|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
The ANC’s Malema dilemma
ON 30 August, the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) was forced to call in the police to protect its headquarters, Luthuli House, from its own members with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. Thousands of ANC Youth League members, bussed in from across the country, tried to storm it, hurling bricks and bottles at police and journalists.
The demonstrators burned the ANC flag and t-shirts bearing president Jacob Zuma’s face to protest the disciplinary action brought against Youth League president, Julius Malema, and four national office bearers. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe lamented that the ANC had not been so openly challenged since 20,000 impi Zulu warriors, wielding traditional weapons, marched on its head office then in downtown Johannesburg in 1994.
Malema is accused of sowing division by claiming that, since the removal of previous president, Thabo Mbeki, "the best cadre the ANC produced", the African Union has been weakened. He is charged with bringing the ANC into disrepute by describing whites as criminals for stealing the land from blacks and for demanding expropriation without compensation. The trigger for the disciplinary action was his call for regime change in Botswana, whose government he denounced as a stooge of US imperialism for collaborating with its plans to establish a military base there.
How things have changed! At a rally on 16 June 2008, commemorating the Soweto uprising of 1976, Malema had declared that he was prepared to "kill for Zuma". At that time, Malema was playing a leading role in the campaign to drop corruption and rape charges against Zuma, and to recall Mbeki as ANC president. Malema was subsequently anointed by Zuma as a future leader of the country. As the Sepedi saying goes: ‘Maabane ke maabane, lehono ke lehono’ – ‘Yesterday was yesterday, today is today’.
Then, Malema was leading the charge to prevent Mbeki from securing a third term as president of the country and the ANC, and to ensure Zuma’s ascent to the presidency. Mbeki was blamed for everything that was wrong in the ANC, the government, state institutions and the country. Now, Malema is determined to stop Zuma winning a second term in 2014. Malema’s erstwhile hero is now denounced as a ‘criminal’ and ‘rapist’ turned ‘traitor’, whose administration has to be toppled.
However, much as the conflict is being portrayed as a showdown between these two personalities, the siege of Luthuli House is far more than an attempt of the young lion to drive the older out of the political pride. What is being determined is the future of the ANC itself. The implosion of the ANC, unfolding in the run-up to its 2007 Polokwane conference – where Mbeki was deposed and the Congress of the People (COPE) was fathered – has resumed under the person whose accession to leadership was meant to reunite it. (Initially gaining 9% of the vote in parliamentary elections, COPE quickly descended into vicious faction fighting. Mvume Dandala, its parliamentary leader, resigned in January 2010.)
In its economic policy, the Zuma administration is a continuation of the Mbeki regime. But Zuma’s faction has displayed new levels of insolence towards the working class, portraying self-enrichment and corruption as legitimate government activity. Co-owner with Nelson Mandela’s grandson of a mine they have allowed to collapse, Zuma’s son, who has 20 luxury cars, left workers to starve without pay for 18 months yet made a one-million rand donation ($135,000) to the ANC. The ANC dismissed an appeal by the Cosatu trade union confederation to return the money or donate it to the workers.
In consolidating his faction’s grip on power, Zuma has used state institutions in exactly the same way as Mbeki. Corruption now pours out of every government orifice. Zuma is sitting on a damning report by the public protector into corruption by the police commissioner, Bheki Cele, whose predecessor was sentenced to 15 years for corruption. Cele was aided and abetted by the minister of public works whose first act was to reinstate a tender for new police headquarters that her predecessor had found to be illegal.
No action has been taken against the local government minister who flew to a prison in Switzerland to visit his girlfriend serving a sentence for drug smuggling. The minister for state security claims he had no knowledge of his wife’s drug smuggling for which she has been sentenced to eight years. The first action of the new police unit (the Hawks), created to replace the one said to have been misused by Mbeki (the Scorpions), was to shut down an investigation into arms-deal corruption. It was then forced to reconsider following new evidence unearthed in Sweden, which sold Grippen aircraft to South Africa – although Zuma has now announced a ‘commission of inquiry’ whose outcome he will no doubt try and influence.
Zuma promised to create five million jobs, but one million have been lost since he took power. Against this background, the political authority of the ANC has crashed. Local government elections were characterised by unprecedented levels of revolt, with the occupation of party offices against the imposition of candidates by head office.
There has been a spectacular disintegration of the coalition of forces that swept Zuma to power. Every member of his coalition is at war, if not with itself then with its erstwhile partners, a struggle of all against all. Zuma was the centripetal force that held the anti-Mbeki coalition together. Now he is the centrifugal force pulling it apart. His coalition lies in ruins less than half-way into his first term as president.
The most trenchant criticism of the administration has come from Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi. He has warned that South Africa is degenerating into a predatory state where the elite behave like hyenas, ensuring their families are the first to feed at the state trough.
The roots of this implosion lie in the deep social crisis resulting from the government’s failed capitalist polices. South Africa is now the most unequal society on earth. Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala said: "The statistics are chilling: 65% of South Africans live on less than R550 a month – less than a monthly satellite TV subscription. Twelve per cent are desperately poor, struggling to survive on R150 a month. One in five children shows signs of malnutrition. The unemployment rate for black South Africans under 30 is over 50%. Two-thirds of 15-to-30-year-olds who want work have never been able to find a job. The richest 10% of South Africans earn more than the other 90% combined. Few would deny that we are sitting on a powder keg which is ready to explode for there are plenty of struck matches around". (Business Day, 6 July)
For the first time, sitting on top of the Sunday Times annual rich list is a black capitalist mining magnate, Patrice Motsepe, brother-in-law to justice minister Jeff Radebe. It reveals: "The combined wealth of the country’s 100 richest people has grown by 62.9% since last year – to R112.2 billion – and can now almost cover the country’s budget deficit. Retail giant Shoprite CEO, Whitey Basson, last year took home a pay packet worth R627.53 million".
With Zuma’s pro-poor credentials shattered, and the alienation of the working class displayed in a rising tide of class struggle, Malema’s radical posturing has found an echo among workers and youth, but also with sections of the aspirant black capitalist class. The latter are Malema’s real constituency. They are seething with frustration over the fact that, after 17 years of democracy, black shares on the Johannesburg stock exchange do not even exceed 10%.
Malema’s claim that he believes in socialism is a cynical attempt to exploit the anti-capitalist sentiment of organised workers. Through the virtual control of the Limpopo provincial administration, he is an active player in the orgy of self-enrichment under the Zuma administration. The aspirant black capitalists see Malema’s ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ programme as their quickest road to self-enrichment. The radical posturing is intended to secure a base among the ANC rank and file to take control of the 2012 conference and of government two years later.
Zuma has miscalculated seriously. The use of disciplinary action to crush Malema’s faction is an attempt to put out a fire with petrol. If the disciplinary case collapses, it exposes Zuma as weak and guarantees that he will be a one-term president. If Malema is expelled, this will give him the freedom to campaign among the rank and file as he prepares an appeal to an already divided national executive, and probably to the conference.
In local government elections, the ANC’s vote fell to 18% of the eligible voting population in spite of a 60%-plus victory. Illusions in Malema and his faction will be shattered as surely as those in Zuma. The only answer for the working class is to form a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme to unite in struggle all those now fighting in isolation into a mighty force for the abolition of capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society.
Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa)