Guptagate deepens divisions in the ANC
by Weizmann Hamilton
Ordinarily the ANC’s National Executive Committee meetings pass by the broader public without notice. That the March 2016 NEC had become the centre of public attention was a measure of the depth of the political crisis tearing the ruling party apart. Notwithstanding Zuma’s strenuous efforts to keep the matter off the agenda, the Gupta family’s blatant usurpation of the powers not just of the president, but of government, became the main item. The Gupta issue was forced onto the agenda far less by internal as external pressure – by public outrage at revelations that showed the powers of the Guptas extended to the removal and appointment of ministers.
The uproar was triggered by Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas’ revelation that the Guptas had summoned him to their family compound in Saxonwold where they offered him the job of Finance Minister before Nhlanhla Nene even knew he was going to be fired. Such is the Gupta’s influence that they have the power in effect to engineer cabinet reshuffles, direct government expenditure in their favour, and determine government’s policy priorities. That Ministers, Heads of Departments and Directors General all felt obliged to direct government advertising to the family-owned New Age, newspaper, to sponsor and attend New Age breakfast and cabinet briefings, and to obey summonses to Saxonwold gives some insight into the depth of the degeneration the ANC had sunk to – its leaders reduced to bowing and scraping before the Guptas and Zuma like underlings in a mafia gang.
The disgust in society over this shameless manipulation of the president and government in which both the Gupta and Zuma families, tied together in a mutually corrupt relationship, are the primary beneficiaries in an orgy of self –enrichment, is entirely understandable. Working class people in particular are justifiably outraged that a government that claims to be that of the poor and committed to the creation of a better life for all, can so shamelessly feed itself from the state’s coffers like hyenas, deepening the inequalities in a society in which millions languish in poverty.
But the hysteria in the media obscures the fact that Guptas, are in the final analysis, no different from the capitalist class as a whole on whose laps the ANC government has been sitting since it came to power in 1994. In fact, the Guptas, for all the arrogant flaunting of their wealth, and the revolting manner of their ingratiation with Zuma, are lightweights in terms of economic power. Control over the commanding heights of the economy is in reality exercised by a small group of mainly white families who own the banks, the mines, the factories and the farms. As Oxfam revealed last year, just two individuals, Anton Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population. It is in the interests of this ruling capitalist elite that the ANC manages the economy – an elite the ANC’s leadership and their hangers-on are hard at work assimilating themselves into. The Ruperts, Oppenheimers and the Guptas are, in the final analysis morally indistinguishable.
The rather loose use of the term “state capture” in the media to describe the actions of the Zuptas is misleading. It suggests that the state is a neutral entity serving equally the interests of all classes within society. The reality, however, is that in a capitalist society, the essential role of the state is to protect the property, wealth and power of the ruling class – the owners of the commanding heights of the economy. The state in SA, by which we mean in this instance government, has long been captured. It is firmly in the hands of the capitalist class whose interests it has continued to serve in the democratic era as it did under apartheid differing from its predecessor only by the racial composition of parliament and cabinet.
The process of the ideological subversion of the ANC to ensure that when it entered government it would not only not pose any threat to capitalism, but actively collude in the preservation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class, commenced long before the Codesa negotiations in the mid-80s in the secret talks between big business and the ANC in exile. It culminated in the abandonment of the ANC’s commitment to nationalisation as outlined in the Freedom Charter and the adoption, two years into its first term of office, of the neo-liberal Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR).
GEAR was designed behind the backs of the people and even of the ANC, by a select team of neo-liberal economists from the Washington Consensus school of neo-liberal economics. The adoption of GEAR, which was foisted on an unsuspecting ANC at the Mafikeng conference in 1997 – a year after it has been adopted without debate – converted the ANC into the agents of the capitalist class and imperialism and laid the foundation for the two-decade long assault on the living standards of the working class that has elevated SA to the dubious position of the most unequal society on the planet.
The irony of the situation is that what is hailed as the most progressive constitution in the world provides in fact the foundation on which the post-apartheid neo-liberal capitalist order rests. The true class character of the constitution was affirmed by events that followed “9/12”, when Zuma installed his crony, Des van Rooyen as Finance Minister.
As we pointed out in our New Year statement, not since the Marikana massacre has the subservience of the ANC to the capitalist class been demonstrated with such blinding clarity as in the overturn of Zuma’s decision to appoint Van Rooyen and his replacement with Gordhan instead. The presidential prerogative, enshrined in the constitution, to appoint cabinet members without having to offer any reasons, was simply cast aside contemptuously as big business brought the full weight of its dictatorship to be bear on Zuma, forcing him into a humiliating climb.
The latest outbreak of factional hostilities within the ANC is playing itself out along the lines of the divisions that had been so clearly revealed in the December events. Zuma and his cronies have not reconciled themselves to the appointment of Gordhan and the thwarting of their attempt to take political control of Treasury. Through the Hawks, Zuma is determined to claw back the authority wrenched away so ruthlessly in December by pursuing an investigation without any legal basis against him with the aim of forcing him to step down.
