Is South Africa headed for a left-wing, state-controlled (statist) economy, because the orthodox market-orientated economy that Thabo Mbeki set in stone in previous ANC governments has failed to reduce black poverty?
Conclusions are being drawn that the April 22 election was a coup for the Left because the economic ministries are grouped now under active or one-time Communists, so that "transformation" of the economy can begin. The evidence for these conclusions is erratic: it could be just a coincidence that members and supporters of the South African Communist Party have been appointed so as to form a cluster, and it could be that this does not guarantee they will pull together.
But there are firm grounds for the belief that economic transformation will begin soon. The national conference of the ANC at Polokwane in December 2007 ordered it. It was a crucial element in the ANC's populist election campaign. The strong Communist presence now appointed to the economic ministries follows this pattern.
The sheer size and complexity of the presidency and of Zuma's government seems to be custom-built for turf wars. If indeed turf wars break out between economic departments, or between these departments and the government as a whole, or between them and other individual ministers, the party bosses in Luthuli House (ANC headquarters) have the authority to call errant ministers to order. Given the cadre deployment system by which the ANC operates, and the lack of a constituency system which might provide freedom of conscience for the individual MP or minister, the entire way in which ANC government is structured, even more so under Zuma than under Mbeki, provides for enforcement - in the name of the ANC. For every top-ranking politician or official there is a custodian, which raises the question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who shall guard the guardians themselves)?
Does Zuma sense he could be caught in the crossfire between warring ministers because transformation is such so awesome? According to Mbeki's biographer Mark Gevisser, "the ministers of justice, defence, intelligence" [now called ‘state security' in a throwback to both apartheid and the ANC's old Stalinist past], "police and communications are all die-hard Zuma loyalists." Zuma expects these ministers to serve him in the way their predecessors served Mbeki. Is there method in Zuma's ministerial appointments: presenting the economic ministers with a poisoned chalice, while retaining the hard core of power for himself?
As this article will point out, the Zuma government does not represent a single tightly knit party, but is a form of coalition of disparate interests. There may well be different levels of enthusiasm for statist transformation among the partners.
The ANC's enforcers
We already have Trevor Manuel (National Planning Commission) and Pravin Gordhan (Finance) watching each other. And Zuma has proposed that Ebrahim Patel's Economic Development department should formulate the policies of the Department of Trade and Industry and Finance to sort out long-standing tensions. Now a new official appears whose daunting task will be to maintain working harmony in the party. He is Collins Chabane, an ANC national executive committee member whose title is Minister in the Presidency: Performance Monitoring and Evaluation as well as administration in the presidency.
Columnist Justice Malala writes: "Not many people know anything about Collins Chabane, the man who is in charge of monitoring and evaluation of the government's programme. He will work closely with Manuel and Zuma. This means the man is instantly the most powerful individual in the cabinet. He can fire any minister."
In Business Day (May 14), Karima Brown writes: "Collins Chabane is the ultimate backroom operator...He played a key role in the ANC's transition team which fashioned the details of President Jacob Zuma's overhauled executive". Explaining his new role, Chabane told Brown: "Peer rivalry can cause havoc. You have four politicians with huge personal staff in the presidency [Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan, Rob Davies and Ebrahim Patel]. It can be tricky. We would have to prevent turf politics in the presidency. I think that is why I was put in this position."
Brown says Chabane will "peer over the shoulders" not only of cabinet colleagues, but also of mayors, premiers and other ANC leaders.
Yesterday, the Sunday Times revealed that a wealthy businessman, Sandile Zungu, 41, will be named this week as head of Zuma's office in the Union Buildings - the post the Rev Frank Chikane occupied under Mbeki. Zungu's company has interests in mining and telecommunications. Last year Zungu said that while Trevor Manuel was one of the best finance ministers in the world, he was not up to key challenges like job creation.
Now Zungu will work with Manuel. Further additions to the already large presidency staff, says the Sunday Times, are that the current ANC spokesperson, Lindiwe Sisulu, will be named as cabinet secretary, while two former ministers, Charles Nqakula (former national chairperson of the SACP and Minister of Safety and Security in Mbeki's government) and Mandisi Mphahlwa (Trade and Industry) will be appointed advisers to the presidency.
Malala says that not only has the cabinet been inflated to 34, but the presidency at present contains about 500 people working on policy matters and occupying "all sorts of other positions." Every minister "gets a blue light, a driver and a whole new department...virtually every ministry has been renamed, which means millions of Rands will be spent on rebranding, making new business cards and so forth." The opposition Democratic Alliance estimates that the Zuma overhaul will cost R2 billion annually. This sum, it says, could build 60,000 low cost houses, employ an additional 20,000 police constables for a year, or pay for the salaries of 17,000 teachers.
Zuma's coalition government
As Malala has noted, the voting on April 22 was not an election, but a "narrow plebiscite...a referendum on the ANC rule of the past 15 years."
