ANC Conference: Divided they stand, united they fall
by Weizmann Hamilton, Executive Committee
After the most tumultuous run-up to any conference in ANC history, watched across the world, with over a thousand journalists in attendance, and the markets moving up in anticipation of the results, Cyril Ramaphosa has ascended to the presidency of the ANC after a bitterly fought factional contest. The “radical economic transformation” faction and the business-aligned anti-corruption crusaders fought each other all the way from the bottom to the top, in almost all provinces, resulting in the nullification of branch, regional and provincial conferences by the courts. It continued right up to the eve of conference.
Never before has the outcome of an ANC conference, the composition of its delegates and the legitimacy of its leadership elections been decided outside the ANC itself. During the conference there was a truce in the “lawfare” – the ANC’s pre-conference factional civil war that played itself out in the courts. Now, however, a factional civil war confined pre-conference to branch, regional and provincial structures, may be elevated to national level.
Should the dispute over the 63 uncounted votes be taken to court, theoretically the legitimacy of the entire National Executive Committee (NEC) could itself be posed. The stakes are huge. The secretary general is, after the president, the most powerful official in the ANC. Success in court would mean the removal of the Free State’s Ace Magashule and the installation of KZN’s Senzo Mchunu, tipping the balance of factional power in the NEC ‘top six’ – currently split three-three – in favour of Ramaphosa.
Irrespective of the outcome of a possible court process, however, the ANC’s 54th national conference has failed spectacularly to resolve the underlying divisions that coalesced around the #CR17 and #NDZ17 factional war for control of the ANC. The split in the top six has merely been replicated across the entire 80-strong NEC with only two nominees appearing on both slates.
There is no doubt that Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was a devastating defeat for President Jacob Zuma. The central aim of Zuma’s strategy was not so much the continuation of his dynasty, but to ensure that his ex-wife and mother of four of his children would arrange an amnesty to ensure that he would not spend his retirement in prison in orange overalls. On the face of it that strategy now lies in ruins.
However whilst the failure to get Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him was a blow to Zuma’s strategic solar plexus, his faction has not been defeated. In fact its representation in the top six has been strengthened. The top six elections produced a ‘mixed masala’ with equal representation for the pro-and anti-Zuma factions. This has entrenched the divisions, throwing into even sharper relief the boundaries of the camps into which the ANC is divided. The small margins that separated the votes in the key positions of president and secretary general confirm that neither faction is capable of delivering a decisive blow against the other.
It is by no means certain that Ramaphosa will be able to take even the first step in the implementation of the mandate that was the theme of his campaign – the eradication of corruption – that is, the removal of Zuma in the manner that was possible after Mbeki’s defeat after the 2007 Polokwane conference where he himself ascended to power.
The #CR17 and #NDZ17 factions resemble two wresters in a title fight who have staggered out of the ring at the end of the bout with a vice grip on each other. It exposes the hypocrisy of the calls for “unity” and denunciation of slates by both factions in the run-up to the conference. Instead both sides worked feverishly to ensure the victory of their factions. The outcome of the conference has thus confirmed the very opposite – the ANC’s deep and irreconcilable disunity. The ANC has survived its own conference intact for now.
Ramaphosa will be under enormous pressure to have Zuma recalled. To succeed he will need a majority in the NEC where he needs only a simple majority. But new ANC deputy president, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, has emerged as a power broker. A chess player in his spare time, Mabuza whose favourite book is Tsu San’s “The Art of War”, moved cunningly to distance himself from the #NDZ17 faction in the run up to the conference. With the resources of IT billionaire, Robert Gumede at his disposal, Mabuza bought sufficient votes in his province to have the second highest number of conference delegates and was decisive in Ramaphosa’s victory. In debt to Mabuza, Ramaphosa will be able to move against Zuma only with his support in an NEC that is otherwise split down the middle.
