Zuma clings on to power – build a socialist mass workers party for 2019

In celebrating Zuma’s victory in the motion of no confidence vote, the majority of the ANC parliamentary caucus has confirmed the contempt in which they hold the majority of the people in SA, particularly the working class and the poor. The immediate backdrop to this vote was the torrent of evidence pouring out in the form of the #Guptaleaks revealing a breathtaking level of brazen corruption in which Zuma is the central enabler. The ANC parliamentary caucus majority thus voted to keep in power the most unpopular and corrupt president in post-apartheid SA, and arguably in the ANC’s own 105-year history. They have condoned not only unprecedented levels of corruption, but have given a stamp of approval for a recession and junk status, the combination of which has enormously aggravated a sick capitalist economy the burden of whose crisis has been placed on the shoulders of the working class and the poor.

The latest Labour Force survey results released in the same week revealed that, even before the full effects of junk status have been felt, unemployment remains at the highest ever post-apartheid levels. The further downgrade of SA’s Rand-denominated foreign debt, the possibility of which has now been significantly increased, will precipitate capital flight, higher interest rates, submerging potentially hundreds of thousands more in debt when 19 million are already credit impaired, and households spend 74% of their annual income on debt servicing. House repossessions, which are four times the world average, will accelerate along with car, furniture repossessions, increases in the prices of fuel, food and basic services. For both the disastrous consequences of Zuma and ANC rule that has already occurred, and what is to come, the ANC parliamentary caucus has shown a cold indifference.

The celebrations of the Zuma supporters, however, resemble the behaviour of the peasant of Russian folklore, who sings wedding songs at funerals and funeral dirges at weddings. They may have saved a president whose election precipitated the ANC’s worst split, leading to the emergence of Cope in 2008, and went onto preside over a second, the EFF, and has now taken it to the edge of a third. But in doing so, their contemptuous defiance of popular opinion, has magnified the prospects of the ANC falling below 50% in 2019 elections. They may have saved Zuma, but they have condemned the ANC.

This, however, was a hollow victory. That the vote was held in secret against his express wishes, that, for the first time since 1994, 26 ANC MPs voted against their party president, and a further 9 abstained, with not a single MP who spoke in the debate making any mention of Zuma’s absent virtues, we have a result in which a sitting ANC president with a 62% majority in the last general election in 2014, was supported by less than 50% of parliament. This is the measure of the depths to which his authority has sunk. This was not so much a victory as a survival.

It was always unlikely that Zuma would lose the motion of no confidence in parliament on 8 August their gift to women on Women’s Day. But millions still ‘hoped beyond hope’ that enough ANC MPs would break ranks to get rid of this hated president. Only eleven more votes were needed to bring Zuma (and his cabinet) down. A further nine MPs abstained. Whilst only around 12% of ANC MPs were prepared to vote with the opposition parties at this stage (more defied the whip by abstaining), this is a significant deepening of the divisions within the ANC, which have now publicly spilled into their parliamentary caucus. The position of Zuma and his supporters has weakened further.

This rebellion adds more pressure to the political calculations of the different factions in the run-up to the ANC’s December conference. The chances of Zuma being recalled as president of the country have now increased. His supporters now have to factor the danger of a parliamentary no confidence motion succeeding in the future.

The calculations of many MPs will change if Zuma appears set to stay in office until 2019. Falling below 50% of the vote in 2019 would wipeout at least 50 ANC MPs. Many of them remained loyal to the party whip in this week’s vote only in the desperate hope that the December conference will come up with something – anything! – to preserve the unity of the party, saving their jobs and safeguarding the gravy train for another five years. A deal that sees Zuma ‘voluntarily’ agree to step-down cannot be ruled out. But even if he goes, it can never be anything more than damage control for a party whose trajectory can only be down.

Conflicting interests

The turmoil in the ANC is a product of the general crisis of South African capitalism which is incapable of meeting the demands of the working class for jobs, services and decent living standards. A loss of support, reflected in splits and divisions within the ANC was always inevitable upon the basis of their slavish support for capitalism. Zuma’s disastrous rule has accelerated that process.

But any ‘solution’ to the disastrous rule of Zuma from the point of view of the bosses will be no solution for the working class. His rule has been disastrous for them for entirely different reasons to that of the working class. Zuma’s blatant theft and looting has undermined their ‘legal’ exploitation of the country by undermining their main instrument of rule for the past 23 years – the ANC itself, which, through the Tripartite Alliance has ‘contained’ the opposition of the organised working class.

All the candidates competing for the ANC crown are pro-big business politicians. The most likely winner in December, should the Zuma faction be defeated, is Cyril Ramaphosa – the millionaire ‘butcher of Marikana’ and mastermind of the new poverty-level minimum wage!

The SA Communist Party, despite their recent calls for Zuma to go and talk of standing their own candidates in 2019 obeyed the ANC whip in the no confidence vote. Up to half of ANC MPs are members of the SACP. It was fully within the power of the SACP to ensure Zuma falls. Their cowardly capitulation has discredited them even further. Of all the players involved in this drama, it is they who bare the chief responsibility for Zuma living to fight another day.

