Cyril Ramaphosa and the Deepening Crisis of the ANC: Renewal or Perpetuation?

By Gunnett Kaaf- The ANC Nasrec Conference (December 2017) was greeted as a turning point since it brought the end of Jacob Zuma’s era that was marked by the worst forms of the ANC rot. The two major presidential candidates, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, were portrayed in most of the media analysis as proxies for the perpetuation of the ANC rot as represented by Zuma and for the renewal of the ANC, respectively.
Ramaphosa won with 2440 votes against Dlamini-Zuma’s 2261 votes. The difference was a small margin of 179 votes. The CR slate only won three of the top 6 positions. Even the NEC results displayed the narrow margins in terms of the two contesting slates. On the numbers game, the Ramaphosa victory is clearly treading fragile grounds. But the defeat of NDZ was decisive in weakening the Premier League which has dominated ANC internal politics and was the main force behind Zuma since the 2012 ANC Mangaung Conference.
Now that NDZ was defeated, Ramaphosa won and ostensibly radical resolutions were passed by the ANC conference, is the ANC on the way to renewing?

Renewal or perpetuation?
I propose two possible scenarios for the ANC renewal. The first one is a renewal from below, which can happen if tens of thousands of ANC members organise themselves and rise up against the rot and the mafia; and say: “The rot stops here and it goes no further! Not in our name!” The conference did not herald such a moment. Instead the dominant factions within the ANC seem to have set the stage for the contest and the outcome of the conference. This is because the ANC members have long been sidelined by powerful factions in running the affairs of the organization. Powerful factions have appropriated all power to themselves within the ANC. For all intents and purposes, the ANC remains a mass movement only through passive mass support; the ANC is a mass movement controlled by powerful factions, it is not a mass movement of active and meaningful mass participation.

Members have been reduced to a status of pawns in the numbers game to mobilise support for the victory of warring factions at conferences. So in reality, ANC members have resigned themselves to the power of factions, or they no longer care about saving the ANC since it proving to be an impossible task. So this scenario of members’ revolt within the ANC is not possible, in reality.

The second scenario is a renewal from above which can happen if a leader or a group of leaders set to renew the ANC by rooting out corruption and initiate a path towards a meaningful social transformation for the benefit the majority. Cyril and his group do not resemble a group of radical (even moderate) modernisers who can push a meaningful ANC renewal from above. Their power, as derived from the conference outcome, is fragile; many rogue elements such as Ace Magashule, Jessie Duarte and DD Mabuza are still very powerful.

How Ramaphosa carried out the cabinet reshuffle, following the recall of Jacob Zuma, shows a lack of audacity to kick out all the rogue and rotten elements who are implicated in scandals. Instead, Ramaphosa seem hell-bent on negotiating everything. The outcome of this negotiation is compromises that accommodate corruption, and yet he claims an anticorruption agenda to be the mainstay his presidency.
Ramaphosa seem to be largely relying on the law enforcement agencies to do the cleaning-up of the rot that is widespread within the state. Without necessary political actions to fight the rot, he can only go so far and get nowhere deeper because the rot runs way too deep within various organs of the state. Mind you, we have 40 national state departments, 9 provincial governments with no less than 90 provincial departments, 257 municipalities and about 300 public entities. Corruption is found in most of these 687 state organs, and many of them are large and complex organizations. That’s why law enforcement alone will not succeed because evidence has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. Most of the public entities play no developmental role and have weak governance regulations and practices, that’s why they are vulnerable to corruption and capture by predatory forces. In the absence of a coherent development plan, most of these state organs fall prey to neoliberal prescripts that do not advocate a strengthened role of the state, instead defer to market forces for solutions. The National Development Plan (NDP) does not close the gap for a coherent development plan because it is largely a vision statement. Even as a vision, the NDP is still based on neoliberal assumptions in how it envisages development.

Ramaphosa and his group don’t have the inclination to revive and mobilise the ANC grassroots to help them carry out the renewal, and kick-out the rogue and rotten elements among the leading personnel of the ANC.
Cyril is only going to be better than Zuma, but will still fail, as he falls short of the minimum requirements for the ANC renewal; he can’t halt and reverse the rot, he will only slow it down. He is better as we can see some good work in cleaning up Eskom and SARS already happening. The Ramaphosa cleanup drive, though limited, may still resonate with the mass support of the ANC; recovering some lost support and avert a worst electoral outcome next year. But that will not be proving the adequacy of the Ramophosa cleanup, but rather it will be merely saving the ANC fortunes in a climate of a weak opposition parties (DA and EFF) and weak (extra parliamentary) mass movements. But then, to the extent that people want real change in their lives after 24 years of democracy, the Ramophosa euphoria will die down sooner than later, and will have no significant effect in alleviating the deepening crisis of the ANC.
Can the ANC overcome its failure and revive to effect a meaningful social change?
The ANC crisis stems from two major sources. Firstly, it is the widespread corruption (the rot) and secondly, it is the failure of the ANC to effect a meaningful social change that advances the development for the majority and overcomes inequality. Because poverty and inequality have become the defining social features in post-1994 South Africa, class struggles have gained a decisive prominence in the political and social struggles that will make or break South Africa going forward. Advancing the social demands of popular classes, who are largely black, is going to be a measure of social progress and a mark of a meaningful social transformation.

