‘Architects of Poverty’ – The Self Destruction of Africa’s ANC



 ‘Architects of Poverty’- The Self Destruction of Africa’s ANC

By Horand Knaup and Jan Puhl

Photo Gallery: The Marikana Massacre and the ANC


South Africa’s legendary African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, is destroying itself. Corruption, cronyism, internal divisions and, more recently, the mine massacre in Marikana are draining support from the party’s base — and destroying the country’s economy.

He was still a child 18 years ago, when the white racists lost power and black South Africans liberated themselves from apartheid. Now Mhlangabezi Ndlelen is sitting in front of his corrugated metal shack in Wonderkop, a township about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Johannesburg. The tiny hut — all six square meters (65 square feet) of it — houses Ndlelen, his wife and their children. Ndlelen has a bed and a table, but no running water.

He pulls a pay slip from his jacket. The Lonmin mining company pays him the equivalent of €600 ($750) a month to operate winches 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground. “It simply isn’t enough,” he says. “I have to feed my wife and three children with the money.” Ndlelen was among the 3,000 workers who went on strike at the Marikana platinum mine more than two weeks ago.

The workers were demanding that Lonmin double their wages. They danced, sang songs and even waved spears and machetes. On Thursday, August 16, police officers finally lost their patience and fired into the crowd with automatic weapons. When it was over, 34 of Ndlelen’s fellow miners lay dead.

Black police officers had mowed down black workers, just as the apartheid police had once fired on black demonstrators. The bloodbath is a disaster for the African National Congress (ANC), which has governed the country since 1994. But the party of national hero Nelson Mandela has already been losing authority and credibility for years. Nowadays, it is primarily viewed as corrupt, incompetent and arrogant.

Like Ndlelen, a large share of the black majority still lives in corrugated metal huts. South Africa’s schools are just as miserable as the health care system, and youth unemployment exceeds 50 percent. The gap between rich and poor is now even wider than in the days of white rule.

Moreover, corruption is practically built into the structures of the ANC. “It’s eating up the nation,” says a union member. The South African economy is weakening as chaos, high crime rates and the arbitrary behavior of officials scare off investors. South Africa runs the risk of sliding into the status of a developing nation despite the fact that four of the world’s rising economic powers — Brazil, Russia, India and China — had just accepted the country into their club in 2011.

A Disintegrating Party

For many years, it has only been the legendary victory over the whites, the halo that surrounds Mandela’s successors, that has repeatedly saved the ANC in elections.

It was to Mandela’s credit that the revolution remained peaceful. He had spent more than 27 years in prison, and yet the man, now 94, urged his countrymen to exercise restraint. In doing so, he averted a bloody reprisal campaign by blacks against their white oppressors.

But now his party’s rivals are becoming stronger. The Democratic Alliance, led by white civil rights activist Helen Zille, sharply criticizes the ANC for corruption and waste. And the Congress of the People, an ANC spin-off, is snatching away votes from the governing party among members of the black middle class.

South Africa’s population of roughly 50 million will vote again in 2014. President Jacob Zuma, also the ANC leader, plans to run for re-election. But the Marikana massacre could dampen his prospects.

“Why didn’t he talk to us after the shootings?” asks Ndlelen. “And why did he talk instead to the management and a few of the wounded in the hospital?”

Like Ndlelen, many ordinary workers haven’t felt represented by the ANC in a long time. Its top officials live a life of obscene luxury. Embroiled in their intrigues and power struggles, they seem to have forgotten the well-being of ordinary ANC supporters long ago.

“The fight for power in South Africa doesn’t take place at elections. It is being waged within the ANC,” says Gareth Newman of the independent Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. This is because the ANC still functions like a combat organization.

As if it still had to protect itself from spies, the party’s meetings are closed to the public. Lists of candidates are drawn up behind closed doors, for example, and sometimes the meetings turn violent. At the last ANC convention, security officers had to use pepper spray to separate delegates who had come to blows.

The violent clashes come as no surprise because privileges and a lot of money are often at stake. Since it governs alone, the ANC is free to distribute government offices and other perks as it sees fit.

Many ANC officials are derided as “tenderpreneurs,” a word coined from the words “tender” and “entrepreneur.” A “tenderpreneur” is awarded government contracts and pays for them with his or her political loyalty. An investigative committee of the state court of audit concluded that, in 2009, three-quarters of all government contracts in Eastern Cape province were awarded to companies owned by government officials or their relatives.

