ANC congress: Ramaphosa wins shovel to dig party’s grave

Workers & Socialist Party 23 December 2022

In the most turbulent congress of the ANC, its billionaire President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has managed to retain his position. Despite facing charges related to the robbery at his Phala-phala game farm, and almost resigning barely two weeks ago, he defeated former Minister of Health and ANC Treasurer-General, Zweli Mkhize.

It is, however, not only Mkhize’s Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction that was defeated. COSATU has been completely excluded from the ANC’s National Executive Committee. By this act alone, the ANC congress has effectively abandoned the deceptive posture of the so-called broad church, that is the multi-class party it projects itself to be. In many ways, the Tripartite Alliance itself has thus also been abandoned.

Crushing defeat of the RET
The sheer scale of Ramaphosa’s crushing victory over Mkhize by nearly 600 votes (2476 for Ramaphosa vs 1897 for Mkhize), compared to the less than 200 margin for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in 2017, signifies the fundamental shifts in the balance of factional power in favour of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign since the last congress. This becomes all the more clear when one considers that if not for the report on Phala-phala and last minute vacillations of the Limpopo leadership, the margin would likely have been wider.

From this defeat of Zweli Mkhize, who was also supported by the powerful KZN province and their allies in the RET faction of former president Jacob Zuma, one thing is plain and clear: the RET Faction is far weaker on the ground than their destabilisation of the ANC tops and government suggests.

Whilst this outcome will please the financial markets, as the recent appreciation of the rand by 2% against the dollar suggests, this outcome reflects neither the health, stability nor unity of the ANC. The bitter factional struggle, hooliganism and the disruptions in display at the congress graphically highlight the depth of the fragmentation of the ANC. As with the previous one, the outcome of this congress has not settled any of the underlying issues behind the factional fragmentation. If anything, reprisals and purges of those on the “wrong side”, which are unavoidable in this atmosphere, will only serve to widen the divisions. Calls to recall Limpopo Premier, Stanley Mathabatha, for reneging on support for Cyril Ramaphosa at the congress, despite being the first to pronounce his support for the second term, have grown so loud that the Premier’s office has been forced to issue a media statement refuting claims of his imminent resignation. The threat of purges is further reflected in the calls made by newly-elected ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula for the president to reshuffle the cabinet.

Rejection of Cosatu leadership
A complete absence of Cosatu leadership from the National Executive Committee (NEC) means that, for the first time since Cosatu joined the Alliance of the ANC and SACP, there will be no overlap in the leadership of these components of the Tripartite alliance.

This historic rupture at the top of the ANC leadership represents another milestone in the ANC abandoning any pretence that it is anything more than a party of the capitalist class and the political elite in its service. Unlike in previous congresses, Cosatu refused to endorse Ramaphosa or his rival. Rather than being the sentiment of Cosatu leadership, this position reflects the hot breath of Cosatu rank-and-file anger, which was expressed repeatedly and sharply during the 2022 May Day celebrations and Cosatu congress when workers refused to let the leadership of the ANC address these occasions despite invitations and pleadings of Cosatu leaders.

However, it was not only those who refused to campaign for Ramaphosa or the alternative slate that were left out. The General Secretary of SADTU, Mugwena Maluleke, has also been excluded, not for lack of trying on his part. In pursuit of his campaign for the NEC and probably a hope for a ministerial position like his predecessors, he moved heaven and earth – including betraying the most elementary interests of his own members, teachers, who like other public service workers want adequate wage increases to survive the astronomical price increases and cost of living crisis.

Under Maluleke’s leadership, the teachers union SADTU, which traditionally was to the left of Cosatu and public service unions, has shifted dramatically to the right. In the current negotiations, it has accepted a pitiful, below inflation wage increase of 3%, contrary to the position of SADTU’s own members and Cosatu. Maluleke has done everything humanly possible to appear as the more “reasonable” face of the labour movement to ingratiate himself to the ANC leadership and the bosses’ class in whose interests they want to impose savage austerity on the public service workers. Despite all this, the ANC congress rejected him also.

A meeting between Cosatu leadership and the newly elected Top 7 of the ANC was scheduled immediately after the election results were announced. On the agenda, the main issue remains the wage dispute in the public service, for which there is no solution that will satisfy both the markets, which Ramaphosa’s leadership absolutely want to appease, and the public service workers, who make up a vast majority of Cosatu’s membership.

No reason for hope
The outcome of this conference also means (if it wasn’t previously clear) that it will become more apparent to the working class that Ramaphosa is incapable of resolving the deepening crises of high levels of unemployment, poverty, gender-based violence, crime, climate disasters, electricity blackouts and stagflation (high inflation accompanied by slow economic growth). Ultimately, these are crises of capitalism, for which only the working class can provide a way out, on the basis of its own mass movements, struggles and programme for a socialist transformation.

Much more fundamental about this conference is the fact that the working class had no voice or choice in the various factions that contested it. Neither the billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa nor Zweli Mkhize and his posturing allies in the RET camp represent any political and class alternatives to the ANC’s failed neoliberal programme. The congress has only affirmed and consolidated the ANC as a pro-imperialist capitalist party completely alien and hostile to its black working class electorate. The irony that Nasrec was spared any loadshedding for “security reasons”, while the vast majority of people in South Africa could not even tune into the live coverage if they wanted to due to some of the worst blackouts this year was not lost on anyone.

The strikingly poor attendance of commissions at the conference shows that both factions lack a fresh programme and willingness to address the crises facing the country, including worsening loadshedding. Failure to halt the rolling black outs will have a detrimental effect to the hopes of reducing unemployment. As a result, the new ANC leadership will not be able to bring in the economic growth they would need to make a dent in the skyrocketing unemployment.