To explain: An election is for choosing a government or representatives or officials, whereas a plebiscite is on a specific issue. On April 22 the specific issue was about returning the ANC to office, the unspoken injunction to ANC voters being to wait patiently in queues and tick "ANC" on their ballot papers, because the ANC is a legend and its supporters are required to endorse the legend. As ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, said: "We'll show them that outside the ANC there is no life; no nice things."
The new ANC asked for a blank cheque on April 22 and was given one. It will take weeks, months, even years, before the electorate grasps fully what it voted for. Scrutiny of the new government confirms that the whole Zuma movement is a coalition. To the extent that it is a unity, this is due to a common negative factor: principally, mutual dislike of Mbeki, plus no doubt desire for the spoils of office from among those who perceived themselves as unjustly excluded.
More important, the ANC now represents an almost totally monoracial constituency. It has lost the inter-racial alliance with which it entered office in 1994, in which a substantial base of ethnic support for the ANC was represented in a Mac Maharaj, an Ahmed Kathrada or a Joe Slovo. This inter-racial element has been diverted and is beginning to take root directly in the Democratic Alliance's election vote, and indirectly through the possibility of post-election agreements between the DA and Cope (the breakaway Congress of the People). Whites, Coloureds and Indians voted for the DA, whereas a good deal of their allegiance went previously almost automatically to the ANC. An imbalance has built up in South African electoral politics that increasingly will tend to make the ANC more inward-looking; and in these locked-in tensions of inwardness and turf wars, factionalism will breed.
Here another interesting development occurs. Neither Gwede Mantashe (ANC secretary-general and SACP chairman), nor Zwelinzima Vavi (Cosatu secretary general), nor Julius Malema (ANC Youth League president) have taken seats in the National Assembly. There may be various every-day explanations for this, but a possible explanation is that if things get out of control in the cabinet or parliament, these non-parliamentarians will be able to exert pressure on government from strong vantage points with mass support outside the NA.
Zuma's own position is unclear. As the Cosatu/SACP battering ram against Mbeki, and with his own reserves of populist support, especially among Zulu-speakers, he is indispensable to Cosatu and the SACP. But they have reservations about his reliability. At the ANC national conference at Polokwane in December 2007 he was voted in as ANC president (with 60% of the votes, as against 40% for Mbeki). The next time the ANC votes for a president will be in 2012. This means Zuma has already served 18 months of his five-year term, and has three-and-a-half years left. If the mood in the party turns against him, he will be replaced in 2012 by a new president - for which position there is likely to be a rush of candidates. Some Cosatu/SACP leaders can't wait; nor can some other high profile politicians.
Exiles and inziles
Another factor in the Zuma camp's composition is the exile/inzile one. When the ANC (and other organizations) were banned between 1960 to 1990, many of their supporters went into exile. Those who continued the struggle against apartheid on the home front became known as the inziles. In this way, two groups emerged. The returning exiles, led principally by Thabo Mbeki, soon came to dominate the inziles, even persuading them to shut down the nationwide United Democratic Front, formed in 1983, which had been largely responsible for sustaining the struggle against apartheid within the country. Foreign and local donors were encouraged to divert financial support from local NGOs to the regrouped ANC. Except on specific issues, such as the convening of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, even Nelson Mandela could not stand in the way of the exiles.
Today, with the exception of Zuma himself, all the big names from the exile period have been eliminated from cabinet office. Zuma presides over a government principally of inziles, plus lower level operatives from the exile period, and is much more "South Africa"-based in terms of life experience.
Some analysts see this as a good thing, in that (a) the "arrogance" and high-handedness associated with the ANC under Mbeki essentially reflected the character of the exile Apparat, of which Mbeki became a head at a very young age; and (b) nearly all ministers are younger than Zuma himself, who is 69. The entire Apparat in government from the 1990s (Essop and Aziz Pahad, Ronnie Kasrils, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang among them, all tied to Mbeki) is gone, removed from office in the ANC at the Polokwane conference in December 2007, which made a clean sweep of the ANC's exile Old Guard. Being younger than any previous ANC government, the new members of government may prove collectively to be closer to South African realities, more pragmatic, and less ideological than their predecessors. Or maybe not....
Manuel and Gordhan
Among those few members of Mbeki's government who were returned to office in the ANC's national executive committee at Polokwane, Finance minister Trevor Manuel was the principal target of Cosatu and the SACP. Change him, they said, and you change core financial policies. As these kingmakers of the Alliance wished, Manuel has now been moved, to function instead as minister in the presidency in charge of a new National Planning Division, which "will be responsible for strategic planning for the country to ensure one National Plan to which all spheres of government would adhere."
Few know what this commission means.
Just days before the announcement of its formation, Matthews Phosa (one of the ANC's top six leaders) said privately that the commission would never be created. The opposition Democratic Alliance sees it as "a step into the unknown." In addition to the possibility of turf wars in the government, there is uncertainty anyway over Manuel's shelf-life. There is speculation that it will not be long before he leaves government to take up one or other attractive international position. This is a matter of concern for the corporate world, but also worrying for it will be how the National Planning Division then continues to function, and the political mindset of the person who replaces Manuel: should this person prove, say, to be a Communist Party hardliner.
