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South Africa - another turning point?
The African National Congress Conference at Polokwane in December 2007 elected Jacob Zuma as its President, defeating the incumbent, Thabo Mbeki. The other five officers (1) were all elected from the 'Zuma' slate and virtually all of those associated with the Mbeki government failed to get elected to the National Executive Committee with some notable exceptions. (2)
This reflected a growing discontent with the Mbeki government and leadership. Corruption charges against Zuma were still being pursued but then in October 2008 Judge Nicholson found that Zuma had not been properly consulted on the charges according to the law and in his judgement referred to political interference by the Executive. Following this judgement, the ANC National Executive Committee recalled
Thabo Mbeki as President of the Republic. Thabo Mbeki resigned as President and some ten Ministers and Deputy Ministers followed with their resignations.
The Deputy President of ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, was then elected President of the Republic. (3) Shortly thereafter a Convention was called by Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota (former Defence Minister) and others which established a breakaway from the ANC. It launched itself as a new party, 'Congress of the People' (COPE) in December 2008 with Lekota as leader and Mbhazima Shilowa, former Gauteng Premier, as his deputy and some other prominent ANC members have joined. (4)
The divisions in the ANC go back some time. In 1996 with the government’s adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR) (5) extremely serious differences began to emerge. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which are linked with the ANC through the 'Tripartite Alliance', were unhappy with the dropping of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and its replacement by GEAR. This policy was adopted with only limited consultation with the Alliance partners. The economic policy of the government was seen as neo-liberal, favouring business rather than labour. However, Mbeki saw GEAR as a means of self-reliance rather than a capitulation to old colonial masters. At the core of the programme was the fear of the begging bowl, of giving up South Africa’s limited sovereignty to the IMF and/or the World Bank.
These differences with the government’s economic policies deepened and were reflected by new leaderships emerging in both the SACP and COSATU. Blade Nzimande was elected General Secretary of the SACP at the party’s congress in 1998. He was one of the earliest and most outspoken critics of GEAR: “The difficult relationship between Mbeki and Nzimande is rooted in a combination of ideological dispute and personal grievance.”(6) Zwelinzima Vavi became General Secretary of COSATU, replacing Mbhazima Shilowa in 1999. Initially Shilowa had been opposed to GEAR but was persuaded to change his position by Mbeki.
Increasingly, the SACP and COSATU became critical of the ANC government. Notwithstanding this, Thabo Mbeki was elected President of ANC following the retiral of Nelson Mandela and he was elected President of the country in 1999 and re-elected in 2004.
From 2004 the question of the leadership succession developed. Constitutionally a person can only serve two terms as President, so for Mbeki to serve another term the constitution would have to be changed. Mbeki denied wanting a third term as President of the Republic.
The corruption charges against Jacob Zuma relate to a major arms deal. Mbeki chaired a cabinet sub-committee on arms procurement from 1996-1999 that put together and approved the purchase of 30 billion rands worth of military hardware. The arms deal eventually cost double that owing to the unstable rand.
The first casualty of the deal was Tony Yengeni, ANC Parliamentary Chief Whip, charged by the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), known as 'the Scorpions' and subsequently found guilty of having accepted a big discount on a luxury 4x4 Mercedes Benz. Then in 2001 Schabir Shaik was arrested after a Scorpions search-and-seize operation on his offices and home. In 2003 the South African Sunday Times ran a story suggesting that Mac Maharaj (Transport Minister in the Mandela government and ANC veteran) had received monies from Shaik. Maharaj was subsequently investigated by the Scorpions, Maharaj found himself at the centre of a political storm when he confirmed allegations that Bulelani Ngcuka, Director of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), had been investigated by ANC intelligence in the 1980s for being an apartheid spy. This led to a government initiated enquiry, which cleared Ngcuka. While Maharaj was under investigation Ngucka tried to get him to persuade
Zuma to answer certain questions.
Smeared by the brush of corruption, Maharaj fought back, accusing Ngcuka of abusing his office and daring Ngcuka to charge him. Maharaj has never been charged.
In his memoirs, Mac Maharaj wrote:
…why was Ngcuka abusing his power in such an unscrupulous way. What was his agenda? I can’t say… I believe it was about who would succeed Thabo Mbeki; it was about the direction this country takes; it was about whether it will be undiluted GEAR (the government economic policy) or a regulated market; and about who can make the most from black economic empowerment. It seemed to be about who becomes the kingmakers in South Africa. (7)
Accusations of corruption against Jacob Zuma, at that time Deputy President of South Africa, emerged during the trial of Schabir Shaik, charged in 2001 and who was found guilty of corruption and fraud related to the arms deal and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment on 2nd June 2005. Neither Shaik nor Zuma denied that payments had been made by Shaik to Zuma. Both insisted that the transactions were loans.
President Thabo Mbeki then relieved Zuma from his post as Deputy President of the Republic and appointed Phumazile Mlambo-Ngcuka, then Minister of Minerals and Energy and wife of Bulelani Ngcuka, as Deputy President. Corruption charges were to be brought against Zuma by the National Prosecuting Authority. Zuma remained Deputy President of the ANC.
In December 2005, Zuma was charged with rape but was acquitted in May 2006 in a very high profile trial, which stirred much emotion throughout the country. During this time the leadership succession question remained front page news.
In October 2005 Billy Masethla, Director of National Intelligence, was sacked. He was accused of being behind hoax e-mails implicating senior ANC members in a conspiracy against Jacob Zuma who was at the time the Deputy President of the ANC. Masethla appealed against his dismissal and the court upheld his appeal. Masethla was elected to the ANC NEC in December 2007.
A view developed that factionalism had entered the state and that the Scorpions were abusing their power:
“There are worrying indications that sensitive sectors of the state like intelligence, prosecutions and the public broadcaster have been polluted by political factionalism.”(8)
In October 2008 Judge Nicholson gave his judgement, which led to the recall of Mbeki as President. The disenchantment with the actions of the Scorpions had by now grown into a campaign for its dissolution. One of the first acts of the new President, Kgalema Motlanthe, was to introduce a bill in Parliament, which moved the Scorpions from the office of the National Prosecuting Authority and integrated them into the South African Police Service. The President also took the decision to remove the Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli.
There are a complex of reasons behind these divisions which have grown deeper and more serious since 1994. Some commentators see it as a question of personalities or the quest for power. Often Mbeki was seen as ‘aloof and intellectual’ and Zuma as ‘a man of the people’. Personalities do certainly come in to the issue but it is more than that. The question of personality cannot be ignored, however, the political issues ultimately are the more important. GEAR engendered far more dissent in South Africa than either Mbeki’s AIDS scepticism or his ‘quiet diplomacy’ on Zimbabwe, and led to:
"the most serious schism the party had experienced in its century of existence – and would fuel the rebellion against Mbeki following the firing of Jacob Zuma in 2005.”(9)
From the time that the Reconstruction and Development Programme was transformed into GEAR there had been a growing discontent with the economic policies within the ranks of the Tripartite Alliance.
Whilst the economy continued to grow and many advances were made in terms of access to clean water, electrification, sanitation, housing, education and other areas of social policy, the gap between rich and poor grew wider and unemployment remained very high at some 25% officially but nearer 40% in reality. The SACP drew the following conclusion:
Thanks to our post-1994 state interventions, big capital has been the major beneficiary of 13 years of ‘stabilisation’ and economic growth. The subordinate ‘caring’ state dimension of GEAR consisted in reducing the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) into a set of technical ‘delivery’ targets funded out of tax derived from this capitalist growth – delivery but without transformation. (10)
This discontent with the government’s economic policies was exacerbated by Mbeki’s lack of consultation with ANC’s partners, COSATU and the SACP:
“For years we have had to endure from some quarters of the ANC consistent displays of contempt and disdain for the elected leaderships of the SACP and COSATU.” (11)
Jacob Zuma was seen by many as a victim and thus became the reservoir of discontent within the ANC alliance. Other factors, which have to be taken into consideration, are the issues of careerism, opportunism and corruption, largely a consequence of ANC holding power. From 1994 and the first democratic election many leaders of ANC, COSATU and the SACP had entered government, locally and nationally, as politicians or officials. This weakened the structures of the Tripartite Alliance. With the introduction of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) many others went into business.
