The days that shook the ANC

As Zupta dominoes fall Jeremy Cronin explains what happened at the December conference

Advancing into new, uncertain times

Lenin is reputed to have once said “there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.” It would be an exaggeration to claim decades have been happening in South Africa in the past few weeks. We are not exactly living through “ten days that shook the world” as John Reed once described the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

But we are certainly living through a rapid and considerable shaking up of South Africa and notably of the ANC and the state.

After a prolonged and painful period of ANC leadership paralysis, with one scandal piling up after another, suddenly, since mid-January, a flurry of long delayed developments has kicked off, and with an increasing tempo. There is a real sense of falling dominoes.

Most notably, of course, as Umsebenzi is being produced, an ANC recall of President Jacob Zuma, something the SACP has long insisted upon, is now surely imminent.

But a Zuma recall is just one of multiple and interconnected developments. There have finally been decisive moves on Eskom, led by the deputy state president Cde Ramaphosa acting as de facto state president and in clear disregard for the nominal president. In similar fashion, Cde Ramaphosa declared publicly at Davos that there would be no nuclear deal.

The Hawks have found wings, swooping on the scandalous Vrede dairy farm Estina deal, even dragging the current Public Protector into belatedly issuing her own pathetically anodyne report on the matter (a report that somehow manages to leave the Guptas out of the equation).

Yes, much of what is happening is still half moves, reluctant shifts, or just the beginnings of long suppressed investigations. But we shouldn’t underestimate what is afoot, or fail to act vigorously in support of the momentum that has now opened up.

Everywhere, former Gupta political lackeys are jumping ship. Scoundrels are running for cover. Looters are turning whistle-blowers:

- The former Group CEO of Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) has tossed a few colleagues under the proverbial bus (his trains don’t work);

- A key player in the 1990s arms deal saga, Ajay Sookal, has crept from the woodwork to spill some of the beans at a People’s Tribunal. (It is a tribunal that in a matter of days has put to shame the earlier, spineless Judge Seriti Commission into the arms deal).

Apart from implicating two French presidents and several prominent ANC politicians in a massive cover-up, Sookal has recounted some illuminating anecdotes, like how Duduzane Zuma was fired by the Guptas and left without taxi fare when his father was suspended by Mbeki… only to be re-hired and gifted with a fancy Dubai apartment when his father’s fortunes turned.

Over a year ago, the SACP called for an independent judicial commission into corporate capture of the state. The former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report took up this idea and added that, since he was implicated in the report, President Zuma could not select the judge. After many delays and court challenges, finally Deputy Chief Justice Zondo has been nominated by the chief justice and duly appointed, with terms of reference now published that focus on the public protector’s findings.

There is much else that has happened. Former acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane and his wife have been criminally charged. Although it is being challenged in court, Shaun Abrahams’ appointment has been set aside and Zuma has been disqualified from appointing a successor. In fact, Zuma has been losing court case after court case, or pre-emptively conceding at the eleventh hour, and, in the process, throwing those who had defended him to the wolves. Brian Molefe is also not having a happy time in the courts.

Recently elected ANC officials proclaim “Zuma is going nowhere” one day… and sheepishly change their tune the next. The MKMVA head does an inelegant somersault in the name of “unity” and is accused, understandably, by his own rag-tag organisation of desertion – as if this were not a well-known character trait.

Even the imperious and arrogant MultiChoice concedes that, oops, there might have been a technical problem with the ANN7 deal – but (of course) they are still implausibly denying that it had anything whatsoever to do with trying to buy influence with government via the Guptas. Obviously, this sudden flurry of positive developments has not emerged from nowhere. SACP structures, along with many comrades from within the ANC-led movement, have waged a sustained and principled struggle against state capture and in defence of our hard-won democracy, our constitution, and our national sovereignty. We have been accused of treason, of selling out to white monopoly capital, and much else – but we have not been intimidated. For some months now, many (but not all) ANC MPs (among them SACP members) have played a leading role in parliamentary hearings that have further exposed state capture.

The role of many journalists needs to be particularly saluted.

There has been a steady accumulation of struggles, internal and external battles, and mounting crises, but the critical factor in breaking the logjam has surely been the ANC’s December National Conference. And yet that conference appeared to deliver a non-result, a 50/50 outcome between two apparently contradictory slates, and with everyone proclaiming this outcome as a victory for “unity”, when, in fact, it seemed to promise a persisting paralysis, a stalemate between warring factions. What is more, the SACP appeared to be the big loser at the conference with many SACP leaders not elected or re-elected as national executive committee members.

So how do we explain the paradox?

Like the 2007 Polokwane ANC National Conference, which marked the beginning of the end of President Mbeki’s hegemony, December’s ANC National Conference at Nasrec involved three and not two (as is commonly portrayed) major lobbying alignments and electoral slates.

