The strange politics of the tripartite alliance
ANC/ Cosatu - Aw, where is da love?
Why the Zuma coalition will unravel
President on a leash
Factories across the country had to close this week as many thousands of workers in chemical and other industries downed tools to press for double-digit pay rises. Hundreds of thousands in the public sector are threatening to strike for a 15% rise too. State broadcasting people may black out the country’s television screens unless their demand for a 12% wage hike is met. And state doctors and teachers plan to strike again if the government fails to give them long-promised big bonuses. Meanwhile, increasing violent demonstrations are being staged in protest against the government’s failure to provide basic services such as water, electricity and housing.
President Jacob Zuma always knew he could not expect much of a honeymoon, despite the landslide victory of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) in April’s general election. His costly campaign pledges had raised expectations high, just as South Africa was sinking into its first recession in 17 years. After expanding by 3.1% last year and by an average of 5% over the preceding four years, the economy is expected to shrink this year by around 2%, a far cry from the 1.2% growth on which the government based its budget in February.
Some of the ANC’s election pledges have already fallen by the wayside. No more has been heard of its promise to extend child-support grants to the age of 18 instead of just 14. Plans for national health insurance seem to have been shelved, at least temporarily. At the same time, many more South Africans are joining the 40% who already live below the poverty line, as struggling companies lay off workers. Officially, nearly one in four South Africans is now jobless; the real number is probably nearer one in three. Inflation is running at 8%. The cost of food and fuel has risen particularly fast. It is harder than ever for the poor majority to get by.
It is now winter in South Africa. In the shanty towns around the big cities, people are cold as well as hungry. Their president promised that the drive to eradicate poverty would be the cornerstone of his new government’s policies. The millions who live in leaky shacks without electricity or running water, surrounded by unlit streets rife with crime, know that these conditions cannot change overnight. But many are impatient. This week police in Johannesburg’s Thokoza township had to fire rubber bullets and squirt tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters railing against unemployment and the government’s failure to deliver services.
Despite dipping state revenues, the government says it will not cut spending, letting the budget deficit widen instead. Even so, it will be unable to fulfil all its election pledges—certainly not overnight, as some seemed to expect. This has led to tensions between the ANC and its friends in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which have hitherto vaunted their three-way alliance. After being largely ignored during Thabo Mbeki’s nine-year presidency, which ended ingloriously last year, they had helped propel Mr Zuma to power, expecting to wield a lot more influence in his new administration. Now they fear this may not happen.
Insisting on the need to impose a “working-class hegemony”, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s secretary-general, has suggested that policy should be determined by the alliance, not the government. “We are the policymakers,” he said, “and the government implements. The government doesn’t lead any more.” He clearly did not mean to restrict this to trade-union matters, either. To the chagrin of foreign investors, Cosatu tried in May to block the multi-billion rand sale of Vodacom, South Africa’s state-owned mobile-phone operator, to Britain’s Vodafone; the courts blocked its bid. More recently Cosatu has been demanding the nationalisation of mines, the abandonment of inflation targeting by the central bank, and the removal of its respected governor, Tito Mboweni.
Former union leaders hold seven posts in Mr Zuma’s 34-member cabinet, including the labour and economic-development briefs. Another four posts have gone to Communists, including the trade and industry ministry. Both Cosatu and the SACP have threatened to recall any of “their” ministers who fail to toe the party line. But Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s respected market-friendly finance minister for the past 13 years, is meant to forge economic policy as head of a new and potentially powerful National Planning Commission in the president’s office. The new finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, previously an efficient head of the tax service, is said to hold similar views to Mr Manuel’s, despite once being a Communist, as were many other leading ANC figures.
This is not an easy mix. From the outset, Collins Chabane, the minister responsible for monitoring ministerial performance, predicted a “bruising battle over policy direction” between factions in Mr Zuma’s broad-church government. Long silent, the president recently appeared to call his warring troops to order. Although a “robust debate” within the alliance was nothing to be alarmed about, he said, it should be remembered that it was the ANC (and not Cosatu or the SACP) that had been given a mandate to rule the country for the next five years. As the “leading partner” in government, the ANC was responsible for making policy, he insisted.
This week, however, he announced that Mr Mboweni, a doughty opponent of left-wing demands for the central bank to abandon inflation targeting in favour of lower interest rates and economic growth, would step down in November. Though Mr Zuma claimed to have invited Mr Mboweni to stay on for a third five-year term, the governor’s supposedly voluntary exit smacks of a sop to the ANC’s restive left-wing allies. He will be replaced by Gill Marcus, a former deputy governor of the bank who currently heads ABSA, one of South Africa’s four main lending banks. Though respected for her independent mind, she may be more open to debate on the central bank’s mandate.
It is still too soon to tell whether Mr Zuma will be able, or want, to hold his left-wing allies in check. For the moment leading businessmen sound sanguine but wary. “We may not particularly like the man,” said one, “but we are pragmatic. We won’t be holding our noses.” After nearly two years of uncertainty during the bitter power struggle between Messrs Mbeki and Zuma in the ANC, leading businessmen hope for more stability and clarity under the new administration. As the president seeks to balance the various elements in his disparate government, they are still waiting to see which way he will go.
Source: The Economist
Saturday, July 25, 2009