Internal Challenges

Zuma faces a tough fight to be chosen as the ANC’s top candidate for the coming election. His strongest opponents are current Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale, a billionaire businessman. Zuma has been weakened since he had a falling out with Julius Malema, the former head of the ANC Youth League.

Malema, 31, cultivates a rapper-like image. He likes to wear T-shirts and large gold chains, and drive flashy cars. He has wealthy benefactors who prefer to keep a low profile, gives ostentatious parties and loves to drink Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

But the populist has captured the spirit of young blacks waiting to finally benefit from regime change in South Africa. Malema tries to channel their frustrations and hate against others, calling for the expropriation of white farmers and castigating “American imperialists” who are allegedly subjugating the country. In a rare move, the ANC ejected Malema from the party because of his diatribes.

Malema immediately went to Marikana after the mine massacre. “You no longer have a president,” he told the survivors. Malema sees himself as the voice of the lower class, the people who didn’t benefit from the end of apartheid. No one knows exactly what he plans to do next. South Africans speculate that he might establish his own party. It’s also possible that he intends to return to the ANC now that he has strengthened his position.

Moeletsi Mbeki, 66, the brother of former President Thabo Mbeki, a refined and charismatic man who prefers to speak rather than listen to others, is seen as the voice of the critical upper class within the ANC. He wears tailored suits and invests in logistics and media companies. People like Mbeki are known as “black diamonds” because they know how to make money.

“There is something very wrong with South Africa,” Mbeki says, “in particular with how the political elite are managing the country.” He wrote a book about the corrupt ruling class on his continent, as if he himself were not part of the caste of the powerful. He refers to many other black politicians as “architects of poverty” whose “main objective is to maximize their own consumption and the consumption of those who keep them in power.”

Mbeki fears that: “In the long run, the ANC will lose the power.” He predicts that new groups will develop alongside the old party, and that the people will begin to wake up.

One of these people is Mhlangabezi Ndlelen, the mine worker in Wonderkop. He has long complained about the miners’ union, which has ties to the ANC. “They do nothing for us, they’re in bed with management, they get the best jobs, and they go away — and we’re left behind,” he says. It wasn’t the miners’ union but, rather, an independent and radical union that organized the disastrous strike in Marikana.

“We were sitting around a group of rocks when they showed up and tried to surround us with barbed wire and tanks,” Ndlelen says. He ran faster than he’d ever run in his life. “There were helicopters circling above. And then we heard the gunshots.” He says that he will never vote for Zuma again.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Photo Gallery: The Marikana Massacre and the ANC

About selcoolie

see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/pdp/profile/A3SF2PCBUWC4UO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_w_h__4 briefly: Born in Cape Town, South Africa; moved to Sweden in1969 and completed studies in 1983, then moved to Norway and then to S.A. in 1993 - back to Norway in 2005, and been there ever since! E-mail: selimgool@yahoo.com Web Page: zcommunications/zspace/selcool In My Own Words: ¨ South African born ex-academic now retired, exiled and beyond redemption? Interests South African political economy and history; International Socialism and Marxist/Anarchist thought; anti-militarism and ecological questions My draft autobiography (ALL the "closet secrets" in the open! @ http://southafrica.indymedia.org/uploads/2006/02/an_odyssey___from_cape_town2.pdf Aslo view: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2ZHOZT2GTDHU1

One response to “‘Architects of Poverty’ – The Self Destruction of Africa’s ANC”

  1. Dr Selim Gool says :

    By R. W. JOHNSON


    @ http://newleftreview.org/II/58/r-w-johnson-false-start-in-south-africa

    In South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 the ubiquitous posters of the African National Congress read ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ and ‘A Better Life for All’. The latter slogan is trotted out at each succeeding election; the former has never been seen again. The reason is simple: unemployment is now far higher than in 1994 and heading sharply upwards. On the most commonly used measure, the jobless figure has hovered in the 38–40 per cent range for some time; though even that counts people as employed if they have but a single hour’s paid work (say, washing and polishing a car) in a week. On any reasonable measure of formal employment, over half the working population is jobless. True, one must also allow for the informal sector of street vegetable and fruit sellers, car guards, hawkers and the like. But very few enter that sector except out of desperation, and it shades easily into a vast underclass of beggars, prostitutes and criminals.

    The reasons for this monumental failure are complex. The fact that around a third of the ANC’s MPs and ministers are members of the South African Communist Party, and that most of the rest still rely on vulgar Marxist terminology, hardly increases domestic or foreign investor confidence. The flight of around one fifth of the white population since 1994—nearly a million people—represents a loss not only of perhaps 250,000 professional and entrepreneurial workers, but also of the 5–7 jobs which they are each estimated to have generated. The new government has also liberalized the old apartheid siege economy, which has cost jobs in the defence industries and in the erstwhile highly protected sectors that have failed to cope with Asian competition.

    More ominous is the complete failure of post-apartheid education reform. The first Minister of Education, Sibusiso Bengu, blundered by getting rid of many of the best teachers, while his successor, Kader Asmal, compounded this disaster by reducing standards (in order to get a higher pass rate) and introducing a new syllabus incomprehensible to many teachers. On top of this many township schools are racked by violence, abusive and truant teachers, and a collapse of organization and morale. The government throws money at the problem but is scared of standing up to the thuggish teachers’ union, which vigorously objects to any attempts at reform. The result is a catastrophe worse than the original introduction of Bantu Education by the apartheid government—indeed, it is quite normal to hear Bantu Education schools being held up as models far better than the present township equivalents. In addition many of the universities are lamentably managed so that there has been a clear decline in higher education too. The result is that the skills gap left by departing white (and Asian) professionals cannot be filled, and that South Africa simply lacks the skills required to maintain and run its sophisticated infrastructure and private sector.

    The civil service has become a black hole of low skills, corruption and incompetence, and is now largely beyond government control. For example, Western aid donors elsewhere in the continent discovered that South Africa had become a major donor, thanks to hundreds of unplanned and uncoordinated acts of generosity by visiting South African ministers and parastatal bosses, all wanting to ‘wow’ their hosts in ‘big man’ style. Eager to ensure that this aid effort was coordinated with their own, the EU states financed an investigation by the South African Treasury into which ministries and parastatals had given aid. Over two years later it has proved simply impossible to get ministers and bureaucrats to reply to such enquiries. The lower-level administration serving provinces and municipalities is in an even worse state, crippling development initiatives before they start.

    Panicked by rising unemployment, the Mbeki government responded by creating Africa’s first welfare state. Old-age pensions were equalized up to the apartheid level for whites, and poor households were allowed a modicum of free water and electricity—to which millions added a great deal more both by illegal connections and by a steadfast refusal to pay rates and taxes, thus bankrupting two-thirds of the country’s local authorities. To prevent their complete collapse, the Treasury has stepped in and regularly wiped off the bad debt, which is to say that this huge burden is routinely assumed by the national budget. The government has also introduced disability grants, now claimed by many of South Africa’s 5.7 million HIV sufferers, and child allowances for those up to the age of 15, which the ANC now promises to increase to 18. The result is that 13.5 million South Africans, out of a total 2008 population of 44 million, are now formally benefit recipients, although in practice the money is spread between many more family members. Certainly, the general effect is to make unemployment more bearable. Between 1993 and 2006 the percentage of the unemployed living in households with no connection to the labour market rose from 20 to 38 per cent. In other words, the extension of welfare has seen the consolidation of nearly two-fifths of the population into workless dependency at the base of society.

    A new elite

    At the same time the ANC government has energetically promoted Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a form of crony capitalism which has seen politically well-connected blacks take shares in predominantly white-owned and managed businesses, producing many instant millionaires. This policy, together with a determined push for affirmative action in every sphere, has seen the creation of a burgeoning though mainly parasitic black bourgeoisie, largely devoid of real professional or entrepreneurial skills, owing its good fortune almost entirely to companies and institutions created by others. The new rich live in a completely unreal world, enjoying the external material symbols of wealth and success—driving Mercs, living in stylish mansions, owning farms and employing servants—and often flitting from job to job, their ‘success’ guaranteed essentially by skin colour, so that many of them have come to believe that they are true Renaissance men and women, capable of running businesses and universities, or acting as Africanist philosopher-kings or queens. Their lifestyles are modelled on those of the old white rich; but whereas apartheid made the latter virtual outcasts in international society, their black successors enjoy, temporarily, universal currency. It is an odd, hollow and doubtless unsustainable world, in which the full gamut of Fanonist psychological stereotypes is on garish display.

    This new black bourgeoisie was both the chief beneficiary and the driving force behind the Mbeki presidency, for all the latter’s predilection for Marxist-Leninist talk. Mbeki always justified his policies by reference to the National Democratic Revolution—a sort of Third World NEP—thus wrong-footing his opponents on the left, the SACP and its allies in the Congress of South African Trade Unions, who could only demand a more radical form of NDR. The actual result of the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies was a sharp increase in inequality in what had been, to start with, one of the most unequal societies in the world. In 1995, a year after the advent of democracy, when there was much heady talk of greater equality, the Gini coefficient measuring income distribution stood at 0.64. By 2005 this had risen to 0.69. Studies show that, whereas in the past black–white differences were the principal component of inequality, these have now narrowed considerably but have in turn been overtaken by widening gulfs within the black population.