There is absolutely no basis for any hopes about Ramaphosa’s new term of office. He was amongst the chief architects of the post-1994 constitutional framework that is failing the overwhelming majority of the working class. He led the commission for the ANC’s National Development Plan (NDP) blueprint for taking the country forward which has failed to realise even the most basic of its own projections and targets. He was the Deputy President during five of the so-called nine wasted years. He has been the president of the country in arguably its worst period by every measure — i.e. a period of stagflation which has created unprecedented levels of unemployment; a cost of living crisis that has plunged the majority into deeper levels of poverty, hunger and growing malnutrition we have not seen in decades. This was a period when electricity blackouts multiplied, service delivery has almost halted completely and, partly as a result, climate disasters have worsened due to the failure to adapt the public infrastructure such as water storage, storm water drainage systems, safe housing, etc.

Social polarisation
In a situation where the projections for the world’s economic outlook point to a dire situation, with the IMF in October 2022 predicting that “One-third of the world economy will likely contract this year or next amid shrinking real incomes and rising prices”, there is no hope for South African capitalism and its economic prospects to continue the trajectory of growth in employment. In any event, the trajectory is so modest it has failed to put a dent in the growing poverty and hunger in the country. Even from a capitalist perspective, the projections suggest that South Africa’s economy must grow at a rate more than triple the current growth rate in order to bring down unemployment significantly. However, the neoliberal approach taken by the ANC can only add to joblessness and hunger. These are exactly the conditions that created the 2021 July unrest, at the core of which was the food rioting of the poorest of the poor.

The objective situation, along with the class conflicts over public service pay, and trade union led campaigns on the cost of living crisis, means this new term is likely to be characterised by heightened class and political conflicts between the working class and the capitalist class, the latter whose leadership rests with the ANC. This will make patching up the Tripartite Alliance impossible, regardless of how much Cosatu leadership will try. Most importantly, it means Ramaphosa may lead the ANC government into an open conflict with the working class, and under these conditions the ANC ultimately has no hope of surviving as a significant force.

Ramaphosa won the race to dig ANC’s grave
Based on this prognosis, Ramaphosa’s victory means no more than winning the shovel to dig the grave for the ANC-led alliance and possibly, even the right to administer its rites of power it has wielded since 1994.

The decline of ANC membership by over 330 000 reflects an acceleration of the erosion of its support within the black working class, which is bitter and angry at the neoliberal onslaught, which has deepened against it, under the past years of Ramaphosa’s first term. It is the desperation of the political elite of the ANC to arrest this acceleration, that led them to rally behind Ramaphosa, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing in Phala-phala and his own willingness to step down. His own commitment to neoliberal policies in the context of deepening social, economic, and ecological crises of capitalism, however, means he won’t be much help in this regard.

This perspective does not rule out the possibility of the ANC continuing to govern. On the contrary, it is most probable that coalitions with other bourgeois parties like DA will throw them a lifeline in government. Governments like these will not revive any strength but accelerate the weakening, fragmentation and disintegration of the ANC and its alliance.

Political crisis of bourgeois rule
The outcome of this congress will not only deepen the crises of the ANC but also that of the main political parties of capitalism, especially the DA and EFF. The growth and electoral gains of these parties in the past decade have been predicated on the incompetent, unapologetic and brazen elements of corruption in Zuma’s administration. For the capitalist class and vast sections of the middle-class, Ramaphosa represents the only viable alternative to that. This has checked the growth of the DA and partly plunged it into its current implosion.

The EFF, although it has marginally increased its electoral support recently, in the main has stagnated and lost much of the momentum gained during its “pay back the money” campaign. Its own scandals of corruption have reinforced doubts about them within the black middle classes and sealed their prospects as a possible alternative to the conscious layers of the organised black working class. Recognising this, the EFF leadership invested enormous energy and its credibility in supporting RET forces it sought to align itself with, firstly to evade accountability on VBS bank and other scandals, but mainly as the lever through which they can hope to gain power through future coalition-governments. Towards this congress they vested their hopes in the victory of Mkhize, whose defeat represents a setback to their calculations.

However it cannot be ruled out that the lack of any real working class alternative presents an opportunity for RET and other populist forces to capitulate to, capitalise on, and reinforce further the growing xenophobic sentiment in the context of mass unemployment and desperation as we have seen previously. It is clear that the only force that can provide a way forward in the context of the political crisis of the establishment is the organised labour movement. And this is an urgent task.

To this end, Cosatu must immediately implement its congress resolution to stop support for the ANC and, alongside SAFTU, urgently work to convene all the working class organisations and formations, including other trade union federations and independent unions like AMCU, struggling community civics, youth, women, migrant and climate justice movements, to a national working class assembly where analyses and perspectives can be worked out on how to respond to the deepening crises of the capitalist system and the inability of the ruling capitalist class to take society forward. In a nutshell, a working class strategy and political alternative to these crises must be developed. The political bankruptcy on display at Nasrec and in every corner of the pro-capitalist political landscape clearly shows that this alternative must be a working class party committed to the world-wide struggle for socialism, democratically controlled by its members and with zero opportunities for corruption – with all representatives taking only an ordinary workers wage and being subject to immediate recall if they no longer represent the programme of the workers’ movement. False promises, corruption, and looting are merely symptoms of the rotten capitalist system and it is only through a mass organised movement of the working class that we can hope to secure a better South Africa and a better world for all.


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