All in all, the present period is pleasant. History is evidently bracing itself to take again a new start, and the signs of decomposition everywhere are delightful for every mind not bent upon the conservation of things as they are. (Marx to Lassalle, 31st May 1858)
The constitutional court in its findings on the Nkandla affair was clear that President Jacob Zuma had failed to implement or challenge legally the recommendations of the Public Protector on irregular expenditure at his Nkandla residence which amounted to a failure to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution”. The court also found that Parliament had failed in its duty to exercise its oversight role and to hold the executive accountable. In terms of our constitutional democracy this is a very serious transgression and undermines the basis of our democracy which many have fought and died for. Instead of doing the honourable thing and stepping down, President Zuma offered a half-hearted apology and continues to mislead the nation by insisting that he was prepared to pay for the upgrades as soon as they were determined by the correct authority. In this whole episode Cabinet Ministers and the ANC has played the role of covering up for and protecting the President, to the point that the entire ANC representation in Parliament voted as a bloc to prevent the impeachment of the President. This has prompted broad outrage and the focus has now shifted to an extra-parliamentary protest campaign to pressurise for the removal of Zuma.
The Democratic Revolution
While many people see this purely as a constitutional issue we must agree with Judge Edwin Cameron that this is a political crisis and not a constitutional one “There is no constitutional crisis… the political elite accepts the constitution. President Jacob Zuma accepts the outcome of the court. Parliament itself has.” The issues at stake while they reflect on an abuse of power by the President are far deeper; they are about the fact that the 1994 settlement failed to address the fundamental tasks of the democratic revolution, to address the questions of wealth redistribution, the land question and the racial spatial demographics of our society. This does not mean that the securing of the franchise, formal legal equality, a progressive Bill of Rights and the codification of progressive labour legislation were not huge gains arising from the struggle of the masses that have to be protected and defended.
The 1994 political settlement ensured that White Monopoly Capital and the White population in general preserved their grip on the economy through the property clauses in the constitution which at the same time legitimized the process of colonial dispossession. But for some exceptional cases (Ramaphosa/Sexwale etc) this meant that the historic patterns of ownership lead to a snail pace incremental reform of the economy and very little space for black economic empowerment. The ‘Developmental State’ agenda fails to address the developmental objectives sought by the populace and irrespective of corrective legislation such as BEE and Affirmative Action, these have failed to address the structural impediments to the aspirations of all classes, including the Black middle class. Fundamentally though, the objective position of the black working class has not changed, and they continue to take the brunt of the burden spawned by the structural crises of unemployment, high poverty and income disparity levels and corruption. The overwhelming majority of black people, irrespective of class, find themselves in a cycle of despair, with no access to assets (such as small landowners in other places do for instance); employment or other sources of income, the rural poor and working class eke out an existence. This structural gap finds frustration among the black middle class and aspirant capitalist class, who see neoliberal trickle-down economics as having created the basis for a parasitic faction of black capital to emerge and to utilize the organs of government to leverage access albeit on a corrupt basis.
The most organised expression of this is the ‘Zupta’ faction which used their leverage on state resources as a means to advance their accumulation of wealth. This faction was most organised because they worked through the Bonapartist elements of a shadow security state that the Zuma faction had carefully constructed since 2008. President Zuma ensured that all the key positions in government, particularly the security apparatus were his political allies. Amongst those appointed were his close political associates and friends (many from his home province which gave the security apparatus a Zulu ethnic flavour) and when they fell out with him they were replaced by more loyal and servile followers. The existence of this Bonapartist state facilitated the predatory relationship and led the Gupta’s to believe that they could exercise political appointments to suit their business interests undermining all levels of political etiquette and the ruling party, as they wished. The appointment of a veritable unknown Mosebenzi Zwane to the portfolio of Minister of Minerals and Energy facilitated their mining interests and they believed that since Nhlanhla Nene did not play ball on the nuclear build project they could replace him willy nilly with a nonentity like Des van Rooyen. This arbitrary behaviour and their confidence and arrogance led to the dramatic falling of the rand and the political crisis of December 2015.
Aggravated by revelations of parasitic practices by elements of the aspirant black capitalist class in leveraging organs of state for capital accumulation, people from across the political, religious and class spectrums are outraged. Despite the bluster from Luthuli House there is widespread outrage against this naked abuse of political office. Civil society is voicing its concerns, ANC veterans are speaking out and religious leaders have called President Zuma’s apology a cop-out. Also vociferous in this campaign have been organised sections of white monopoly capital, their liberal political expression and their international cohorts who have taken practical steps to make business difficult for the Gupta’s through the withdrawal of bank facilities and characterising their activities as a ‘capture of the state’.
There is no doubt that maintaining Zuma in office will exacerbate tensions in the society as it already is. All classes are in a state of ferment, everyone is looking for ‘change’ which they imagine will resolve the issues within society, particularly the economic and social crisis. The big bourgeois need stability to ensure unhindered capital accumulation. They have placed their marker against Zuma and his clique who they have successfully characterised as corrupt and predatory. They would prefer an alternative leadership from within the ANC which they would want installed peacefully and constitutionally. The middle classes are apprehensive. The economic crisis is biting hard and their precarious privileged position is steadily being undermined. Many are turning against Zuma and the ANC because of the increased cost of living they blame the ANC government (raising of interest rates and e-tolls etc) for. They are also envious of those elements in the middle classes who enjoy the benefits of crony enrichment which they are kept out of.
