Delegates at the African National Congress conference have elected deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as the party’s new leader.
Ramaphosa’s victory is an insult to the memory of the 34 miners massacred at Marikana in 2012. Ramaphosa 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.
On Monday he won a bitterly contested election that was awash with accusations of intimidation, bribery, cheating and even murders from all sides. Ramaphosa took 2,440 delegates' votes to 2,261 for his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
But neither of the candidates had answers for South Africa’s workers and the poor. The ANC has ceased to be any sort of a liberation force.
Instead it is widely regarded as institutionally corrupt, unwilling to confront corporate power, repressive towards poor people who complain, and in cahoots with business.
This has led to waves of protests and strikes, sometimes winning concessions. On the eve of conference, in an effort to boost his legacy, Zuma announced the extension of free university education to many more students.
This is a victory for the students who have led militant protests around the #feesmustfall movement.
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa and the ANC’s present leader, is the embodiment of the ANC’s slide rightwards.
He stands accused of hundreds of frauds, which the ANC has not regarded as serious enough to have him removed.
On Saturday, in his two and a half hour final official address, Zuma showed some recognition of the ANC’s crisis. But he blamed it on trade unions and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Zuma said, “The tensions that have built up over the years, at times as a result of dissatisfaction with the policy instruments adopted by the ANC and its government, have now come to a head.
“In an unprecedented move, we saw in the past few months our alliance partners marching side by side with right wing forces who are historical opponents of our democratic revolution, calling on the President of the ANC to step down.
“Hardly three weeks ago, the SACP contested elections on its own working against the ANC.”
The response was swift. Bheki Ntshalintshali, general secretary of the pro-ANC Cosatu union federation, dismissed as fiction the suggestion that Cosatu was aligning itself with the right-wing.
“Workers will never do that,” he said. “We are laughing when we realise that in this ANC, there are many business people who have been invited as guests.
“We don’t even invite businesses in our organisation, as poor as we may be, because we regard them as a class enemy.”
SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila said Zuma “was extremely pathetic dealing with the issues of the alliance”.
On Sunday ANC chair Gwede Mantashe presented an organisational report. It said, “Fierce, even fatal contestation, together with an almost endemic factionalism between and among comrades, dominates our structures.” It admitted the ANC was in trouble electorally—but then again attacked the unions.
Mantashe's report describes the SACP and Cosatu as “reactionary” and accuses them of seeking out allies “historically hostile to our movement”.
However, both Cosatu and the SACP might seek reconciliation now Ramaphosa has replaced Zuma. Cosatu openly backed Ramaphosa for leader.
The SACP formally resolved recently not to support any candidate for ANC president, but several of its leaders were known to be Ramaphosa supporters.
In contrast Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, which is a more militant break from Cosatu, said, “The only difference between the two main contenders was that Ramaphosa represents mainstream monopoly capitalism, of which he is a member, discredited by his role in the murders of Marikana, while Dlamini Zuma represented the thieves and murderers of the corrupt cabal around her former husband.”
A section of union leaders, led by the Numsa metalworkers’ union, have long said they are “preparing” a workers’ party as an alternative to the ANC. It must not be delayed any longer.