What the ANC Needs Now …

The ANC is currently grappling with the implications of political decisions taken in the last 8 months that have shifted South African power relations dramatically. This, while global crises and domestic issues demand quick resolution for an entangled situation – we cannot afford more political uncertainty against the backdrop of increasing inequality and poverty, that stir up frustration about poor service delivery. William Gumede provides some analysis of the current situation facing the ANC, saying that “competent and decisive leadership is now required to lift the economy, not populism”. Read his article from Pambazuka here, and share your comments below.

Mbeki, Zuma: a political earthquake
William Gumede (2008-10-09)

Following the resignation of South African President Thabo Mbeki, William M. Gumede explores the future of the ANC and the likely consequences of a Jacob Zuma presidency. While suggesting that an elected Zuma would scarcely provoke an all-out political implosion in the short-term, Gumede concludes events to represent a genuine reconfiguration of South African politics.

The brutal ousting of South African President Thabo Mbeki by the 88-member national executive committee of the ruling African National Congress has unleashed political and economic turmoil, but it has also finally forced open the space to focus on how to bring fresh ideas, imagination and leadership to bear to renew a faltering democracy, mend a torn society, and foster more equitable development.

South Africa is stuck in a number of interlocking crises: broken families, communities and society; soaring poverty, unemployment and crime; a pervasive air of public corruption; rising racial animosity; battered democratic institutions; rapidly declining public confidence in government’s ability to deliver services; and looming economic problems ahead. The country must deal with these problems in an increasing complex, dangerous and economically volatile world. The ANC and South Africa need a less divisive and more unifying leader, with fresh ideas, to tackle imaginatively the country’s pressing problems. Mbeki and his group at the helm for over a decade now had clearly run out of ideas, direction and energy.

Yet, this is not why he was so vindictively forced out. It was also not because of ideological differences with the disparate coalition of his political enemies rallied around his rival ANC president Jacob Zuma: Mbeki’s centrist economic instincts against the leftist views of the trade unionists and communists or the virginity testing supporters on the traditionalist right. No, it was simply revenge. Those who fell under Mbeki’s sword saw an opening for an eye-for-an-eye retribution. They wanted to humble Mbeki, as they thought the president had humiliated them. But they also wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike, fearing that in his last days in office, Mbeki would use state resources to crush his enemies. They also feared he would set up a commission investigating corruption related to the controversial arms deal, in which Zuma is implicated, or recharge him. Zuma’s supporters are bragging about their triumph, and seeking to purge the government and the party of pro-Mbeki supporters. Anybody critical of Zuma is now increasingly labelled Mbeki loyalists. All the purges are going to destabilise the ANC and paralyse government further. South Africa now faces a leadership vacuum. Yet, Zuma is certainly not the answer.

The very obvious and most sensible solution to the African National Congress and now South Africa’s deepening crisis is to appoint Kgalema Motlanthe, the former trade unionist and deputy ANC leader, appointed as interim president until next year’s general election as the permanent presidential candidate of the ANC. Such is the political crisis that the only way to prevent an implosion of the ANC is to retire both Mbeki and Zuma, who are equally divisive. Zuma’s candidacy as South African president threatens to break up the ANC before it reaches 100 years in four years’ time. It is better to appoint a new leader with the necessary political gravitas, who is above both the Mbeki and Zuma political divisions, and who can rally significant groups in both camps. Right now the two ANC leaders that may be able to do this are most probably only Motlanthe and Mathews Phosa, the ANC Treasurer. The ANC could have prevented this destructive process if Mbeki had long ago stood aside for Motlanthe or any other of the younger talent, Phosa, Cyril Ramaphosa, Nelson Mandela’s preferred successor ahead of Mbeki, and Tokyo Sexwale, the former Gauteng Premier.

This is the obvious solution to unite the ANC and the country, which should have been done a long time before. In the end Mbeki’s selfish insistence to stand for a third term as party leader last year, rather then endorse either of these young Turks, because they criticised him in the past, meant that everybody opposed to Mbeki’s centralised, aloof and prickly reign, temporarily rallied around Zuma to dislodge the former president and his crew. Among the real reasons why many of the more reasonable on the ANC Left have embraced Zuma is the fear that any of the in-waiting, younger and more competent leaders may marginalise, as Mbeki did, not only the Left again, but also the pressing issues of the poor, of deepening democracy, of building stable families and communities and of inclusive nation building.

