Mbeki dismissed by ANC as president of SA...
In the early hours of Saturday morning 20 September, 2008, after 14 hours of bitter debate, the ruling African National Congress National Executive Committee resolved to “recall” South African president Thabo Mbeki in the most momentous event since the fall of apartheid. Three days later, Mbeki announced his resignation as president of the country on national television. The reign of the ANC’s crown prince - protégé of and personally groomed by the late Oliver Tambo – had come to an inglorious end.
That he suffered the indignity of not being allowed to serve out the little more than six months left of his term, is a measure of the extent to which admiration for him had turned into venomous hatred. One of the ANC’s most revered leaders has been reduced to one of its most reviled, the first sitting president in the post-apartheid era to be removed from office in what is in effect a political, not a legal, impeachment.
The ANC NEC decision, described by Moeletsi Mbeki, the ex-president’s brother and known critic of the government’s policies, as a “recipe for civil war”, has plunged the African continent’s oldest liberation movement into its most serious crisis since its founding in 1912. With the front page of the Sowetan newspaper proclaiming, “ANC Split Looms”, ANC deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe was sworn in as caretaker president of SA on Thursday 25 September to serve until the next election in April 2009.
Mbeki’s resignation was followed by the mass resignation of just under half of the cabinet, including the deputy president, 10 ministers, and 3 deputies, in solidarity with the president that had appointed them. The announcement of the resignation of Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, the darling of big business, precipitated a decline of over 2% in the value of the currency and shares on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange plummeted by R50 billion. However, in the end all but six heeded the Zuma leadership’s appeal to remain in their posts.
ANC divisions deepen
The split in the ANC has penetrated all state institutions – the police, army, judiciary and the state broadcaster. It has been three years in the making, sparked by Mbeki’s June 2005 dismissal of Jacob Zuma as the country’s deputy president. Mbeki took this action following the conviction of Zuma’s financial adviser Schabir Shaik, now serving a 15-year sentence, on fraud and corruption charges of paying bribes to Zuma.
Controversially, the National Prosecuting Authority had decided not to charge Zuma. Explaining this decision, the then NPA head, Bulelani Ngcuka, justified it by absurdly stating that while there was a prima facie case against Zuma, the NPA was not confident of a successful prosecution and would not charge him. This left Zuma in a legal no man’s land – accused of corruption and effectively on trial in Shaik’s case, without the opportunity to clear his name.
This set the scene for a rebellion of the ANC rank-and-file against Mbeki later that month at the ANC National General Council (NGC), the highest decision making body in between conferences. The president of the ANC and the country were subjected, in the words of the Star newspaper, to “Four Days of Hell” in Mbeki’s first public humiliation by his own party. Mbeki was accused of being the architect of the obstacles erected in the path of Zuma’s presidential ambitions.
However, with the power to appoint cabinet members in the hands of the president, the NGC was limited to the symbolic act of restoring Zuma only to his party position as deputy president. It was only after this that the NPA brought charges against Zuma obtaining evidence by staging armed raids on his homes and offices leading to a near shoot-out with his bodyguards. After the judge threw out the first set of charges in 2006, the NPA chose to serve Zuma with fresh vastly expanded charges on 28 December 2007, days after Zuma’s historic victory in Polokwane. In a cruel and ironic twist of history, Mbeki has now been forced out of office by an 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 sulking in Tuynhuis, in the Union Buildings. Seemingly oblivious of the fact that his presidency was discredited, Mbeki continued to defy the new Zuma leadership. He failed to attend the ANC’s birthday celebrations, in January, ignored the objections of the alliance partners by directly interfering in the nomination of SABC board members, and stayed away from the first working committee and NEC meetings of the new ANC regime.
He then provided further ammunition for those alleging that he had interfered in state institutions. He suspended the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, for issuing an arrest warrant for his ally, the National Commissioner of Police, Jackie Selebi, on charges of corruption and racketeering. Selebi had openly flaunted his friendship with notorious gangster Glen Agliotti, a suspect in the murder of mining magnate Brett Kebble, a generous ANC benefactor who donated millions to the organisation and individual members. Mbeki went so far as to institute a commission of inquiry to examine Pikoli’s fitness to hold office.
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. Reports in the Sowetan (25/09/08) about the formation of an “ANC Activist Consultative Forum” by Mbeki supporters in Limpopo represents the establishment of a pre-party formation, confirming reports that preparations for the launch of a new party are well advanced. Media reports that names under consideration for the new party include ‘United Democratic Front’ – the organisation launched in the 1980s that acted as a front for the ANC before it was unbanned - and ‘ANC of South Africa’, with a logo similar to the ANC’s. This reflects the extent to which the Mbeki faction considers the Zuma faction as alien to what they believe the ANC stands for and, consider themselves the torch bearers of the true traditions of the ANC. This could lead, ironically, to the emergence of a “Herstigte” (Re-established) ANC in a repeat of the history of the Nationalist Party (NP), the party of apartheid which has been ingested by the ANC and experienced a break-away that named itself the “Herstigte” NP.
While Mbeki’s mother has publicly expressed support for a new party, other prominent ANC figures are thought to be involved, including former Gauteng Premier and Cosatu general secretary, Mbhazima Shilowa, former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, and former Education Minister, Kader Asmal, have, so far, denied involvement.
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. Such an initiative appears to have an appeal particularly amongst minorities at present.
A damning judgment
Mbeki’s final humiliation by an organisation he has served for 52 years, was precipitated by Zuma’s successful application to the high court to have the charges brought against him in December 2007 set aside on a technicality. The National Prosecuting Authority had served fresh charges against Zuma after a judge had quashed them in 2006, ruling that the NPA’s request for a further postponement after an investigation that began in 2002 was unreasonable.
Judge Nicholson, a prominent former human rights lawyer who, in a separate matter, had ruled that the government should provide anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-positive prisoners, issued a damning judgement. He found that Zuma’s rights to make representation to the NPA, if fresh charges are brought against him, had been violated. Ruling the procedure followed illegal, he 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. It was his finding on a subsidiary issue that completely overshadowed the main application, and set into a motion a series of events that ended in Mbeki’s removal as head of state. The NPA had lodged a counter-application opposing Zuma’s contention that he was the victim of a political conspiracy to prevent him from becoming the country’s president. The NPA requested that the judge strike out those allegations as “vexacious, scandalous and irrelevant.” This unnecessary and arrogant response to Zuma’ application obliged the judge to go beyond Zuma’s claim about the right to be heard before being charged again. Had the judge found for Zuma on that narrow issue, the NPA would simply have gone through the motion of consulting Zuma before reinstating the charges. By demanding that the judge dismiss Zuma’s allegations, the NPA compelled the judge to consider the merits of Zuma’s claim of a political plot.
The judge made a finding that 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 – which had been united in their condemnation of Zuma for pursuing every possible legal avenue available to fight the charges against him – by complete surprise. Prior to Nicholson’s judgment, Zuma had lost every attempt to thwart his prosecution, including, controversially, his application to have evidence the NPA obtained from raids on his lawyer’s offices ruled inadmissible on the basis of lawyer-client confidentiality.
This was his first victory and it reverberated across the country like an earthquake. The judge found not only that Zuma’s rights to be heard before being recharged had been violated. 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. He recommended that steps be taken to reinforce the independence of institutions of the criminal justice system like the NPA, including the prosecution of offenders under legislation that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
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 SA 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”. Weighing in with his own histrionics, Malema accused the judges of behaving like drunks at a shebeen. Supported by Cosatu’s Vavi, Malema declared himself willing to “kill for Zuma”. The SACP’s Blade Ndzimande warned that persisting with the case was not in the “national interest”, and would bring the country “to the brink.” They mobilised protesters to lobby outside the court during the proceedings, beginning with a “night vigil” the evening before. The SA Democratic Teachers Union, a Cosatu affiliate, called for a national ‘stay away’ should the case against Zuma proceed. The Cosatu and SACP (South African Communist Party) leadership used the 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”. They embraced the judgment, portraying it as a vindication of the claims Zuma has made all along. With the ANC Youth League in the forefront, calls for Mbeki’s removal for manipulating state institutions and abuse of power grew louder. Zuma, anxious to avoid being seen as vengeful, and attempting to portray himself as a unifier, initially called for Mbeki to be allowed to finish his term. In his conciliatory public appeal, he advised the would-be impeachers that it was a waste of energy to “beat a dead snake.”
Zuma’s conciliatory gesture might have been supported but for the decision of the NPA to appeal the judgment. Whatever the legal merits, the act of lodging the appeal 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 was interpreted as further confirmation of a conspiracy at work, with the NPA believed to have lodged the appeal on either Mbeki’s instruction, or on his behalf. The subsequent decision by cabinet, and Mbeki, to apply to join the appeal after his resignation merely confirmed the suspicion. All that was left was to decide on the best procedure to secure Mbeki’s eviction from the Union Buildings.
Ironically, Mbeki, who dismissed Zuma, after Schabir Shaik’s conviction on the basis of the judge’s inferences about their relationship, now condemns the inferences drawn by the judge as “vexacious and prejudicial” in a case he has referred directly to the Constitutional Court – the highest in the country.
Judge Nicholson’s inferences about the “baleful influence” of the government in NPA decisions, in the words of Business Day political editor Karima Brown, merely “drew the lines between the dots” of events that had already formed a clearly discernible picture. Mbeki had ascended to power and attempted to keep all possible rivals at bay, through a ruthless manipulation of the party apparatus and state institutions, bringing into existence “the coalition of the wounded” that toppled him.
Mbeki’s ascendancy to the deputy presidency, following the assassination of the chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the ANC’s military wing), the highly popular Chris Hani, gave rise to the rumour, yet to be laid to rest, that he had a hand in his death. Mbeki also forced the former Minister for Safety and Security, Steve Tshwete, to conduct an investigation into the completely fantastic allegations that Cyril Ramaphosa (Mandela’s preferred choice as his successor), as well as former ANC Gauteng provincial premier, Tokyo Sexwale, and Matthews Phosa, former Mpumalanga premier and now ANC national treasurer – all of whom harboured ambitions to succeed Mandela -- had plotted to assassinate him. When no evidence was uncovered Mbeki referred all queries to Tshwete. Intolerant of dissent, and aloof and arrogant, he marginalised those who dissented from his views.
Mbeki’s genocidal crimes and arms deal corruption
That Mbeki, in his resignation address to the nation, should deny to the entire world that he had interfered in state institutions defies belief. It is also ironic, considering that abuse of state institutions, and parliament was the hallmark of his presidency. Of the many betrayals and crimes committed by his government, those bearing his personal stamp - HIV/Aids denialism and the arms deal corruption - stand out as the worst. In providing the material basis for the decline in support for, and division of the ANC, they are second in importance only to the government’s neo-liberal capitalist policies, of which he was the principal champion.
As the Treatment Action Campaign’s Zackie Achmat points out (Mail and Guardian 26/09- 02/10/09), in support of his HIV/Aids denialist views Mbeki systematically emasculated constitutionally independent institutions for his own ends, and to feed his prejudices. These included the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Gender Equality, the Medical Research Council, the Medicines Control Council, which were ordered, amongst others, to fast-track the registration of a so-called HIV/Aids drug that turned out to be an industrial solvent. Through these actions, Mbeki deliberately delayed the approval of the drug Nevirapine, which had been proven to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission by more than 50%.
Using Statistics SA figures, Achmat calculates that during Mbeki’s rule there were more than 1,5 million deaths in the 0-49 age group, and more than 2 million new infections. Chris McGreal (The Guardian 23/09/08) reports that the “Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Njongunkulu Ndungane, described the government’s Aids policies as ‘as serious a crime against humanity as apartheid.’ One of the country’s leading Aids researchers, formerly one of Mbeki confidants [and supporter of his neo-liberal ideas, University of Kwa Zulu Natal Vice Chancellor] Malegapuru Makgoba, said the government’s inaction was tantamount to genocide. School children called Mbeki ‘Comrade Undertaker’”.
He censored the first report of the Auditor General into the arms deal, which had found irregularities pointing to corruption. To protect his cronies, Mbeki deleted the report’s references to the role of MPs and the cabinet. He subverted the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), by altering its recommendations for a multi-agency investigation, and ordering the exclusion of the Heath Unit - the only one with legal powers of sub-poena. When the ANC delegates in Scopa, Andrew Feinstein and Barbara Hogan, resisted this subversion, they were forced out. Feinstein resigned from the ANC in protest.
Mbeki altered the terms of reference of a commission of inquiry into allegations that the former NPA head, Bulelani Ngcuka had been a spy for the apartheid regime, as alleged by leading ANC and SACP figure Mac Maharaj. The effect of the alterations was to prevent access to the apartheid regime’s intelligence files, to which he alone had access as president. To add insult to injury, he appointed Bulelani Ngcuka’s wife as his new deputy president.
It cannot be ruled out that the NPA’s appeal will succeed. But Zuma has already filed papers opposing both the NPA and Mbeki’s appeal. In addition Zuma, will in all likelihood, proceed with an application for a permanent stay of prosecution towards the end of the year. Whatever the outcome of the NPA/Mbeki appeals, against the background of the political fall-out from the Nicholson judgment, the outcome would indeed be “irrelevant” insofar as Mbeki’s political career is concerned. Nicholson’s comments about his interference in state institutions stand regardless, like the mark of Cain, an indelible stain on his reputation. More importantly, it would merely inflame the tensions within the ANC further hastening its break up.
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.
As the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in South Africa) forewarned in the December 2007- February 2008 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.” Events of the last week 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 president, Julius Malema, was opposed by 7 out of the 9 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.
Two provincial premiers seen as Mbeki supporters, the Western Cape’s Ebrahim Rasool, and the Eastern Cape’s Nosimo Balindlela have been removed from office. Their ousting was overseen by head office at Luthuli House, as the pro-Zuma leadership sought to demonstrate that the centre of power had shifted decisively from the country’s presidency at the Unions Buildings, to Luthuli House. They have been followed out of office by Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, who has resigned in protest at the manner in which Mbeki was deposed.
Amongst the remaining premiers, the Free State’s, and Limpopo’s remain in office at the (dis)pleasure of the Zuma faction. The pro-Mbeki Limpopo premier Moloto has had his power to appoint MECs effectively revoked, following the election of rival Cassel Mathale as provincial ANC chairperson.
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. 500 ANC members representing 82 of the 205 (42%) branches excluded from the pro-Zuma conference met separately in Langa. Over 700 ANC members defected to the United Democratic Movement, led by Bantu Holomisa, a former bantustan leader, expelled from the ANC for exposing the ANC’s acceptance of a bribe from Sol Kerzner, owner of the notorious Sun City gambling resort. The ANC’s Western Cape Dullar Omar region has been dissolved.
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.
These events, taking place as Kgalema Motlanthe was being sworn in as president, constitute a political weather forecast for the list conferences to be held, to draw up the provincial and national parliamentary candidate lists for next year’s elections.
ANC split spills into Cosatu and SACP
Inevitably, the ANC’s factional divisions have spilled over into the SACP and Cosatu. 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. The former Cosatu president and SACP politburo member, Willie Madisha, has been expelled from the SACP after testifying that he had handed over the donation to Ndzimande in black plastic bags, ferried to the rendezvous point in the boot of his car. A number of SACP leaders, branches and districts, including former Young Communist League leader, have been suspended for opposing the party’s support for Zuma.
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’ gun sights 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.
Zuma faction’s ascendancy - 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, unfortunately, 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 of 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. He actively supported the enrichment of the black elite through black economic empowerment. It may be true that the letter that led to the exclusion of the Heath Unit from the investigation into the arms deal corruption probe was written by Mbeki. But Mbeki did not hold a gun to Zuma’s head forcing him to sign it.
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 SA, 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 – a tiny minority in the role of mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe-style capitalist baas-boys – the majority as slaves enjoying the pleasures of non-racial exploitation. Zuma’s shamelessly oppressive and backward positions on gender issues are no more than an expression of his position on the fundamental class conflicts, and the gender questions that capitalist society is not only incapable of solving, but needs to preserve, to perpetuate the economic dictatorship the of the parasitic capitalist minority.
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 bourgeoisie.
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.
It will be fifteen 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 a thousand people are dying everyday from HIV/Aids. Mass unemployment, poverty, disease, exclusion from education, and housing blight the lives of the working class majority. Whilst 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.
Although the idea that the country’s economic life depends on capitalist foreign investors, and that domestic policy should be adapted to their dictates is associated with Mbeki, the entire leadership shares this belief. This is why both Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, and Reserve Bank Governor, Tito Mboweni, the main targets of the criticism of Cosatu and the SACP, have been retained in their posts by the Zuma leadership, despite indicating that they wished to resign.
The reason that 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. This was also the centre piece of the message of the new president, Kgalema Motlanthe in his acceptance speech, and inaugural address to the nation. It is a position consistent with that put forward by ANC General, Secretary Gwede Mantashe, in the post-Polokwane period that there would some tweaking here and there, but no major policy shift.
Will a Zuma government deliver for the working class?
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 SA history exaggerates his role, and that of the other “MT” heads, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, and Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni credited with crafting the policies that allegedly led to the boom.
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 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 SA 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. The Star Business Report (29/09/08) revealed that non-residents’ net outflows from local bonds, and equities had more than doubled, for the month of September, on Friday, alone.
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 economic polices from Cosatu and SACP
The Cosatu and SACP leadership has threatened that if Zuma does not deliver, he will also be held to account. Ahead of next 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 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. 12 million people were either not registered or did not vote in the last election. With 11 million votes for the ANC, it means that there are more people who did not vote at all than voted for the ANC. 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 fulfill 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. The dismissal of Willie Madisha as Cosatu president, and the planned disciplinary action against Numsa’s Silumko Nodwangu, signifies the complete surrender of Cosatu’s class independence, and its reduction to a mere political appendage of the pro-Zuma factions of the SACP, and the ANC.
On the weekend that Kgalema Motlanthe was sworn is as president, the DSM, and a number of small left organizations, 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 organizations to contribute towards laying the basis for the development of a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme.