South Africa crisis: Open infighting erupts in ANC

Over the last few days the political crisis in the country has deepened. The ANC government is in turmoil after President Zuma’s midnight purge of his cabinet on Thursday. Leading members have openly come out against Zuma, bringing the factional battles which have been raging over the last period clearly into the open.

The split in the ANC

Since Zuma’s dramatic cabinet purge in the middle of the night on Thursday, he has come under increasing pressure from leading party members. The “top six” officials are split down the middle. Supporting Zuma is the party’s chairperson Baleka Mbete and the deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte. The three opposing him is deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.

Ramaphosa, Mantashe, and Mkhize have made unprecedented scathing public condemnations of Zuma, sparking an open rebellion in the party.  They said that Zuma did not consult them before making the changes, but merely informed them by tabling a list of new ministers.  “I can't use the word consulted on the matter. That's how I describe it because we were given a list that was complete. And in my own view as the secretary-general I felt that this list has been developed elsewhere and given to us to legitimise it", Mantashe revealed.

He did not say where he thought the list was “developed”, but in the past leading officials and party members have divulged that cabinet appointments have been arranged from the compound of the Gupta family in Saxonwold.

For his part, Ramaphosa publicly said that he opposed finance minister Pravin Gordhan's removal  "largely because he was being removed based on an intelligence report that I believe had unsubstantiated allegations about [him] and his deputy going to London to mobilise financial markets against our country". He said he found the decision “totally unacceptable”.

On Saturday, Ramaphosa upped the ante again. Speaking at a gala dinner he declared:

“Be in support of those who will be leading that charge because a moment of great renewal is upon us, and we should not let it go by.

“We should grasp this because that moment has arrived. Let us act together in unity. Unite our movement, unite our country about one goal – the goal of making South Africa great, the goal of making South Africa corruption free, the goal of making South Africa a South Africa that we can all be proud of, and getting rid of greedy people, corrupt people within our midst.”

The party’s treasurer-general, Zweli Mkhize also released a statement saying that “the briefing by the President left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre and thus depriving the leadership collective of its responsibility to advise politically on executive matters.”

This echos Mantashe’s statement that the decision was taken “elsewhere” and that the officials were merely “informed” of the decision.

Interestingly, Mkhize further reveals the divisions in the party by questioning the removal of some ministers and not others:

“There are many outstanding cabinet ministers with integrity and who are performing exceptionally well in their portfolios. However, we need to admit that there are also several serving ministers whose performance is rather unsatisfactory, hence they have attracted severe criticism as public representatives against whom appropriate action would be expected. The ANC leadership can therefore not justify to be seen to have ignored or not considered these glaring factors in a cabinet reshuffle.”

Since this is a government which is pursuing capitalist policies, the point we want to make here is not about the competence and merits of the ministers. Indeed, we would agree that many are personally very competent in implementing capitalist policies. The point is that Mkhize publicly calls out the “unsatisfactory performance” of some ministers, and thereby exposes the divisions that exist within the ANC.

In response, ANC Mpumalanga chairperson and Zuma aly David Mabuza called Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize “ill disciplined”. He said that the three “must remember they are not the president”.

“I don’t know if they want to exercise the same powers that the president has. It is quite ill disciplined that people will go out and say they differ with the president. [...] You can’t hang your dirty linen out there. What are you trying to do, whom are you trying to appease? We are working very hard to unite the ANC but they are doing their best to divide it” he said.

This is very hypocritical, coming from Mabuza who belongs to the so-called “premier league” faction which is close to the Gupta family. But it once again glaringly shows the open split in the party.

We must emphasise that it is unprecedented for officials of the ANC to openly come out against a decision of the party’s president. Normally these are done by provincial structures or the party’s leagues, not directly from members of the top six. The effect that this has had was to spark an open rebellion in the party and the alliance.

Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s highest ranking official in parliament, also came out against Zuma, highlighting the open splits and divisions in the party. He called the firing of Gordhan and Jonas “plain rubbish”, specifically referring to the so-called intelligence report Zuma was carrying around which alleged that Gordhan and Jonas were mobilising investors to undermine the government. “I disagree with the removal of Gordhan and Jonas based on a suspect intelligence report. Their commitment to the NDR is unquestionable” he tweeted.

This defiance of Zuma continued openly at a memorial service of anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada which was held on Saturday. Speaker after speaker lambasted Zuma and called on him to step down.

On Monday, another structure of the ANC, the Integrity Committee, made up of liberation-era stalwarts also came out against Zuma. In a letter to the party the IC said: “We are also concerned about his [Zuma's] decision to remove Comrade Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Finance and the impact that this decision will have on the stability of the South African economy. We do not accept the reasons given for this decision, namely, that Comrade Pravin conspired with Western governments to destabilise the government or the economy.”

The role of the SACP

On Friday night the Political Bureau of the SACP released a statement calling for Zuma’s resignation: “This recklessness has provoked widespread concern and anger within the ANC itself, and across all sectors of our society. We have reached a decisive moment in which, in the considered view of the SACP leadership, Zuma must now resign.”

It also alluded to the divisions in the ANC and the government: “It is frankly outrageous, particularly while the worst performers in cabinet continue to enjoy presidential protection and even, in some cases, promotion.“

But this statement reeks of hypocrisy. In anticipation to Thursday’s announcement, the “communists” were blowing hot air about pulling their members out of the cabinet should Zuma continue with his purge. But when the purge did not extend to them, they retreated back into their comfortable ministerial posts.

It is also no small matter that they have called for Zuma to resign, but did not lobby the ANC to recall Zuma. Zuma has refused to heed calls for his resignation for a number of years. In fact, there are huge implications for him if he does, including being prosecuted on 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering. He is using his powers as president to shield him from such an outcome. Therefore the call for Zuma to resign, while it might seem radical, is in fact as impotent as it can be. The SACP knows this but is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the working class. It is intended to lull the senses and put everyone to sleep, whilst giving an image that they are on the right side of the issue.

Then there is the issue of mass mobilisations. In the statement it says the following: “In the coming days the SACP will be meeting with our provincial structures, all our alliance partners and a wide range of social movements and formations. It is imperative that popular anger is mobilised and organised in constructive ways that unite South Africans of all persuasions and backgrounds in the defence of our country’s interests. This is not a struggle against an individual. This is not a factional struggle. It is a struggle against a network of parasitism and patronage in defence of our hard-won democratic sovereignty.”

But the question must be asked: what is the character of a protest called by the SACP and in whose interests? Here it is important to read the fine print. In the statement and on other occasions the SACP clearly comes out in defence of Gordhan: “The recall from an overseas trip of comrades Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas while on a promotional tour in South Africa’s interests, and now the firing of these comrades and other well-performing ministers is more than regrettable.” So the call to “unite South Africans of all persuasions and backgrounds” which is devout of all class content is a call to unite the working class behind the big business faction of the South African ruling class. This is extremely reactionary and shows the scandalous role the “communist” party is playing.

The turning tide

Now Jacob Zuma is hanging on for dear life. The tide has turned and he is facing an open rebellion in the party. The critical point in this process occurred last weekend at the party’s NEC meeting. A few weeks before, Zuma flew to to the Eastern Cape province to endorse Andile Lungisa, a low-ranking leader who was defying the party boss Gwede Mantashe by standing for a position which he did not qualify for. By endorsing Lungisa, Zuma was trying to give his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a better chance of succeeding him as ANC president.

But this blew up in Zuma’s face when Mantashe took the matter to the NEC, who came out against Zuma. This was a highly significant moment because it showed that Zuma cannot take support of the NEC for granted anymore. This development started already late last year when Zuma had to fight for his life when members of the NEC discussed the possibility of removing him as state president.

Although he survived on that occasion, the direction of the movement could clearly be seen. With the defeat at last weekend’s NEC and the enemies he has made now by his reckless cabinet purge, it is now a real possibility that he could be recalled as president of the country at the next NEC meeting. This explains Zuma’s paranoia and his reliance on fake and amateurishly written “intelligence reports” to get rid of his enemies.

But the tide has now turned. Zuma’s actions have forced the hand of his enemies in the party. As we have said before, the last thing big business wants is to split the ANC. The consequences of this, from their point of view is too ghastly to contemplate. The implosion of the ANC could unleash the working class into the struggle in a decisive manner. With a split in the only organisation that millions of black workers have known for decades, there would be nothing to hold them back. But Zuma has forced their hand and now they have no option to try to navigate the ship through the storm.

Zuma is now fighting for his survival. Party members at all levels are now mobilising for his removal. Leading members are talking with the opposition about removing him from office. But Zuma will not go without a fight. His allies in the Youth League, the Women’s League, the MK veterans associations and the “premier league” will put up a fight to the finish in defence of their material interests. With two upcoming congresses of the ANC this year - the policy conference in June, and the national conference in December -  a split in the party is only a matter of time.

Crisis of Capitalism

This is the most turbulent period in South Africa’s history. It is a reflection of the general crisis of capitalism. With the economy in a deep slump and a rising class struggle, the divisions in the ruling class are widening. On the one hand there is a struggle over their rights to plunder the state and exploit the working class. On the other hand, the Zuma clique’s desperate struggle for survival, is undermining the legitimacy of the regime itself. Zuma’s actions are adding to the anger and discontent which is simmering amongst the workers and the youth. The big bourgeoisie recognise this and want to push away Zuma, however they are restrained by the fact that Zuma threatens to destroy the ANC on his way out.

For the the working class, there is nothing to be gained by supporting either faction. This is why attempts by the likes of the SACP to mobilise the working class behind the big business faction are so reactionary. Now, more than ever, the South African working class with its revolutionary traditions needs to rely on its own strength. It is the only force which can solve the crisis by taking power out of the hands of these capitalist parasites, expropriating their wealth and beginning the socialist transformation of society.

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