Where next for the ANC?

Are there hopeful signs amidst the poverty and corruption? South African socialist, author and journalist Terry Bell addressed a London Communist Forum on September 10

Jacob Zuma with three of his wives

I wish I could answer the question, ‘Where next for the ANC?’ Five years ago I would have given some sort of confident forecast about the way things would develop. But right now things are in such chaos.

For example, on September 9, Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the African National Congress (who also sits on the central committee of the South African Communist Party, of which he is the former chair), came out guns blazing, saying it was “sick” that eight people have now been nominated to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC. This is not the way we do things, he said: the deputy president should automatically succeed the president.

But, of course, the current deputy president (of both the ANC and the republic), Cyril Ramaphosa, is not only one of the wealthiest businessmen in South Africa, who very quickly became a billionaire. He also happened to be a non-executive director of Lonmin, the company which employed the 34 mineworkers shot by police at the time of the Marikana massacre in August 2012. It was Ramaphosa who sent emails stating to ministers that this was not a normal strike: the fact that they had occupied a piece of common land on a hill was a “dastardly criminal” act, which meant that “concomitant action” must be taken.

We know what happened then. In the initial shooting 17 miners were shot dead and many others wounded, some of them crippled for life, and then 17 others were hunted down when they were running away - many of them were shot in the back. Eighteen other mineworkers, including one who was crippled by the police, were charged with murder.

Most of the original strikers had been members of the National Union of Mineworkers, whose local officials had effectively become line managers for the company. Then NUM president, Senzeni Zokwana, was also an employee of the mining company - paid R1 million (£59,000) a year. NUM shop stewards were given credit cards, cars, etc and they kept the miners in order.

When disgruntled workers came out on strike, they marched on their union office. What happened next is a classic example of how things can get out of hand so easily. As they marched on the office, there was some gunfire - the NUM shop stewards had armed themselves and opened fire. As a journalist I got a phone call and was told that two workers had been killed. I asked, “Were you there?” My informant was not, so I asked him to check whether it was true.

As it turned out, only one worker was injured, but the miners believed that their comrades had been shot at and killed - that was the way the rumour spread. As a result another group marched on management, but when two security guards told them to stop they were killed. All hell broke loose. Ten people died before the actual police slaughter. As a result, many people found it convenient to claim that both sides were equally to blame - just like Donald Trump did over Charlottesville. The 18 Marikana strikers were charged with murder under the so-called ‘common purpose’ legislation.

In another previous incident, tear gas had been fired at the strikers and in the scuffle that followed a policeman was killed and two miners were shot dead. A photograph of the dead policeman was circulated to every single police station in South Africa and the strikers were called “cop-killers”.

It was in this situation of utmost tension that Cyril Ramaphosa wrote those emails. So you can say that within the rank and file of the workers’ movement there is not much support for his presidential candidacy. However, the executive of the Congress of South African Trade Unions - still probably the largest union federation, led by members of the SACP - has come out publicly in support of Ramaphosa. As I have said, he is not only implicated in Marikana, but is one of the wealthiest capitalists - who, incidentally, owns the McDonald’s franchise in South Africa.

Anyone but Zuma

The second complication is the fact that Jacob Zuma still faces 783 charges of money-laundering, fraud, etc, but, of course, as long as he is president he remains immune from prosecution. He has touted his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to replace him as president (he has four current wives - three are still living with him, but the fourth has been pushed out because he says she tried to poison him). He has managed to get the ANC Youth League and Women’s League to support Dlamini-Zuma’s nomination.

So she and Ramaphosa are the two front runners to become president of the party at the ANC congress in December - and whoever becomes president of the ANC almost automatically becomes president of the country. The Communist Party declares that it “does not intervene” in internal matters of ANC politics - that is the official position. But the SACP is known to back Ramaphosa and both the YCL and Cosatu have come out openly in his support.

The party’s position has been called ABZ - anyone but Zuma. If Dlamini-Zuma is elected, probably her first act would be to amnesty her ex-husband (she still lives in the same compound as him) and he will continue to pull the strings. Traditionally the deputy president has always succeeded the incumbent, added to which the ABZ position means that there is no way the SACP will support Nkosazana.

