Crisis set to continue
Peter Manson anticipates a fractious and bitter ANC congress, as candidates vie for power
Things are really hotting up within the African National Congress, which is about to elect a replacement for Jacob Zuma as ANC leader. He will remain South African president until 2019, when the new parliament will nominate his successor following a general election.
Ever since the ending of apartheid it was always inevitable that the new ANC president would also occupy the top job in the state, but suddenly that is no longer the case. Under Zuma’s presidency the ANC’s popularity has plummeted and it is now totally realistic to anticipate a hung parliament in 2019 - with the ANC having the greatest number of MPs under the country’s system of proportional representation, but no overall majority. In such a situation it is conceivable that a coalition of opposition parties will vote against the ANC nominee.
That is why ANC activists all claim that it is essential that the upcoming congress - to be held in Soweto from December 16-20 - elects a leader who can regain some of the ground lost under Zuma’s thoroughly corrupt administration (2019 will see the completion of his second five-year term of office, after which he is obliged under the constitution to step down).
Incredibly, no fewer than 783 counts of corruption are still hanging over Zuma’s head. These relate to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal made by the government almost 20 years ago, but they were all dropped just after he took office for the first time in 2009, when the national prosecuting authority (NPA) claimed they were “politically motivated”. This has now been challenged and Zuma was supposed to have submitted arguments as to why he should not be prosecuted by November 30.
But when he did not do so the NPA and its director of public prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams (appointed by Zuma), extended the deadline until January 31. That despite a high court ruling that Abrahams’ appointment was itself “invalid” and should be “set aside”. Zuma was “clearly conflicted”, noted the high court - it is the DPP who in the last analysis will decide whether or not the president should be prosecuted. But, as Zuma is to appeal against the court’s ruling, Abrahams states that he will remain in office until the appeal is determined.
There are seven candidates still in the race to replace him, but only two - Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - have any chance of winning. Ramaphosa has been nominated by 1,862 ANC branches, while 1,309 have backed Dlamini-Zuma.
It is, of course, not just coincidence that Dlamini-Zuma shares the current president’s name - she was once his wife. But she is not a nobody. Between 1994, when she was appointed South Africa’s first post-apartheid minister of health, until 2012, when she was Zuma’s minister of home affairs, she served under every president, including as foreign minister. But she resigned from Zuma’s cabinet to become chair of the African Union commission in that year.
However, Zuma is now banking everything on her election - unlike Ramaphosa she has not joined in the clamour for him to consider stepping down early. In fact she has condemned the various ‘Zuma must fall’ mobilisations that have taken place over the last couple of years.
But Ramaphosa is hardly a principled stalwart against corruption. Once a militant anti-apartheid activist and workers’ leader - he was the National Union of Mineworkers’ first general secretary - he is now one of South Africa’s richest men. He has made good use of the connections that arose from the various senior ANC posts he has held to acquire top positions in several major companies.
The most notorious of these is Lonmin - the British-owned conglomerate which employed the 34 striking miners shot dead by police at Marikana in August 2012. In an email exchange with a senior Lonmin manager the day before the slaughter, Ramaphosa declared that it was essential to get the minister of police to “act in a more pointed way”. The strike was “not a labour dispute”, he wrote. The mineworkers’ behaviour was “dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such”. So there must be “concomitant action to address the situation”.
Yet despite all this he was elected ANC deputy president in December 2012 and after the 2014 general election was sworn in as the country’s deputy president. Even worse - he has been publicly endorsed as Zuma’s replacement not only by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which is probably still the country’s largest union federation, but also by the Young Communist League!
But what about the South African Communist Party itself? After all, it has been a key component of the ANC-led alliance. Well, for months it made no public pronouncement, but on December 3, following a meeting of its central committee, it declared:
The CC agreed that, while the ANC’s December conference will, for better or for worse, have a major impact on the future viability of our alliance, it would be a mistake for the party to over-invest expectations in the conference. Contrary to much media reporting, the SACP is not supporting a particular slate or presidential candidate.1
So what will ANC delegates who happen to be SACP members be arguing in Soweto? Apparently they will be “wishing delegates to the conference well” and urging them to “elect a leadership collective that will move the ANC out of its current leadership paralysis”.
SACP v ANC
The problem for the SACP is that it is deeply divided itself over one key issue: should it continue to work for a “reconfigured alliance” or is it now time to give up on the ANC altogether? This division was highlighted by last month’s extraordinary by-elections in the municipality of Metsimaholo in the Free State. For the first time ever, the SACP stood a full slate of candidates against the ANC, of whose alliance it is still a member.
The reason the ANC sceptics - led by SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila - were able to win the party to contest in Metsimaholo is because the ANC in the Free State, under premier Ace Magashule, is dubbed by the party as amongst the most corrupt, allegedly having succumbed to “state capture” by big business.
Last year the ANC lost control of Metsimaholo and an alliance to run the municipality was formed between the two main opposition parties - the rightwing Democratic Alliance and the ‘left’-populist Economic Freedom Fighters. Unsurprisingly this alliance soon collapsed, and eventually new elections were called for November 29.
Even though the SACP decision to contest was taken late in the day, it stood in all 21 wards and emerged with just under 7% of the total vote. This was enough, however, to give it three councillors under South Africa’s completely proportional electoral system. Half of the 42 councillors were elected in ‘first past the post’ contests, with the remainder allocated according to each party’s share of the total vote. (This system, by the way, has in theory a lot to recommend it, as it combines the possibility of locally accountable representatives with complete proportionality.)
According to the CC,
While the SACP had hoped to achieve a marginally better result, winning three council seats after only campaigning for two weeks was a remarkable achievement. We also achieved this result in the face of considerable destabilisation efforts and threats emanating from Ace Magashule and his corporately captured Free State ANC faction.
It went on to claim:
In the course of campaigning the SACP encountered considerable anti-ANC hostility from working class communities. Notwithstanding this, the SACP did not run an anti-ANC electoral campaign - although this might well have won us considerably more votes.
The SACP’s decision to stand contributed significantly to a further fall in the ANC vote. It remains the largest party in Metsimaholo, just ahead of the DA, but its vote share is now down to a mere 29%, leaving it with only 16 of the 42 seats - down from 19 in 2016.
Despite this the SACP claimed before the election that it was standing “in support of the ANC as the political vehicle” - although deputy general secretary Mapaila added that the party was also attempting to “restore the values of our democratic movement”. He claimed that the SACP had decided to contest because the membership in Metsimaholo had urged it to do so, and the result would help “inform” the party as to whether it continues to run its own election campaigns independently of the ANC.
As readers will readily understand, Metsimaholo is certain to add to the bitterness between the warring factions at the congress. No doubt we will see - particularly from the Zuma loyalists - moves to further demote the SACP within the alliance, or even calls for the party to be removed from the ANC altogether. And, whoever wins the leadership election, the factional divisions look set to intensify.
The central committee, however, insisted both on “the importance for the SACP of working for a serious reconfiguration of the alliance” and on prioritising “the simultaneous and related task of actively building a mobilised left progressive front”.
In other words, for all its Marxist jargon, the SACP is continuing to renounce working class independence and still clings to the necessity of a cross-class popular front. The crisis within the ANC ought to provoke a serious rethink amongst party dissidents and what remains of the SACP left.