Back in Polokwane there was what turned out to be a 40% pro-Mbeki versus a 60% anti-Mbeki lobby. But the 60% anti-Mbeki lobby involved two very distinct tendencies – a left axis largely driven by the SACP and Cosatu, and a predatory primitive accumulation lobby, whose campaigning muscle was located within the ANC Youth League. In the case of the latter tendency, its anti-Mbeki stance was not ideological so much as a frustration that its leading personalities were excluded from Mbeki’s privileged innercircle of BEE beneficiaries. Soon after the Polokwane conference tensions developed within the 60% anti-Mbeki lobby, with the predatory and demagogic ANC YL-centred pro-Zuma faction morphing into the Gupta state capture agenda.

Things were not entirely dissimilar but perhaps a bit more complicated in December at Nasrec. Standing against what became labelled crudely as the Zuma-NDZ-Gupta grouping were two somewhat distinct alignments. On the one hand, an assortment of what we might (for want of a better word) describe as ANC “centrists” – stalwarts, veterans, some former Mbeki-ites, all disgusted by the deepening scandals and the loss of moral standing of the organisation, an organisation they had sacrificed to build. Generally, these comrades enjoyed widespread popularity from ordinary ANC members and certainly from millions of disappointed ANC supporters. But they typically lacked major organisational muscle within the ANC and therefore often depended on the machinery of the SACP and (to a lesser extent) of Cosatu to penetrate provinces that had become effective no-go areas for anti-state capture campaigning.

Against this tendency, the Zuma camp was able to muster considerable, well-resourced (from ill-gotten gains) organisational muscle in several key provinces and from the ANC YL and Women’s League.

So how did the so-called CR17 campaign still manage to win the ANC presidency and obtain a tiny numerical advantage in the election of other structures?

This is where things get a little complicated.

Not everyone in the anti-Zuma/ anti-Gupta camp was (or is) against the parasitic looting of public resources. Key parts of what we formerly described as the “premier league” broke ranks with the Zuma camp in favour of a Ramaphosa presidency (and their own personal advancements). They did this not on principled grounds, but because they are business-rivals of the Guptaparasitic network. They worked to secure a Ramaphosa presidential victory, but then struck deals with their fellow anti-communist, primitive accumulators in the “NDZ” camp on who would be in and who would be out of the NEC. This is how some prominent SACP and other principled comrades got excluded from the NEC.

So does this mean that Ramaphosa is simply a hostage of a coalition of new and old wave parasitic accumulators?

The answer is no, and the evidence is provided by the current flurry of important and encouraging developments of the past few weeks. And this why it is important for the SACP and all progressive and patriotic forces not to stand aloof from the sudden burst of momentum that is now underway. At the same time, in acknowledging and commending Ramaphosa’s evident leading role in the current drive, we must not indulge in naive euphoria and a belief that the next “great man” will be our salvation. Apart from anything else, this would be no favour to the ANC president himself. The state-capturers are off-balance. So far, the best they can muster by way of a fight-back has been a sad little Black First Land First rented army and some tweeting from one of the presidential wives. But these forces must not be underrated. Disorganised they might now be, but they still have significant resources and strategic positions within the state.

The momentum of disrupting their capacity must be sustained. The blows against the Gupta parasitic network must spread to all parasitic networks like, for instance, those invested in Prasa where the Guptas have been handsomely emulated by others. Undue hesitation at this point could prove fatal.

In the midst of these developments, the SACP must also sustain a clear strategic understanding of our situation. Sending crooks to jail is essential but not enough. Rooting out the parasitic looting of state-owned enterprises is critical but insufficient on its own for advancing, deepening and defending a radical National Democratic Revolution. The SACP has called for a broad patriotic front against state capture and in defence of our national sovereignty and our democratic constitution. The patriotic platform that emerged, for instance, from the SACP-convened imbizo last year is almost exactly what is now being driven from the presidency of the ANC itself, with the widest support of much of society. The growing hegemony within the ANC and across the state of this platform is to be warmly welcomed.

But the SACP also has other critical responsibilities. Across the scope of the broad anti-state capture patriotic front there are (understandably and even necessarily) many different strategic agendas and imminent challenges. To take one example: the damage done to key state-owned companies like Eskom and the resulting impact on the debt exposure of our country (and therefore vulnerability of our national sovereignty) must not be underrated. In the anti-state capture broad front we will now increasingly hear calls for the privatisation of key strategic entities like Eskom to bail out our economy. These calls will be coming, not just from the private sector, but also from within the ANC and state.

In this overall situation the sub-theme of the SACP’s July 2017 National Congress becomes especially relevant. More than ever before the SACP is called upon to play its vanguard role through: “strategic consistency, analytic alertness, and tactical flexibility”!

Cde Jeremy Cronin is an SACP Politburo member, co-editor of Umsebenzi, and the Deputy Minister of Public Works

This article first appeared in the SACP journal, Umsebenzi.