Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/551/6477
Mbeki dismissed by ANC as South Africa's president
Africa's oldest liberation movement heading for split
THE RESIGNATION of South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki on 20 September after being 'recalled' by the executive committee of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) allied to Mbeki's rival - Jacob Zuma - has plunged the ANC into its most serious political crisis and a potential split. Weizmann Hamilton of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, CWI in South Africa) explains the background and the likely consequences.
IN AN ironic twist of history, Mbeki has now been forced out of office by an African National Congress (ANC) headed by the very person he dismissed in 2005.
The ANC NEC's decision, however, represents no more than the coup de grace; the final fatal stroke against Mbeki's political career in the ANC following his humiliation at the ANC's conference in December 2007, in Polokwane, Limpopo.
Since suffering a disastrous defeat in his attempt to secure a third term as ANC president, Mbeki has been a lame duck president. Seemingly oblivious of the fact that his presidency was discredited, Mbeki has continued to defy the new Zuma leadership.
Speculation about the possibility of a split and the formation of a new party led by the former defence minister, Mosiua Lekota and his deputy, Mluleki George, is now widespread.
With reports of several meetings in a number of provinces, the launch of the new party seems now only a matter of timing - before or after the 2009 elections.
The Mbeki faction may have been defeated at Polokwane but with 40% of the vote they represent a substantial minority, and a viable basis for a party to mount a credible electoral challenge. They will be encouraged by opinion polls showing a significant level of support, albeit not a majority at this stage.
As the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) forewarned in the December 2007 edition of Izwi La Basebenzi: "The divisions in the oldest liberation movement on the African continent, and its most powerful ruling party have become unbridgeable. At the end of this road lies the eventual break-up of the ANC."
The events of recent weeks have confirmed this prognosis, perhaps sooner than we may have anticipated. They represent a decisive turning point for the ANC, its Alliance partners and the working class.
The Polokwane divisions have since been reproduced in every ANC structure across the country. The ANC Youth League's conference was a disgrace, and had to be postponed amidst chaotic scenes including the hurling of urine-filled bottles, and the baring of bottoms by unruly drunken delegates.
Current Youth League president, Julius Malema, was opposed by seven out of the nine provinces and was installed only after the intervention of the leadership of the mother body. Malema's victory and the clean sweep for the pro-Zuma faction on the executive, however, merely entrenched the divisions.
The faction fighting has degenerated into physical confrontation, involving the disruption of conferences, theft of membership records, kidnapping, and hostage-taking.
In the same week as Mbeki was being deposed, the ANC Western Cape held two rival provincial congresses.
In the run-up to the ANC Western Cape conference, provincial secretary Mncebisi Skwatsha, and leader of the dominant pro-Zuma faction, narrowly escaped death, after being stabbed in the neck. In the same week, three members of the Eastern Cape ANC suffered gun shot wounds following clashes at a meeting in Lusikisiki.
The North West provincial congress had to take place under the protection of a police helicopter, hovering over the venue. At least five lives have been lost in three different provinces, so far.
Cosatu and SACP
Inevitably, the ANC's factional divisions have spilled over into the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) and Cosatu (the main trade union confederation).
The SACP's former national treasurer, Philip Dexter, has resigned from the party, following an investigation that cleared general secretary, Blade Ndzimande, of allegations that he had pocketed a R500,000 donation by a BEE (black economic empowerment) businessman, currently facing police investigation for fraud.
Dexter (himself a product of the SACP's graduate school for the subversion of Marxism) has condemned the party as "Stalinist" and departing from the principles of socialism. In turn, Dexter has been denounced as a traitor.
Mimicking the SACP, the Cosatu leadership has dismissed Madisha as president for being nominated for the ANC NEC on the Mbeki faction's list, in defiance of Cosatu's support for the Zuma faction. Madisha's own union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has followed suit.
Emboldened by the Polokwane victory, the Cosatu leadership is now training its witch hunters' gunsights on National Union of Metal Workers Union of SA (Numsa) general secretary, Silumko Nodwangu. Also threatened are Chemical Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppawu) leaders, for accepting nomination by the Mbeki faction at Polokwane.
IT WILL be 15 years since the ANC came to power when the next elections take place. Yet, for the overwhelming majority, life is no better than under apartheid. Over 1,000 people are dying every day from HIV/Aids. Mass unemployment, poverty, disease, exclusion from education, and a lack of housing blight the lives of the working class majority.
While 40% have no jobs, the security of those in employment is increasingly undermined through casualisation, the use of labour brokers, outsourcing and contracting. Despite this reality, the capitalist class complains bitterly, and incessantly, that wages are too high, and that it is too difficult to fire workers.
