ANC: Fully in control
Neither right nor left has been able to challenge ANC hegemony, writes Peter Manson
As readers will know, the African National Congress won another overwhelming election victory in the May 7 South African general election. Its 11,436,921 votes represented 62.15% of those who cast a valid ballot, which translated into 249 MPs in the 400-seat parliament under the country’s completely proportional party list system.
Admittedly this represents a small decrease, compared to the previous general election in 2009, when the ANC gained 65.9% and 264 MPs, but it was nowhere near the drop in support that some had predicted. This despite the well-publicised campaign of a number of prominent former ANC supporters - not least Ronnie Kasrils, for 20 years a member of both the ANC national executive and the South African Communist Party executive committee - who called for no vote for their ex-party.
The turnout was down (73.4%, as against 77.3% in 2009), but much more pronounced was the dramatic rise in the number of unregistered voters. The figure for people who were entitled to vote but did not bother registering shot up by almost three million to a massive 10.2 million and, when this is taken into account, the proportion of those voting slumps to 52.3%. In addition there was an increase in spoilt votes to over a quarter of a million.
It has to be said, however, that 11 million votes for the ANC is still pretty impressive in view of the general disillusionment amongst its mass base. For most of the last 20 years it has been driving forward its neoliberal policy of privatisations and attacks on the working class. But the two major organisations of that class - the Communist Party and SACP-led Congress of South African Trade Unions - still mobilise their members behind the ANC. These ‘communists’ claim that South Africa is undergoing its “national democratic revolution”, which, they say, represents the “most direct route to socialism” - even though it is patently clear that under the ANC capitalism has become considerably more stable and secure.
Of course, over the last year deep divisions have surfaced in both those organisations over the policy of maintaining and strengthening the ANC-SACP-Cosatu triple alliance at all costs. Nine out of the 19 Cosatu affiliates, led by the 300,000-strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), have rebelled against the pro-ANC line and, since many of their leaders are Communist Party members, this split also reflects the widespread disaffection within the SACP.
But unfortunately, although a Numsa special congress voted unanimously at the beginning of the year to break from the ANC and to launch a Movement for Socialism, its idea was to carefully prepare the ground for a more leftwing version of the SACP - this time one that is really committed to implementing the ANC’s social democratic Freedom Charter - in time for the 2019 general election. Not exactly a case of seizing the moment.
So, with most working class forces seemingly paralysed, initiatives for a party capable of challenging the ANC’s hegemony tend to originate within the established order. The problem for the bourgeoisie has been that the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is a direct descendant of the apartheid-era National Party, with - obviously - no purchase whatsoever amongst the mass of the black population. But previous establishment attempts to create a safe alternative (one without the ANC’s strong links to ‘official communism’) have collapsed almost as soon as they got off the ground.
Five years ago the split from the ANC calling itself the Congress of the People (Cope) picked up 1.3 million votes (7.42%) and 30 MPs. But, this time around, its vote was literally decimated - reduced to a 10th of its 2009 tally - and it now has just three MPs to show for its 0.67% support. Some hoped that a sturdier challenge would come from the new Agang (Build) party, founded by the former partner of ‘black consciousness’ activist Steve Biko, Mamphela Ramphele (who later went on to become managing director of the World Bank!). But Agang could only manage 52,350 votes (0.28%), although that was enough to give it two MPs (including Ramphele, of course).
With such entities as Cope and Agang obvious non-starters, there has been a great (and partially successful) effort over the last few years to ‘Africanise’ the DA. Many middle class blacks have now come over to it and in the Western Cape, with its large ‘coloured’ (or ‘mixed race’) population, even the shack-dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, voted overwhelmingly to recommend a vote for the DA - what the SACP calls the “party of white privilege”. The result is that the DA has reinforced its position as the main opposition party, increasing its vote from 16.66% in 2009 to 22.23% last week. Its 4,091,581 votes gave it 89 MPs.
But the party that had looked best placed to win mass support among the poor, working class and shack-dwelling millions was Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, formed just last year. Malema is the left-speaking, black-nationalist former president of the ANC Youth League, who was expelled from the ANC in 2011 for “sowing divisions” (ie, speaking out too forcefully against president Jacob Zuma, the SACP and the national leadership). Its members, wearing their red berets, have made a big impact in the townships. If anything, the EFF total of 1,169,259 votes (6.35%) was surprisingly low, but it is now the third largest parliamentary force with 25 MPs.
The EFF describes the ANC as a party “committed to a rightwing, neoliberal and capitalist agenda, which has kept [the] majority of our people on the margins of South Africa’s economy”. Its own “pillars for economic emancipation” include: “expropriation of land without compensation”; the “nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy without compensation”; “free, quality education, healthcare, houses and sanitation”; and “massive, protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs”.1
However, despite his pro-worker, pro-poor rhetoric, Malema is amongst many (known as ‘tenderpreneurs’) who have made themselves hugely rich, thanks to business contacts developed through political influence - not to mention the ‘affirmative action’ euphemistically known as ‘black economic empowerment’. But that does not stop him appealing to the workers by attacking “white monopoly capital” and white privilege in general.