The working class must oppose the blatant abuse of power by the Zuma faction. The sinister apartheid-style raid on the offices of the Helen Suzman Foundation (to sabotage its attempt to challenge the appointment of one of Zuma’s cronies, the apartheid-era policeman Behring Ntlemeza as head of the Hawks) shows the length that this faction is prepared to go to in undermining democratic rights. The type of actions by the Hawks could just as easily be targeted at political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations in general. It is the working class that is paying the price for the economic consequences of Zuma and his faction’s reckless actions.
However, in this factional struggle the working class has no allies. The capitalist class is attempting to unite the entire nation by whipping up a frenzy of alarm over the attempted takeover of Treasury by the Zuma faction, and the possibility of a downgrade by the rating agencies. Portraying Gordhan as some kind of hero, they are determined that he should stay at the helm of what they see as the control and command centre over the economy – the Treasury. But what has been the result of the past twenty years of the policies overseen by Treasury? Mass unemployment, poverty, hunger and inequality.
This is a struggle between different fractions of the capitalist class – between the Zuma faction to clear all obstacles to their plans for self-enrichment on the one hand, and, on the other the ruling neo-liberal capitalist elite determined to ensure that Treasury and the Reserve Bank remain “independent”, that is immune not so much to “capture” by the Zuma faction, but to the democratic aspirations of the working class.
The Guptas may be arrogant, brazen, and contemptuous of Zuma, the ANC and the people. But they are not fundamentally different from their fellow capitalists who have developed relations with the ANC over decades. The NEC investigation therefore cannot arrive at a finding that finds fault with the “right” of companies to do business with government and the crony capitalist relations that facilitate these. At best it may be obliged to rap the Guptas over the knuckles for over-stepping the mark on ANC internal political matters. Using government has become the reason for serving in government. That government is seen as providing an opportunity for self enrichment has penetrated the marrow of the ANC and is the reason that corruption pours out of every pore at every level from national down to local.
Zuma had a built-in majority going into the NEC. According to journalist Gareth van Onselen, “… of the 80 members elected onto the national executive committee at the ANC‘s national conference, 59 people — or 73% — hold public positions at the president‘s discretion (including 28 ministers, 11 deputy ministers and 10 parliamentary committee chairs).” The NEC declaration of full confidence in Zuma appears on the face of it to affirm the power these numbers suggest.
Yet, despite the NEC’s “full confidence” in him, it felt obliged to take the unprecedented step of tasking the Top Six and the 20-strong National Working Committee with conducting an investigation into the Gupta’s activities. This amounts to an investigation into Zuma in all but name.
It must have been clear even to all those NEC members beholden to Zuma that a groundswell of opposition to the Guptas was building that would eventually spill over into the NEC itself. The NEC took place against the background of statements by erstwhile Zuma ally, the SACP calling for Zuma’s recall, a joint letter from the Ahmed Kathrada, Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, and Nelson Mandela Foundations demanding action over the Guptas and a call by senior former Umkhonto we Sizwe combatants including Vusi Msimang and Siphiwe Nyanda for a special conference to remove Zuma . Gwede Mantashe himself stated ahead of the conference that Zuma was not “inviolable”
In the circumstances the Guptas’ decision to use their newspaper, New Age, and television channel ANN7, to take an openly factional position on the conflict within the ANC only inflamed the situation further, drawing a stinging rebuke from an ANC NEC bristling as much with embarrassment as anger over revelations that were too close to the truth for comfort.
The NEC was never going to be the forum where a recall against the Zuma would be initiated to have any chance of success. The 2016 local government elections scheduled for later this year will be the most difficult the ANC has faced since 1995 with the strong possibility of losing a second major metro – Nelson Mandela Bay – and fears about possible losses in Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and even Johannesburg, the ANC cannot afford to go into local elections split.
Zuma and his faction have emerged from the NEC with their authority and power diminished. At the same time there is little prospect of the NEC investigation being able find a solution to the factional strife tearing the ANC apart. On the contrary, having penetrated the ranks of former MK combatants, factional struggles have overlapped into state institutions.
Even if Zuma were recalled, none of the possible alternatives will make any difference to the fundamental character of the ANC as a bourgeois party – a party of capital to facilitate the creation of a black capitalist class that would take its place next to their white masters at the top of the commanding heights of the economy. Next in line as Zuma’s successor is deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa whose hands are dripping with the blood of the Marikana workers. Irrespective of which faction they belong to, the entire ANC leadership are united around their party’s historic mission.
The divisions will deepen as Zuma makes every effort to avoid the reinstatement of corruption charges against him by ensuring that institutions like the Hawks, the NPA, and the security cluster as a whole remain firmly in the hands of his supporters. They will be further deepened by the Zuma faction’s determination to use the remaining period of his term of office to amass as much wealth as possible. Therefore efforts to discredit Gordhan and create the basis for this removal, or through the reshuffling of the deputy finance minister and or director general at Treasury cannot be ruled out.
