ANC bureaucrats target youth league demagogue
The South African Communist Party has no answer to Julius Malema's black nationalism, writes Peter Manson
The African National Congress disciplinary hearing against Youth League president Julius Malema resumed at the weekend, with the majority faction around president Jacob Zuma determined to inflict a resounding defeat on the ANC black nationalist wing which Malema heads.
The ANCYL leader stands accused of “sowing dissent”, and “bringing the ANC into disrepute” for criticising Zuma and calling for the overthrow of president Ian Khama in Botswana. In 2010 Malema was fined R10,000 (£800) by the ANC and ordered to attend an ‘anger management’ course and a ‘political school’ for having the temerity to insinuate that Zuma was worse than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. This made Malema guilty of “sowing disunity”.
The 30-year-old ‘youth’ leader claims, with apparently good reason, that he is being “persecuted” - and not just by the ANC, but by the whole South African establishment. Last month he was found guilty by an ‘equality court’ of “hate speech” for singing a former Umkhonto we Sizwe freedom song, which includes the words, dubula ibhunu (‘shoot the boer’). At least he found himself on the same side as the main ANC factions over this, including the South African Communist Party - veterans of the liberation struggle are unanimous that the song, now part of their common heritage, was directed against the apartheid ruling elite and in no way implies hatred for Afrikaners.
The outspoken ANCYL president has been a thorn in the side of the ruling ANC and its SACP ally for his characterisation of South Africa’s huge inequalities as almost exclusively racial. For Malema the problem is the continued dominance of “white monopoly capital” and white privilege in general. The solution lies in the expropriation of white wealth - the ANCYL has focussed in particular on land ownership and the country’s mines, demanding their nationalisation - and the acceleration of pro-black ‘affirmative action’.
Of course, Malema himself is amongst those who have benefited substantially from ‘black economic empowerment’ (BEE) - the ‘positive discrimination’ whereby state employment and state contracts are ‘colour-coded’. Companies applying for state tenders must demonstrate they have a high proportion of black senior managers and directors - they must be at least partially ‘black-owned’. In this way the ‘formerly disadvantaged’ - or at least a tiny minority of them - are offered access to lucrative tenders that were previously the exclusive property of white capitalists.
As a result there are large numbers of ‘BEE millionaires’ - of which Malema himself is one. He has a lavish lifestyle, allegedly owning a R16 million (£1.3 million) house and driving expensive sports cars. He also owns the Malema Ratanang Family Trust - it is said that deposits into this trust fund are made by businessmen who are awarded tenders by the government of Limpopo, Malema’s home province. The ANCYL and its president insist that such matters are not the business of the prying media: “The ANC Youth League is of the conviction that personal finances are private …” (statement, July 25). And, in any case, “The president of the ANC Youth League has on several occasions assisted orphanages, contributed to the education of students in universities and bought wheelchairs for needy and physically disabled children …”
Ironically, similar defences have been put forward to ward off accusations of nepotism by the Zuma wing of the ANC, including the state president himself - whose son, Duduzane, has been involved in dubious BEE deals. According to ANC MP Mduduzi Manana, “To suggest that because the president is in a powerful position implies unfettered access to business deals by his family is inaccurate at best, and misleading at worst. The raising of the business interests of the president’s immediate and extended family borders on witch-hunting and denying the president’s family members the right to participate in the economy.”
In a sense then, both ANC wings share a common interest. But what divides them in reality is their attitude to international (largely ‘white-owned’) capital. Zuma et al know that South African capitalism cannot exist in isolation and that good relations must be maintained with the transnational corporations which dominate the economy. So long as they ‘black up’ these corporations are welcome partners.
But this is insufficient for Malema, who points to the massive, racially based inequality inherited from apartheid (and intensified since). This stance understandably strikes a chord with the dispossessed - with the millions of unemployed shack-dwellers, who are, of course, overwhelmingly black. For them what has changed? Yes, they are no longer subject to arrest for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but what about economically? It is true that, just as a small minority of blacks have enriched themselves, a minority of whites have suffered relative impoverishment. But overwhelmingly blacks are poor and whites are not.
So the ANC leadership has resorted to bureaucratic methods to ‘settle the argument’ in its favour. Malema has responded in kind - for instance, last month the ANCYL leadership disbanded the pro-Zuma KwaZulu-Natal regional executive of the Youth League, which has sided with Zuma.
Despite the fact that they are opportunistic ‘left’ demagogues, Malema and the ANCYL leadership have been able to step into the ‘radical’ space that ought to be occupied by the SACP - which explains why the exchanges between SACP and ANCYL leaders have become increasingly bitter and extreme. According to SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande - who, incidentally, is also the ANC minister for higher education - Malema is being used by what the SACP dubs “tenderpreneurs”. He is “part of this populism that is sounding left and workerist, but actually [has] the hidden agenda of acquiring wealth by selfish and unlawful means” (The New Age June 27).
In reply Malema declares that the Communist Party “should be leading a struggle of the working class”, but instead it has become a mere “lobby group within the ANC” - a not entirely inaccurate assessment. The SACP claims that the ANCYL has an ulterior motive for demanding the nationalisation of 60% of South African mines - the “tenderpreneurs” like Malema will gain financially, it alleges.
