By Weizmann Hamilton, Workers And Socialist Party, Johannesburg
Inside two months following his election as ANC president at the party’s December 2017 national conference, Cyril Ramaphosa has realised the ambition he reportedly set himself whilst still at high school according to a close childhood friend – to become the country’s president. If his victory in the ANC presidential succession race was not at all certain, the narrow margin of his victory made Zuma’s dramatic resignation so soon after the conference seem improbable. Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land was built on a 50/50 split that ran right through its top structures — the Top Six, the national executive as well as the national working committees.
Even more unpromisingly for Ramaphosa, his triumph was the result of the betrayal of Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, the most powerful member of the pro-Zuma so-called “Premier League”. This alliance of corrupt provincial premiers (including those of the Free State and North West) manipulated provincial conference elections, stripping the national conference of all credibility – reduced to a gigantic auction of corrupted delegates. By instructing his delegates, in the name of “unity”, to switch their votes from Zuma’s anointed successor, his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, it could be reasonably expected that Ramaphosa would be beholden to the most corrupt of the trio.
That outcome suggested a period of paralysis ahead for the ANC as the two factions – Ramaphosa’s and Zuma’s – were set for a collision between the two centres of power in the party and the country for the remaining 18 months of Zuma’s term as the country’s president before the 2019 general elections and inaction by Ramaphosa.
By the evening of the 14th of February 2018, however, the reality of the decisive shift in the balance of forces in the ANC that set in after Ramaphosa’s conference victory, finally dawned on Zuma. He surrendered the presidency as meekly as he had ascended to it with such triumphalism nine years ago. For the second time in ten years, the ANC has humiliated its president by not permitting him to complete his term of office.
Zuma reaps the whirlwind
The drama of Zuma’s ousting is rich with irony. He became the victim of the same process he had led to prevent Thabo Mbeki from completing his term nine years ago – a recall. Thabo Mbeki continued as the country’s president for eight months after Zuma’s triumph at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, Zuma for less than two. His defiance of the ANC’s NEC’s instruction to resign or face being voted out by the previously unthinkable — the ANC supporting a Motion of No Confidence tabled in parliament by the Economic freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema whose expulsion Zuma had ensured in 2012. The ANC had gone to such extreme lengths despite the fact that a successful Motion of no Confidence would lead to the dissolution of the entire cabinet – ministers and deputies. Faced with such a threat, Zuma capitulated.
The end of Thabo Mbeki’s reign was inglorious. But he accepted his recall with dignity and respect for the decision the party he had served all his life, and in which he had come to be regarded as political royalty. Zuma’s presidency ended in ignominy and cowardice, protesting his innocence to the end – his conduct a study in incomprehension in the parallel universe he inhabited, of what had unfolded.
Zuma ascended the presidential throne in the slip stream of a revolt against more than a decade of the neo-liberal Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy Mbeki had imposed on the country in 1996 without any discussion in ANC structures. Although economic growth averaged 4.5% under Mbeki, the regularly budget surpluses at the time were made possible by the massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich catapulting SA to the top of the global league table of inequality. Gear led to a rapid polarization of the classes, reflected in the phenomenon of service delivery protests – working class communities in revolt against poor service delivery and corruption which began in 2004, and the biggest public sector strike in SA history at the time. The aloof indifference of the Shakespeare-quoting. whisky-sipping and pipe-smoking “Call me a Thatcherite ” Mbeki- the personification of the aspirant black bourgeoisie the ANC was founded to represent – ensured that the succession battle in the ANC became an indirect expression of the collision of the classes in society.
The consequences of these policies called into existence what subsequently came to be known as the coalition of the wounded – victims of Mbeki’s marginalisation and witch-hunting of those who opposed the policies he enforced in dictatorial fashion on the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the SA Communist Party (SACP) as well as the Malema-led ANC Youth League. Zuma was to win the presidency with a decisive 60% majority which was to increase to 75% at its next conference in 2012.
Then Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said famously at the time that the forces would ensure Zuma’s victory would be an “unstoppable as a tsunami.” He was not to know that the Zuma tsunami would cut a swathe of destruction through society – through the economy, on the lives of the working class, the Tripartite Alliance, and in state institutions.
Disaster for the working class
Zuma’s regime was born in scandal and morphed into a kleptocracy. Making full use of the Bonapartist provisions of the country’s much vaunted constitution, the prerogative to appoint and “dis-appoint”, heads of state-owned enterprises, the police, the priority crimes unit (the Hawks) and the National Prosecuting Authority. Dismissed by Mbeki as deputy president in 2005 over what the judge described as a “generally corrupt relationship” he had developed with benefactor Schabir Shaik who was sentenced to 15 years for corruption over the arms deal scandal, he was reinstated after he manipulated the dropping of the charges against him. He drove Khwezi, the daughter of a fellow comrade into exile and to her death, after he was acquitted of raping her. He dismantled the Scorpions (SA’s equivalent of the US FBI).
