the ANC in exile and then was a senior intelligence official in the post-apartheid government, in his memoir Songs and Secrets: South Africa from Liberation to Governance (2012): Gilder believes that unreconciled apartheid supporters, outside and inside the government (many old-order officials did remain inside the government for years, as a result of agreements in the negotiations) were actively trying to undercut the new government. He argues that unseen actors were deliberately feeding false information about supposed security threats to the government and others, apparently to sow dissension and disagreement and generally weaken the ANC’s ability to govern. Gilder does not deny that the ANC did plenty to weaken its own ability to govern, but he insists that others contributed, and deliberately.

Gilder has a similar take on the rise of corruption. He doesn’t at all deny that ANC members newly in government were susceptible to temptation – how could they not be, having led lives that provided them little or no economic security up till then? But he suggests that those who held economic power in South Africa – white business, in short – deliberately set out to seduce and corrupt the new governors. (317)

Perhaps Gilder is wrong. Perhaps he views the world too relentlessly through the lens of his years of exile and uMKhonto we Sizwe membership. But he cites some striking incidents. One is the sweeping destruction of compromising files in the old order’s military, police, and spy agencies (182-83); there are no Stasi files full of revelations to be reckoned with in South Africa. Another involved General Georg Meiring, who despite being “implicate[d] … in apartheid’s dirty tricks campaign against the ANC and other opposition forces” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (185), was the head of post-apartheid South Africa’s armed forces. In 1998 Meiring gave President Mandela a report alleging “a left-wing plot to destabilize South Africa”; an investigatory commission later called this document “utterly fantastic” and Meiring had to resign. (189) Then there were allegations in 2005 of plots against Zuma – based on email evidence whose “crude and sometimes ethnically derogatory language” Gilder felt was certainly not “the language of the people I know” who supposedly were among the senders (274). These were followed in 2006 by claims, in an oddly named document called “The Special Browse Mole Consolidated Report,” of a conspiracy against Mbeki, supposedly involving “former MK combatants, … Muammar Gaddafi, Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos and many others.” (281-82) Gilder writes, specifically of the 2005 e-mail allegations, that:

I had seen this kind of thing before, most notably in the crude disinformation attempts of the apartheid regime against the liberation movement and its allies during the days of struggle, and more recently in the many attempts by former apartheid security officials to feed fabricated intelligence into the security services, government and the media. (274)

What would the point of all this have been? It’s hard to believe that anyone thought after 1994 that the old order would ever return.  Could they have thought that the ANC would, sooner rather than later, be defeated at the polls and replaced by a party more sympathetic to white and business interests? Perhaps. Or perhaps they simply thought that all that was left to them was to make the new government ineffective, on the theory that the less the government could do the more room they – these diehard opponents – would have to lead the privileged lives they still had. It’s hard to know. But Gilder’s book is a calmly written statement of the case that the ANC government’s problems are by no means all the product of its own weaknesses.

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