According to the pre-election issue of the SACP journal Umsebenzi,
Workers are not fooled by these loud-mouthed demagogues, these tenderpreneurs in red berets. They have never done an honest day’s work, so where do they get their fancy cars, their Breitling watches? Where do they get their campaign funding? Africa and the world have seen this kind of clowning before. But it is a mistake to just laugh it off - the Hitlers and Mussolinis rose to prominence demagogically sprouting ‘socialism’, and then butchering the working class when in power.2
Unfortunately, well over a million workers were fooled - but what can you expect? The EFF has begun to fill the vacuum left by the SACP itself and is already occupying the ground to the left of the ANC that SACP and Cosatu oppositionists are thinking about going for in a few years time! Note, by the way, the SACP’s implied characterisation of Malema’s left populism as proto-fascist. It is certainly true that the EFF - along with many varied forces - could evolve in such a direction, but, as things stand, the accusation is no more than a desperate smear.
There was, of course, one working class force that did contest the election - and that is the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), set up originally on the initiative of comrades from the Democratic Socialist Movement. The DSM is the South African affiliate of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International.
I must admit that I had half-expected Wasp to win a seat or two - thanks to mainly CWI funding, it had raised the R330,000 (£18,900) deposit needed to contest nationally, and in three provincial elections, which were held concurrently. After all, it needed only to pick up one-400th of the national vote - which translated into 46,000 votes across the country, as it turned out - to be guaranteed a seat (and retain its deposit). But it could only manage a demoralising 8,331 votes (0.05%), finishing 21st out of the 29 “parties” contesting (behind, for example, the Bushbuckbridge Residents Association, with its 15,271 votes).
The comrades had actually gained some prominence back in 2012 as a result of their campaigning amongst miners (including around Marikana, scene of the police murder of 34 strikers in that year) - and also as a result of becoming another target of SACP witch hunting as a consequence. But that was before the formation of Wasp - it was the DSM that had made the national news for those few weeks in 2012.
“We are, of course, disappointed in the low vote, which was below our expectations,” write the comrades on the Wasp website. They go on to explain:
Unfortunately, Wasp has not been able to consolidate our position amongst the mineworkers. Despite the crucial role of the founders of Wasp - the Democratic Socialist Movement - in the move of the majority of mineworkers from the treacherous, ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to the previously marginal Association of Mining and Construction Workers (Amcu), the Amcu leadership has done everything to remove our influence among the mineworkers. DSM and Wasp members and supporters have been victimised and expelled from the union, frequently leading to the loss of their jobs.
The new Workers Association Union (WAU) has attempted to take advantage of demoralisation among sections of the mineworkers in what is now a three-month-long wage strike in the platinum sector. The lie has been spread by the Amcu leadership, disgracefully encouraged by tiny, jealous forces on ‘the left’, that Wasp is behind this scab union. Thus, combined with the hostility from the Amcu leadership, and the understandable ‘closing of ranks’ by the mineworkers in the midst of a life-and-death strike, Wasp found it very hard to even campaign on the platinum belt, with some comrades even facing death threats.3
No doubt such intimidation played its part in Wasp’s disappointing result. However, the failure of Numsa and other Cosatu dissidents to even respond to Wasp overtures for a joint electoral challenge, let alone come on board or simply recommend support, was also highly significant, if not unsurprising.
But Wasp had also approached another party to try to establish some kind of electoral cooperation. The comrades report:
Last August there were discussions between Wasp and the EFF, where we proposed forming an electoral bloc and standing joint lists of candidates in order to unite the anti-ANC vote, a key strategic objective. However, as important as that was, the important differences between Wasp and EFF on nationalisation, socialism and other issues required that we maintain the right to debate these questions in front of the working class and poor. In the wake of Marikana, assisting the working class in achieving political clarity on the tasks necessary for the socialist transformation of society was fundamental.
Unfortunately, the EFF rejected our proposal of an electoral bloc/alliance and demanded the effective liquidation of Wasp and closing down of discussion on programmatic and political questions … If Wasp and EFF had been able to come to a principled agreement, such an electoral bloc could have acted as a bridge to the working class to unite with the EFF’s forces, at least for the sake of giving the ANC a bloody nose in the 2014 elections.4
I have strong doubts about all this. The EFF leaders may not be the crypto-fascists of the SACP’s absurd claims, but they are hardly principled partisans of the working class. While it is perfectly acceptable to form alliances, including temporary electoral pacts, with non-working class forces, Malema’s unsavoury crew are hardly the prime material for a working class party. (And in what way is the need to “unite the anti-ANC vote”- in all its various forms - a “key strategic objective”?). Mind you, since Wasp had persuaded Moses Mayekiso - former union militant, turned ANC MP, turned ‘tenderpreneur’ - to head its national list, perhaps we should not be too surprised by its approach to Malema.
It has to be said, however, that, whatever our misgivings about the likes of Mayekiso, Wasp’s manifesto was far to the left of anything that the DSM’s comrades of the Socialist Party in England and Wales would contemplate putting before voters. Wasp stood on a programme of full (national) socialism.5
One positive aspect of the South African elections was the further marginalisation of, on the one side, the Afrikaner reactionaries of the Vryheidsfront Plus (Freedom Front Plus) and, on the other, the Zulu-tribalist Inkatha Freedom Party. The VP, once the recipients of substantial support from amongst embittered apartheid nostalgics, gained only 123,364 votes (0.86%), compared to over 400,000 back in 1994. As for the IFP, its vote fell yet again - this time its support was halved to 441,854 (2.40%). Even in what used to be called Zululand - KwaZulu-Natal - its vote stood at only around 10%.
Zulus make up South Africa’s largest ethnic/language group and, although for the time being the IFP is still the fourth largest party, with 10 MPs, it is certainly a progressive development that Zulus mostly now regard themselves first and foremost as South Africans like any other l
2. Umsebenzi May 2014.
5. See ‘SACP plumbs the depths’ Weekly Worker April 17.