Another candidate, current ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize, as a Zulu has a strong following in KwaZulu-Natal - one has to take into account here the ethnic element. He is in Zuma’s own territory. There is also Baleka Mbete, the (extraordinarily biased) speaker of parliament and the chair of the ANC, who has been accused of improperly receiving a driver’s licence and of chartering a jet at state expense to attend the inauguration of Liberia’s president in 2006.

All of the candidates are very wealthy - many of them seem to go along with the saying, ‘We did not join the struggle to be poor’! Their wealth has not necessarily been accumulated through corruption. In 1948, when the Afrikaner nationalists won the election, Anglo-American hived off a company called General Mining. Shares were distributed to Afrikaner nationalists, who were able to pay for them out of their dividends. In other words, they were a gift. It was the same with Ramaphosa and other ANC figures - people were released from Robben Island with all their belongings in an apple box, but five years later they were in parliament, in business and within a few years were multi-millionaires. That does not happen without handouts. And these are the people who have their hats in the ring.

At the same time, within parliament the Economic Freedom Fighters are making the biggest running. But unfortunately most of the very fragmented left, led often by the Socialist Workers Party franchise, Keep Left, supports Julius Malema and his EFF, which they regard as ‘leftwing’. The EFF talks socialist, it talks about seizing the land without compensation, but it is national socialist.

While after the fall of apartheid a deal was being sorted out between the ANC elite and the Afrikaner elite, some really good old liberals and radicals wrote a bill of rights and constitution. Section 25 of the constitution states that any property may be confiscated, provided this would be in the public interest and there is “just and equitable” compensation, taking account of the history of the property, including subsidies, etc. In other words, the possibility of land nationalisation is in the constitution. Yet Malema’s main point is the seizure of land.

The interesting thing about him as an individual is that he is the “commander-in-chief” of the EFF, whose structure is totally militaristic. Malema was expelled from the ANC Youth League, of which he was the leader, but how does someone who in that capacity earned R20,000 a month end up with a tax bill of R16 million? What I am trying to say is that he does not exactly have a good, clear, honest background. But the EFF is the main, so-called left opposition in parliament.

Then there is the leader of the United Democratic Movement, Bantu Holomisa - also expelled from the ANC - who as a military leader overthrew the Bantustan regime in the Transkei. He is a good guy - not corrupt - but he is a soldier. He thinks like a soldier - it is all tactics and no real policies.

He was expelled for revealing the fact that Nelson Mandela had taken a gift of R2 million - not for himself, but for the ANC - from a casino millionaire, Sol Kerzner, and in return charges against Kerzner, who was said to have ‘bought his freedom’, were dropped. It was Holomisa himself who had laid charges against Kerzner for bribery and corruption. His UDM is very popular - but only in a small part of the Eastern Cape.

So there is a great deal of animosity, which has been played on by politicians of all sides - that is the legacy of apartheid that we have to live with.

The biggest opposition party, of course, is the Democratic Alliance - the equivalent of the Tories without the kicking boots. Traditionally the DA has always had wealthy, white liberal support, although now its leader, Mmusi Maimane, is getting a degree of mass support on the ground among black people, who are just hacked off with the ANC.

What of the ANC itself? All the presidential candidates are pitching for support and they all have their own ANC constituencies - except Ramaphosa, who has a business constituency outside the party machine. But it is the party machines which really make the decisions in South Africa. If you control the national executive committee of the ANC and its working committee, you are in charge - and that is what Zuma has very shrewdly done.

In South Africa we pay our parliamentarians more than most other MPs anywhere else. And we have the largest cabinet in the world - 63 members, all of whom owe their position to the president. While he has become just a bit too embarrassing even for some of those people, he still has, I think, a marginal majority in the areas that really matter.

When or if?