In Manuel's place comes Pravin Gordhan, 60, who as Commissioner of the SA Revenue Service since 1999 was the country's chief (and highly efficient) tax collector. Gordhan worked underground for the SACP for 20 years in KwaZulu-Natal. Manuel's policies, he said, will not change. "To put it plain and simple," he explained (Business Day, May 14), "the current policy remains exactly as it is." But if that is so, why change Manuel?
Gordhan no doubt will do what the ANC "leadership" wants him to do. Already, he has raised the issue of inflation targeting: the Manuel commitment that caused Cosatu and the SACP to froth serially at the mouth. On the day before Gordhan declared that Manuel's policies "will not change," he said (with reference to inflation targeting and other matters): "We want to have all role players in one room for as many days as is necessary...and emerge with a consensus on how we manage these sorts of issues in the best interests of SA." In other words, inflation targeting will be put into a melting pot . What comes out is most unlikely to be Manuel's policies.
1. Finance under Pravin Gordhan (see comments above). According to analyst Anthony Butler, "Gordhan is regarded as a linchpin that will hold government's significant new power networks together." In other words, Chabane and Gordhan are ANC enforcers. At a higher level, Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general at Luthuli House headquarters, will also be an enforcer, but more actively so than his predecessor, Kgalema Motlanthe, now Deputy President.
2. Economic Development under Ebrahim Patel, 49, is seen by the opposition as "a step into the unknown." As general secretary of the Cosatu affiliated clothing and textile union (Sactwu), and a member of the central executive committee of Cosatu itself for two decades, Patel is a lifelong activist. He leans towards protectionism, a subject on which Cosatu has warred endlessly with Mbeki, asking for tariff barriers to be raised on imports (such as Chinese textiles) that undercut local manufacturers. He has also served on local and international public bodies.
In The Sowetan, Michael Hamlyn has described Patel as "an ardent socialist," adding: "If you imagine a firebrand agitator, red in tooth and claw, you will have imagined Ebrahim Patel." Zuma suggests that Patel's department should formulate the policies of the Department of Trade and Industry and of Finance, and help to remove long-standing tensions between them which have led to contradictory economic and trade policies.
3. Trade and Industry under Dr. Rob Davies, a member of the Central Committee of the SACP and a former Politburo member (who will work with two deputy ministers). In 2005 Davies was appointed deputy minister of Trade and Industry, focussing on international trade relations and industrial policy. With a doctorate from Sussex University and a focus on economics, he has been a member of parliament since 1994.
4. Higher Education and Training under Dr Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the SACP. Nzimande is an ambitious, high profile Zuma supporter, who has concerned himself with student affairs, trade unionism and academic life. Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC and SACP chairman, says of him: "We need a person who understands the concept of the skills revolution: that the skills revolution is critical for the success of this country. Therefore you need a revolutionary to do that revolution."
A strong grouping in the ANC, SACP and Cosatu had wished to see Nzimande as Deputy President. In January this year Nzimande began publicly attacking Kgalema Motlanthe, the former ANC secretary general who was appointed interim state President after the downfall of Mbeki, and is now Deputy President under Zuma. Nzimande declared that Motlanthe was part of the "old Mbeki crowd". He also criticised Motlanthe because he had refused to sign the SA Broadcasting Bill, which would have given the ANC full control of state television. Trouble could be brewing in their relationship.
5. Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs under Deputy Minister Yunus Carrim, a member of the SACP's Central Committee and its Politburo.
6. Transport under Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary general of the SACP.
7. International Relations and Co-operation (formerly Foreign Affairs) under Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ismael Ebrahim, an SACP member and close colleague of Zuma from the time together in Robben Island prison.
8. Communications under retired General Siphiwe Nyanda, a commander in the Umkhonto weSizwe Operation Vula and subsequent Chief of the South African National Defence Force.
9. Justice and Constitutional Development under Jeff Radebe, member of the Central Committee of the SACP, who held cabinet office in Mbeki's government.
With so many Communists in control of economic departments, the SACP realises that this is a unique chance to capture real control of the country's government. (The M&G notes that "Countrywide the SACP has 99 legislators, 37 in the National Assembly".) Zuma, too, knows he has to tread carefully to restrain this powerful nucleus in government, so as not to frighten the horses in the corporate world. But he is skilled at playing tactical games. Repeatedly, he has said of South Africa's macro-economic policies: "Nothing will change." Repeatedly, Cosatu has retorted: "Everything will change."
The view of this article is that the ANC fairly soon will begin to dismantle Mbeki's macro-economic programme of Growth, Employment and Reconstruction (GEAR). Cosatu and the SACP are running out of time. The masses of the impoverished - the great majority of them black - are becoming impatient, and outbreaks, often violent, occur in the townships. Promised relief from poverty by the Zuma election campaign, they want that promise to be kept now. Zuma's backers may have no choice than to go for the jugular now instead of later.
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter