More news than you can shake a stick at
26 June 2017 03:58 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

Subversion, treason and other frivolities

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

Who would have thought that only 23 years into our new fragile democracy, we would be hearing murmurings of subversion and treason? Yet these are the times we find ourselves in. A rather pathetic state of affairs.

I have previously called into question the quality of our political discourse, and I think it is worth doing so again. This time I think paying attention to the structure of an argument may help.

To do this I turn to a model put forward by a British philosopher, Stephen Toulmin (1922 – 2009). Yes, he is an old dead white guy, but his way of viewing an argument still has some value.

Toulmin argued that absolutism lacks practical value. He defined key elements that constitute a substantive or practical argument. In so doing, he provided a model for argumentation. There are various pictures or drawings of the argument structure but there are six key attributes of which only three are central to practical arguments.

A claim is the statement which you expect a person to accept on the strength of your argument. The claim usually requires proof – and this is where the data or evidence (sometimes called grounds) comes in. A warrant links the evidence to the claim – it answers why the data shows that your claim is true. These are often unstated (and so implicit). The backing gives additional support to a warrant. The qualifier shows how general or specific the claim is. Finally, the rebuttal is the counterargument (which has its own structure) to refute the claim.

So let’s use this model to analyse some of the current responses to the phenomenon of “State Capture”.

The claim is that South Africa faces a serious problem as parts of our State have been captured. There is growing evidence (data) to support this: The State of Capture report, by the former Public Protector (Thuli Madonsela); the Unburdening Panel report by the South African Council of Churches; the Betrayal of the Promise report by PARI in collaboration with various academic institutions, and finally the evidence obtained via the leaked emails which are currently being reviewed and analysed by media houses who willingly collaborate.

A key warrant is that the evidence obtained through different sources and collated by different institutions is now starting to triangulate. With the weight of evidence growing, reported from different perspectives and with distinct sources, the evidence becomes harder and harder to discard.

Yet there are numerous sectors of our society who choose to rebut this claim.

The first rebuttal is from those who are somehow convinced that the notion of State Capture is a ploy by some to overthrow the government of the day. They argue that the evidence does not support the claim because the evidence has been fabricated. They blame either white monopoly capital or refer to a conspiracy by a few lunatics and disgruntled comrades. They qualify that the latter are supposedly disgruntled because they are no longer in positions of power. They identify the source of evidence as emerging from disgruntled comrades. They explain that these comrades want to reinvent themselves because they lost out, after Polokwane or Mangaung. The 17 ANC NEC members that supported yet another vote of no confidence in the recent ANC NEC meeting are simply advancing factional politics (never mind that there was no vote… don’t let that get in the way, stay focused). These disgruntled comrades are trying to subvert the President’s men and women. The evidence they present does not support a claim of State Capture.

Hence, the minority of NEC members’ strongly held belief that the country is on a precipice, is unfounded.

In fact, most members of the NEC are plucking at straws. They say that an outside hand, or dare I say a hidden hand, is at play. The mysterious hand has the sole objective of wanting to instigate a regime change in Mzansi. The incredulity of it!

There is no doubt that we live in a country uniquely positioned on the southernmost tip of the African continent, linking the Indian and Atlantic oceans, which makes for good seafaring routes. It is perceived as the gateway to the rest of the continent. We have some strategic minerals in abundance. Therefore other nation states will take keen interests in our domestic politics and our international relations behaviour, no doubt. But whether these “foreign agents” would want to actively participate in subversive and treasonous activities seems a little far removed from reality.

A second rebuttal to the State Capture claim is the observation that State Capture is nothing new. Such practices of State Capture have been at play for centuries. This introduces a qualifier that all states are captured (South Africa is no exception). This nonsensical argument is put forward by deliberately confused comrades of the movement, and amounts to: two wrongs make a right!

Indeed, corporate types have previously supported or abetted and indeed captured the apartheid state. They propped up the Nationalist Party and kept it going all those dark years. However, it is my understanding that they were clearly identified as part of the enemy as defined by all the progressive forces (including the ANC, SACP, UDF, SACC and SANCO) not to mention the broader mass democratic movement during the Struggle. In this argument neither the evidence nor the claim of State Capture is discredited. Rather, both are situated within an historic context as having occurred before. This is meant to somehow normalise the claim.

Yet State Capture in any shape or form – in the past, today and in future – remain unacceptable. It must be stopped in its tracks, here and now. We all know the extent to which these criminals can subvert the state (we have experienced this before). I need not remind you that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”. So not only does it require action to stop it, but we need to find mechanisms to fiercely safeguard against its recurrence now and in the future.

The third rebuttal is put forward by spin doctors of both the Guptas and indeed some quarters within our government. They choose to ignore the other sources of evidence, and focus only on the last piece of data: The GuptaLeaks. They suggest that the exposé last Sunday with regards the emails which shows subversive and in some cases treasonous activities, are fake news. This evidence, they say, is of no substance. It will not stand in a court of law. This might be true. However, what cannot be ignored or obfuscated by these deliberately confused comrades is that there are growing and diverse sources of data which all present evidence which support the same claim. As this evidence now shifts from the claims made by individuals (think Mcebisi Jonas, Vytjie Mentor and many others) to well documented and researched reports put forward by different parts of our civil society and from within the movement itself; rebuttals on the basis of how the evidence was obtained ring increasingly hollow.

There is an awful lot of smoke, from multiple sources, for there to be no fire. The last resort for a rebuttal is to discredit the backing by attacking and discrediting the individuals pointing to the evidence that supports the claim. So all those speaking out are all enemies of the State. They must be dealt with. Correct? And let me be clear what is indeed meant by dealt with. Because deliberately confused comrades are in the driving seat of government and its parastatals, to a certain extent the economy and exert various other influences. The comrades choose to tap our phones, listen to us with their Grabbers, intimidate us by pulling us over on highways and byways, steal computers, block job opportunities or board appointments. In short, these comrades make the lives of those calling “fire!” a living hell.

However, as the voices grow louder and more varied I remind the deliberately confused comrades that we’ve been here before, remember. We’ve fought the fight against a brutal regime before. We know and understand these tactics. Just as President Zuma reminds us that he knows prison and therefore it does not scare him, I remind the deliberately confused comrades that many of us have been in detention, imprisoned, tortured, hunted, and threatened. Some have even made the ultimate sacrifice and died for the cause.

To subvert means to undermine the power and authority of an established system or institution (such as government). Treason means the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government. There exists no doubt in my mind that even if we remove the salt and pepper and perhaps even the Tabasco sauce of these emails, which no doubt were added for additional flavour, the GuptaLeaks – when combined with the other sources of evidence – support the same claim: There are serious subversive acts on the part of the Guptas and those in their web. Similarly, on closer inspection, you will also find that some in our government have committed treason (perhaps not high treason but certainly petty treason as it is known).

The question then becomes, what will our law enforcement agencies do about these very serious alleged crimes? We all know that they too have been captured over time, thanks to President Zuma and his appointments. You would have thought that the NPA, SAPS or the mighty Hawks would have released a statement by now stating that no stone will be left unturned, to hunt down these culprits of subversion and treason and incarcerate them. Hope runs eternal. Perhaps a word of advice to Shaun Abrahams and our very new National Police Commissioner: With all this smoke, it may be a good idea to call “Fire!” or perhaps “We are investigating the fire” (you may at least attempt to not look like you are captured).

As for the other frivolities, the lack of leadership from the ANC is an urgent concern. There is now obvious confusion within the ruling party. It is clear that both Luthuli House (some within the house at least) and the ANC parliamentary caucus stand on the one side and the national leadership (the majority in the ANC NEC) stand on the other side. This is the clearest indication of a party divided as it limps towards both its policy and national elective conferences. Very soon we will observe how these ANC internal politics spill out into the streets in all provinces. I’m afraid it’s not going to be our finest hour.

Prospective ANC presidential candidates ought to be clear about what really matters in the ANC’s all important national elective conference. The 5,000-plus voting delegates at the conference ultimately decide the fate of the country. They elect the person they deem fit for the top job of being the President of Mzansi. As such, having obvious support from the public in general, and/or the corporate sector or by religious groupings in our society, will count for nothing, sadly. None of these groupings can deliver you the Presidency.

Lobbying means one must have foresight and anticipate one’s opponent’s next move in order to devise countermeasures. And yet, it is abundantly clear that between the Guptas, Zumas and Bell Pottingers the presidential hopefuls have been out manoeuvred at every turn. Which begs the question: Is there a clear plan? Failure to deal with those who are involved in subversion and treasonous activities will mean the new leadership could inherit a damned country too wretched to be rebuilt.

So cynical, I hear some cry. Remember, cynical is a word used by Pollyannas to denote an absence of the naivety they so keenly exhibit. DM

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Do Not Miss