Why the notion of “State Capture” is a hoax

The reason the notion of state capture is illogical is that there has, in South Africa, never existed a state to capture to begin with. If we agree that colonialism and apartheid are the highest forms of state capture possible, we have to look at the negotiated settlements of 1910 and 1994 and ask: was the state ever restored? Were these settlements about the restoration of the state? Was the purpose of these accommodations ever state restoration? Indeed, what is a ‘negotiated’ settlement? What does a negotiated settlement negotiate? What does it settle? The answer ought to be unequivocal. Rhodes, the Randlords and the powerful global interests behind them never for one moment intended to restore the state to itself. Their goal, as Lord Milner put it in the immensely revealing Milner Papers, was merely to “sacrifice the nigger, and the game is easy”. By the same token, the powerful interests behind the South African Foundation (formed in 1959, and known today as Business Leadership South Africa) never intended to relinquish power. Nothing about the two “South Africa” Conventions of 1910 or 1994, therefore, was about the restoration of the state. It was, rather, the complete opposite: to negotiate and settle the principle of bequeathing a shell of a state – the pretence of governmental power – to the politicians, while retaining the “crown jewels” in the hands of an ineffable powerful economic elite. Not only was there no state to restore in 1910 and 1994, but – essentially – it is impossible to restore states after capture. Indeed, state capture is a necessary requirement of nation-state formation: a state must be captured before it emerges as a state. States are captured prior to being states, not after they become states. That is, a state that is not captured is not a state. This launches us into a paradox: that states actually don’t exist. Rather, the state is always already a chimera. Basically, we have to begin to see power as spectral, not spectacular. In the forensic approach of Apartheid Studies, it is monumentally foolish for anyone to believe that power is ever negotiable. That is, even Foucault does not go far enough in his description of power as being in essence distributive, as opposed to being prohibitive. The core feature of power is not that it is distributive. It is, rather, that power is completely spectral and ineffable. As George Orwell put it, “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it”. The current hysteria in South Africa around state capture, therefore, is exactly that: hysteria. It arises due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of power. If we are looking for examples of movements that come closest to stripping naked the ineffable heart of state capture, we must return to 2015 and 2016: to #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall. Hidden in those slogans is a fundamental truth: that there has never been a South African state, and never will be until Rhodes falls and fees fall.