South African scholar and activist Rasigan Maharajh describes South Africa as a microcosm of capitalism’s world crisis in a conversation that takes us from corruption to hope. We also discuss anti-apartheid activist and singer Johnny Clegg, who died on July 16th
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.
Today is Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday. Three days ago, the great anti-apartheid fighter and musician Johnny Clegg passed away from pancreatic cancer. There was that unforgettable moment when Mandela, freed from prison, appeared on the stage with Clegg to sing and dance together at the death of apartheid.
“ASIMBONANGA” PERFORMED BY NELSON MANDELA & JOHNNY CLEGG Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is), Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died), Asimbonanga (We have not seen him).
MARC STEINER And in the midst of all this hope and memory, Jacob Zuma, the former ANC leader and South African Prime Minister is being investigated for massive corruption by the Zondo Commission. Townships with the teeming masses who were the heart of the revolution that overthrew apartheid continue to grow, as is the poverty in South Africa that spawns them. On this day, we’ll reflect on what has happened to South Africa. Why has the revolution seemingly failed? Why has corruption consumed so much of the leadership? Why is the economy still in the hands of the few? Where’s the hope and promise of what this was to the world?
We’re joined by Rasigan Maharajh— activist, scholar, and professor at Stellenbosch University in the city of Tshwane. I hope I said that right. It’ll correct me. In Gauteng Province in the Republic of South Africa. Welcome. Good to have you with us.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Thank you very much, Marc.
MARC STEINER So let’s do begin there. I mean, I think that, you know, it just seemed to all come together for me. Most of us of a certain age especially will never forget the moment that apartheid died, that Mandela was free, what that meant, the joy from the Left to progressives to liberals across the globe that this has happened. So talk a bit about your analysis of why the corruption seems so rampant. We have the Zuma trial, which we’ll talk about in a moment and what the heart of that means. But what’s your analysis of where we’ve come in these last 30 years and why?
RASIGAN MAHARAJH So I think, Marc, it’s quite important to recognize the moments that we see, especially those that have been captured by the media itself. They present highlights in a long and very convoluted struggle that has basically taken place, at least in an organized form, over a century. In the last quarter of a century and in a global context as well, South Africa underwent extreme stress. And during that time, the mobilization both of internal forces as well as an international campaign that portrayed the apartheid regime as the pariah, that it existed committing a crime against humanity, all helped bolster a push towards rendering the apartheid regime ungovernable. In other words, making it impossible for the apartheid regime to operate as it had done all the way until the 1980s.
What became commonly known as the anti-apartheid struggle, therefore saw the end of apartheid. But the removal of apartheid did little in and of itself to remove racial capitalism. And so, what we had was racial capitalism continuing, but now being negotiated in terms of a post-apartheid settlement. The constraints imposed through the constitutional mechanism involved no victory for the democratic forces, but rather a compromised negotiated settlement. And the negotiated settlement included very little by way of direct redistribution and an expectation that an incoming state would take care of at least ameliorating the conditions of abject poverty confronted by people.
And that inaugurated as well, besides of course the wonderful legacy of Nelson Mandela, you know, the brilliant work that a public intellectual and cultural icon such as Johnny Clegg played. But none of that would suffice when economic wealth remained concentrated in the hands of those that had accumulated it and on the backs of black labor, which continues to exist in conditions, as you say, deteriorating conditions increasingly.
MARC STEINER There was an article I read last year in The New York Times that talked about farmers in South Africa. These dairy farmers who were given this bill of goods that if they join this cooperative, if they join this venture, they would all be raised up, and they’d be sent to India to be trained, and be brought back, and all this was going to happen— when it was just a scam to get the people’s land and further drive these people into poverty. And it really struck me. We read that article again this morning, and thinking about this trial now with Zuma, and what’s going on with his not trial, excuse me, the investigation by the commission.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Yes.
MARC STEINER And so it does beg the question, what allowed this corruption to become so massive and to grow to, kind of, redefine the entire notion of what the African National Congress is supposed to be about? I mean, what happened?
RASIGAN MAHARAJH I would want to maybe contribute by suggesting that a failure in dealing decisively with the inequalities as they exist in a very material form in terms of wealth and in incomes allowed for such a situation to arise. So the example you were talking about, the dairy farm in the Free State Province, has been the subject of an investigation by a public protector. And the public protector could not find, as you had quite correctly pointed out, the levels of corruption that was there for everyone to see.
MARC STEINER He could not find it?