As corrupt as the #NDZ17 faction whose “Premier League” triumvirate (along with Free State and North West premiers) Mabuza was once a part of, he is unlikely to be inclined to take any action against Zuma that could possibly expose his own corruption. What lies ahead therefore is paralysis, instability and an intensification of the factional civil war. In time this will make the co-habitation of the two main factions in the same party intolerable for each other and pose the possibility of a split irrespective of their mortal fears as to its implications.
The ANC is faced with the dilemma we have pointed to before: the inoperable brain tumour that Zuma has become. To remain with Zuma as president ahead of the 2019 elections would be suicidal for its electoral prospects. But removing Zuma could precipitate a split. The reinstatement of the 783 counts of corruption he faces would mean almost certain imprisonment. His faction’s paranoia is expressed in the creeping authoritarianism of Zuma’s administration and the attempt at the securitisation of the state. Zuma’s off-the-cuff remarks that he would love to be given a six-month dictatorship are not just the innocent ramblings of a delirious dreamer. The charges against Jaques Pauw (author of The President’s Keepers), the SANDF workshop to strengthen the State of Emergency regulations and the military-style raid on the offices of the Helen Suzman Foundations are a telling indication. Zuma recognises that he has run out of road in his Stalingrad legal strategy in which he has utilized to the full his access to state resources that his removal from office would deprive him of.
Zuma’s prosecution would energise the various investigations into corruption across a range of state-owned enterprises currently stymied by Zuma’s cronies in the SA Revenue Service, the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Directorate of Priority Crimes (the Hawks). So extensive is Zuma’s network of corruption and patronage that Ramaphosa would have to carry out a purge of ministers and their deputies as well as senior management in SOEs including CEOs. Once he has moved against Zuma, the floodgates to the entire network of patronage and corruption will be opened. To expect the Zupta faction to accept this is naïve.
At the same time the hopes of millions of ordinary workers and the middle class have been raised that Ramaphosa will now proceed to eradicate not just corruption but the economic policies that have plunged millions into poverty, mass unemployment and inequality that have made SA the most unequal society on earth.
But if this conference has proved anything it is that the ANC has forfeited the right to be regarded as the “leader of society”. The outcome is a public repudiation of former ANC Youth League deputy leader Ronald Lamola’s claim that this conference reaffirmed the ANC’s status. The nullification of the ANC’s branch, regional and even provincial conferences amounted to mere indignity. The potential nullification of the national conference would be utter humiliation.
There cannot a much better gauge of the depth of the degeneration of an organisation that continues to style itself as a liberation movement, than the composition of the top six. Ace Magashule and DD Mabuza could just as easily have successfully auditioned for roles in a gangster movie, as stand for election. That such individuals can be elected and promoted as cadres of the “National Democratic Revolution” confirms not just the cynicism of the ANC’s dominant faction, but also that the ANC inhabits a universe parallel to that of the majority of the people – the poor the working class, the middle class and the poor.
The ANC leadership has made much of the claim that the conference was branch-driven and therefore democratic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Periods between ANC conferences routinely see a significant membership decline followed by increases as conferences approach. These increases are accounted for by vote-buying, the convening of branch general meetings for the sole purpose of bolstering the prospects of particular factions to ensure access to state resources for self-enrichment. Delegates are in many cases not even political activists – mere voting fodder for the provincial barons – paid anything from R5,000 to R20,000, accommodated in luxury hotels and even “quarantined” to protect them from “contamination” by larger sacks of money. This was not so much a conference as a gigantic auction with votes going to the highest bidder. That this five-yearly event meets to discuss policies is simply a bed-time story.
If, despite the depth of the antagonism between them, the factions remain members of the same party, it is out of the fear for the electoral equivalent of the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that acts as a deterrent against a nuclear war. A split would mean there would be no ANC government after 2019 and almost certainly spell the end of the ANC as a political formation.
Despite the thunderous rebuke delivered by the electorate in the 2016 local government elections – a decline from 62% to 54% of the national vote and the loss of 3 politically symbolic metros (the economic and political capitals of Tshwane and Johannesburg and the ANC’s spiritual home of Nelson Mandela Bay) – the ANC has proven that it is incapable of “self-correcting”, whatever that means. Even worse it has continued to feed itself on its own its own entrails.
