Benni McCarthy is a fascinating man. You could use his football career as a way to mark the development or regression of our politics. Born in 1977, he is part of the generation of South Africans who were too young to throw stones at police Casspirs under apartheid. He was too young to experience the humiliation of being rejected at whites-only establishments.
His generation is the one that held blue and white balloons and sang “We need peace in our land” during key political events of the early 1990s. One of those events was the death of Chris Hani in 1993, and then of Joe Slovo in 1995.
That was the last time communist politics existed in their purest form. Those that came after Chris Hani existed in a different context: that of being joined at the hip with the ruling elites in the ANC as a ruling party, not just a movement of broke, but determined, freedom fighters. Hani’s successors had to carve out a new form of existence and learn to piss at capitalism from within the tent.
McCarthy turned 20 in 1997, and Blade Nzimande became SA Communist Party (SACP) boss in 1998. Nzimande is still our chief communist. In 1997, the dawn of democracy was in its most exciting splendour. Nelson Mandela departed from the African leadership script by relinquishing power in the ANC, as he wound down his first and only term as head of state.
A call-up to Bafana Bafana started what was to be a great career for McCarthy. In 1998, Jomo Sono let him loose on the African stage. The 21-year-old went on to be the joint leading scorer at the African Nations Cup, where Bafana came second, giving up the championship they claimed in 1996.
In 1998, South Africa was warming up to the idea of a Thabo Mbeki presidency, as Mandela’s successor. The country was preparing for its second peaceful election. Nzimande had figured out the science of public speaking.
In 1999, Zwelinzima Vavi, a lanky labour union firebrand became Cosatu general secretary.
The two went on to be active and inseparable musketeers in a decade-long plot to overthrow the ANC from within the ANC. Yes, they managed to convince the ANC that it needed a lurch to the left, something it never ever was.
Meanwhile, McCarthy travelled the world and participated in Fifa Soccer World Cups. He knows the sheer thrill of putting the ball in between the legs of a goalkeeper on the biggest stage and chomping at the gold necklace around his neck as the lyrics of TKZee telepathically travel from France to South Africa.
Back home, millions knew the significance. And the lyrics came from the album Shibobo, one of the most successful cross-over albums that signified cultural growth in Nelson Mandela’s land.
Nzimande was still the SACP boss.
McCarthy, a lean, mean machine, fell in love with Europe. He fell in love with the European lifestyle, language and women.
On the field, goal after goal, move after move marked him as one of the greatest strikers of the modern Europe-Africa football community, from Amsterdam to Porto. The English soon learnt to live with “Benni in the area”, as one of Cape Town’s most famous sons made the queen’s land his own. Well, until they told him his sweet tooth had resulted in a bulging tummy that made him the team’s deadweight.
In 2010, South Africans made fun of their most successful striker, shaming him for his sharp tongue off the field, and the slim-fit number 17 shirt that made him look like a tenderpreneur from Limpopo instead of a man hungry to take part in his third World Cup, and on home soil, nogal. Nzimande was still South Africa’s communism czar. He had helped bring to power the Jacob Zuma presidency a year earlier.
McCarthy and Zuma had no real role during the 2010 World Cup. Zuma was simply a ceremonial figure who stood next to Fifa boss Sepp Blatter during the main events. Like a mannequin. He did not even do the one thing he is good at, singing.
After all, why would Blatter let a communist-controlled president, known for his ever-present faux pas and a raging libido, play a part? I hear you say: Zuma couldn’t have officiated meaningfully, because Fifa is Fifa and it runs things and the host nation cedes its sovereignty somehow.
Fifa implements its own laws, including laws that swearing in the vicinity of World Cup venues is criminal. (Is it possible that the Secrecy Bill, Media Appeals Tribunal and Insult Laws which Nzimande so vociferously campaigned for in order to protect Zuma came from one of Fifa’s playbooks?)
In the aftermath of the 2010 euphoria, Nzimande was still there, as South Africa believed it could run great things. It could build a Gautrain to ferry Blatter from the airport and drove him halfway to Soweto, where 10 million poor people live, relying on disproportionately high-cost transport means. The vuvuzela was as ubiquitous as Russian propaganda in the Tripartite Alliance. The SACP was convinced it was the vanguard of the ANC and that it co-governed with its puppet, Zuma, while South Africa was convinced of the genius of its best export: a noisy, plastic horn.