So where do we go from here? People say, ‘When Zuma goes ...’ Well, there are a number of likely possibilities and a couple that are a bit more remote. One of those remote possibilities is ... ‘If he goes ...’ He may not go. Because of the situation on the ground and the fact that in real terms there is probably around 50% unemployment, with very little by way of a social net, we have a large number of what the police like to call “unrest incidents”. These are anything from a march without police permission to the burning down of a public building.

The point is, they happen without any coherence or political consistency. It could be that a promised school has not been built, a road has not been repaired or there is inadequate water supply. But these “unrest incidents” are occurring all the time and it would be very easy to use those as an excuse for a state of emergency. A while ago I thought this was quite a high probability, although perhaps now Zuma does not have quite enough clout.

What he does have is large backing within the police and prison service, where the main union, Popcru, is run by Zuma supporters. Then there is the MK Military Veterans Association, run by a man called Kebby Maphatsoe, who happens to be the deputy minister of defence and has a very chequered past. In fact he is a former MK cook and deserter. Most MK veterans tend to be in their 60s or 70s. Even those who joined Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing, late in the day are not exactly youngsters any more. But among Maphatshoe’s people - who wear military uniform, march in the streets and provide protection for ANC bigwigs - some are 30 years old. They must have joined the military at the age of two ...

So there is a division now between the MK veterans and the Zumaphiles, on the one hand, and, on the other, those in the ANC who are saying that our glorious movement has been betrayed and we need a completely new leadership to take us back onto the right track. But these ‘real MK’ are not going to break away - at least that is what they say. On the other hand, Maphatsoe and co are saying, ‘Zuma is our man’, he will always be our man.

That is the worrying thing. Maphatsoe claims he has 80,000 men and women under arms. I do not think there are anywhere near that many. Nevertheless all this represents a danger and one possibility at this stage.

After December

What emerges from the December congress depends on how the delegates are gerrymandered. Traditionally our delegations have always been gerrymandered - the SACP organises that rather well in Cosatu! A classic example occurred in my neighbourhood, where a very good friend of mine organised the local ANC branch, which had about 40 members. They had gathered at a meeting to elect their delegates to congress, when in marched 60 ‘new members’. They kicked out the existing branch executive and replaced them with Zuma supporters.

Because the ANC is now so split, and there are so many people pulling so many strings, I cannot predict the outcome in December. It is a very volatile situation and there could actually be violent incidents. It has been said that there is a danger in South Africa of accepting the current outright corruption as ‘normal’. In fact political assassinations are becoming normal.

A lot of such incidents have taken place in KwaZulu-Natal in particular, where it seems to be a matter of economics. With the degree of unemployment and poverty, one way out is to become a (very well paid) municipal councillor or - better still - an MP. Not only will you be able to look after your family if you are a councillor: you will also be able to organise tenders - for building roads, schools, toilets, etc - for other members of your circle. This has become extremely lucrative and has triggered these political assassinations - it is pure economics.

While I do not expect such extreme violence at the December congress, there is likely to be a run-off between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa. The split will remain. And the one thing the ANC, along with the SACP, has always stressed is that unity is the priority, no matter what. It was the same when we were in exile - which is why our organisation was so corrupt. While we had wonderful policies on paper, the actual practice deviated completely.

It could be that at congress it will be so clear that under neither Dlamini-Zuma nor Ramaphosa will there be ‘unity’ that there could be a space for another candidate, Lindiwe Sisulu. She is not corrupt as far as I know, but she is as hard as nails and quite ruthless as well as opportunistic. Throughout the recent controversies surrounding Zuma, she kept completely quiet - she only made her play before the recent parliamentary ‘no confidence’ vote when he was seen as being completely undermined.

ANC chair Baleka Mbete is trying to hitch herself to Dlamini-Zuma - ‘If she makes it I will be deputy president and we will be the first country with a female occupying both of the top two jobs.’ And, as I have said, Zweli Mkhize is also making a play - that would raise the spectre of ‘another Zulu taking over’. Before Zuma it was always Xhosas who were running the show, including Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki. In this situation people like Mathews Phosa are saying, ‘I am the one’, because he is from a minority group that is neither Xhosa nor Zulu.

However, I really do not think the ANC can be held together - I am sure we will see some sort of break. Unfortunately there does not seem to be even a social democratic break on the horizon - everything is about personalities.

On the fringes there is now emerging a whole array of ‘civil groups’ coming out against Zuma, some of which the DA tried to take over. And then there are those who are saying, ‘We need a new politics’ - that is where I think the left should be concentrating. But too many on the left see a short cut by supporting Malema, who already has 25 MPs in parliament. The SWP’s Keep Left, for example, think they can influence Malema - he is ‘someone who listens to us’.

Well, the ‘commander-in-chief’ will listen as long as he finds it convenient - and then crack down on those with a different view, I can guarantee it. I wrote a piece when the EFF first emerged. Three of us wrote about it and we said that we are seeing the emergence of our first, native-grown, modern fascism; we were castigated, mainly from the left. However, our line was taken up by the Communist Party!

What I am trying to say is that at the moment things do not look very good. The South African economy is unbelievably shaky. The government (and the Guptas) have pillaged so much that they have effectively bankrupted the country - the only means of enriching themselves was through the state. So, when it comes to public enterprises like Eskom, the electricity utility, put your own people in there, put out the tenders, work the fiddles, sell at inflated prices - all that sort of thing has been going on. And we are now in extreme national debt.

At the same time, of course, the capitalist world has now downed South African bonds to junk status, which means that interest rates have risen and eventually we are going to have more austerity, because, of course, they have taken advice from none other than the British government (one of the first people to steer this course was Peter Mandelson, who came to South Africa regularly to give advice, along with Peter Hain).

And now they are talking about the need to tighten our belts and pull together - the usual thing. I do not think it is going to hold, but my fear is that there will not be a coherent alternative emerging in time and it will be very messy. That alternative will emerge at some time, I am sure, but right now it could be a very rough period for most of us.

Workers’ party

In 2013 the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) split from the ANC and SACP and was subsequently expelled from Cosatu. Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, is an old Communist Party member who is dyed in Stalinist aspic. I get on very well with him, but he is the boss man. He rides in the latest model Mercedes with his chauffeur and bodyguard, and Numsa has its own investment company, which makes a lot of money. This means that its last conference, for example, was held at the most expensive venue in the country and the union handed out expensive trundle bags and different golf shirts for each day to the 3,000 delegates.

But Numsa and Jim are the ones who have been pushing for a new workers’ party. I said to Jim a couple of years ago, “You’re a trade union. You’re not a political party. Your aim should be to facilitate a workers’ party and act as a catalyst.” He agreed and now uses the word, but still wants to get directly involved, confusing union and party.

Numsa has now set up a rival to Cosatu, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), headed by Zwelinzima Vavi, the former general secretary of Cosatu, who was dismissed. There is an old saying in South Africa - ‘You can’t have two bulls in a kraal [paddock]’, because they will fight. Vavi and Jim are definitely two bulls. Vavi, who runs the new federation, is by a long shot the most popular trade unionist in the country. Jim, however, has tight control over Numsa, the biggest union in the country and the mainstay of Saftu, which organises in key areas of the economy. Vavi has been touting round the country recruiting many smaller unions.

Vavi also says we need a workers’ party, but he is not sure how it should be formed and on what basis. But Jim argues that the Communist Party went off the rails by becoming the tail trying to wag the ANC dog and they should have been concentrating on socialism (in one country - the same old stuff again). So what we need to do is set up a new party, which will be a real SACP-type Communist Party.

What will emerge out of that I do not know. I previously looked at it with some optimism, as it would hopefully encourage workers to get involved in independent organisation - a very good thing. But such a party must not be manipulated from the top - that is a big danger when jobs are precarious and there is such a huge number of unemployed. The good thing about Vavi is that he publishes his own salary. He states that everyone should disclose exactly what they earn, that no general secretary should earn more than the highest paid worker in the union, etc. But Jim has not gone along with that.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a new workers’ party is one of the hopeful signs, along with what is emerging among so-called civil society groups - the shack-dwellers and so on. They are all over the show at the moment, but among them are some small groups arguing for good, solid Marxist politics.