The ANC presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009-2018) saw already widespread corruption reach unprecedented new heights in South Africa. The media coined the term “state capture” to describe Zuma’s growing brazenness in appointing ministers and other government officials whose main qualification was their willingness to divert government funds and state contracts to Zuma and his supporters in the ruling-ANC. This was accompanied by the undermining and dismantling of different law enforcement and watchdog agencies.
Initially intended to kick the issue into the long grass, Zuma himself set-up the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture (named after Raymond Zondo, the presiding judge) to investigate the allegations – in reality, ‘open secrets’ – about the systematic looting of state-owned enterprises and other government departments. The original mandate of the Zondo Commission, for example, did not even allow for evidence presented to it to be shared with law enforcement agencies.
However, in December 2017, Zuma’s faction lost control of the ANC presidency to Cyril Ramaphosa, who moved against Zuma, pressuring him to cede the presidency of the country in February 2018, before his term expired. With the shifting internal balance of forces in the ANC coinciding with the opening of the Zondo Commission, various witnesses and whistle-blowers have been emboldened to speak out. With televised proceedings, every day the new revelations about the extent of corruption are enough to make even the most cynical wince at the sheer audacity of Zuma and his supporters.
Under pressure from new corruption scandals by his own faction, Ramaphosa was compelled to strengthen the standing of the Zondo Commission, for example, by removing the prohibition on evidence sharing with law enforcement agencies. The result has been to elevate the Zondo Commission to a key player in the debilitating ANC faction struggle that continues to exacerbate the crisis of South African capitalism. In reality, the Zondo Commission has become the new terrain on which the “lawfare” of the factional struggle is being fought out.
The Commission’s activities have contributed to the case against Ace Magashule, the ANC general secretary, and chief lieutenant to Zuma, who has been arrested and charged with fraud, racketeering, and money-laundering. However, in direct defiance of Ramaphosa, Magashule has refused to step-down, and continues in office, with Ramaphosa too weak to force the issue. Zuma himself walked out of the Zondo Commission when he was summoned to give testimony and has made clear that he will defy a Constitutional Court order that he reappears, bringing the ruling class to the edge of a political crisis, and possibly a constitutional crisis.
State security abuses
At the end of January, the Zondo Commission heard alarming testimony on the extent of corruption within the State Security Agency (SSA). This had gone so far that elements of a parallel state had begun to be built to further the interests of Zuma and his allies.
Anywhere up to R10 billion was looted by Zuma, his Ministers of State Security, and their employees. Witnesses claimed that under ‘Project Commitment’ Zuma received at least R80 million in cash between 2015 and 2017. This was literally carried-out of the SSA in installments of between R2.5 and R4.5 million per month.
Other projects included attempts to bribe judges presiding over cases impacting Zuma. One witness claimed this succeeded at least once. The SSA also funded media outlets, including a newswire service, news channel, and online magazine. They were tasked with planting stories that portrayed Zuma and his presidency in a positive light, especially as the scale of corruption in Zuma’s rotten government began to be exposed.
In December 2017, the month of the ANC’s National Conference, where the Zuma faction ultimately lost control of the ANC presidency to Cyril Ramaphosa, there was a big increase in cash outflows. This was, almost certainly used to try and buy votes, mirroring the Ramaphosa campaign’s own big business-funded war-chest. Also deployed to the Conference were agents of a ‘Special Operations Unit’, an autonomous and unaccountable SSA unit that acted as Zuma’s personal ‘dirty tricks’ squad. Many of its agents were brought-in by side-stepping normal recruitment procedures. It was also revealed that there was an outflow of guns and ammunition from the SSA during this time – arming whom, for what, it is not yet clear.
The conduct of both ANC factions at their 2017 Conference – Zuma’s and Ramaphosa’s – confirms the irredeemably corrupt character of the ANC. It is not a political party, where principled political and ideological differences are debated, but a criminal racket, where control of various offices, and the patronage networks that can be built from them, go to those with the deepest pockets.
Even now, this nest of thieves continues to plot and scheme against each other, even as a historic pandemic burns through society at the cost of thousands of lives, and the piling of additional suffering and misery on millions of working-class families whose existence is already blighted by dire poverty. The only road out of this situation is through organisation and mass struggle. This includes, crucially, the building of a mass workers’ party that pushes the ANC aside and leads the working class in the socialist transformation of society.