All of the opposition political parties support capitalism. Should the ANC receive less than 50% of the vote in 2019 some form of opposition coalition will likely replace them. The DA and EFF have already begun testing how this would work in practice in the Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros. The current ‘unity’ of the opposition parties for the removal of Zuma is more practice for such an outcome. But such a government would be an anti-working class government, just as the DA-led, and EFF-supported administrations in the metros are proving themselves to be.

The DA has tabled a new ‘plan’ to table a motion for the dissolution of parliament to allow early elections. However they know full well that an impeachment requires a two-thirds majority which has absolutely no prospect of success given that they could not get the 50% for the No Confidence Motion. It is merely the posture of a party that had little to celebrate following the 2016 local government elections, when they failed to benefit from the ANC’s decline to 54% of the overall vote and the loss of the three metros. They are in power there thanks to the political cowardice of the EFF who could have gone back to the electorate to get an outright majority but opted instead to invent the dishonest “lesser evil” argument to justify installing the DA in power – a party they still ritually denounce as a racist and agents of white monopoly capital.

Their impeachment proceedings due to reach court in September are calculated to deepen the splits in the ANC in preparation for a pro-capitalist coalition in 2019. This distracts attention from the fears that, as in the2016 local government elections results, there is no guarantee that they would benefit from the ANC’s woes. Their lack of confidence in the masses and preference for a “united pro-capitalist front” is the real reason that they keep their challenge firmly within the boundaries of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

Urgent alternative needed

A socialist mass workers party is desperately needed. Only this can offer a real alternative to everything that the working class opposes about Zuma’s presidency.

Unfortunately, because the working class does not yet have such a party, the capitalist opposition parties have been given the space to posture as champions of the anti-Zuma mood and ‘lead’ the campaign against him. But their only answer to the corruption of the Zuma years is to in effect seek votes for themselves – even if they are careful not to say this crudely.
This has meant carefully keeping their ‘campaign’ in safe parliamentary channels. The massive march to Union Buildings on 12 April was not used as a platform to mobilise a mass campaign to bring down Zuma but to create a mood of cheer-leading for the opposition MPs and their motions and court cases. The 15,000 strong march outside of parliament during the vote this week was no different.

The opposition parties are anxious to ensure that the working class is not mobilised against Zuma. This would push working class demands for genuine accountability and democratic oversight to combat corruption on to the agenda. Inevitably this would be linked to calls to raise the minimum wage, end outsourcing, build houses and provide services. Neither the DA or EFF, or any of the smaller parties supporting them, has the programme to meet such demands. The working class would expose them if they participated in the anti-Zuma campaign as an organised force.

The liberal SaveSA campaign has gone along with this agenda. After the unexpected success of their 7 April marches, with turnouts in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town massively exceeding the organisers’ expectations, they made no serious calls for further action. Instead, they swung behind the opposition parties. As champions of SA’s constitution (which defends capitalism) SaveSA helps to prettify this rotten system. Their press release following the defeat of the motion of no confidence “salutes the many brave ANC MPs who put their country first”. These are the same MPs who have supported years of anti-working class ANC policies!

Working class left on sidelines

Unfortunately, the wrong approach of the leaders of the trade union movement, including the leaders of the new Saftu federation, has allowed this situation to continue.

Some, such as the Numsa leadership, have kept their distance and avoided getting involved on the ground in the campaign against Zuma. The working class is being misguided into the wrong belief that somehow the struggle against Zuma is ‘not their fight’. In large part this is the fear of the question that struggle immediately poses – what political alternative is in workers interests? Just asking the question immediately poses the creation of a new workers party! Something, unfortunately, they sometimes support in word, but oppose in practice by inaction.

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of Saftu, has in general had a better position than most in the Saftu leadership. He has encouraged workers to participate in anti-Zuma marches and has spoken at rallies, for example outside parliament during the no confidence vote. But he has made poor use of the platforms to push an independent working class position. Outside parliament Vavi said that, whether capitalist or worker, we should put aside our differences for the day in support of the MPs inside parliament planning to vote against Zuma.

History has shown that such calls from workers’ leaders are dangerous. They disorient and disarm workers because the bosses and their politicians never stop fighting the class war. It is always a one-sided cessation of hostilities. To prove this, whilst Vavi was saying this outside parliament, hundreds of City of Tshwane security guards were marching in defence of their jobs in Pretoria CBD. The DA and the EFF administration are retrenching 3,000 workers. Where was the promise from them to set aside our differences? There was none of course.

The ineffectiveness of the Saftu leaders in the anti-Zuma campaign underlines the severe limitations of their current ‘independent but not apolitical’ policy. Avoiding the issue of a new workers party means leaving the working class as spectators and allows our class enemies – like the DA – to posture as the saviours of ‘society’. But the task of building a new workers party to fight for a socialist society, linked to a programme of independent working class mass action against the Zuma regime, is the only answer that the working class can give to the corruption of the Zuma years.

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August 2017