Monday, November 16, 2009

The death of the ANC

Stanley Uys argues that a communist-led front plans to displace it.

The time has come for a requiem for the ANC: born 1912, died - 2007? It will be a huge wrench for millions of present and former members for whom the ANC, the legend, was a consistent political thread in their lives, but four separate groups have already taken its place, even though their affinity with each other (for the present) is principally the pursuit of power and the luxuries of life. However, beyond that lies an economic battlefield where the four players will decide just how much of the country's long-standing, orthodox policies can be retained and how much will have to amended or scrapped. This is what South Africa's politics, at the core, are about, not the past four years of road shows, endless rhetoric and tinkling bells. The ANC, under President Jacob Zuma, will be
only one of four players, and Zuma's ANC bears little resemblance to the old one. So, alas poor ANC, we knew you well.

So a potentially historic debate is gathering momentum in which the participants (to judge by their more extravagant utterances) urgently need guidance. As a starting point, they can turn to George Palmer's article, which lucidly unfolds the state of South Africa's finances, and sends a clear signal that it is these realities that define the perimeters of what the new "ANC" can and cannot do.

All three former and current Presidents of South Africa are former members of the SACP. Mandela was a member of the SACP during the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1960. The relation of the SACP to the ANC then was not at all 'loose' - every ANC member convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964 was a member of the SACP, or in Mandela's sole case, had resigned very recently for agreed strategic reasons; Mbeki was a member of the SACP Politburo up to 1990, when he let his membership lapse on returning from exile; Jacob Zuma was a member of the SACP throughout 30-odd years in prison and in exile, but like Mbeki let his membership lapse after exile.

The question before the National Party government and ANC negotiators in 1990-93 is the same the four new players confront today: does South Africa retain its economic orthodoxy, lurch to the left, or insert new policies midway? In 1993, the lurch to the left halted abruptly when Hani was assassinated by two white right-wingers (who are still in gaol), Mbeki cruised into high office, and (temporarily, as it turned out) closure was brought to the Communist aspirations of the pre-1993 period, though there is no way of knowing that Hani would not have followed Mbeki's route in that period.

The point of retelling this tale is made by William Gumede in his book Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC (Zebra 2005): "...the ANC was vulnerable to relentless pressure from local and international business, the media, and multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and IMF...Never before had a government-in-waiting been so seduced by the international community." This is the urgent question today. Does the Left in the ANC understand fully the immensity of the economic and international governmental forces it is up against?

The "ANC" as led by Zuma can be simplified by defining the newly dominant groups, but first a word about the Tripartite Alliance: the African National Congress - ANC; Congress of SA Trade Unions - Cosatu; and South African Communist Party - SACP, who were brought together after the return of the exiles to form a front of comrades. COSATU never existed before this. FOSATU and "workerist" currents not under SACP control had very significant influence in the previous period. This Tripartite Alliance changed shape so thoroughly after Thabo Mbeki's dethronement in 2007 and then the Cope breakaway that effectively it was extinguished.

For formality's sake, the "Alliance" retains its name, and this past weekend it even held a three-day conference, preceded by a joint statement: "At this juncture in our history, the alliance is the only existing political entity that is capable of completing our mission of transforming our society". For an "Alliance" of the undead, this is an unreal declaration of self-assurance.

Left over from the wreckage of the Alliance are Zuma's "ANC" and three main groupings of what conveniently can be called the Left: the SACP (conductor of the orchestra), Cosatu (playing the double bass and war drums), and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), age limit about 35, powered by testosterone and ever-ready to take to the streets. All backed Jacob Zuma, 67, against Thabo Mbeki, and successfully installed him as ANC president in December 2007 and as South Africa's president in May 2009. The future pecking order still has to be agreed,
but for the present the SACP is dominant, with Cosatu support, while the ANCYL, closest to Zuma, must be wondering whether to accept SACP dominance or stick with Zuma. Differences aside, all three Left groups are so self-confident that they are inclined to look on Zuma as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Broadly, the Zuma camp can be described as 'nationalist,' although Zuma is probably best called a "centrist", because he can wobble to this side and that. It is possible, therefore, to differentiate between a broadly pragmatic nationalist bloc (around Zuma), and the Communist ideologues and zealots, including the Cosatu leadership, who could be called the Left.

The SACP is the Left's think-tank and organiser. Earlier this year, it said it had 50,000 paid-up members, possibly increased since then. No doubt they are more disciplined and organisationally skilled than other members of the Left. The SACP has had an uneven association with the ANC since the 1920s, strongest during the ANC's exile period (1960-1990) when the ANC relied on Moscow funding, but weakening when Thabo Mbeki took over and tried to push it out of the "Alliance". Shortly after his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela said that sooner or later there would have to be a parting of ways between the ANC and the SACP.

Unlike Cosatu and the ANCYL, the SACP is a political party. But just as it speaks of colonialism in South Africa as being of "a special type," so it is a party of a "special type," never contesting legislative seats in its own name, but piggy-backing into office on the rump of the ANC, while at the same time demanding of its ANC elected members that they give their first loyalty to the SACP. What a model of political ethics! The SACP is a fully Communist party, but says that only after South Africa is more acclimatised to the Left can it be led into adult communism.

The ambitions of Cosatu's leadership are limited by the fact that Cosatu is a trade union federation and cannot function as a political party. Its 1.8 million-plus members, belonging to 21 affiliated unions, each are entitled to their own opinions. Cosatu's way out of this problem is to arrange for the SACP to serve as its proxy party, which makes Cosatu a captive of the SACP, a classic Communist Party take-over.

Cosatu's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says this bluntly: "For socialists within the Congress movement, the NDR (National Democratic Revolution) is not a detour, but the most direct route to socialism. That means it must build the momentum towards socialism, as captured by the SACP slogan: Socialism is the Future - Build it Now! Our challenge is building a socialist movement, within which the SACP is the vanguard and the anchor. Cosatu must ask itself whether it is doing enough to build and support the SACP and unfortunately we are found wanting. The SACP's 13th congress revealed that the industrial employed working class is just fewer than 40 percent of its membership. Clearly we are not doing enough to convert our members into staunch socialists who are active in the SACP."

As a battering ram for the SACP, this is about as blatant as it gets. Cosatu members effectively become the foot soldiers of the Communist Party. It surely will sit uneasily on the ANCYL - that its future will be orchestrated by the SACP, hidden deep within the sheep's clothing of the ANC.

The ANCYL, for its part, is sort-of-leftist, in the way testosterone-driven youths are inclined to be (by youth is meant under about 35). It sees itself as the kingmaker. Its late president Peter Mokaba gave Mbeki the support he needed to become Mandela's deputy in 1994, just as the present ANCYL president, Julius Malema, supports Zuma now. The ANCYL provides foot soldiers for street demonstrations and other events, and it was hugely intimidatory at Zuma's court prosecutions, threatening judges and silencing many critics.

[Intimidation by the Left has silenced many ANC members, and many occasions have been missed when old-time ANC members should have spoken out in defence of beleaguered colleagues and others. In a letter to Business Day (November 12), Dr Lucas Ntyintyane (referring to a specific occasion) lets rip:
"They said nothing. They watched as vultures savaged their friend...Why were they quiet? If they could not protect their friend from mob lynching, how can we expect them to defend the constitution? Who will stand up for me when the mob is coming my way? It is one of the fears I have about the new ANC. Its voices of reason are drowned by the mob. Everyone is scared to speak up - even President Jacob Zuma . The stench from the noise-makers is suffocating the nation... It seems Mr Mantashe, Mr Phosa and Mr Mkhize are too scared of the Frankenstein monster created by the party".

Here, from Dr Ntyintyane, is a voice frighteningly similar to that of the anti-Nazi cleric, Dr Martin Niemoller, who famously found that not having protested himself at Hitler's elimination of the Communists, Jews, and others, there was no-one left to protest when the attention of the regime came to him].

How "loyal" the ANCYL will remain to Zuma if he persists with orthodox economics might well depend on how much patronage the "wily Zulu" continues to dispense. ANCYL president (the much mocked "buffoon" Julius Malema) emerged from a chat with Zuma recently virtually anointed as president-in-waiting (when he grows up). There was just a sense that some deal had been concluded.

With his overblown 34 cabinet ministers, 28 deputy ministers, advisers and what have you, Zuma is telling them: help yourselves to R1 million BMWs, business class air travel, long stays in five-star hotels and lavish departmental celebrations - but remember who gave it to you. Raise no objections, enjoy the luxuries while you can, because apr├Ęs moi le deluge
(after me comes the flood).

Zuma bestows patronage lavishly. Notoriously unfamiliar with the details of finance, he seems to think that money comes out of a deep hole in the ground. In a way, he is right. As Palmer notes, at his next budget Finance minister Pravin Gordhan will look into a deep financial hole and wonder how to fill it. Palmer predicts sweeping departmental cuts and scrapping of over-ambitious projects. In such circumstances, patronage will be scaled down. Zuma will not take to this easily since his power games depend on patronage; nor will his cronies like the idea of having only one BMW in the family.

The non-Left in the ANC is Zuma-led, composed of what remained in the ANC after Thabo Mbeki's expulsion in 2008 and after the Cope breakaway. The Zuma camp has appropriated the name ANC, but it cannot restore the old magic, the legend, nor is it is known publicly how many of the 85-member National Executive Committee (NEC) are Zuma loyalists.

Together, Zuma and the Left are a mixed bunch. Over the past three years, the SACP, and particularly Cosatu, while campaigning for Zuma's presidency, have rebuffed, even insulted, him. Zuma knows they look on him contemptuously as an instrument to further their own ambitions. So Zuma plays for time, accommodating the Left's nominees in his cabinet and presidency (Ebrahim Patel in Economic Development), while surrounding himself with loyalists and a praetorian guard of ministers and others in key security and intelligence positions. It's as if he is building a personal bunker in the presidency.

However, Zuma cannot play this prevaricating game for much longer. The Left is becoming impatient and tempers are rising. As Paul Trewhela wrote (Cape Argus, October 27): "When the tensions and conflicts in civil society grow too great, and law and parliament and other agencies of civil societies are not able to find a resolution for them, then the state grows into a bludgeon, or club, with which to batter down civil society". Substitute the SACP Left, or a Zuma-led nationalist bloc, for the state, and that is the emerging situation in South Africa.

Does the Left understand the immensity of the forces, national and international, particularly in the economic arena, arraigned against it? Also, especially now on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, is anyone of the Communist elite (apart from a small number of ideologues) truly convinced of the viability of their setting up another sub-Romania or North Korea in SA? When the state sector is in such free fall, why do they plan to statify more?

This is the drama unfolding in South Africa.
Since Mandela the ANC as a political party has lacked basic principles and fundamental strategies. Today all that Zuma offers are tactical moves to placate critics on the Left and Right, buy time, and make promises that the prevailing fiscal and financial constraints won't allow him to deliver. Now, either the Zuma government (a) can proceed, more or less, along the lines of Mbeki's orthodox "1996 Class Project," or (b) it can rewrite parts of it to accommodate South Africa's poverty and inequality - comprehensive global financial market reforms are actively being debated and proposals are being reviewed in the legislatures of most developed countries and most are likely to be implemented, or (c) it can go for broke with nationalization and socialism and take Cosatu and the ANCYL with it over the cliff.

The point is Zuma is near the limit where he can get away with prevarication, trying to muddle through with a more or less vague centrist stance combined with leftist hints now and then to keep the Left quiet. The longer this indecision lasts, the more uncertainty there'll be, which will come at huge costs, such as increasingly demoralising infighting. Investors and capital markets, both domestic and international, hate uncertainty more than anything else. So Zuma and the ANC are between a rock and a hard place. Realistically, they cannot much longer avoid tough choices and just rely on a backward-looking "liberation theology" and the history of injustices and inequities suffered collectively in a bygone era.
The key point Zuma and the ANC shrink from publicly acknowledging is that "wealth cannot be redistributed until it is created."

It is a costly illusion to believe that growing prosperity can be delivered by risk-averse bureaucrats, trade union activists, latter day communist theoreticians or ANC hangers-on. That is why Mao's peasant revolt ultimately failed in China and why it had to be replaced by the economic realism of today's authoritarian capitalism and market system; ditto the communist hermit regime of North Korea; ditto the reforms led by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and in occupied Germany and Eastern Europe.

Unless Zuma is prepared to replace cronyism with meritocracy and publicly acknowledge the absolute necessity for a dynamic and competitive private sector based on market solutions, the outcome will be diminishing work opportunities, growing unemployment, greater poverty, and a spreading desperation that will lead to rising violence and out-of-control crime rates.

So, like Caesar, Zuma will have his Rubicon, and like Caesar he will have to say Iacta alea est!
("The die is cast")

It would be an appropriate moment for South Africa to go to prayer.

Hat tip: Ambrose [article emphasises by Ed.]

2 Opinion(s):

Viking said...

This is a great article.

Exzanian said...

Interesting, considering the headline that the left now accedes to Trevor Manual leading the economic planning committee.