Mpumalanga (aka Mfumulanga) calling



People often ask me “how do you write all those blog posts?” Well, here’s the secret: you keep a rolling list of non-timely posts so that if you are traveling, or uninspired, or if it’s just a slow news day, you have something to post.

One sadly inexhaustible source of evergreens is the “kook file” populated by various non-North Korean regime sycophants and juche adherents.  Alex Melton, for example, supplied a nice example of the genre with his post on America’s own “Korea Friendship Association.” (Applications for American zone delegates still being accepted.) I had fun with Nigeria’s multiple juche societies.

A network of correspondents helps, too. Brooks Spector, our man in Johannesburg, passed along a really nice piece by Rebecca Davis in the South African paper, the Maverick, about one of those South African outposts of lunacy, the Mpumalanga (or as KCNA renders it, Mfumulanga) branch of the South African Association of Friendship and Solidarity with Korean People (SAAFSKP).  (Maybe the misnaming thing is a sly tribute to South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Life and Times of Michael K, in which one of the characters consistently gets Michael’s name wrong. Somehow Coetzee would seem too bourgeois for KCNA, though.)  The organization claims 1,600 members. Why, one might ask, would 1,600 South Africans claim membership in such an organization? The answer would seem to lie in the confluence of the unusual political history of South Africa and personal frailty.

The head of the SAAFSKP—who says that they are going to come up with a niftier name—is one Bonakele Majuba, who doubles as the secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in Mpumalanga. (Apparently this arrangement is not unusual—his predecessor wore the same two hats.) Majuba is best known for being “a militant and outspoken voice against corruption” in the Mpumalanga provincial legislature. The SACP was in the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid, and is perhaps the most politically influential communist party in a democratic state today. And part of that legacy is a continuing attachment to fellow travelers past and present.

So when it comes to the Korean peninsula, Majuba toes the Pyongyang line, well, hook, line and sinker, to mix metaphors, characterizing North Korea as a deeply principled socialist state, fighting for its sovereignty, suffering under sanctions. Indeed, the division of the peninsula is due to the imperialist “ulterior motives” of the United States, not anything that the North Koreans may have contributed to by, say, invading South Korea.

His support extends to nuclear weapons:  “Otherwise they would long ago have been attacked like Iraq,” he says. “I think nuclear weapons must be removed from all countries [NB: ironically the apartheid regime is an example, having given up nuclear weapons in anticipation of the transition to multiracial governance], but we can’t have countries bullying others. It’s an imbalanced kind of global society. America is bullying.” When Davis raises the issue of North Korean threat and provocations, Majuba demurs: “It is South Korea and the USA which are threatening North Korea. Having their [military] drills there.”

Davis asks about human rights:

“When I was there I saw the people of North Korea living nicely,” Majuba is quoted as responding. “I don’t know, but I know every country leading the way in socialism is always smeared by human rights activists. Cuba, China… These allegations to me remain unfounded.”

What about the damaging testimonies of those North Koreans who have escaped?

“People will always run to where they are recruited to go and do their propaganda,” Majuba said dismissively. “In Cuba, people jump in the sea to Miami and are used for propaganda. People can be bought to come up with such allegations.”

There was a pause, and then he added: “Of course, if there was evidence, we would condemn it.”

But, of course. This dialogue is completely consistent with my own experiences in South Africa: people who are not without redeeming political principles (see corruption fighting above), out of some combination of misplaced loyalty and ideological path-dependence, ego-stroking (North Korea has had their man in Mpumalanga up for visits) and perhaps avarice (a previous post suggested that these solidarity groups may receive funding direct from Pyongyang), one gets people who are not complete idiots mouthing nonsense (for example, the ANC Youth League waxing poetic upon the death of Kim Jong-il).  Where’s Nadine Gordimer when you really need her?

More From

Related Topics