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Because her terms of reference were constrained as well in terms of the constitutional mandate afforded to her. So in the commission taking place, it’s a commission into state capture and it’s much wider than the former President Jacob Zuma. But it involves large parts of the liberation movement as well as private sector individuals who are quite complicit in ensuring that the situation of kleptocracy, the predatory form of capitalism that we are now experiencing, has been bolstered as to some extent an only means towards some form of economic gain. The fact that these economic gains are not even delivered on a broad-based manner to the constituencies that they are promised to, you know, further erodes trust in any mechanism of the state.
So we’re in a very precarious position at present, where the erosion of trust in governance mechanisms further debilitates our capacity to actually render the corruption transparent, and redress especially those that seek redress from those that have basically stolen a huge amount of resources. This is a small approach in, Marc, of the larger corruption, which is the persistence of a situation where those with wealth continue to extend their holdings, while those in poverty have no other mechanism through which to achieve access to those very economic resources.
MARC STEINER So coming back to this Zuma hearing for a moment, I mean, so when you read about what’s going on in that hearing in the press, a lot could be exposed here. I mean, people accusing Zuma of things are now being counter-accused of also being part of this corruption and kind of exposing the Gupta family, which also had ties to Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. And also it had ties to his family still, and others in South Africa. The new Prime Minister Ramaphosa could also be drawn into this hearing. I mean, could the outcome of this hearing actually change things? Could it be a catalyst for something? Because it seems like it may be going deep into the depth of this corruption in how broad it is.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH So I think, again, very much like as it was previously depicted, South Africa is a microcosm of the world. And to that extent, the problems being confronted in the USA, in Europe, in the rest of the world, the rest of Africa and the Global South as a whole, is kind of caricatured in what’s happening in South Africa at the moment. So these accusations and counter-accusations, they continue, but they continue at least in an open form in which the public has access to them. Through that, there’s a little bit of hope that’s been inspired. But it is just a judicial commission of inquiry. To that extent, it doesn’t have the ability to prosecute. It only has the ability to generate information, upon which prosecutions can then be suggested.
MARC STEINER So the problem with that in some ways is that even if they come to a conclusion that the reality of corruption under Zuma and what he did, the Gupta family and the rest, that a prosecution could entangle a lot more people, which might not allow the prosecution to take place at all.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Exactly. And not only that, the Gupta family is one that’s been, I think, receiving a lot of attention.
MARC STEINER Yes. Yes.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH But what’s clearly coming through in the evidence that’s been presented, is how widespread this malevolence is. And that includes not only family groupings like the Guptas, but includes transnational corporations, includes all Big Five of the accounting firms that operate globally. And these are the institutions of capitalism that over the last 25 years have been providing clean audits to the very form of corruption that’s now being exposed through the Zondo Commission.
MARC STEINER So let me ask this one last question here because this kind of ties it up for me in what you’re describing. I mean, because this, particularly the hearing with Zuma and what could unfold in South Africa, could be a condemnation of capital worldwide— A.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Absolutely. Yes.
MARC STEINER Right? It also seems to me to tie into an issue that I mentioned earlier to you before we went on the air together, which is that part of what I think South Africa faced is that you may overthrow apartheid, just like we overthrew segregation and the horrendous parts of the terror against black people in America in the 60s, but that didn’t change the nature of society to a point because you can’t overthrow the system that created the corruption in the first place.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH Absolutely. I mean, this is epitomized completely this week very much in the USA where you have the chief executive of your country accusing four of your citizens— [laughs]
MARC STEINER Right. Well, you can have him by the way if you’d like him. [crosstalk]
RASIGAN MAHARAJH You need to go back — this is your country. [laughs] I mean, it just shows how barely we’ve come around in a full circle, but we have been spinning around within it, Marc, when we need much more direct action in terms of confronting especially the scourges that generate these conditions that allow for corruption. In other words, we have to get to the root of what is generating this poverty and allowing increasing numbers of people to fall in it. While at the same time, massive amounts of wealth are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer people.
MARC STEINER So as a man, Rasigan Maharajh, as a man who has been involved in the struggle, has been part of all this in South Africa, and is still deeply involved, give me your sense of hope before we close and where this might go.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH I think at least now with the lights shining on those involved, this illumination is extremely useful for civil society’s mobilization. It shows the extent to which those that we have actually passed on our levels of control to, and we now can be much more skeptical about the institutional forms that capitalism tells us we must use to discipline. We’ve found that these instruments actually serve those in power to maintain power as opposed to affording those outside it the right to challenge.
MARC STEINER Rasigan Maharajh, thank you so much for joining us today on The Real News. I look forward to doing this again— hopefully in South Africa with you.
RASIGAN MAHARAJH We look forward to that.
MARC STEINER Thank you very much. And we all look for the hope of what can come in the future. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.