    To understand what is happening, look at the 2006 BEE deal done by Impala Platinum, the world’s second biggest platinum producer. A large slice went, on favourable terms, to Mmakau Mining, founded and run by Bridgette Radebe, wife of the cabinet minister, Jeff Radebe. Bridgette was an influential figure in both government and mining circles, heading the Junior and Small Scale Mining Committee, and was also in charge of the state-owned (and loss-making) diamond mine, Alexkor. (When Bridgette took over Alexkor in 1999, the mine fell under the supervision of her husband Jeff, then Minister for Public Enterprises. [1]) Only a month after the Impala deal, Anglo Platinum announced a similar deal with Bridgette’s brother, Patrice Motsepe, head of African Rainbow Minerals. Despite all the talk of giving economic power to the African masses, the two biggest platinum companies had concentrated their deals on just one already privileged family (for Patrice and Bridgette are the children of a Tswana princess). Moreover, Bridgette is also the sister-in-law of another BEE mogul, Cyril Ramaphosa, giving that family a degree of financial and political influence rivalling that of the Oppenheimers. Ramaphosa—a former ANC secretary general, and number two on the party’s list behind Mandela in the 1994 election—was repeatedly spoken of as a presidential candidate, while Tokyo Sexwale, the former ANC premier of Gauteng province, who had become one of the richest men in the country, did in fact make a belated bid for the presidency.

    Such BEE moguls are expected to contribute heavily to ANC funds and to be helpful to the president. Moreover, since their new-found wealth so clearly derives from political sources, the moguls must stay within a closed circle at the top of the ANC: thus both Ramaphosa and Sexwale remained on the ANC national executive. When one further considers that the minister who pushed through the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act that forced BEE deals on the mining companies, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is married to Bulelani Ngcuka, then the Director of Public Prosecutions, a key Mbeki confidant and later himself a major BEE beneficiary, one begins to grasp how, behind the rhetoric of ‘power to the people’, real control is now more tightly guarded by the new ruling class than ever before in South Africa’s history. For while, under white rule, the Afrikaner nationalist elite had often inter-married and sometimes felt like one big family, economic power was always primarily held by an English-speaking, and often Jewish, business elite. Under ANC rule, political and economic powers have been consolidated in the same tiny group, while each new deal that further enriches this clique is greeted as a step towards ‘democratizing the economy’. Better still, black moguls frequently warn that unless there are ever more such BEE deals, there will be ‘social revolution’—the sheerest chutzpah.

    There is little doubt what lies at the end of this road. If one takes the five states of Southern Africa that won independence through armed struggle against white rule by revolutionary movements strongly influenced by Marxism-Leninism, one finds that Armando Guebuza, the president of Mozambique, is also that country’s richest businessman. Angola has been ruled for the last 30 years by José Eduardo dos Santos, not only Angola’s richest man but the second richest man in Brazil (i.e. offshore Angola). Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma, the founding presidents of their countries, are undoubtedly the richest men in Zimbabwe and Namibia respectively. South Africa is a relative latecomer, but there is no doubt that Nelson Mandela is a rich man with many beautiful houses, married to the independently wealthy Graça Machel—who has taken full advantage of BEE opportunities in South Africa, despite being a foreigner there. Mandela’s prison comrade, Walter Sisulu, died a poor man, but his children are now immensely wealthy. Similarly, Govan Mbeki, a hard-line Stalinist, died poor, but no one doubts that his son, Thabo, the former president, is a rich man. All these states have evolved effortlessly towards plutocracy while wrapping themselves in the hammer-and-sickle and mouthing leftist rhetoric.

    Coalition of the wounded

    When, in 1997, Mandela selected Jacob Zuma as ANC Deputy President, there was no reason to see him as ideologically distinct from the new President, his long-time ally and companion Thabo Mbeki. The most striking thing about Zuma was that, almost alone in the ANC’s upper echelons, he lacked formal education and had strong peasant origins. For Mandela, who always weighed the importance of such things, the key was that Zuma was a Zulu, that Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa and that the ANC had been led by Xhosas—Mandela, Tambo, Mbeki—for nearly forty years. Such considerations of ethnic balance were always mocked by Mbeki and the younger generation, who insisted that tribalism was largely a construct of apartheid. More immediately, Mbeki was also a paranoiac, mortally suspicious of anyone who could possibly be a rival, and prone to taking stealthy steps to dispose of them. Sure enough, within months of acceding to high office Zuma found himself stripped of almost all functions and soon learnt that he was under police investigation—unthinkable unless Mbeki had ordered it.