Furthermore, under Mbeki the democratic institutions have been undermined, ordinary citizens’ participation in policy and decision-making reduced and freedom of expression threatened. Judge Chris Nicholson in his judgement clearing Zuma of corruption charges was critical of the manipulation of public institutions for political ends under the Mbeki administration because the prosecutors did not follow the correct procedures; they did not interview Zuma before they charged him. Yet, in his campaign to quash the corruption charges against him, Zuma and his sometimes violent supporters have attacked the judiciary, democratic institutions, the media and critics to such an extent that the country’s not yet consolidated constitutional system, institutions and values are at the same risk as Mbeki’s previous manipulation of them. But the talent of all of South Africa’s people, whatever their ideology or colour, has also sadly been marginalised under the Mbeki presidency, who sideline even polite critics or different opinion, within the ANC as racists if white or handmaidens of whites if black. Yet, the Zuma camp is now purging everybody associated with Mbeki, and they now label everybody critical of Zuma as Mbeki loyalists. Zuma himself has sued a number of individuals, including this correspondent, in the biggest defamation to date in South Africa, following mild criticisms of his behaviour.

To make inroads into South Africa’s pressing problems will firstly need a less divisive and more unifying leader, and a clean break from the two factions – Mbeki and Zuma – currently paralysing the ANC, government and South Africa. Furthermore, any new leader must show a commitment to the deal with corruption, deepen democracy within the ANC and the country, be inclusive and tackle race and class inequality. The reality is, Zuma may be popular, and have a hardcore, loud and militant support base who are prepared to ‘die’ to have him president, but at the same time, a large proportion of the ANC’s membership disapprove of him with equal gusto. They are unlikely to vote for the ANC when he is the presidential candidate. Furthermore, such is the strength of the opposition against Zuma within the ANC that his administration is likely to be paralysed by log-jams, which will make it difficult to implement pro-poor policies. The lingering questions over Zuma’s involvement in alleged corruption if he does not answer the allegations fully in court will continue to paralyse government, erode public confidence and undermine the democracy. A new South African president will need to tackle a pervasive air of public corruption, which will demand honesty. Judge Nicholson rightly heavily criticised Mbeki and his government for routinely abusing public institutions to launch vendettas against critics. Zuma claimed he could see by the way a woman dresses and sits that she was looking for sex and that he should oblige. With violence against women reaching record levels, such views are not only unconstitutional, but it provides a legitimate cloak for sexist views. Outside the court house, Zuma’s supporters daily shouted abuse the accuser and stoned a woman they thought was her. He said nothing about this.

Zuma’s rape trial exposed the deep divide between the call for women’s equality in South Africa’s model constitution – which has priority to cultural considerations, the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP’s statutes and rhetoric and the archaic public attitudes to women. He gave his backing to traditionalists who want to introduce virginity testing for young girls. Throughout his rape trial and again during his corruption trial, Zuma played the ethnic card, speaking in Zulu in court, inventing new Zulu cultural norms to excuse his appalling sexist attitudes. South Africa is struggling with the consequences of broken, one-parent and child-headed families, caused by the combination of the legacies of apartheid, through its undermining of black male identity, the breaking-up of families because of the migrant work system, the militarisation of society by the apartheid state and the liberation movements violent response to it, the macho male identity culture among both black and white communities, and the consequences of poverty and HIV/Aids. Mbeki had failed to provide progressive leadership on this. Mbeki’s ally Trevor Manuel, the finance minister, said providing income support to vulnerable families will mean these families will spend it on alcohol.

It is hard to see Zuma presenting a progressive response to how to provide stable families, how to make gender equality as set out in the constitution real, and how to set a progressive example of male identity that aligns with the values of the constitution. With South Africa having among the highest HIV/Aids case loads in the world, Zuma believes that having a shower after unprotected sex with a HIV/Aids positive partner will stop infection. He has urged the police to shoot first and ask questions later to combat high crime levels. He will consider the death penalty. He is under fire from his own camp for flip-flopping on economic policy depending on the audience. Zuma has surrounded himself with hard-line demagogues. This will make it difficult for him to bring in new talent from across the colour, ideological and political divide, which is so necessary to energise the country, but which Mbeki has not done.

Under Mbeki, only a relatively small black middle classes benefited from affirmative action, and a dozen oligarchs from black economic empowerment. The white middle class, with the social capital, education and property acquired during apartheid and white business did well too. Yet the majority black poor and working class, and those eking out a living in the informal sector were marginalised. Many rightfully fear Zuma will be held hostage by the special interests, big black business oligarchs, such as the casino magnate Vivien Reddy, the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) moguls Don Makwanazi and the Shaik family, and arms companies like Thint, of which Zuma is alleged to have been bribed to shield them from prosecution.

