Heading for another victory
With the ANC consolidating its position, there is a huge vacuum to its left, observes Peter Manson. But who will attempt to fill it?
While the date for the South African national elections has not yet been announced, they are expected to take place in May, after the five-year term of the current parliament ends. In 2014, the African National Congress won 249 seats in the 400-seat national assembly, having gained 62.2% of the vote. In the country’s totally proportional system, in which there is no minimum threshold for election, each 0.25% won by a party gives it one MP. As a result, the 22.2% recorded by the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, gave it 89 seats, while the then up-and-coming Economic Freedom Fighters had 25 (6.4%).
For a long time - especially during the last couple of years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency - it looked as though the ANC would face big losses in 2019, with both the DA and especially the EFF expected to make gains. There was even speculation that the ANC could end up with less than 50% of the national vote, thus losing its parliamentary majority.
The left-populist EFF was shaping up to make big gains, taking advantage of the growing discontent in view of the continuing mass poverty, on the one hand, and the flourishing corruption under the Zuma regime, on the other. Even the DA, which originated in the whites-only Progressive Party in the apartheid era, looked like gaining seats under the black leadership of Mmusi Maimane.
But now things look rather different for two principal and not unconnected reasons: firstly, both of the two main opposition parties have been hit by their own corruption scandals and subsequent splits; and, secondly, sections of the bourgeoisie have been looking to the new ANC leadership under president Cyril Ramaphosa to root out the endemic state corruption inherited from his predecessor, simultaneously laying the basis for a recovery of South Africa’s ailing economy and a rise in profitability.
The EFF, with its left jargon, red berets and opportunistic exploitation of allegations of racism, is, despite the critical support it won from sections of the revolutionary left, in reality black-nationalist. Its leader, Julius Malema, the former president of the ANC Youth League, has been hit by allegations of corrupt self-enrichment and the sexual exploitation of EFF women, leading many to abandon it in frustration.
As for the DA, it too has suffered a split following the crisis resulting from the rebellion against the then Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, over - you guessed it - allegations of corruption. Having been ousted by the Western Cape DA, de Lille announced in December that she would be forming a new party, called ‘Good’, which will be contesting the election. It says a lot about the state of South African politics that some people seriously believe that, if the new party has that name, former DA voters will accept that its policies will live up to it.
But other sections of the DA milieu see things rather differently: for example, Lennit Max, who was elected as a DA representative to the Western Cape provincial legislature in 2014, has announced his defection to the ANC: “The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president has heralded a new dawn for South Africa,” he said.1
This is a reflection of a wider mood amongst the bourgeoisie, which has always viewed the ANC as problematic because of its revolutionary past and especially its association with the South African Communist Party. The SACP, together with the SACP-led Congress of South African Trade Unions, have been the two other historical components of the ANC-led Triple Alliance. It is well known that just about every major figure in the ANC had been closely associated with, if not a member of, the SACP. That includes Nelson Mandela, of course.
However, Ramaphosa is an exception. True, he spent almost a year in solitary confinement in 1974 and was the first general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, appointed in 1982. But he soon became a careerist, who has taken every opportunity since the fall of apartheid to feather his own nest. A capitalist with substantial business interests, he is today South Africa’s 12th richest man (and the richest black man).
And now sections of the establishment are looking to Ramaphosa to help transform the ANC into a reliable pro-capitalist force, gradually distancing itself from SACP and union influence. Typical is South African Sunday Times columnist Peter Bruce, who has come out for an ANC vote. He argues: “The DA is as fatally compromised and divided as the hopeless ANC is.” However, “You have to trust a small group around Ramaphosa to pull us out of our dive.” He adds:
The fact is that our best future is a coalition of the constructionalists in the DA and the ANC, but until the DA is the ‘bigger’ party it won’t contemplate such a thing. So in the absence of more information I’m going to back Ramaphosa.2
The SACP has always insisted that what is taking place under the ANC is a “national democratic revolution” (NDR), which is “the most direct route to socialism in South Africa”. During the NDR what is apparently happening is that we are gradually overcoming the “racialised inequality” inherited from apartheid and thus strengthening the forces for socialism.
Well, how does that match up to the reality? Unfortunately South Africa is now officially the most unequal country in the world, with approximately 10 million people out of a population of 56 million living in shacks. What about the conditions of the working class? Well, Ramaphosa’s government has just introduced a minimum wage (the first time there has ever been such legislation), which has been set at R20 (£1.12!) an hour. But even this pathetic minimum caused an outcry amongst employers and, as a result, a series of exceptions were introduced.
For a whole range of ‘qualifying companies’ the figure was reduced to R18. For farmworkers it has been set at R16.20 (91p) and for domestic workers R15 (84p) - which can be lowered still further to R13.50 (76p) if a household is exempted. But there were still complaints from employers. For instance, Louis Mentjes, president of farm-owners in the Transvaal moaned: “There is big financial pressure on farmers and I am sure many will have to retrench some of their workers in order to comply with the minimum wage.” As for the SACP-led Cosatu, while it acknowledged the minimum wage was ‘insufficient’, it regarded it as a ‘step in the right direction’.
It is against this background that two seemingly positive developments in relation to working class organisation have recently taken place.