    These measures intensified as Mbeki’s support collapsed. In the 1999 general election he had trounced the opposition Democratic Alliance, winning nearly 67 per cent of the vote compared to the DA’s 9.6 per cent. By 2001, opinion polls put support for Mbeki at only 42 per cent, compared to 28 per cent for the DA’s Tony Leon. A campaign was immediately launched to destabilize the DA: computer thefts, spying, false accusations and the like. Simultaneously all Mbeki’s main rivals—Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Mathews Phosa—found themselves accused of trying to help topple Mbeki with the aid of the CIA and MI5. Zuma too was accused, and had to go on TV to humiliate himself by begging Mbeki’s pardon. To no avail: Zuma’s associates were tried and jailed, a honey-trap ‘rape’ case was manufactured against him, and he was finally forced out of the deputy presidency as Mbeki sought to extend his own power indefinitely.

    Mbeki, still encased in the Stalinist culture of exile, had fatally mistaken his man—and the local political culture. South Africa has known representative democracy—however racially restricted—since 1854, and it has a free press. It has never known presidents-for-life and the anti-apartheid struggle was hardly fought for that objective. And Zuma, a proud Zulu, would never bend the knee. Indignant at the way he had been persecuted and cast out, he set his sights on the presidency and would accept no threat or blandishment in its place. Zuma thus found himself naturally in sympathy with the forces of left opposition, principally the SACP and Cosatu. Formally they constituted a Tripartite Alliance with the ANC—an arrangement intended to ensure Communist control, for the relationship between SACP and Cosatu is much the same as that of the French Communist Party and the CGT, with all key union leaders also in the SACP. In 1996 this layer had been mortally affronted when Mbeki launched the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme without consultation. GEAR promised all manner of things, but at its heart was a fiscal and monetary orthodoxy likely to please the World Bank/IMF and thus remove the need for South Africa to have to borrow from them. But the SACP and Cosatu could never accept their exclusion from economic policy-making which GEAR symbolized, and thus contested it from the start, referring to it as the ‘1996 class project’ and insisting that it represented a 70/30 solution—an alliance between black and white capital, together constituting 30 per cent of the population, ranged against the 70 per cent of the poor and excluded. The whole status of the SACP and Cosatu as co-equals in the liberation struggle was under threat. Their bitterness was shared by many individuals, sidelined by Mbeki for various reasons. Collectively all such figures rallied round Zuma, the most egregious victim of Mbeki’s paranoia: hence the so-called ‘coalition of the wounded’.

    Zuma had happily gone along with GEAR while in government but, as he found himself first under threat and then, in 2005, sacked as Deputy President, he appeared at more and more SACP and Cosatu meetings, where he was greeted as a tribune of the people against an increasingly remote and unpopular government. Zuma, well aware that Cosatu’s 1.8 million members and its disciplined core of activists make it the key force in pulling out the ANC vote at election time, was happy to accept SACP and Cosatu support; but he was careful never to risk accusations of disloyalty to the ANC by attacking Mbeki or government policy, restricting himself to motherhood-and-apple-pie banalities. Nonetheless, the bond between Zuma and his allies on the left was forged over several years in the wilderness and was mutually beneficial: on the one hand Zuma could not hope to topple Mbeki without their help; on the other, the long campaign against Mbeki allowed the SACP to increase its influence greatly. The SACP, once largely the preserve of white Jewish intellectuals, had in exile and underground come to have a notably Zulu tinge, and it did not escape notice that its current leader, Blade Nzimande, is a Zulu bound to Zuma by ties of sentiment as well as ideology.