It is a paradox of the toxic climate of factional animosity in the ANC that there are no fundamental ideological differences between them. They are both equally committed to the preservation of capitalism. What the Zuptas are aggrieved about is the impotence of the black capitalist class – their failure, more than two decades since the end of apartheid, to break the domination of “white monopoly capital” over the commanding heights of the economy and to create a black capitalist class whose size corresponds to that of the black population as a whole. Beyond this the black capitalist class and “white monopoly capital”, as the conduct of Bell Pottinger, KPMG, Naspers and Steinhoff to name but a few have shown, are morally indistinguishable – differing with which each other only over who should have the right to exploit the working class.
Zuma’s presidency will of course be associated with two things: the breathtaking levels of corruption and the insolence of the Guptas. Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s prayer for Gupta-sponsored ‘state capture’ to be forgiven in the same way as apartheid state capture was, betrays the real driving force behind their campaign for “radical economic transformation.” It is an insulting attempt to lend political respectability to the industrial scale looting and plundering engineered by a family that has virtually colonized Zuma’s government — allowed to acquire so much political power, they operate as a virtual shadow administration.
The Butcher of Marikana
That it is to a figure like Ramaphosa that both the predominantly white capitalist class, international capital and the constitutional democrats are turning is a confirmation of the class interest that drove his campaign. Ramaphosa began to earn his spurs as a bourgeois politician and future capitalist messiah even before the end of apartheid. In reviewing his role at the time Business Day editor Tim Cohen (18/12/17) makes the point that whilst the building of the NUM into the formidable force it became – it reached a membership of 344,000 in four years – was a critical factor in demonstrating to the apartheid regime that the balance of forces had swung decisively against white minority rule, Ramaphosa’s calling off of the 1987 mineworkers’ strike earned him the respect of big business. Although he believed that Ramaphosa had thrown in the towel a little too soon and had failed a kind of ruthlessness test, Cohen concludes, Ramaphosa’s capitulation made him “the obvious person to restart the (Codesa) negotiations that stalled in 1992.”
It is the continued unravelling of the very foundations of Codesa that the ANC conference affirmed. The party of liberation that prided itself on being able to compromise with the party of apartheid and even enter into a government of national unity with it, finds itself unable to compromise with itself.
With the blessing of Mandela, Ramaphosa transformed himself from trade union leader to billionaire. Whilst a non-executive director of mining company Lonmin Ramaphosa proved his loyalty to big business in the most brutal manner. He is directly implicated in the murder of 34 mineworkers in the 2012 Marikana massacre. The day before police gunned down the striking Lonmin mineworkers, in an email sent by Ramaphosa to among others the minister of police, he characterised the strike as a “criminal act” and demanded “concomitant action” by the authorities. The massacre took place the next day.
Ramaphosa’s inaugural remarks as ANC president was sprayed with a liberal helping of radical rhetoric that would not have been out of place at an EFF rally. Welcome as the ANC’s policy on free education dropped into the conference from outside by Zuma in a desperate but unsuccessful bid to swing the presidential succession race in NDZ’s favour may be to working class students especially, there is no guarantee that it will be implemented. NDZ herself postured as the champion of “radical economic transformation”, the cynical and hypocritical slogan of the Zuma faction, which incredibly try and portray their self-enrichment as a radical act against “white monopoly capital”.
The same applies to the land expropriation resolution. The ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee head, Enoch Godongwana, acknowledged the resolution was the “most contentious and … nearly collapsed the conference.” (Daily Maverick 21/12/17).
We have been here before. As the Daily Maverick points out “For example, among the 2017 resolutions on economic transformation, one on strengthening the Competition Commission’s capacity to probe cartels echoes one taken at the 2007 Polokwane ANC national conference on “anti-monopoly and anti-concentration policy” aimed at creating competitive markets, broadening ownership and participation by our people…Ditto many others. There are others that have been left gathering dust, including on land reform and redistribution. The 2007 ANC resolution to “immediately review the principle of willing-seller, willing-buyer so as to accelerate equitable distribution of land” was never really implemented. It was re-endorsed at the 2012 Mangaung ANC national conference, which also resolved on “expropriation without compensation on land acquired through unlawful means or used for illegal purposes having due regard to Section 25 of the Constitution”.
Appointed as Finance Minister on April Fool’s day to spearhead the assault on the control of “white monopoly capital” of the Treasury, Malusi Gigaba’s first order of business was to reassure the rating agencies of the ANC’s continued commitment to austerity – a repudiation of the radical economic transformation agenda. It remains to be seen how, aside from savage cuts to social spending, Gigaba will be able to fund Zuma’s parting factional gift of free education.
For the working class the outcome of this conference has been nothing more than the ANC’s five-yearly ritual in radical posturing. The erosion of its political authority has not been arrested. On the contrary. It is not only in relation to the broader social issues of mass unemployment, poverty and access to essential services that Ramaphosa is bound to disappoint, but most importantly, the stalemate in the top leadership of the ANC means, he will not deliver justice for those clamouring for decisive action to arrest the decay in the public sector and the purging of the worst elements in the predatory elite.
Regardless of the barrage of bourgeois propaganda in his support, there are no prospects whatsoever of the much-hoped for rejuvenation of the ANC under his presidency. Given the depth of the economic crisis, he will not have a honeymoon with the working class like his predecessors. The first test will be the February 2018 budget over which the guillotine of a further much more serious downgrade hovers.
The ANC’s crisis is a crisis for the bourgeoisie. The implosion of the ANC means that it no longer commands the support of the working class majority. The strategists of capital are acutely aware that the parliamentary arithmetic disguises this fact. It may have a 62% parliamentary majority but the 2016 local government elections demonstrate that it enjoys the active electoral support of only 34% of the eligible voting population.
The anguish of the strategists of capital is reflected in Financial Mail editor-at-large Peter Bruce’s uncharacteristic advice to Ramaphosa to resort to radical polices they would ordinarily subject to strident denunciation.
“… while Ramaphosa battles to restore some confidence in the economy he will also have pay heed to the strong showing of the Dlamini-Zuma camp and its calls for radical economic transformation. He will have to sell dramatic new policies on land and state-owned companies. That should not be difficult. The constitution already allows for expropriation without compensation and he will have little difficulty, should he try, to persuade the private sector to play a bigger role in state enterprises.
…business will understand that compromises will have to be made by all sides in the Great South African Debate. There are boils to be lanced and business will be comfortable enough with the mere prospect of a Ramaphosa presidency to pitch in and help him.
It goes without saying that the moment Zuma goes, Ramaphosa will institute a judicial inquiry into State Capture or a kind of State Capture Truth Commission. The Guptas have been fatally rude about him and arrogant generally about their access to power. That stops now. They prospered under a particular set of circumstances in South Africa, most important of which was Jacob Zuma’s weakness for money. Those circumstances have dwindled for months now and they too are officially over. If I were the Guptas I’d get out of South Africa immediately.
Ramaphosa, despite his incomplete victory, suddenly has great power but he will be judged harshly if he hesitates. The mood of the country is easy to read. It wants justice – not merely for the long past but for the near past too. There is no room for prevarication. The country will expect him to act against corruption in a tangible way. It needs to see people on trial and he will deliver. It is, for a start, a sure way to win with a parliamentary majority in 2019.
A judicial inquiry will spare no-one. Ramaphosa will draw former public protector Thuli Madonsela into his administration (perhaps as head of the National Prosecuting Authority) for a start and his big test will be who to prosecute once the inquiry is done. Zuma could face imprisonment – Ramaphosa would probably pardon him but he could only do that once he had been found guilty of something. He will institute a process, with the enthusiastic help of the rest of the world, to bring back money stolen under the State Capture project.
The Dlamini-Zuma camp will quickly fall apart. It has no patronage to offer. Nkosazana herself may be offered a cabinet position but it will be something hard, like basic education, where her ability or otherwise to turn around a wreck will be easily measured.
…. But the biggest job now, politically, is for the opposition. Once Ramaphosa starts doing what obviously needs to be done, where will it find political space? The Economic Freedom Fighters are vulnerable. Zuma was such an easy target. The EFF needs to make policy it can sell to the marginalised without making impossible promises.
The Democratic Alliance is suddenly in the same boat. Without Zuma, or his surrogate, it is going to have to go up against Ramaphosa on economic policy and its leader, Mmusi Maimane, is going to have to craft an economic message that is not only different but also compelling. It is not there yet. Not even close.
But that can wait a little. For now, the ANC has miraculously given the country a Get Out of Jail Free card. The thieves and crooks are in trouble but for the most part we can breathe again. We have room to move, to do the right things. It is a blessed moment.” (Financial Mail, 18/12/17)
Ramaphosa will find that the implementation of his mandate from big business is far easier said than done. Apart from the factional stalemate, this conference has reestablished the two centres of power created by Zuma’s victory ten years ago. Humiliatingly, Mbeki was not permitted to complete his term as the country’s president and was recalled. For the next 18 months Zuma retains the executive powers of appointment to cabinet and state institutions. Ramaphosa’s need to remove Zuma and his determination to hold on for as long as possible will come into sharper collision. It cannot be ruled out however, that a Mugabe-style deal could be agreed with Zuma stepping down in exchange for an amnesty. Ultimately this would be in the interests of factions, increasing the chances of the ANC retaining its majority in 2019, safeguarding its access to the levers of power and the spoils of office.
Far more important than the defeat for the Zuma faction, this conference represents a serious blow to the ANC as a whole. The outcome has accentuated the depth of the vacuum on the left. Zuma’s failure to make mention of either of the Alliance partners – Cosatu and the SACP – in his address, though partly motivated by personal vindictiveness, was confirmation of how irrelevant they and the Tripartite Alliance have become. Their solidarity messages themselves especially that of the SACP, revealed their incomprehension of the reality that they have been discarded like squeezed lemons, their ideological pretensions having exhausted their usefulness. Both SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and president Senzeni Zokwana did not even make it onto the NEC as additional members – just reward for their support for the butcher of Marikana in this contest. The Tripartite Alliance is a spent force.
The working class has every right to celebrate the ANC’s implosion. Another stone in the edifice of the capitalist class’ post-apartheid dispensation for the perpetuation of our slavery is crumbling. But as much as this is a crisis of bourgeois rule, it is a crisis also for the working class. The ruling class is feverishly preparing for a new dispensation: either a weakened ANC government or a pro-capitalist coalition that will include the DA, the EFF, the UDM and possibly some other parties that could be presented to us as a second edition of the Government of National Unity that ushered in the present dispensation.
The working class cannot wait for the crisis to play itself out. Preparations for a mass workers party on a socialist programme are now an even more urgent necessity. We cannot leave the fate of Zuma and his ANC kleptocracy in the hands of the bourgeois courts. Nor can we fold our arms whilst the strategists of the capitalist class continue to shape the party political terrain as they have with the creation of Agang, the blackening of the DA, the seduction of the EFF and influencing the outcome of the ANC’s presidential factional battle. The new SA Federation of Trade Unions should urgently adopt Numsa’s resolution on the launch of a workers party as its own. A socialist workers party must be built through mass action, uniting the workplace, communities and students to remove Zuma and to bring down the ANC government. Such a party would fight for the creation of a workers’ government committed to the creation of a socialist society. By nationalising the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, big factories and big businesses under the democratic control of workers and communities the power of all the factions of the capitalist class could be broken. On this basis wages can be raised, quality houses built and services delivered, jobs created, and poverty and inequality finally ended.