Can the ANC really renew itself to the extent leading a meaningful social change?
During the struggle, the ANC, together with its allies, emerged as the most organized force, with a better strategy to mobilise a broad array of national and class forces to struggle for democracy, nonracial society and equality before the law. Contrasting this vision to white apartheid rule, this vision posed a social revolutionary dimension because it required universal suffrage and repeal of racist laws which institutionalized inequality. The ANC therefore emerged as the dominant force in the post-apartheid dispensation because it was better than other liberation forces in organising the people and posing a vision that resonated with the masses. It is perhaps this past glory that makes some to believe the ANC can still renew; clean up the rot and become a force of social transformation again.

After 1994, what was needed was for the ANC to pursue a social transformation with audacity, towards social equality. Instead the ANC embraced neoliberalism with the hope that it would result in foreign direct investment in productive sectors and grow the economy in ways that would create jobs, alleviate poverty and bring about development to township and rural communities. This fantasy of social progress through capitalism would dismally fail.

The ANC chose accommodation within global capitalism largely because of its lack of audacity to pursue a radical programme. There was also no daring to consistently insist on a radical programme, among the radical elements within the ANC led movement. These radical elements included COSATU, SACP, ANC branches, the youth movement, student movement, civics and some progressive NGO’s.

The SACP has no courage of its own convictions. They are fond of making threats of going alone, and making noises about rot when they are sidelined from powerful circles. Once they are brought back into the fold, like Cyril has done with his reshuffle, they tend keep quite. In essence the SACP has no political independent programme of a meaningful radical nature that makes an impact in the alliance. They add no value in the alliance, other than chasing accommodation within the ANC. Their lack of an independent socialist programme that is based on social demands of the workers and poor makes it difficult for the SACP to break out of the alliance impasse, even when they genuinely want to do so.

COSATU has been severely weakened by the implosion following the expulsion of NUMSA and Vavi. Many of the COSATU affiliates have experienced splits.
But perhaps the bourgeois capitulation of the ANC was also born out of its historically weak revolutionary strategy (the NDR) that did not integrate an anti-capitalist outlook. The nationalism of the ANC dominated over the socialist influence of the SACP. So much that even the SACP itself tended to subordinate class struggles to the dominant nationalism.

A radical programme with an anti-capitalist outlook that goes somewhere in challenging the foundations of the South African capitalism( cheap labour, Mineral Energy Complex and a dependent integration into the global capitalist economy) would have helped the push towards a real better life for all and social equality. To stop at the bourgeois revolution (which is what the ANC’s NDR has been reduced to) betrays the historically oppressed black majority, since South Africa’s historical capitalism was allowed to continue and restructure (by globalising and financialising) in terms favorable to South Africa’s big corporates, post-94. This continuity and the restructuring of the historical capital accumulation post-94, betrayed the people because it did not provide acceptable responses to social problems stemming from the apartheid legacy.

Nationalism has never succeeded in overcoming inequality post liberation struggles in the Global South. Instead, everywhere in the Global South where some measure of success has been registered towards social progress and equality, anti-capitalist struggles would have played a decisive role.

Today the ANC is not only reluctant to embarking on a renewal path, marked by a genuinely radical programme, but rather it is incapable of doing so. The ANC is incapable even though they are aware that a meaningful social transformation can only result from radical measures buttressed by popular power. It is because of their awareness of the necessity of radical measures and their own incapability to carry out such measures that the ANC has settled for populist overtures, over genuine radical efforts. That’s why the ANC’s radical economic transformation would be championed by such conservative elements as Zuma, Ace, Nkosazana and Supra! The ANC populist rhetoric that promises radical change, including on land expropriation without compensation, is also a containment strategy for the EFF, aimed at averting the danger of losing big electoral support to the EFF.

Transcend the ANC or get trapped in a tragic impasse
Cyril Ramaphosa’s close links to big business (himself a billionaire business man) will not help the efforts of the ANC to make a genuinely radical turn. As it has been seen from his state of the nation address and the budget speech, he has no semblance of a radical outlook. He is all about the neoliberal business as usual and all that NDP talk.

The ANC is no longer capable of carrying out any big social project because it is, on the weight of its own internal and external contradictions, imploding like an Empire of Chaos. There are no forces of renewal within the ANC fold, the good comrades who still remain in the ANC are trapped in the inertia of ANC politics. It is up to the left and progressive forces outside the ANC to initiate a genuine renewal for the country, based on bottom-up democratic and emancipatory politics and a meaningful social transformation. Otherwise there is a real danger for the whole country to be trapped in a tragic impasse, if we don’t transcend the ANC, to a point where the main agenda is not set by the ANC, but the ANC just become one of the political players.

Gunnett Kaaf is a political and community activist based in Bloemfontein

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