    Both these traits were on display in the run-up to the ANC’s National Conference at Polokwane in December 2007. Mbeki, with deep unwisdom, decided to ignore the emphatic view of the party’s National General Council in 2005 and to insist on his own candidacy for a yet further term as the party’s President—universally seen as an attempt to remain in power, by hook or by crook. Had he made way gracefully it is possible that another and more popular anti-Zuma candidate might have emerged, but Mbeki banked everything on being able to use incumbency and presidential patronage to achieve his ends. One result was the increasing consolidation of a Zulu bloc vote behind Zuma. Everywhere in KwaZulu-Natal one could hear that ‘now is our time’, that Zulus had waited patiently to re-assume the leadership of what they still thought of as Chief Luthuli’s party, and that Mbeki’s attempt to extend the already overlong Xhosa ascendancy not only broke an explicit commitment to alternation but was exactly what one would expect of a tricky Xhosa. Opinion polls suggested that Zuma could capture much of the Inkatha vote in the province, as well as that of the ANC, in a tidal wave of Zulu nationalism which could bring a summary end to Chief Buthelezi’s long career. Meanwhile, both within KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere, Cosatu and the SACP worked tirelessly to recruit and push their own activists into ANC branches and federations, men and women solidly committed to Zuma. This was what Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu leader, meant when he talked of the Zuma cause as ‘an unstoppable tsunami’.

    When this wave duly broke over Mbeki at Polokwane it amounted to an effective vote of no confidence in the bulk of the ANC political class that had ruled the country since 1994. Not only was Mbeki beaten by more than 60–40, but the whole executive team behind him was thrown out too. Neither the Party Chairman, Terror Lekota, nor Mbeki’s Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, could even get elected to the 86-strong National Executive Committee. Also thrown off the NEC were fifteen cabinet ministers, ten deputy ministers, all members of Mbeki’s office, ten MPs and eight of the nine provincial premiers—the ninth surviving only because he gave a promise of early retirement. Onto the National Executive rode large numbers of obscure provincial militants. ‘I was in the struggle for many years, but I don’t even know most of these people’, a bewildered Lekota told me. To a not inconsiderable extent this was an SACP–Cosatu takeover, symbolized by the fact that the SACP Chairman, Gwede Mantashe, became the new ANC Secretary General and chief spokesman. At Zuma’s wish, Mbeki was allowed to continue in office. But irritation with him mounted as it became clear that there would be no halt to his guerrilla warfare against Zuma; the end came in September 2008 when he was ignominiously forced out, temporarily replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe, an old SACP militant who had headed the mineworkers’ union, in the run-up to the April 2009 election.

    The corruption charges against Zuma—finally dropped in April 2009—were never likely to have prevented him from becoming president. In effect most ANC members assume their leaders have their hand in the till, regard this as normal and thus cannot see why Zuma should be singled out. He is a genial and likeable man, comfortable in his own skin, and was well aware that he could not afford to give hostages to fortune before being elected. His presidency will see an old-style Communist Party assume unparalleled influence and authority in a major state for the first time in many decades. Zuma, like Mbeki, was long an SACP member himself and owes most of his political formation to the Party, but he is also aware that less than 5 per cent of South Africans say they support the SACP. He spent much of the run-up to the election trying to reassure both domestic and international investors that they can confidently invest in South Africa, and that it will be business as usual. At the same time, he frequently sounds like the rural populist he is: disciplinarian, homophobic, wanting to crack down hard on crime and teenage pregnancies, tending to favour the death penalty, and feeling that somehow the ANC has failed rural blacks and that ‘something’ must be done for them. He understands little about economics and is far happier belting out struggle songs on party stages than making serious speeches. He is a listener, a man who knows what he does not know, keen to hear all sides before he summarizes the consensus view. But that simply increases the significance of those who get to sit round the table with him.

    Leftward shift?

    Will the new Zuma administration see a decisive shift to the left? After the ANC’s predictable landslide on 22 April 2009, winning 264 out of 400 seats, there is no doubt that the SACP regards this as a now-or-never opportunity. In terms of the old Leninist model, the Party’s role was to set itself up as the vanguard of the national liberation movement, to recruit the leading nationalists to its cause and then, after liberation, to carry the revolution through to a triumphant socialist conclusion. Elsewhere in the Third World, this strategy succeeded only in the context of the Second World War—even the belated Communist triumph in Indochina owed its success largely to that. In South Africa, alone in the postwar period, the model appeared to be working perfectly. The SACP recruited Mandela, Sisulu and virtually the whole of the next generation. It led the armed struggle and became the ANC’s thinking brain, its ideas permeating the movement as a whole, so that even non-Communist ANC activists tend to revere Cuba and dream of emulating Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian experiment in Africa.

    The SACP entered the democratic era equipped not only with those advantages but with a charismatic leader, Chris Hani, who had played a key role in the armed struggle and was second only to Mandela in popularity. Hani was clearly poised to assume the post-Mandela leadership when he was gunned down in 1993, in an assassination which the Party tried, unsuccessfully, to link to Mbeki, for whom it opened the road to power. It often seemed that the SACP would never recover from that hammer blow—until Mbeki fatally overreached himself by sacking Zuma and thus gave the Party a providential opportunity to regain its old, dominant role. To a considerable extent the split in the ANC, and the founding of the new Congress of the People (COPE), is a reaction to the perceived takeover of the ANC by the SACP. Even many who have remained within the ANC are deeply queasy about the way in which Nzimande, Vavi and Mantashe have become the new men of power in the party. In the run-up to the election Mantashe made full use of his powers as ANC Secretary General, purging anyone suspected of COPE sympathies and pushing reliable Communists into key positions. The votes cast by ANC branches or federations for this or that candidate were simply ignored in this quest for ideological purity. As a result, the SACP has significantly enlarged its weight within the ANC parliamentary caucus. Before the election, Mantashe had even insisted that the new government would be answerable to the SACP, with ineffective ministers held to account and fired by the Party if need be. He and Nzimande speak ceaselessly of the importance of establishing ‘working-class hegemony’ over every sphere of national life which, in practice, means SACP control.

    This is not Zuma’s vision. Although he likes to speak of himself as a worker, he is a Zulu patriarch at heart and wants to go with what works. He will surround himself not just with SACP and Cosatu activists but with a Durban-centred clique of ANC Zulus, together with Indians and whites from the Durban commercial world. Zuma is also well aware that he takes power as a figure widely vilified by the media and that he must quickly reach out towards this constituency if he is to win over any of the key opinion-makers. The SACP and Cosatu will go along with this provided they feel their power is now built in. Thus they went quietly along with the 2009 budget announced by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, much though they dislike him, both because they were able to draw up economic policy at a preceding ‘Alliance Summit’ and because they feel they will get rid of Manuel in time. The key is that they will now be included in the inner circles of power, a position they will not lightly surrender.

    The gravitational pull to the left lies not just in the strength of SACP influence but in the processes by which the ANC and SACP developed as a revolutionary movement, during their long exile between 1962 and 1990, with a strong appeal to South Africa’s poor and dispossessed. Enormous promises were made, millennial expectations were aroused, the movement developing its own martyrs, rhetoric and mystique—and then the apartheid government turned round, invited the exiles back and handed over power to them under a liberal constitution, thus robbing them of the revolution. Since the movement had never actually looked like overthrowing the apartheid government, this historic compromise was eagerly grasped. But as the disappointments, blunders and corruption of ANC governments accumulate, there is a natural tendency to hark back to the unfulfilled promise of this tradition, or even to pretend that a revolution has been achieved and that now it must be defended.

    The left’s programme is somewhat vague. It calls for a ‘developmental state’, with the centre playing a far greater economic role both in terms of investment and intervention. There is an insistent demand for protectionism, particularly for the textile and motor industries, and for an industrial policy which will nurture new manufacturing sectors behind tariff walls. The SACP has spoken of nationalizing the oil company, Sasol, and also demands that the major banks cede a larger share of their equity to BEE partners. The left is also angry that less than 7 per cent of white commercial farms have been handed over to black ownership, and calls for five times that number to be transferred in the next five years, with the abandonment of a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ model for large-scale expropriation. Jeff Radebe, a key Zuma henchman, even talks of kibbutz-style collective farms and agri-villages, with hordes of new peasant farmers trained and equipped by the state.

    In fact the room for a decisive move to the left is almost non-existent. The two key statistics are firstly that, while 13.5 million South Africans receive welfare grants, only 5.4 million pay income tax, a very high proportion of them white, Coloured and Asian. Forceful redistributive measures will undoubtedly push many of the latter into emigration, thus worsening the skills shortage and narrowing the tax base to a point where the whole welfare state could collapse. The second statistic is that South Africa is running a current-account deficit of 7.4 per cent of GDP, one of the highest in the world. To fund it there has to be a recurrent annual inflow of at least $20 billion from foreign investors. Should the left take measures which frighten those investors away, the result would be an immediate economic meltdown. In addition, the period since 1994 has seen a sweeping internationalization of the South African economy. Many big companies are now predominantly owned abroad and have also moved their headquarters there. The left may still think in terms of national autarchy, but this is increasingly at odds with reality. Sasol, the country’s largest industrial company, now has assets all over the world and doubtless, in the event of nationalization, these would simply escape the state’s grab.