Competent and decisive leadership is now required to lift the economy, not populism. Economic growth is slowing, inflation and costs are rising, and power shortages are undermining production, while high unemployment and poverty persist, service delivery remains poor, and ANC supporters are demanding urgent redistribution; all this amid the global financial disaster. Zuma has reassured the markets that the post-Mbeki government will steer the same economic path as Mbeki. President Motlanthe has been handed a new government report (Towards a 15-year Review) by his predecessor that concedes that in spite of growth levels averaging 5% the past years, not enough has been done to slash poverty and inequality, and to increase trust in government. Problems identified five years ago had proved more ‘deep-seated’ than previously recognised, Joel Netshitenzhe, head of policy coordination and advisory services, said: ‘Growth has exposed weaknesses … the increase in the rate of growth does not necessarily result in a reduction in poverty.’ Nor had growth reduced inequality, but had rather created a bigger gap between the rich and poor, as Netshitenzhe outlined: ‘The state has had to learn new ways of doing things as it implemented, but not always have these been decisive and flexible enough.’

The Left’s backing for Zuma is not likely to give them much influence on economic policy. They may be consulted more regularly, of course, but will be told, as Mbeki told them before, that the government cannot risk unsettling the markets. Zuma will have to pay back other supporters – the BEE oligarchs, who were marginalised under Mbeki, but who are now sponsoring Zuma. Others who lost out on the gravy train will want their slice of the pie too. Cosatu and the SACP will have to compete with them for Zuma’s ear. The ANC’s allies, the SA Congress of Trade Unions and the SA Communist Party, are demanding to be upgraded as ‘full partners’ instead of junior partners as under Mbeki. Blade Nzimande of the SACP says it wants more of its members on the ANC’s candidate list for the 2009 elections, and more appointed as national and provincial ministers, mayors and local councillors, with a ‘deployment committee’ to pick its people. It has just concluded a policy conference, ahead of an alliance summit with Cosatu and the SACP; Nzimande says the summit should veto government policy.

Instead of stopping the legal problems of Zuma, forcing out Mbeki has actually only increased Zuma’s legal woes. When announcing that Mbeki was ‘recalled’ as president, Gwede Mantashe, the ANC general secretary had said: ‘The National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to appeal the judgment has become a worry and a point of division for the ANC.’ The reality is that Zuma still has very real 16 charges of corruption against him. Judge Chris Nicholson, who cleared Zuma on a technicality – the prosecutors had followed the wrong procedure – emphasised he did not give a verdict on the charges, but proposed the prosecutors recharge Zuma, provided they do so by the book. To rescue their own credibility, the prosecutors have no other choice but to appeal and recharge Zuma.

Moreover, the prosecutors have been under such an attack from Zuma militants now that their very credibility may rest on successfully recharging Zuma. In any event, they know that if Zuma comes to power, the prosecuting unit may be broken up, with members of the team that have been prosecuting Zuma likely be ‘redeployed’ elsewhere, or simply put under pressure to resign. Furthermore, even if the prosecutors did bow under the pressure and did not prosecute, a number of private prosecutions against Zuma have been lined up – so it is difficult to see how Zuma is going to extricate himself out of this, which have already seen his former financial advisor sent to jail for 15 years. The National Prosecuting Authority has now confirmed that it had applied to appeal against the ruling that sprang Zuma free on a technicality. Mbeki has also formally approached the Constitutional Court to ask that Judge Nicholson’s findings be declared unconstitutional and set aside; he says the judgement was ‘vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial’, cost him his job and damaged his good name and reputation. Zuma is opposing Mbeki’s bid to clear his name. If Mbeki won, his sacking by the ANC’s executive would be shown to be based on false assumptions, and therefore void.

Following Mbeki’s forced exit, the Zuma coalition, consisting of five distinctly different groups, who were all opposed to Mbeki, have lost the glue that hold them together – opposition to Mbeki. Furthermore, with Mbeki gone, all of them are now focusing on securing their own interests in the leadership vacuum. Within the Zuma coalition, not all are set on securing the presidency of South Africa for Zuma. Those who are, though include: the ANC youth league, the pro-Zuma black economic empowerment business oligarchs – both hoping to secure patronage; the Communist Party and the trade unionists, who nave no alternative presidential candidate of their own, think they can manipulate Zuma in power; and those ANC leaders who are being investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority for corruption, because, they argue that if Zuma’s case is quashed – especially when he comes to power, theirs will also. So, now the Zuma coalition are divided between those who want Zuma at all costs to become president, such as those seeking a pardon for corruption or patronage, versus those who are prepared to look for a unifying ANC leader that will be pro-poor, the latter include the more serious elements of Cosatu and the SACP. Yet, Zuma is not entirely in control of his own coalition. Ahead of Mbeki’s ouster, he opposed efforts to oust Mbeki, because he feared he will inherit a divided party, unprepared to run a general election. However, he was rudely overruled by his own militants.

Furthermore, in the week when Mbeki detractors within the Zuma coalition moved to oust him, all the old presidential rivals of Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews and Tokyo Sexwale, again took centre stage within the ANC, dwarfing Zuma, almost like a decade ago. Zuma initially wanted Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of Parliament, and the ANC’s chairwoman, a more pliable supporter, as caretaker president. However, he lost out on that. Until yesterday, the Zuma camp, in control of the ANC had planned to appoint Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of Parliament, as interim president, to smooth the way for Zuma and to create an environment for Zuma’s legal charges to be withdrawn. Motlanthe was the choice of those in the Zuma coalition, who are more interested in keeping the ANC united, and securing a pro-poor government focus, rather then putting Zuma into the presidency. They have long seen him as an alternative candidate for the presidency if Zuma stumbles over his legal hurdles. Motlanthe does things by the book. In this crisis, their may be openings for other Young Turks of Motlanthe’s generation. To contain the Young Turks – Motlanthe, Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa, Zuma has promised to stay as president for one term only, and then allow a competitive election for the leadership between them. But Mothlante obviously now has the inside track, because he is already an MP, the others, including Zuma are not. He will be presiding president for six months, which is enough to show his credentials not only as a unifying figure, but a source of new ideas, energy and principle, and to contrast this to the divisive potential of a populist Zuma.

Under the Mbeki administration, corruption was often only selectively punished, depending on one’s closeness to Mbeki’s inner circle. A number of ANC leaders under investigation for corruption support Zuma’s attempts not to stand trial, on the basis that their cases will also be cleared. This week parliament has started winding down the National Prosecuting Authority’s elite crime fighting unit, the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the Scorpions, which brought the corruption charges against Zuma. The Zuma dominated ANC leadership voted to have the Scorpions, South Africa’s most effective crime-busting disbanded, claiming it was used for political ends, when it investigated Zuma and other ANC leaders for corruption. With the country awash with crime, the best solution is not to close down the most effective crime fighting unit. A better solution would have been to expanded democratic oversight over the Scorpions, and intelligence, defence and security services. While, all eyes were focused on the transition from Mbeki to Motlanthe, the Zuma-dominated ANC parliamentary caucus slipped in a decision to cancel outstanding monies owned by individual ANC MPs who were defrauded parliament’s travel voucher scheme, dubbed ‘travelgate’, to stop outside civil actions against them to recover the money. Parliament had tasked liquidators to recover outstanding monies from MPs implicated in the travel voucher fraud, which amounted to R6 million. More than 100 MPs, including some ministers, who implicated in defrauding parliament’s travel scheme for MPs.

One worrying now also is that the division between the ruling party and the state is now increasingly blurred. In fact, South Africa is in danger now of becoming a party-state or ‘partocracy’ where there is no clear firewall between the executive, legislatures, and public institutions on the one hand, and the ruling ANC, on the other. Yet, the country constitutional democratic system demands a clear division between the party on the one hand, and the state and public institutions on the other. The problem is also that ANC leadership under Mbeki and now again under Zuma, assumes that they are the South African nation, or euphemistically, the ‘people’ itself, rather then its representatives. This means every decision taken by the ANC leadership is viewed as a good for the country, without consulting the wider nation. It also means that decisions that are often purely factional ones are seen as in the interest of the nation as a whole.

Of course there are many problems inherent in a party-state. The one is that if the party is paralysed by factional fights, tainted by corruption or run undemocratically, the country are also likely to be. Turning into party-states are one of the reasons why many African countries run by former independence or liberation movements have failed to institute broad-based democracy when they came to power. When the ruling independence or liberation movements became corrupt, undemocratic or divided into factions, or the leadership become personalised, their governments became so also, stunting a democratic, development and service delivery efforts. Can the worse effects of party-state or ‘parto-cracy’ be reversed?

