Loss of overall majority in 2024 could tear the ANC apart
Factional Truce Currently there is truce between the factions that emerged in the run-up to the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference where Mbeki was humiliatingly removed and replaced by Zuma. Mbeki’s removal triggered the ANC’s first post-apartheid split with the formation of the Congress of the People led by Mbeki’s aggrieved supporters. These factional wars culminated in Zuma’s similarly humiliating removal on Valentine’s Day in 2018, after a presidency plagued by scandal and the breathtaking “state capture” corruption. Even cabinet positions had been decided by the corrupt wealthy Gupta family from India whose residency rights were expedited by government. This exposes the cynicism and hypocrisy of a government whose unofficial xenophobia is aimed at scapegoating poor foreign nationals for the crisis of poverty and mass unemployment.
Although Ramaphosa’s victory in the ANC presidential race was by the razor-thin ANC margin of 179 votes, the miss of his rival, the RET candidate, Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was as good as a mile. Despite his narrow victory, Ramaphosa steadily gained the upper hand in the lawfare he launched against his factional opponents.
In between the Mbeki and Ramaphosa presidencies, the factional wars had given rise to the Radical Economic Transformation faction of which Zuma was the spiritual head, pitted against Ramaphosa’s reform/constitutional democrats’ faction. The ANC also experienced its second split with the expulsion of the ANC Youth league leader, Julius Malema who went on to form the Economic Freedom Fighters – an external incarnation of the ANC’s RET faction. Like Cope, the EFF secured over a million votes but has lasted much longer than Cope which has all but collapsed.
The ANC’s factional struggle continued barely restrained after 2017…until the Phala Phala scandal broke, detonated by the corrupt RET figure former Director General of the SA Security Agency, Arthur Fraser. A development that provided Ramaphosa’s factional opponents the opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to his presidency, bringing it to an earlier end without even concluding his first term, instead produced a truce.
The Phala Phala Scandal
This cessation of factional hostilities was necessitated by the findings of the Judicial Panel established by parliament to investigate Ramaphosa’s possible impeachment. This followed the revelation that $580 000 found stuffed in a mattress at Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm had been stolen. Ramaphosa had not only failed to report this to the police, or to declare such a large amount of foreign currency to the SA Revenue Services and the Reserve Bank, he had attempted to cover up the whole saga. He went so far as to authorise the equivalent of the “extraordinary rendition” the US had become notorious for – the cross border pursuit of the suspects to Namibia with reports of buying their silence with R150 000.
In the first step in the impeachment process that followed, the Judicial Panel had found that Ramaphosa had a case to answer. Ramaphosa’s announcement that he was prepared to resign, precipitated a counter-intuitive response both from his factional enemies and big business. In what developed into the most unlikely alliance of convenience between big business, and both ANC factions, Ramaphosa was prevailed upon not to resign.
Exactly the same methods used to shield Zuma from the seven parliamentary motions of no confidence including one of impeachment against his presidency were now employed to protect Ramaphosa. The ANC NEC was bullied into rejecting the Judicial Panel’s findings. The capitalist press took temporary leave from their customary veneration of the judiciary, publishing “learned” legal opinions by constitutional and legal experts who cast aspersions on the judges’ competence and understanding of the law.
ANC chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, Zuma’s and the RET faction’s former central defender, shape shifted into the central striker of team Ramaphosa. Making full use of his training in the SACP as its former chairperson, Mantashe dressed up Stalinist authoritarian “bureaucratic centralism” as democratic centralism, whipping the ANC top structures into line. The ANC NEC as well as its parliamentary caucus were threatened with disciplinary action should they vote to adopt the Judicial Panel’s recommendations whilst Ramaphosa provided them with the cover of his own legal challenge of the findings.
Ramaphosa’s credibility had before then suffered a debilitating decline with editorials and opinion pieces in the capitalist press, radio and television regularly denouncing his spinelessness and vacillation. He was accused of not pressing ahead with “reforms” ie the speeding up of privatisation of state-owned enterprises, failing to cleanse his cabinet of corrupt elements etc. But he had to be saved. Working and middle class callers to radio and through WhatsApp messages to tv channels, regularly made clear their disgust.
Why did Ramaphosa have to be saved?
From the standpoint of the working class Ramaphosa’s presidency was an unmitigated disaster. Instead of the “new dawn” that would see the eradication of corruption, its tidal waves swept into the presidency and cabinet itself, shockingly under the Covid19 pandemic. The ANC’s factional war escalated to the most dangerous level with the RETs’ orchestration of the July 2021 riots to demand the release of Zuma from prison. The bloodiest days in SA’s democratic era claimed 354 lives in Durban and Johannesburg, R50 billion in damage to property and infrastructure and 150 000 job losses. The ring leaders the Police Minister claims to have identified, have yet to be prosecuted.
Piled onto this were the economic impact of the Covid19 pandemic and the rise in the prices of basic commodities precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following in the footsteps of central banks in the west, the SA Reserve Bank hiked interest rates to its highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis. Whilst the banks are enjoying a profits bonanza, their clients are falling into arrears with housing, car, furniture and personal loans leading to an increase in defaults.
The combination of brazen corruption, and the spillover of the ANC’s factional war into the electricity supply industry with ministers in open coal vs renewables conflict with each other, led to the worst electricity blackouts in SA history. Corruption has now effectively spilled out of control leading to the breakdown of infrastructure including water treatments works and an outbreak of cholera.
Despite the ANC’s significant collapse in the polls, expressed most clearly in its vote dipping below 50% in the 2021 local government elections for the first time, Ramaphosa as president pre-Phala Phala still regularly outpolled the ANC as a party. Were Ramaphosa to have resigned in early December 2022, when the Panel released its report, and the ANC conference scheduled for mid-December, it would have precipitated a renewed struggle for succession prematurely for all concerned. That on its own would have condemned an ANC sinking in opinion polls to certain defeat in 2024. It was in the interest of both factions, therefore, that Ramaphosa be retained as president.
With the Phala Phala thundercloud not having burst, and despite Ramaphosa’s much more comfortable victory at the ANC’s Nasrec 2 conference, the factional ceasefire is regularly broken. The most public expression is the open hostilities between Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan over the electricity crisis. Gordhan is associated with Ramaphosa’s drive to speed up the takeover of Eskom’s coal dependency by independent power producers of renewables. Mantashe, a self-confessed coal fundamentalist, has publicly embarrassed Ramaphosa boycotting even a ceremony with foreign government representatives to sign a memorandum of understanding for renewables funding.
Mantashe is firmly on the side of the coal industry which now, for the first time is dominated by black capitalists. He is cashing on the investment he made through the pivotal role he played in saving Ramaphosa’s presidency. In a desperate attempt to claw back the youth vote, the ANC has revived the ANC Youth League. Its secretary-general has wasted little time in jumping into the factional fray, defying Gordhan’s demand for an apology for accusing him of being too keen to sell off state-owned enterprises.
Added to the inflammable material that could reignite the factional war, is the question of the presidential succession. The scandal tainted Mashatile, after a similarly convincing victory for the no.2 position as the no.1’s, is now poised to succeed Ramaphosa, is itself an indictment of the ANC.
Mashatile was not the Ramaphosa camp’s preferred candidate for the ANC deputy presidency. He has publicly alleged there is a plot to remove him by the month of August without raising the matter internally and certainly not with Ramaphosa before going public. Ramaphosa was compelled to affirm publicly, after meeting with Mashatile, that there was no such plot. With Mashatile ready to step in should Ramaphosa throw in the towel at any stage during his second term or at the end of it, they will remain till then the best of enemies.
The simmering flames underneath the Phala Phala-induced factional truce could reignite as soon as after the elections. What is concentrating the minds of all factions is the fear of defeat in 2024. If the ANC loses its outright majority, Mashatile and the RET faction from which he has maintained a calculated distance, would have no further need for Ramaphosa. The ANC has all but accepted that it will most likely have to form a coalition government. On top of all existing limpet mines that could be detonated in the factional divisions, a new one has emerged: which party to form a coalition with after the 2024 elections; the DA or the EFF.
The ANC’s coalition conundrum – the DA or the EFF as a marriage partner? The ANC national leadership, supported by its Veteran’s League and the Youth League, resurrected from the dead after seven years, is placing strong pressure on Mashatile’s ANC Gauteng provincial base to end its de facto ANC/EFF coalition in the Ekurhuleni Metro Council.
It can furthermore not be excluded that in the recriminations that may follow the ANC losing its majority, Ramaphosa will be the scape goat as the first president to have led the ANC to such a calamitous position. Having already demonstrated his willingness to step down over Phala Phala, and recently complained = to widespread derision – that his presidential tenure has been the most testing of all, he may not have the stomach for a fight to defend his presidency. The fulfilment of his childhood dream to become the county’s president already fulfilled, he appears to have lost his appetite for power.
For the RET faction, he would have failed in the mission for which they retained him. The pressure both internally from the RETs and its external incarnation, the EFF, could force Ramaphosa to become the third ANC president in succession to fail to compete a second term, his hardly before it has even begun. In the all-out factional war that could break out, the ANC could experience a third and this time potentially a fatal split. In such a scenario, a long drawn out political crisis marked by instability would follow.
No way out of capitalist crisis but to escalate attacks working class
The SA government has been engaged in a sustained attack on working class living standards for more than 15 years since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The conflicting policies pursued by global capitalism to overcome the crisis – switching from Quantitative Easing (ultra-low interest rates, stimulus packages etc) to Quantitative Tightening (high interest rates and spending cuts) is marked by the empiricism of a ruling class that has no control over the blind workings of market forces.
Instead of a recovery in China which played a major role with the biggest stimulus package to pull the world economy out of the Great Recession precipitated by the GFC, it is now slowing down. As SA’s major mineral exports destination, the country faces a further decline in export revenue. The prospects are dim for any government, whether a weakened ANC or a coalition. There are no prospects of economic growth reaching anywhere near the target of 5,4% per annum for ten years consecutively set by the 2012 National Development Plan published by the National Planning Commission chaired by Ramaphosa merely to absorb all new annual entrants to the labour market.
With a chronic budget deficit widened by consistent corporate tax cuts to 26% today – half of what it was in 1992 – the government has attempted to avoid a fiscal crisis by a combination of borrowing on the financial markets and savage social spending cuts. This has merely worsened the economic and social crisis.
Even discounting the disastrous impact of electricity blackouts, the failure to invest in rail infrastructure combined with organised criminal syndicates stripping thousands of rail lines reducing exports and therefore tax revenue, the economic prospects are dim. SA’s economy is neo-colonial. Its manufacturing sector has declined significantly relative to finance, and dependent on foreign exchange earnings from mineral exports.
HSBC economist David Faulkner notes that corporate tax receipts fell by more than 20% year on year in June (a drop of R26bn), while mineral royalties were down 40%, or R6bn, year on year. This, he says, reflects the impact of lower commodity prices and the squeeze on mining sector earnings. South Africa’s year-to-date budget position at a R47bn deficit is a staggering R94bn worse than the Treasury’s February forecast of a main budget deficit of R275.4bn, or 3.9% of GDP.
“South Africa’s public finances are under pressure, with recent data suggesting the country is heading for a much larger than expected budget deficit this year as tax revenue declines while expenditure rises. To prevent a debt blowout, the provinces are being exhorted to cut costs by R25bn, despite the damage this could do to already hollowed-out health and education services. As economist Duma Gqubule points out: “Whichever way one slices the data, Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency has been a disaster for the economy. We should be talking about “five wasted years” in addition to the “nine wasted years” under Jacob Zuma.
But the “five wasted years” are actually worse as the country now suffers with the most severe power blackouts in history and faces a terrifying economic outlook. SA undoubtedly had a “lost decade” from 2009-2019 during which GDP per capita did not grow … The SA Reserve Bank has made a shock forecast of three more years of declining GDP per capita. The economy will grow by 0.3% in 2023, 0.7% in 2024 and 1% in 2025. SA is heading towards a second “lost decade” from 2020-2030. The country is on the edge; something will soon explode.
Trust in all post-apartheid bourgeois democratic institutions have plummeted
The capitalist economic foundations of the post-apartheid order, along with the bourgeois democratic institutions constructed on it, as well as social, education, health and even foreign policy have plummeted over the past thirty years. Government, Parliament, the House of Traditional Leaders are seen as institutions for self-enrichment and looting; the Courts, the Criminal Justice System and the police to facilitate and protect the corrupt.
This sentiment would have been reinforced by the SA Reserve Bank’s outrageous attempt to clear Ramaphosa over Phala Phala. Its claim that the transaction over the sale of the buffalo had not been “perfected” (ie not completed) because the buyer has not taken possession of the goods, has been condemned as a “giant cover-up” even by the capitalist Business Day. It follows his exoneration by the Acting Public Protector. She had interpreted her mandate so narrowly that she found Ramaphosa’s sale of the buffaloes did not amount to remunerative work. Constitutional expert, Pierre de Vos described her investigation as characterised by “a perplexing lack of curiosity about pivotal Phala Phala facts”. Before that the SA Revenue Service had drawn the opposite conclusion to the SARB – that a sale had indeed been concluded, but that no tax laws had been violated. Yet it is public knowledge that money was first paid, a receipt issued and then stolen!
A social explosion on the agenda – working class needs to create a party for socialism Ramaphosa described the July 2021 riots as “nothing less than a deliberate, co-ordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy … intended to cripple the economy … or even dislodge the democratic state”. These words are exaggerated for factional purposes. What the bourgeois really fear is an Arab Spring in SA, first raised more than decade ago by Thabo Mbeki’s, brother, businessman Moeletsi and recently repeated by the former president himself. Bourgeois political analysts, haunted by the spectre of revolution, are increasingly discussing its possibilities in SA.
The negotiated settlement was signed to prevent an incipient socialist revolution. Cosatu was imprisoned in the Tripartite Alliance, and the United Democratic Front dissolved to conceal the continued economic dictatorship of the capitalist class, to silence and exclude the working class from the construction of a post-apartheid democratic socialist society. The working class must reclaim its political and ideological independence and create a mass workers party on a socialist programme.