At the same time as these departures from the structures of the movement, some people saw that the best and quickest way forward for them personally was to join the ANC. The first of the ANC leaders to openly talk about these negative tendencies was former president Nelson Mandela. In his political report to the 50th National Conference in 1997, he stated:
Later in this report, we will discuss the intrusion of this self-same media within our ranks, during the last three years, to encourage our own selfdestruction, with the active involvement of some who are present here as bona-fide delegates to the conference of a movement to which they owe no loyalty... In reality, during the last three years, we have found it difficult to deal with such careerists in a decisive manner. We, ourselves, have therefore allowed the space to emerge for these opportunists to pursue their counterrevolutionary goals, to the detriment of our movement and struggle. During this period, we have also been faced with various instances of corruption involving our own members, including those who occupy positions of authority by virtue of the victory of the democratic revolution... Clearly we have to take all necessary measures to purge ourselves of such members and organise ourselves in a way that will make it difficult for corrupt elements to gain entry into our movement. (12)
President Mandela was joined in the same conference by Acting Secretary General Cheryl Carolus, who further reflected on the matter:
The competition within the organisation for positions in government has added a new dimension to the contestation of ANC leadership positions. Election to an ANC position is viewed by some as a stepping stone to positions of power and material reward within government. While such views might be inevitable, we need to ensure that personal ambition is sufficiently tempered by the needs of the organisation and the demands of the National Democratic Revolution. The organisation needs to develop mechanisms which will ensure that the contestation of leadership positions does not divide the organisation and does not detract from the key programme of the movement. (13)
These problems of careerism and corruption have continued to the present. The ANC January 8th Statement in 2008 said:
While the ANC's organisational strengths have included an ability to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional support base and adapt mass work under new conditions, it has acquired a number of 'accumulated weaknesses'. As conference indicated, these weaknesses include:-
In the run-up to conference, the process of leadership contestation seriously tested the ANC's unity and cohesion, core values, character, and tried and tested organisational practices. (14)
- An inability to effectively deal with new tendencies arising from being a ruling party, such as social distance, patronage, careerism, corruption and abuse of power;
- Ineffective management of the interface between the movement and the state;
- A flawed approach to membership recruitment;
- A decline in ideological debate among cadres; and
- A lack of institutional resources to give practical effect to the movement's leadership role.
In the run-up to the December 2007 Polokwane ANC Conference the SACP stated in 'An Open Letter to the ANC Membership':
The SACP is calling for an end to a leadership style in which loyalty to individuals over-rides loyalty to the struggle, in which gross incompetence trumps effectiveness, in which favourites are propped up in the midst of endless failure and scandal. (15)
These open criticisms of the Mbeki style of leadership had been growing for some time prior to the Polokwane conference. For example, the “Presidency is too powerful” (16) and our democracy is “excessively presidential.” (17)
Following the Polokwane conference the new ANC leadership established their authority. As well as recalling Thabo Mbeki as President of the Republic, the right of ANC structures over the appointment of Premiers and Mayors was re-asserted.
The ANC has now gone into election mode in preparation for the election to be held on 22 April 2009. This includes the launch of the manifesto, determination of the national and provincial lists of candidates and deployment of cadres in the campaign.
(1) Kgalema Motlanthe (Deputy President), Gwede Mantashe (Secretary-General), Baleka Mbete (Chair), Thandise Modise (deputy Secretary-General) and Matthew Phosa (Treasurer-General).
(2) Including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Foreign Minister); Pallo Jordan (Minister of Arts and Culture); Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (Minister of Health, now Minister in the Presidency); and Trevor Manuel
(3) Kgalema Montlanthe was Secretary-General of ANC from 1998-2008.
(4) Including Rev Allan Boesak, Nosimo Balindlela (former Eastern Cape Premier), Phillip Dexter (former SACP Central Committee) and Barney Pityana (Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa).
(5) GEAR: Growth, Employment and Redistribution Plan.
(6) Gevisser, Mark, “Thabo Mbeki: the dream deferred”, p674, pub 2007, Jonathan Ball Publishers.
(7) O’Malley, Padraig, “Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa”, p442, pub Viking Penguin.
(8) An SACP Open Letter to the ANC Membership, “We can’t go on like this..together, let’s make sure things change”, African Communist, November 2007.
(9) Gevisser, Mark, “Thabo Mbeki: the dream deferred”, p666, pub 2007, Jonathan Ball publishers.
(10) “Umsebenzi”, journal of the SACP, “A Shift to Where?”, May 2007.
(11) An SACP open Letter to the ANC Membership, African Communist, November 2007.
(12) Political Report, 50th National Conference, 1997.
(13) Organisational Report, 50th National Conference, December 1997.
(14) ANC Statement, 8 January 2008
(15) An Open Letter to the ANC Membership, African Communist, November 2007.
(16) SACP, SAPA, May 2006.
(17) Vavi M., General Secretary, COSATU, May 2006.
This article is also published in The Socialist Correspondent.