The vanguard concept in our context has its roots in the ANC’s history with narrow nationalism, and its struggles to accept the superficiality of race. During the OR Tambo years, the SACP was an intellectual elite, invitation-only club. It identified the sharpest in the ranks of the ANC and uMkhonto weSizwe, its military wing. That is where the young Thabo Mbeki, and slightly older Mac Maharaj got indoctrinated in the beliefs of the likes of Lenin and Marx, dialectical materialism, democratic centrality and all those terms that represented aloofness in the thought circles. Hence grew the idea that the SACP was, in fact, the vanguard, the brains.
Back in 1969, the ANC battled to accept that a white man could be its member, let alone join its leading structures including the National Executive Committee (NEC). When McCarthy was born, in 1977, the ANC had not accepted this reality. Its eyes were only opened, officially, at its 1985 Kabwe conference in Zambia, where Jeremy, Joe, and Jane, could officially be cronins (sic) and comrades with the Zumas.
In 1969, McCarthy was still a figment of Hendrik Verwoerd’s imagination. That a child of the Cape Flats could go on to claim Europe’s most coveted club football award, a Champion’s League medal, defied apartheid’s logic and intentions with regards to stunting the black child.
McCarthy demonstrated and personified the genius of talent on the field, a moment that was itself a product of the glorious creation that was the post-1994 South Africa.
So many people who looked like him were deprived of global sporting platforms for decades.
In 2019, McCarthy is one of the most successful and impressive coaches in the Premier Soccer League. He has the highest coaching qualifications. Nzimande is still SACP boss. And one of the veterans of Cabinet. He campaigned for Cyril Ramaphosa, a billionaire businessman to become the ANC and South Africa’s president.
For himself, he could not even retain a seat on the NEC, the ANC’s most powerful committee in between its conferences.
This past weekend, the ANC NEC endorsed the idea of selling parts of the state-owned airline to avoid it bringing down the already doddering public purse.
This move is an antithesis of Nzimande’s form of communism. The dominant form is the one that does not want the private sector to own what is already in state hands. In short, the state should not pass on even its most useless instruments to capital. Because capital is the enemy of the people. And the people, through the state, need to own all the debt and dysfunctionality in the state.
Guess who runs the ANC’s NEC programme? Ace Magashule. It is he who invites people to NEC meetings. Did he create a meaningful way for Nzimande’s SACP to come and officially contribute to discussions?
He was this weekend co-opted to the NEC. Co-opted or not, Nzimande does not represent the SACP in those meetings. Seemingly, in some form of pedestrian “dialectical materialism”, or way of managing contradictions I guess, the communist stops being a communist once in there. Or the communists are simply outnumbered in the Ramaphosa era, the same way they got outmanoeuvred by their own puppet, Zuma.
In a few years’ time, the SACP will realise that someone other than a communist is the actual vanguard in the whole affair. And the SACP is only there, as they say, to “hold the candle”.
In 100 years’ time, proof of McCarthy’s prowess will still be unshaken. When Nzimande finally reaches the Buthelezi moment – of relinquishing nothing, but stepping down – there will still be no proof of his party’s vanguard role. The IFP’s godfather, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, handed over the reins of a dead horse two months ago. Is Nzimande prepared to say goodbye to the SACP, when it holds its elective congress in December?
Most importantly, will his successor take over seamlessly and start flogging the same dead horse, that some believe actually thinks for the ANC’s one million members-cum tenderpreneurs?
When the SACP wakes up finally, McCarthy will have coached Bafana Bafana, or even a big European team.
‘Socialism is the future, build it now!’
Socialism, as the final destination of the communism train, is the future, as they sloganeer. And Nzimande and his cronins (sic) are building it now as they often chant at meetings, and simultaneously whip themselves into trance spells.
At least we will always know that Benni was once in the area: the 18-yard box from where most of his goals were scored, or the coaching tactical area on the sidelines, from where he barks instructions to his players. Long may he stay in the area. As for Nzimande and the product of his vanguard role, I am still looking for them. This essay will be continued when evidence of the SACP’s vanguardism, or the generation of ideas, emerges.
Next week I will look at the “Nzimande Clause” as a demonstration of the SACP’s attempt to offer ideas that will benefit the people. DM