The #Feesmustfall and #Outsourcingmustfall movements, the growing number of service delivery and other protests and the increasing number of strikes show that the struggles of the working class and poor are intensifying. Combined with growing unemployment (unofficially but in real terms standing at 40%) there is an astronomical increase in the price of basic goods, particularly an increase way above inflation of basic foodstuff. Taking all this into account what we have is a tinderbox ready to explode. The Zuma crisis could very well be the catalyst to this.
The Campaign to remove President Zuma
Various political parties, trade unions and, social movements have responded to this question in different ways. All these responses are class based and reflect the class interests of the different forces. The Democratic Alliance (DA) has a purely legalistic and constitutional approach to the question and is pursuing legal avenues to remove President Zuma, as they did with the impeachment motion in parliament. The DA is the racist Nationalist Party dressed up in democratic clothes and the main political representative of White Monopoly Capital. Their interest is to strengthen their chances in the forthcoming local government elections and they see the Zuma issue as strengthening their contention that the ANC is corrupt and must be removed from office through the electoral process.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are the most consistent parliamentary fighters on the question of corruption at Nkandla and have kept the nation as a whole focussed on #Paybackthemoney when other people saw them purely as an irritant. In real terms the EFF is bound to gain the most in the local government elections.
While the EFF has indicated it is ready to take to the streets they have not to date committed to be part of a broader front. The EFF is a left-populist formation with huge support amongst the unemployed youth and can play a critical role in mobilizing mass support against the Zuma regime. However their previous history indicates an antipathy to joint activity and a deep seated sectarianism.
The Black Land First (BLF) movement has taken a pro-Zuma stance and sees the movement to remove Zuma as a plot of White Monopoly Capital. In this they have totally misread the political situation and climate and while they claim to be opponents of the ANC in government their racial understanding of politics makes them allies of the corrupt Zuma clique in reality. They now talk of re-colonization by White Monopoly Capital led by Johann Rupert as if colonialism has been overthrown and that the New South Africa was anything but a neo-colony. Their focus on overthrowing White Monopoly Capital and reclaiming the land while amnestying Zuma is backward and reactionary.
The South African Communist Party (SACP) has lined up against Zuma without calling for his removal from office (the divisions in the SACP run deep as COSATU has accepted the apology of Zuma and support his retention as president). Irvin Jim in his missive against the SACP correctly exposes the hypocrisy of the SACP in siding with one fraction of capital, White Monopoly Capital and the ‘Stock Exchange’ over the ‘parasitic bourgeoisie’ to fulfil their political ends. Clearly the task is to fight both fractions of capital and not favour one over the other for one’s own political ends.
The forces that make up the Civil Society coalition for the removal of Zuma as president of the country comprise of different political and class forces. Amongst the most vocal elements are the middle classes. Many stalwarts of the ANC have become disillusioned with the state of the organisation and the levels of corruption that pervade its ranks. These people believe that they are carrying out a political duty to save the ANC through the removal of President Zuma. The Church leaders approach the matter from a moral standpoint and are duty bound to act to save the ‘moral authority’ of the nation and the party. They have responded because their congregants are ‘paining’ and not because they are interested in ‘regime change’. Many NGO’s and Social Movements limit their perspective and concentrate their fire on the removal of President Zuma because they believe in the reform of the system for a more humane capitalism.
The crisis of the ANC government is not only the crisis of the ANC as a political party but also a crisis of the entire capitalist system. The weakest link in the capitalist chain is currently this very ANC government. For some it may seem that the solution is for the ANC to recall Zuma. However what they do not understand which Mantashe fully appreciates, is that this will be the final demise of the ANC as an organisation, as it will split down the middle, fracture along urban/rural lines, ethnic/traditional lines and class lines.
The big bourgeoisies while determined to rid themselves of the corrupt Zuma leadership fear the masses in motion. Their intervention has been legalistic and parliamentary (DA’s impeachment), through political pressure and influence (re-appointment of Pravin Gordhan) and closing the economic taps for the Gupta’s (Absa, KPMG financial strangulation).
The United Front approach is a militant and radical approach which is rooted in the working class. It bases itself on mass mobilization and action. While agreeing that the movement be as broad and representative as possible (inclusive of other classes and social layers in society) the UF argues that it should take the struggle of the political/constitutional crisis beyond Zuma and to the National Assembly, and thus connects with the programme of the democratic revolution.
The United Front proposes to fight under the slogans: Zuma must Go! A Fresh Mandate is Needed! Dissolve the National Assembly! Bring Forward General Elections! While these are purely democratic demands they go to the heart of the political system as they essentially call not for the replacement of one ‘thief by another’ but the immediate recall of all political representatives and the election of new representatives on a fresh mandate. The struggle around these slogans opens the road to more radical transitional and socialist demands like the demand for a ‘Workers Government’. The black bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of settling the democratic question and it is only the working class that has an interest to do so. Organisationally the United Front must prevail on NUMSA and the 9 unions to take a leading role in the campaign in order to give a clear proletarian imprint to the mass movement. Not only do they have the capacity to draw in to United Front action other unions like AMCU/NACTU/FEDUSA and even political parties like the EFF, but they are able to make the necessary connections between the democratic, transitional and socialist demands of the struggle.
The United Front says: #ZumaMustGo!
Ahmed Jooma and Shaheen Khan, 11/04/2016