All such plans will be much more difficult to execute now but this will not necessarily deter the Zuma faction. Along this route lies the possibility of a recall after the local government elections if the ANC fares badly. The ANC’s hand may be forced in the event that the Constitutional Court makes a finding on the Nkandla case that Zuma violated his oath of office. For the same reason that the leadership could not contemplate a recall before the local elections, they may consider it an unavoidable necessity before the 2019 general elections.
Whatever scenario unfolds, developments have weakened Zuma and made it much more difficult to have success in his plans to have his ex-wife, Nkosazana Zuma, succeed him as the country’s president enabling him to continue to exercise power from behind the presidential throne. With the Zuma faction reported to be fearful that Ramaphosa would withhold any amnesty for Zuma, and a wider concern that the Marikana massacre would damage the ANC’s electoral prospects the stage is set for other candidates to come forward. Ben Turok has openly called on Motlanthe to avail himself. It is not ruled out that Gauteng ANC chairperson, Paul Mashatile, recently recalled from parliament to rejoin the Gauteng provincial government may be considered.
For the working class, neither faction offers any future. As Gordhan is feted as a virtual superhero, he is being flooded with advice on how to “rescue” the economy. These include the privatisation of Eskom and other state-owned enterprises, the weakening of the labour laws including through e.g. compulsory strike ballots, the reduction of the public sector wage bill through containing wage increases and non-filling of vacancies and an increase in VAT.
With the ANC reduced, as secretary general Gwede Mantashe complained, to a mafia state, what these events have demonstrated is the urgent need for a mass workers party on a socialist programme. So seriously do the strategists of capital view the crisis in the ANC that liberal political commentator Allister Sparks has called for Zuma to be recalled, early elections to be held and for a new Government of National Unity to be formed as existed between the ANC and the NP from 1994 to 1996.
Bourgeois strategists are so apprehensive that they would be willing for the EFF to be included in such an arrangement. Impressed with the EFF’s ideological shift to the right (the demand for share ownership instead of nationalisation to discourage strikes and to take nationalisation off the table of EFF demands; the establishment of a state bank instead of nationalising the banks; the visit to international investors in Britain to encourage them to invest in SA and the approval of Gordhan’s neo-liberal budget in his second stint as Finance Minister and projection of a much more “responsible” public image) the bourgeois are prepared to contemplate what before the 2014 elections they considered unthinkable.
For the working class, the most important lesson of these events is that it affirms that there is no genuine revolutionary party with a socialist programme in parliament amongst the squabbling parties there. These events show that a mass workers party on a socialist programme is an even greater necessity now. In 2014 Cosatu released the results of a survey – concluded before the Marikana massacre – that found that 67% of workers were in favour of Cosatu forming a workers party. Despite such significant support amongst shop stewards, and amongst working class people generally, not unsurprisingly, from within Cosatu no steps have been taken and are capable of being taken to act on its findings. On the contrary Cosatu took a decisive expelled its biggest affiliate with its 320,000 members and became a conscious lap dog of the ANC government.
Regrettably, the enormous expectations generated by the resolutions of Numsa’s December 2013 Special National congress for the establishment of a United Front, a Movement for Socialism and a workers party, have been disappointed. The absence of ideological clarity combined with the lack of strategic cohesion between the three proposed initiatives pulled them in different directions with not a single one seeing the light of day. The UF could have served to unite service delivery protests across the county into a nationwide movement based on a unifying programme; the Movement for Socialism conference resolved to unite the left around the building of a mass workers party but was obstructed from proceeding with the implementation of its resolutions by the Numsa leadership. The workers party is experiencing an elephantine gestation in the womb of Numsa central committee, the leadership determined to abort the birth if they cannot guarantee that it will not be a purified SACP, with its bankrupt two-stage theory of the national democratic revolution as the shortest road to socialism intact.
The forces that have united towards the formation of a new federation would be making a serious mistake if it not approached as building a federation of struggle or to dilute its ideological outlook of unions that may be under pressure from their members to join forces in the building of a new federation. 70% of workers are not unionised, a considerable number of them in ‘atypical’ precarious employment under brokers, outsourced or permanent casuals. Through the #outsourcingmustfall campaign WASP initiated, we demonstrated the possibility of organising these workers and simultaneously assembling the forces for a workers party.
The #feesmustfall have demonstrated the enormous potential to create a countrywide movement uniting learner and students in a struggle for free education that a workers party would have to inscribe on its banner. Wasp’s youth wing, the Socialist Youth Movement, is taking steps to create student unity on a socialist programme.
The proposed workers summit on 31st March to be followed by the launch of a new trade union federation provides yet another opportunity to fill the vacuum. But this requires taking the approach that the new federation, whilst retaining its class independence, must base itself on Cosatu’s best, now abandoned ideological and struggle traditions of worker control and socialism. It must simultaneously undertake the separate but parallel task of assembling the forces for a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
The Guptas and the capitalist class have completely subverted the ANC into the shameless refuge for the rich and the corrupt. It has surrendered the right to govern. Only amass workers party on a socialist programme can guide the working class out of this swamp.