Firstly, at its July 2017 congress, the SACP agreed that, in view of the Zuma corruption scandal, it was time for a “reconfigured alliance”, whereby the party would begin to contest elections under its own name instead of as a component of the ANC, and strike a deal afterwards between ANC and SACP MPs: “... the SACP will certainly contest elections,” announced the central committee immediately after the congress.3
Secondly, there was great excitement over the announcement in May 2018 that two major trade unions expelled from Cosatu for their opposition to ANC and SACP rightism would be amongst those setting up the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), which would contest the forthcoming elections.
But much of that optimism has dissipated since then. Following Ramaphosa’s election a year ago, all mention of the SACP contesting elections was quietly dropped and instead the party contended that the new situation would allow the ANC to provide leadership for the “second, more radical, phase” of the NDR. A couple of weeks ago SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande “called for the defence of Ramaphosa and the ANC from those who were fighting against the clean-up of state institutions ... which he said was being done through the formation of new political parties” (like the SRWP?).4
Nzimande confirmed “our support for the ANC in the forthcoming general election” and this support would help build “the already agreed alliance reconfiguration process”, he claimed.5 So the alliance is to be ‘reconfigured’ by leaving it as it is! All this comes at a time when the bourgeoisie is now holding out hope of transforming the ANC into a reliable vehicle for capital.
I wonder what the result of this back-tracking will be in terms of the SACP membership, which had almost doubled in two years to 284,000, according to figures released at its 2017 congress. A good section of those ‘members’ (in reality most are mere supporters, who have done nothing more than fill in a form) had been drawn towards the SACP precisely because of its radical, Marxist jargon, plus the talk of opposing the ANC in elections.
What about the SRWP? Its launch had been scheduled for October 2018, then November, but instead a “pre-launch conference” was held on December 14-15, attended by 1,100 “delegates”. The SRWP national convenor, Irvin Jim (who also happens to be the general secretary of South Africa’s largest union, Numsa, with its 338,000 members), declared that the SRWP “interim national leadership will create a 2019 elections commission to organise and prepare us to contest the upcoming elections”.6
While the SRWP has officially registered for that purpose, it has not yet even set up a website, let alone announced that the new party now officially exists or published anything resembling a programme. The most we have are individual statements like that of Jim, published as an online article on January 29:
The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) will put the working class first and will pursue an agenda in its interests. More than two decades of ANC capitalist rule has shown us that deviating from this has disastrous consequences.7
To state that the ANC has ‘deviated’ from ‘putting the working class first’ is something of an understatement, of course. Like the EFF, instead of focusing on the mass poverty of the 10 million shack-dwellers and the six million unemployed, it prefers to blow up and exaggerate accusations of racism.
An example occurred at around sunset on December 23, when two employees of a private security firm began instructing (or advising, depending on which version of the story you read) people to leave Clifton beach, near Cape Town. Unfortunately for the firm (and for the DA, which runs the local council), one of those asked to leave this public beach was Faiez Jacobs, secretary of the Western Cape ANC. For Jacobs, this meant that “the ghost of apartheid returned”, as Clifton is “where some of the richest people in our country play. The majority of them happen to be white ...”8
It is not claimed that only non-whites were asked to leave (‘for their own safety’). No, everyone there was approached, no doubt on behalf of those who own the houses bordering the beach, who were concerned by what some people might get up to alongside their property, once darkness fell. In other words, it was a case of the rich looking after their own interests. Yes, it is true that, as Jacobs says, most of them are still white, but what does the ANC (supported by the SACP) propose to do to change this? Simply arrange things through bureaucratic means so that a greater proportion of the wealthy minority are black, of course.
A couple of days later, the Black People’s National Crisis Committee, supported by the EFF, organised a protest, whereby a sheep was slaughtered on the beach to “exorcise the demon of racism”. That should do the trick. It did not matter that this took place in front of families (of all ethnicities), including young children. This despite the fact that the 2000 Meat Safety Act stipulates that a “person who slaughters animals for indigenous, religious or cultural purpose” must obtain prior permission, which did not happen (in fact after the outcry over the action of the security company, the authorities instructed the police not to intervene).
ANC ‘anti-racism’ proponents pointed out that any charges against the protestors would have to be brought under the apartheid-era Animal Protection Act, which allows for “a whipping not exceeding six strokes” for animal cruelty. Some hypocritically compared the fact that those who complained about a ritual slaughter were more concerned about that than the daily suffering of the millions of shack-dwellers. In fact it was ‘racist’ to object to this traditional custom.
Stories like this feature heavily in the South Africa press - thanks, of course, to the influence of the ANC, which the SACP still insists is leading the ‘national democratic revolution’. Meanwhile, where is the working class response in the shape of independent organisation?
There is a large vacuum to the ANC’s left, which up to now the black-populist EFF has attempted to fill. Will the SRWP finally get its act together? Or will the SACP rank and file rebel against the leadership line? There certainly remains a fight to be had.
1. Cape Times December 31.
2. Sunday Times December 23.
3. ‘Declaration of the 14th Party Congress’, July 15 2017.
4. Cape Times January 7.
8. Sunday Times January 6.