Of all the new revelations, it is crucial for the working class to register and digest the exposure of the ‘dirty tricks’ being used against the workers’ movement and other protest movements.
Testimony at the Zondo Commission has again confirmed that the SSA was responsible for the creation of the Workers Association Union on the platinum belt in 2014, following the Marikana Massacre. The intention was to use WAU to undermine the Amcu trade union, which had displaced the ANC-aligned NUM as the dominant union amongst mineworkers. Whatever divides the ANC factions today, they were united back then in the need to suppress the mineworkers’ struggle. Cyril Ramaphosa, then a director of miner Lonmin, outside government but still a prominent ANC leader, pressured the police to take “concomitant action” against the mineworkers. The massacre took place the next day. Today, the ANC factions remain united in their determination to suppress the workers’ movement.
The Marxist Workers Party’s predecessor organisation, the Democratic Socialist Movement, which played a key role in the 2012 mineworkers’ strikes, was a victim of SSA spying and interference, in collusion with mining company bosses. In line with its denunciation of the mineworkers strike as “counter-revolutionary”, the SA Communist Party aided the state’s activities by publishing the names and workplace addresses of leading DSM members on social media.
In the so-called ‘Project Academia’, the 2016 #FeesMustFall student movement was infiltrated. Also targeted were the anti-corruption NGOs Right2Know and the Council for Advancement of the South African Constitution, as well as activists and organisers around the #ZumaMustFall protests in 2017.
The capitalist media has mostly passed over all of this, mentioning it only in passing. There is a reason for this. It is normal practice for capitalist governments to monitor, spy-on, and even infiltrate and undermine, the workers’ movement, the socialist left, and other protest movements. This is the case even in those capitalist countries which claim to uphold the democratic rights of their citizens, and claim to defend freedoms of speech, association, etc. For example, in the UK, the oldest bourgeois parliamentary democracy in the world, a so-called ‘spy-cop’ scandal is currently unfolding around police infiltration of socialist and anti-racist groups. These include the MWP’s sister-organization, the Socialist Party of England & Wales, when it was still known as the Militant.
‘Dirty Tricks’ Rooted in Class Struggle
Thabo Mbeki’s government laid important foundations for Zuma, when, in 2003 the mandate of the SSA’s predecessor was expanded to include “political and economic” intelligence. This is a clear code for spying on the development of working class organisation and struggle in order to defend the capitalist status quo against any threats to it.
This was an inevitable development once the ANC government had decisively chosen to defend capitalism against the working class majority’s demand for a rapid rise in living standards following the dismantling of apartheid. This was, and is, impossible upon the basis of capitalism, and would therefore increasingly bring the working class into collision with the ANC government.
Capitalism is a system where a minority exploits the majority. It is, by its very nature, incompatible with genuine democracy. The ruling classes have been repeatedly forced to make concessions to the working class majority’s democratic aspirations throughout history. Especially in the advanced capitalist countries, it was possible to grant what Marx and Lenin called ‘bourgeois democracy’ – a superficially democratic mask that hides the capitalist’s real economic dictatorship over society. But even here the mask has often slipped. Things are even more precarious in the neo-colonial world.
The democratic rights fought for and won by the working class under bourgeois-democratic regimes are important tools to supplement the class struggle, but they can never develop fully to match the masses’ democratic aspirations within the straight-jacket of capitalism. Organisations like the SSA grow out of capitalism’s contradictions, becoming a necessity for the ruling class to maintain its control of society.
The parallel in methods between the SSA and the apartheid-regime is not accidental – the sponsoring of WAU mirrors the apartheid regime’s sponsoring of Inkatha’s violent scab union, UWUSA; the funding of different media outlets mirrors the apartheid regime’s funding of The Citizen newspaper. Under capitalism, no democratic rights can be taken for granted, they must be defended every step of the way and linked to the working class’s struggle for socialism.
Therefore similar anti-working class intelligence operations will inevitably continue under the Ramaphosa presidency. Indicating as much, Ramaphosa’s current Minister of Intelligence, Ayanda Dlodlo, attempted to stop the Zondo Commission from even proceeding with hearings on the SSA, in order, she said, to protect “national security”. The ruling class will need organisations like the SSA more than ever as the crisis of capitalism continues to deepen. A ‘cleaned-up’, ‘professionalised’ intelligence agency – which many are now calling for – will potentially be a greater threat to the working class than Zuma’s crony gangster outfit
The Marxist Workers Party (MWP) calls for the complete disbanding of the SSA.