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The Long Shadow of the Soviet Union in South Africa
Last week, Der Spiegel published a long report on the condition of South Africa after nearly three decades of rule by the African National Congress (ANC).
The Soviet Union established contact with the ANC in the 1920s and the ANC became conjoined with the South African Communist Party (SACP), one of the “fraternal” Parties that were part of the global Soviet apparat, in the early 1950s. Sharing an ideology, membership, and resources, there was no clear organisational distinction between the two factions after this.
The most famous “overlapping” member was Nelson Mandela, ostensibly an ANC operative who was secretly a member of the Central Committee of the SACP, a position only available to the most die-hard Communist true believers who consciously obeyed Moscow Centre. Mandela was the founding leader of the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) terrorist squad in 1961, which even on paper was a joint ANC-SACP enterprise. In reality, MK, whose founders were all SACP Central Committee members simultaneous with their public ANC roles, was part of the Soviet “Third World Strategy” to win the Cold War that began that year.
The ANC-SACP “coalition” became dependent on the Soviets for its very survival, being sheltered in KGB camps in the Soviet colonies like Angola after the crackdown inside South Africa, and receiving training, weapons, and funding from Moscow. As was standard practice in handling terrorist groups or “national liberation movements”, the KGB often dealt with the ANC-SACP by proxy, heavily relying on the East German Stasi and at various times Castro’s Cuba and Qaddafi’s Libya.
Ironically, while the ANC-SACP “armed campaign” that the Soviets directed and made possible was defeated on the battlefield in the late 1980s, the collapse of the Soviet Empire created the political conditions leading to the National Party government folding and ushering the ANC-SACP into power in 1994.
Understanding what the ANC is, it becomes less surprising when Spiegel reports that the prosperous country the ANC inherited has been destroyed by the predations of their gruesome one-party system, where ideological loyalty is prized above competence in all positions and looting is seen as part of the reward for achieving “liberation”. Such has always been the result wherever Soviet assets get to power, a pattern set by the Bolsheviks themselves.
The political evils of the old regime in South Africa co-existed with European levels of development, excellent State services and administration, high quality and extensive infrastructure, and a thriving economy. Order and human security had been disrupted by the ANC-SACP terrorist campaign, but the victory of these forces axiomatically terminated that problem. South Africa’s natural resources and the taxes on its world-competitive industries meant there was very little the ANC had to do to sustain the economy and State revenues.
Due to the ANC’s own ideology and the political pressures after the takeover, a program of redistribution was surely inevitable, and the reform of the tax rates and the rest of it was bound to include distortions to do targeted favours for various voting blocs. South Africa’s State and economy could have withstood all this and more—the reduction in the competency of officials, the increase in corruption—and still maintained First World standards. It is difficult to convey the scale, depth, and persistence of the effort that the ANC has had to put in, in terms of mismanagement and larceny, to ruin South Africa like this.
Read the whole Spiegel piece, but just to give a flavour of its findings:
Six out of 10 young South Africans are jobless and more than half of the country’s 60 million residents live in poverty, according to the World Bank. … For the fiscal year 2021-2022, the auditor-general found that 219 of the country’s 257 municipalities did not have clean audits. In countless cities and municipalities, the infrastructure, administration, education system, health system, sewage and garbage collection are all subpar or completely dysfunctional. In many places, not even the trains are running, while some regions are forced to go for days without running water.
An independent investigative commission recently disclosed the degree to which public officeholders have systematically plundered state-owned companies and institutions and driven them into bankruptcy—from the flagship airline SAA and the public broadcaster SABC to the national postal service.
So far, “not a single high-ranking politician has been convicted in the final appeal”. President Cyril Ramaphosa sometimes makes the right noises about corruption, but he had been busy tending his old Kremlin flame and in any case does not dare to actually move against corruption because the ANC barons would eject him from office. Ramaphosa is protected by his seniority from a worse fate.
Der Spiegel reports on the case of Horst Kleinschmidt, a (white) long-time anti-apartheid activist who was forced into exile under the old regime and was considered a comrade by the ANC. That was until Kleinschmidt took a position in the government in the early 2000s and began asking if ANC-SACP officials might consider serving the public, rather than working with criminal cartels to steal everything that is not nailed down. After being put on a death list and kidnapped, Kleinschmidt resigned in 2005. He was lucky. Assassination is now a regular tool the ANC uses against whistleblowers and others trying to rein-in corruption in the country—as, indeed, it is against rivals of all kind.
Alongside this targeted death, there is a terrifying scale of random death in South Africa because of the ANC hollowing out the State:
South Africa’s murder rate is one of the highest in the world, with around 25,000 victims per year. Since Apartheid, more than half a million people have met a violent death. … In the Western Cape province alone, almost 4,000 people were murdered in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. …
Manenberg is one of the most brutal townships in Cape Town, a place where 52,000 people are living in just three square kilometers of squalor. It’s one of those settlements where Blacks and Coloureds are terrorized by armed gangs. Criminal experts estimate that such gangs have far more than 100,000 members in Cape Town alone. … [In just one day,] there were 18 shootings in Manenberg. …
People in rags, delirious on cheap drugs, are staggering through the shadows. It is a dystopian scene the likes of which are repeated in townships throughout the country, places where the state is no longer present. Even ambulances are attacked and robbed.
These things have a terrible feedback effect. The lawlessness further damages the economy, and the collapsed economy creates opportunities for lawlessness. The gangs have taken to pulling up the power cables, sometimes using pickup trucks, to sell the copper, and even stripping the wires out of hospitals: “in the fiscal year of 2021-2022, around 1,500 kilometers of copper cable was stolen … South Africa now exports more copper than its mines produce”. This means large parts of the country, including the major cities, are without electricity for up to twelve hours per day: “The South African Reserve Bank estimates that such outages cost the economy the equivalent of almost 45 million euros per day.”
It is, of course, South Africa’s poor, especially its black citizens, who suffer most under the ANC’s misrule: they are the ones made poorer to enrich the ANC nomenklatura, and they are the majority of the seventy people murdered every day because the ANC either cannot provide basic security or is actively collaborating with the gangs terrorising these neighbourhoods. White South Africans complain that the ANC has long stoked and abetted racialist violence against them, and this is—the absurd attempts to exculpate the ANC notwithstanding—perfectly true, but whites retain a greater capacity to protect themselves in gated communities with reliable private security.
Spiegel documents, “A joke in South Africa these days asks what the difference is between the Titanic and South Africa. Answer: At least the Titanic’s lights were on as it sank.” As the late Bernard Lewis noted, “In countries under dictatorship, the political joke is often the only authentic and uncensored expression of political opinion.” (The ANC government might be formally elected, but it is highly repressive towards opposition.) Perhaps even more poignant was the sixty-year-old black man Spiegel met in Johannesburg, who pointed them to the wreckage of the train line he used to take to work, which has not run for six years, before bitterly adding: “We used to have work when the whites were in charge, and life was better”.
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