He converted government into a criminal enterprise for the self-enrichment of his family and cronies. Under the direction of the Gupta family of Indian immigrants he developed a network of cronies so powerful that they even decided on appointments in cabinet and SoEs that the beneficiaries themselves heard about from this corrupt family even before it was announced in the ANC itself. It is estimated that the looting spree has resulted in the loss of over R100bn to the public purse. Under his watch the economy has nosedived gasping for breath at 1% per annum when eliminating extreme poverty (those living on R441 per month and have to choose between buying food or spending on other essentials) will require ten years of 5.4% average economic growth. The SA Revenue Service has under collected tax of over R50bn. Under his watch, far from halting the impoverishment of the masses that Mbeki’s regime began, it has accelerated. 55% of the population live in poverty, with 9m unemployed – approximately 40% (67% amongst the youth) with 15m going to bed hungry every night. The economy has experienced two recessions and a rating agency downgrade.
Under Zuma the ANC has undergone two splits—the birth of the Congress of the People in 2008 and the Economic Freedom fighters in 2012. The Tripartite Alliance has lost all credibility. Cosatu expelled the 340 000-strong National Union of Metal Workers following its 2013 decision not to support the ANC in the 2014 elections. Nothing expresses the political bankruptcy of Cosatu and the SACP than the fact that they cling on for dear life to the Tripartite Alliance having campaigned for the billionaire Ramaphosa – one of the richest men in the country and butcher of the Marikana mineworkers.
The Ramaphosa Spring
Understandably Ramaphosa’s victory has been welcomed by most including working class people. They hope he will make good on his promise to root out corruption, lift the economy out of the doldrums, create jobs, eradicate poverty and raise living standards.
So discredited had Zuma and his cronies become that the demand that Zuma step down was supported by virtually every layer of society including big business who had been opposed to Mbeki’s ousting. It is this factor, the tsunami of public of opinion, that overwhelmed the ANC. Zuma’s erstwhile allies dumped him like rats a sinking ship. As we predicted after the ANC conference, with the ANC facing almost certain defeat in 2019 if Zuma remained at the helm, the beneficiaries of Zuma’s patronage would desert him for the same reason that they defended him to the hilt despite all the crimes he committed, from the rape charges against Khwezi, to the arms deal corruption and the so-called security upgrades at his private home Nkandla which earned him a scathing, unprecedented judgment by the Constitutional Court.
In the period following his election as ANC president, the Hawks and police appear to have been energised leading to raids on the Gupta compound, the offices of the Free State Premier and the arrest of a number of corruption suspects. Gupta patriarch, Ajay, was prevented from fleeing out of the country on a private jet, stopped by airport police, and has now been officially declared a fugitive from justice whilst his nephew has already appeared in court. The state electricity utility Eskom’s entire board has been replaced. The NPA is under pressure to reinstate the corruption charges against Zuma as his strategy of appeals has been exhausted.
These developments have given the impression that Ramaphosa means business. He thus comes to power carrying the hopes of all sections of society. But herein lies the contradiction. The expectations of the capitalist class and the working class are irreconcilable. Ramaphosa is the candidate of big business. His entire career has constituted preparation for the role the capitalist ruling class has thrust on him and he has enthusiastically placed himself at their disposal.
He earned his spurs during his role in the defeat of the historic 1987 mineworkers strike as secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers he was founder member of. He forged close ties with big business in the 1980s in the Urban Foundation, established to create the basis for the development of a black capitalist class as the strategists of capital became increasingly alarmed by the socialist consciousness that had developed especially in Cosatu. He played a leading role in crafting the constitution of SA’s pro-capitalist post-apartheid dispensation at the Codesa negotiations. Embittered at being overlooked for the position of deputy to Mandela in the first post-apartheid government, he left politics, failed to attend Mandela’s inauguration and got on with the business of becoming a billionaire.
He comes to power when rating agencies are demanding savage austerity measures to avoid a further downgrade. Given the state of the world economy, and lack of demand in the domestic economy because of the levels of poverty, there is in fact little incentive to invest at home and no way out on the world market.
Ramaphosa’s spring will therefore be short-lived. For this reason it is not excluded that Ramaphosa may call an early election. The birth of the new SA Federation of Trade Unions in 2017 represented the first steps towards the working class reclaiming its political and class independence. The debate on the establishment of a workers party must be concluded urgently and a workers party established. In 2012, Cosatu’s own survey of shop stewards’ political attitudes found that 67% were in favour of the establishment of a workers party. In 2013 the EFF was launched exploiting this mood with populist radical nationalism. After the 2016 local government elections, the EFF revealed its class character by entering into a coalition with the DA – which it a party it denounces as a racist party of “white monopoly capital”. Behind this hypocrisy lies its real ambition – to be part of a pro-capitalist coalition after.
Under Zuma the ANC’s electoral support has declined to the point where in 2016, it lost 8% from just two years before to 54% and relinquished control in three major metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela. Its vote was reduced to 34% of the eligible voting population.
In 2013 Numsa itself resolved at its special national congress to establish a workers party. The Saftu NEC has the opportunity to put an end to this undue delay. It must set a date for the launch a mass workers party on a socialist programme that will unite community, students and work place struggles.