The ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa is meeting at a crucial conference just as it faces its biggest crisis since the end of apartheid.
A bitter battle for its leadership is sharply dividing the party, and it may be losing the South African Communist Party (SACP) as a member of its electoral coalition. The SACP has been crucial in keeping workers as part of the ANC’s bloc.
The ANC’s aura as the organisation that fought bravely against the racist state and led the way to democracy has been draining away for many years.
The end of apartheid was a huge victory, but economic power remains firmly in the hands of multinational firms, white bosses and a thin layer of very rich black people.
Meanwhile the black majority face appalling conditions. An official report in August showed that 30.4 million South Africans—56 percent of the population—are living in poverty, up from 27.3 million in 2011.
But the gradual decline in ANC support has now become a flood. President Jacob Zuma is widely derided as corrupt and faces 18 charges on 783 counts of fraud.
These crimes were allegedly committed before he was president. But Zuma also faces a series of new potential legal challenges linked to “state capture” and his ties to the Gupta family. These super-rich businessmen have business links to Zuma and his family and a string of witnesses say they had influence over lucrative state contracts.
Zuma’s term as ANC leader is coming to an end. On 17 December his successor is set to be elected at the ANC’s national conference. Whoever wins will be expected to become president after the next national elections in 2019—although that is now far from certain.
An acrimonious fight to head the ANC is taking place between deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma is seen as the “continuity Zuma” candidate and would block prosecutions concerning offences he has allegedly committed.
Whoever wins will not be a president for workers and the poor
Ramaphosa is fabulously wealthy and associated with the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana in 2012. He was a non-executive director of Lonmin, the mining firm that worked with the police to carry out the killings. Ramaphosa played a key role in the events, demanding “action” against the strikers. Yet many union leaders back him.
In the run-up to the congress the candidates had nearly equal numbers of pledged delegates supporting them. Whoever wins will not be a president for workers and the poor.
But the regional conferences that elected the delegates have not just discussed the succession but more fundamental questions.
In Gauteng, South Africa’s most economically important region, delegates passed a resolution. It said, “The mismanagement of our economy, including corruption in state-owned enterprises, has contributed to the increased and unprecedented levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
Gauteng ANC chair Paul Mashatile said, “We may lose power in the next general elections if we don’t mend our ways.”
The ANC’s decline is so marked that the SACP ran candidates against it in council by-elections in Metshimaholo municipality in Free State last week. It won three seats.
On Monday Blade Nzimande, the general secretary of the SACP, said, “This is the first time in the post-apartheid period that the SACP has contested an election independently. It has sent a strong signal, and we refuse to be taken for granted.”
The SACP’s main complaint is that it is being edged from the centre of power. Its newly independent stance might disappear if a few more cabinet posts are dangled in front of it. A real alternative to the neoliberalism of the ANC, and the gestures of the SACP, is desperately needed.
Last month the metalworkers’ union Numsa said, “The intense battle between Zuma and Ramaphosa can be summed up as the battle between two capitalist factions.
“Whoever wins will continue to exploit the working class just like they have been doing for the last 23 years.”
Union leaders have long said they are “preparing” a workers’ party as an alternative. It must not be delayed any longer.