A damning judgement
MBEKI'S FINAL humiliation by an organisation he has served for 52 years, was precipitated by Zuma's successful application to the high court in September 2008 to have the charges of taking bribes, brought against him in December 2007, set aside on a technicality. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had served fresh charges against Zuma after a judge had quashed them in 2006.
Judge Nicholson, a prominent former human rights lawyer, ruled the procedure was illegal and set aside the charges. The judge emphasised that his ruling rested on a procedural technicality and had no bearing on Zuma's guilt or innocence.
The judge's finding had the effect of altering the course of the country's history. His verdict caught virtually the entire legal fraternity, opposition parties and the media by complete surprise.
Most significantly, he ruled that there was merit in Zuma's claims about a political conspiracy. The judge had found that the government, specifically the present and former ministers of justice, Penuel Maduna, and Bridgette Mabandla respectively, and, most damagingly, Mbeki, manipulated the NPA.
In the run-up to the court case, a climate of near-hysteria had been generated by the Zuma faction as they escalated the campaign to have the case against him dropped.
The new pro-Zuma ANC leadership under secretary general Gwede Mantashe, and their allies in the ANC Youth League (led by president Julius Malema), Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, and South Africa Communist Party general secretary Blade Ndzimande, had raised the political temperature by describing the charges against Zuma as political persecution rather than legal prosecution.
Mantashe denounced the judiciary as "counter-revolutionary". The Cosatu and SACP leadership used the 6 August general strike against food and electricity price rises to campaign for Zuma.
For the Zuma faction, the judgment came as a huge relief. Declaring that their faith in the integrity of the judges had been restored, they became born-again worshippers of the notion of the "independence of the judiciary" and "the rule of law".
Whatever the legal merits, the act of lodging an appeal by the NPA had the effect of a match being thrown onto a lake of fuel. It was seen by the Zuma faction as a political provocation - an attempt by the NPA to snatch defeat from the jaws of the Zuma faction's victory over Mbeki.
It cannot be ruled out that the NPA's appeal will succeed but Zuma's path to power has now effectively been cleared. Any further legal action by either side will not be concluded before at least 2010, well beyond April 2009, the date for the next election. However, Zuma would be well advised to heed the words of the Xhosa expression: be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it.
Zuma - no shift to the left
DESPITE THE vitriolic denunciations, and the animosity between the Zuma and Mbeki factions, theirs is no clash of competing ideologies. Ideologically, Mbeki, Zuma, and their followers, including the SACP and the Cosatu leaders are, in the final analysis, ideological peas-in-a-pod - you cannot tell them apart.
There is no record of Zuma ever opposing the neo-liberal Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (Gear) policies, associated with Thabo Mbeki, finance minister Trevor Manuel and Reserve Bank governor Mboweni, nor Gear's off shoots - privatisation, commercialisation of public services, limits in social expenditure and budget cuts, electricity and water cut offs and evictions.
Zuma never spoke out against Mbeki's HIV/Aids denialism, and its genocidal consequences. (Zuma entertains shamelessly oppressive and backward positions on gender issues.) He actively supported the enrichment of the black elite through 'black economic empowerment'.
Like Mbeki, Zuma is committed to the preservation of capitalism. No less than Mbeki, he is a servant of the predominantly white capitalist class in South Africa and their imperialist masters. They have a shared belief in the idea that the emancipation of black people lies in being assimilated into the capitalist system, the majority as slaves enjoying the pleasures of non-racial exploitation.
The ANC's policies, whether in the form of the social democratic Reconstruction and Development Programme, abandoned two years after the ANC's election in 1994, or the neo-liberal Gear that replaced it in 1996, have been consistently capitalist.
The ANC is a political party whose historic mission, in the words Mandela used in 1956 following the adoption of the Freedom Charter, is "to create the conditions for the rise of a prosperous non-European bourgeoisie", that is, a rich, black, capitalist class.
Black economic empowerment is no more than the modern expression of the aims of the Freedom Charter, as understood by the black middle class that formed the ANC in 1912. Their aim was not to overthrow capitalism but to become part of the capitalist class.
The dominant political issues may be the struggle for power between the factions but of far greater importance, and the real reason for the conflict within the ANC, is the conflict between the classes. Having placed itself at the service of capital, it is inevitable that the ANC will come into conflict with the working class. The ANC's capitalist policies have had a devastating impact on the working class with whose support it came to power.
A Zuma government
The reason that president-in-waiting Jacob Zuma has visited the major Western capitals, and institutions like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, is to assure them there would be no major change in economic policy. The continuation of the same policies is guaranteed to bring the Zuma government into collision with the working class.