Pointedly referring to Nzimande as “the part-time general secretary of the South African Communist Party”, the ANCYL labels this an “old and tired conspiracy” and ridicules the claim that the Youth League leaders “are bought by mining companies that are failing and need a bailout”. The ANCYL has never said that “government must buy mines or spend government resources for the state to take ownership and control of mines. On more than a thousand times, the ANC Youth League has said we should utilise legislation to take over control and ownership …” The implication is that there should be no compensation.
Putting on its “workerist” face, the ANCYL concludes: “The biggest beneficiary of nationalised mines will be the working class and the poor … through better salaries, jobs and organic community development and upgrading” (statement, June 28).
The two organisations are equally at odds over the Youth League’s “economic freedom mass marches” planned for October 27 and 28, which will support the campaign for nationalisation and demand more employment opportunities for youth. Nzimande has called on young people not to participate: “We are not going to be supporting any march whose intention is malicious and to undermine the authority of the ANC and the government,” he said. This was echoed by the Young Communist League: “South African youth must not be part of the march aimed at undermining and destabilising our government and the ANC” (statement, October 18). The marches are to end not only at Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of government, but at the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
According to the ANCYL, “It is indeed shocking for a general secretary of a communist party to defend the interests of white monopoly capital” by opposing the marches (previously Malema dubbed SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin a “white messiah” for opposing the transfer of wealth to blacks through nationalisation). Embarrassingly for the SACP, several unions and the general secretary of the Congress of South African Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi - himself an SACP member - have come out in support of the marches.
The SACP is totally disempowered by its absurd attachment to what it openly admits is a cross-class alliance pursuing the so-called “national democratic revolution” (NDR). This is supposed to be gradually deracialising society and strengthening the poor and working class. Since it has patently failed on both counts the SACP has become an easy target for the ‘pro-worker’ black nationalism of Malema. The hapless SACP has been reduced to implying that this “alliance partner” is a “proto-fascist”.
In a party publication last month Nzimande wrote: “Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the liberal offensive … is being reinforced by what we have described as the new tendency within our own movement. It is a tendency whose sole mission is to capture all of our organisations in the alliance in order to pursue a narrow, selfish agenda of accumulation, including the building of a kleptocratic state.”
He continued: “It was in this context that the SACP in 2008 boldly (and correctly) began to characterise this rightwing, demagogic tendency for what it was and is. We pointed out its underpinning class support, and characterised it as a ‘new’ tendency that had certain proto-fascist features.”
Nzimande then went on immediately to condemn the demonstration outside Luthuli House, Johannesburg by supporters of Malema before the start of his disciplinary hearing on August 29: “The trashing, mayhem and destruction caused by elements of this new tendency in the ANC Youth League in Johannesburg last week further shows the extent to which the tenderpreneur element is willing to go to discredit our movement in order to advance its narrow accumulation interests. Such behaviour shows the extent to which the ‘new tendency’ is willing to even mobilise the lumpen elements within our society to achieve its own selfish interests” (Umsebenzi Online September 7).
Nzimande was desperately exploiting the fact that Malema supporters burnt images of both himself and Jacob Zuma. The ANCYL recognised that this was not a wise move in Zuma’s case and promptly apologised for the excesses of its members - but there was a significant silence when it came to the burning of Nzimande’s image.
The SACP is paralysed by its adherence to the NDR and is therefore unable to mobilise its working class support to act in its own interest - which would inevitably “undermine the authority of the ANC and the government”. So instead it focuses not on capitalist exploitation itself, but only on those features which are universally condemned. This year the SACP’s annual Red October campaign is highlighting corruption, as explained by Nzimande:
“The SACP is of the view that in a capitalist society, where private accumulation is a dominant feature in society, all individuals in influential leadership positions in society are susceptible and often objects and subjects of corruption.” However, having correctly identified the endemic nature of corruption within capitalism - there is a very thin line dividing what is regarded as normal practice and what is corrupt - Nzimande concludes: “No matter how much mechanisms are put into place to fight corruption in government, these will not succeed unless mechanisms are put in place to seek to fight corruption in all of society and its various institutions!” (Umsebenzi Online October 19).
So what are these “mechanisms” that will miraculously “succeed” in combating corruption, I wonder? In the case of South Africa the BEE agenda itself, as the SACP recognises, is directly responsible for giving corruption new outlets - in some cases transforming it almost into an art form. But, since the SACP is prevented by the NDR straitjacket from promoting the independent interests of the working class it has no alternative to buying into the tinkering - and innately corrupt - ‘black empowerment’ template.
And, just as BEE supposedly delivers “empowerment” on an individual basis, so society as a whole can be transformed by changing the behaviour of individuals, it seems: “Is it not important that all political parties, including our own liberation movement, should lead by example, and begin to pose the question of whether all people occupying leadership positions in these parties, and society as a whole, including trade union or NGO leadership, and their spouses, should be allowed to hold both their essentially public offices and also have private business interests? Should they all not be expected, through the law, to publicly declare all their business interests?”
So there we have it: the SACP’s ‘Red October’ is reduced to demanding that those in public office should be compelled to declare their business interests. No wonder the likes of Julius Malema are winning such support among the impoverished masses.