The first thing is that the ANC must become more internally democratic. The truth, although the ANC’s Polokwane conference has made a call for greater internal democracy in the party, little has change. A case in point is the face that Zuma is currently explaining to ANC provinces, branches and ordinary members why Mbeki was so brutally pushed when he only had six months to go. The decision should have been canvassed among the membership, branches and provinces before. An integral part of becoming more internal democratic is to make the ANC’s internal elections more democratic. South Africa’s electoral system that allows the party bosses, rather than the ordinary people, to decide who should be candidates for parliament, provincial legislatures and local government should be scrapped. This means that the elected representatives are more accountable to the welfare of the party bosses rather than to the people and to defend the constitution – to which they pledged allegiance when elected.

It is even more urgent now that South Africa adopt a new electoral system, as already proposed in 2004 by the electoral task team headed by Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, to give more say to ordinary people, rather than the party, and which make elected candidates are accountable to their constituencies and allow them to be recalled by their constituencies, if they fail to deliver. Secondly, democratic institutions, the judiciary, parliament and audit institutions must become more vigilant and assert to defend the democracy, constitution and its values. Thirdly, civil movements, non-governmental organisations and the media must do so also. Fourthly, ordinary citizens must also assert their rights more, and hold government and public institutions accountable.

Finally, South Africa’s opposition parties must get more serious, adopt more relevant policies, actually do the hard work of establishing proper and working branches and elect more competent leaders. Faced with the real prospect of Zuma likely to become president of South Africa, some ANC members have said they will form their own party, to challenge a Zuma-led ANC in next year’s general election. Mbeki’s 92-year old mother, Epainette, a struggle icon in her own right, has said she will support such a new breakaway party ‘100%’. This shows the extent of the dissatisfaction among the ANC rank-and-file. The absence of an effective and relevant opposition party in South Africa remains one of the biggest shortcomings of the country’s infant democracy.

The main reason why the ANC under Mbeki has been so complacent, and why Mbeki was ultimately forced out, is because the party had no opposition to fear it if messed up, that could dislodge it. Only when a ruling party faces the real prospect of losing an election, will South Africa’s politics be infused with the electoral dynamism the country so desperately needs to renew its faltering democracy and provide a better life for it’s people. Before the ANC’s Left components, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, in one last gamble in 2005, decided to rally behind Jacob Zuma, in an attempt to change the direction of the ANC, each of them had already resolved to combine forces and form a party of the Left. Both the memberships of Cosatu and the SACP resolved in 2005 to form a new party, if they could not sway the ANC to become more pro-poor. However, when Mbeki fired Zuma for corruption in 2005, the latter joined forces with the leaders of the unionists and communist party, and signed a pact that instead of them forming their own party, they should back him (Zuma) for the ANC presidency, and he would in turn make the ANC more pro-poor.

Whether a breakaway party will be formed depends on whether Zuma becomes the president of South Africa. If Motlanthe is given the job permanently, and unite the ANC, pursue a pro-poor agenda and deepen the democracy within the country and the ANC, the disaffected ANC members are more likely to stay. Or if they go, a new party may have less legitimacy. If Zuma becomes president of South Africa, the chances of a breakaway party being set up will increase. Ultimately, if it happens, the success of a breakaway party will also depend on the policies and leadership at the helm. It will only work if its leaders and reason of existence is genuinely pro-poor, for deepening democracy and for equitable redistribution. The current crop of opposition parties in South Africa are irrelevant because they don’t differ from the ANC on policies if they do the policies are on the right, rather than pro-poor or to deepen democracy, or on the unrealistic far-left or Africanist. The parties are often one-man or woman and a fax machine, no deep-rooted branches, credible policies. Yet, in the long-term it will be better for the democracy if the ruling ANC/SACP/Cosatu tripartite alliance is reconfigured – the forcing out of Mbeki will now bring that closer.

Ultimately, the best solution for South Africa is the breakaway of the ruling ANC tripartite alliance into centre-left faction, and its left faction, and the assortment of current opposition parties on the centre-right. Of course, if Zuma becomes president of South Africa, the country won’t implode, yet, but it will just plod along business as usual, democracy, protection and development for the well-off and politically well-connected, and pockets of wealth, service delivery and excellence, for the few, and continuing poverty and tyranny for the majority. Mbeki’s enforced early exit and the ANC leadership’s attempt to push Zuma into the South African presidency at all costs, and the inevitable backlash thereof, are providing the political earthquake South Africa needed to reconfigure its politics.

* William M. Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC. Zed Books ISBN: 9781842778487


One Response

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