The praise being heaped on Mbeki for presiding over the longest boom in South Africa's history exaggerates his role. It also ignores the reality that the boom benefited only a tiny minority, widened the gap between rich and poor, and was brought to an end by the actions of the Reserve Bank itself.
Like a doctor treating a patient suffering from shortness of breath by prescribing strangulation, the increased interest rates have brought the economic boom to a shuddering halt. Combined with high fuel and food prices, the high interest rates are impoverishing not only the working class but also are draining the newly acquired wealth of the black middle class, as house and car repossessions escalate.
It was in any case not the export-led boom, generally regarded by pro-capitalist economists as sustainable, but a consumer boom that has led to a deficit on the trade account of the balance of payments equivalent to 8.1% of gross domestic product - one of the highest in the world.
The deficit has been funded by an inflow of capital. But it is well known that this is 'hot money' - investments in shares and bonds rather than job-creating foreign direct investment. This type of parasitic capital can flow out of the country as quickly as it has come in.
Zuma will be coming to power against the background of the worst economic crisis faced by world capitalism since the Great Depression of 1929-1933. With the US and Britain in the front row, the major capitalist economies are facing the prospect of the collapse of the financial system, mass unemployment, and a prolonged recession.
The idea that South Africa is immune from the effects of the world economic crisis is a cruel illusion. Already foreign investors, terrified by the world banking crisis, are taking their money out of 'emerging markets', which are considered riskier than those in the advanced capitalist countries.
To prevent a massive outflow, the Reserve Bank would have to further raise interest rates, to avoid a collapse of the rand, resulting in more homes, cars and furniture being repossessed, as people find themselves unable to cope with the increased repayments. The idea that the period of high interest rates is over, is misleading.
No serious alternative from Cosatu and SACP
THE COSATU and SACP leaderships have threatened that if Zuma does not deliver, he will also be held to account. Ahead of this month's Tripartite Alliance economic summit, they are making radical noises about a complete "overhaul" of economic policy, including the establishment of an economic planning ministry, the re-nationalisation of Sasol [the giant energy, mining and chemical company] and possibly Mittal Steel.
Complaining that the devil is committing sin, they bewail the evils of capitalism, and denounce the pressure monopoly capital is exerting on the government. As they desperately try to save the capitalist system, even the neo-liberal Bush administration has gone further than these pitiful SACP/Cosatu proposals, by carrying out the biggest nationalisations in US history.
Mantashe is simultaneously the secretary general of the ANC - a party committed to the preservation of capitalism - and the chairperson of the SACP - a party claiming to be dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism. In practice, the SACP's central committee members have played a leading role in the implementation of Gear in Mbeki's cabinet.
Even though it is now fashionable to denounce Gear, essentially the policies it produced are still in place. For the SACP/Cosatu leadership, socialism is still not on the agenda. This is why the SACP is not campaigning for the abolition of capitalism, and insists on subordinating itself to the capitalist ANC.
For a mass workers' party on a socialist programme
THE NEED for a mass, working-class alternative has never been greater. Although the ANC increased its majority in parliament to more than 70% in the 2004 elections, it was on the basis of a lower voter turnout. Its 70% parliamentary majority amounts to only 38% of the electorate.
In a survey conducted by Naledi in September 1998, six months before Mbeki became president, 30% of Cosatu members indicated they would support Cosatu forming a workers' party, and standing in the elections. With the fracturing of the ANC, that figure is probably higher now, as the desire for an alternative intensifies.
The Democratic Socialist Movement calls upon the Cosatu rank-and-file to take the federation out of the Tripartite Alliance, if it is to preserve its unity, and fulfil its potential as the most powerful force in society.
Zuma may have a clear majority in the ANC. However, given the corruption charges, the remarks he made about showering after sex to avoid contracting HIV, and the repulsive character of his leading supporters, like ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Zuma has less support within the electorate.
The developing economic crisis will not only lead to the break-up of the ANC. It will also strain relations within the Tripartite Alliance to breaking point. Our warning that Cosatu's insistence on remaining within the Tripartite Alliance will divide the federation is unfortunately being borne out.
On the weekend that Kgalema Motlanthe was sworn is as South Africa's [acting] president, the DSM, and a number of small left organisations, agreed in principle to form a socialist electoral front. It was initiated by the Operation Khanyisa Movement, the name under which the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, one of the Anti-Privatisation Forum's most prominent affiliates, is registered with the Independent Electoral Commission.
Over the next few months, it will start campaigning, appealing to communities like those in Khutsong, Matatiele, and Moutse, all of whom rebelled against their relocation to other provinces, through unilateral boundary changes. The front will appeal to trade unions, social movements, and youth organisations to contribute towards laying the basis for the development of a mass workers' party on a socialist programme.
In The Socialist 8 October 2008:
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news