    To some extent a ‘developmental state’ is emerging anyway because of previously planned massive infrastructural investment. But much of this is due simply to the fact that the state has allowed the energy and transport infrastructure to deteriorate badly and now has to bunch expenditure to catch up. Whether the Zuma government will actually be able to borrow the sums required, in the midst of an international credit crunch, remains to be seen. Assuming it can, the results are unlikely to advance the socialist cause. Everything to date suggests that the state machine is incapable of maintaining such investments and that there will be massive leakage of funds due to corruption. All in all, the prospects for the creation of new industries are not good. Wages are too high to compete with Asia, productivity too low to compete with Europe. There is, indeed, a ‘missing’ manufacturing sector and thus, to a considerable extent, a missing proletariat—many of Cosatu’s members are white-collar workers. For the country suffers from ‘Dutch disease’: its prodigious mineral wealth and commodity exports push the Rand’s value far beyond the level required for the country’s manufactures to be internationally competitive. But neither the black nor the white bourgeoisie is in any hurry to see a currency depreciation, which would shoot up the prices of the imports for which they have such an appetite.

    Most critical of all is land reform. Nearly all the commercial farms handed over to black communities have slumped back into subsistence agriculture, leading to dramatic losses in food production. At the same time, the threat that they too may lose their farms has seen many commercial farmers hold back from further investment, with ruinous effects. The combined result was that in 2008, for the first time since 1985, South Africa became a net importer of food—something which the already overburdened current account cannot afford. If the left’s ambitious plans for land reform are followed there will certainly be a further steep drop in production, resulting in vastly higher food prices and probable starvation among sections of the poor. Agricultural experts are warning that, even with sufficient food production, the deterioration of both the rail network and rural roads is such that 35 per cent of the population are now at risk of malnourishment, due to the difficulties of getting food to them. The situation is exacerbated by the millions of Zimbabwean, Congolese and other refugees who have poured into South Africa due to the collapse in border controls. Rising unemployment, let alone serious food shortages, could see a recrudescence of the xenophobic riots which cost over 60 lives in early 2008. Already 1.5 million children are malnourished as a result of chronic food insecurity.

    The prospect of a Zuma government presiding over rising unemployment, xenophobic riots and mass starvation bears no relationship, of course, to the ANC’s foundational document, the Freedom Charter. It is only too likely that the response will be to concentrate on forcing yet further BEE schemes on the banks and other companies, so as to enrich a further tranche of the politically well-connected. The problem is that the ANC and SACP have not lived up to their non-racial promise and have accepted far too many of the premises of Mbeki’s racial nationalism. All that this has achieved is to make the remaining white population more important than ever—without their taxes, their skills and the companies they own and run, the country would collapse. While the better-off flee to private health, private schools and private security companies, the poor, locked without choice into the state sector, suffer the consequences. The results are declining standards of health, education, a steeply falling life expectancy and mountainous unemployment.

    Moreover, as the elections of April 2009 showed, the fragmentation of the ANC has now begun. The breakaway COPE, after only a few months’ existence, stole over 1.3 million votes from it and will now provide an alternative focus for black support. Although the ANC won 65.9 per cent, this represented a fall of nearly 4 per cent since 2004 albeit on a higher turnout. Across the country the ANC vote fell, often quite sharply, and only a huge show of Zulu support for Zuma saved the party from greater embarrassment. Meanwhile the liberal Democratic Alliance continued to strengthen its position, winning an extra 1 million votes and trouncing the ANC in the Western Cape. The ANC, which had previously controlled this province, is now in complete disarray in Cape Town, the country’s second most important conurbation. More than ever before, the ANC is coming to rely on a straightforward ethnic appeal. Zulus are by far the largest and most cohesive group within the black population. They are well aware that the ANC has had Xhosa leaders ever since taking power and are thrilled that a Zulu has finally taken over.

    This is problematic in two ways. First, it is universally accepted that Zuma will be a one-term president—he is 67, and by the end of his term will be 72—but it is highly unlikely that Zulu voters will be prepared to relinquish their grip on the presidency in just five years, so there could be serious internecine strife at that point. Secondly, COPE achieved its best results among the disgruntled Xhosa voters of the Eastern and Northern Cape. The seeds of future ethnic division have been sown and represent a major threat to ANC unity. During the independence era of the 1960s, René Dumont wrote tellingly in his L’Afrique noire est mal partie of a ‘false start in Africa’. Now, a whole generation later, despite the lessons supposedly learnt and the ANC’s heady promises in 1994, there has been a false start of extraordinary proportions in the continent’s most developed state.

    [1] When the mine finally collapsed it was largely because Jeff Radebe, in a classic case of ham-handed state intervention, forced the management to take redundant workers back onto its payroll, creating a wage bill it could not afford.

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