Because of the extraordinary mendacity of the ruling-class propaganda organs, it is difficult for many to understand what is going on — which is, of course, the goal, since if you don’t know what’s happening you are unlikely to do anything effective about it.
What happened at Mangaung was that Zuma dealt with a nascent minor rebellion in his party using his customary method, which was purges, thus (as he thought) ensuring that he would not face the kind of serious rebellion which Mbeki faced in the run-up to Polokwane. Zuma’s purge was cheered to the echo by the ruling-class propaganda organs. Why? Obviously, because it favoured them especially.
The big change brought in at Mangaung was that Motlanthe was replaced by Ramaphosa, while Mantashe remained where he was. (As for other posts, they count for nothing, being dispensible.) Motlanthe had to go because he was concerned for the interests of the ANC — that after five years the country was increasingly unhappy that Zuma had broken all his promises and that Zuma’s socio-economic policies were destructive for the interests of the general public. Motlanthe feared that the ANC’s electoral support would continue to slide unless the ANC adopted newer policies, and also recognised that the ANC Youth League was clamouring for precisely those policies — which was why the Youth League had to go, as far as Zuma was concerned. Motlanthe was duly purged, the Youth League went, and the ANC’s electoral support slipped.
Ramaphosa, however, is much more a ruling-class man than Motlanthe, who has a certain loyalty to the ANC. Ramaphosa’s primary loyalty is to the mining industry and its white foreign barons. Therefore he is beloved of the ruling-class propaganda organs. This means there is a fundamental split between Zuma and Ramaphosa, one which cannot be bridged — because Zuma’s primary loyalty is to himself, to save himself from losing power and going to jail. Ramaphosa could initially be trusted to act against Zuma’s short-term enemies because this served the ruling-class agenda which Zuma was following. However, he has now become Zuma’s main enemy, and it is very difficult for Zuma to act against him since Ramaphosa is backed by Zuma’s principal backers.
This explains why the ruling-class propaganda organs are attacking Zuma with so much more energy than they did before Mangaung. Back then, Zuma was a stick with which to beat the ANC, but he was also the ruling-class puppet in government. Now he is an obstacle to the installation of a still more compliant ruling-class puppet. The object of the ruling-class is to foment hostility to Zuma to the point at which there is a palace revolution against him, presumably before 2017 when Ramaphosa will undoubtedly be installed as President of the ANC. Mantashe, Zuma’s grey eminence, has been promised the Deputy Presidency in exchange for stabbing Zuma in the back. Once Zuma is deposed, Ramaphosa will inevitably take over — and as a result of yet another destructive sequence of purges within the ANC, he will be in a very weak position, even more dependent on ruling-class structures than Zuma was. It’s a win-win situation.
The reason for all this is that Zuma is intensely unpopular, but also that policies which Zuma opposes are intensely popular. Therefore, the danger is that Zuma might be removed by force of popular hostility in order to install sound policies by force of popular acclaim. Putting Ramaphosa in place makes it possible to avoid this; the ruling-class can exploit popular hostility to Zuma and shout along with the crowds denouncing him, because they know that when he goes their man will smoothly step into power and the real reasons why the crowds were attacking Zuma will never be addressed.
All this means that those trying to bring about a better life for all in South Africa will have to be very careful indeed. The ruling-class is not stupid, or at least its agents are not, and blundering around behind them, which is the customary policy of the South African left, can only lead to disaster.
Things have become simpler, however. It now seems very unlikely that NUMSA will go ahead and set up its new political party. The reasons seem to be that NUMSA’s alliance with the Trotskyites was an opportunistic issue, in which NUMSA’s goal was to threaten the ANC with a walkout unless and until Vavi was reinstated. Now that Vavi has been reinstated the smoke which was coming out of NUMSA’s “locomotive of history” turns out to have been computer-generated, and neither NUMSA nor the Trotskyites have any real intention of moving down the tracks. It was all posturing from start to finish. It remains possible that COSATU might purge NUMSA or some of its leadership, in which case the posturing will start again — but such inconsistent behaviour is not going to win NUMSA any points with the public.
So we are left with the Economic Freedom Fighters as the only force resisting Zuma on any effective or principled level. The ruling-class propaganda organs have an ambiguous attitude towards the EFF; on one hand they are represented as a positive force because they are anti-ANC, but on the other hand they are represented as unseemly, undignified and unfit to take seriously, because they are not under ruling-class control and their agenda is as completely opposed to ruling-class desires as is the agenda of almost everybody else not on the ruling-class payroll. In other words they are a threat because they represent a far greater force than their showing in the 2014 election would suggest.
It is true that the EFF behave in a self-indulgent way sometimes, as do almost all radical forces in South Africa. Notwithstanding, they are preparing their provincial congresses. Provided that this is not going to turn out as chimeric as NUMSA’s political party (or as the hilarious chaos of the ANC Youth League’s provincial congresses) the EFF will democratically legitimate its leadership within the next few months, resolve any problems with its structures, and put itself administratively on track towards contesting the 2016 municipal elections — elections in which it will very probably do a great deal better than it did in 2014, especially if it is able to exploit the incessant uprisings against corrupt and incompetent ANC municipal governments. (The DA has never been able to exploit these uprisings because it is terrified of such radicalism, but also because ultimately the DA supports corruption and incompetence when it favours ruling-class interests, as it does in municipal areas; the DA wants to cut subsidies to small black municipalities and bad service delivery provides a pretext for this.)
Therefore, the EFF may see itself a rapidly-growing force. But what is its objective to be? Its activities in Parliament have focussed on two important issues: attacking Zuma and attacking Ramaphosa. This may seem to be unduly personalised behaviour, but in the context it makes excellent sense.
Granted, Zuma and Nkandla are trivial matters in the great game of class warfare in which the EFF are engaged — but keeping Zuma weak is important because at the moment Zuma is the ruling-class agent securing elite control over the polity. Therefore there is no harm in attacking him on grounds provided by the ruling-class organs. Most particularly, there is benefit in attacking him within the context of the “parliamentary” and “constitutional” structures set up by the elite to prevent real political debate or progress. The EFF’s attack on Zuma through a defiance of parliamentary and constitutional rules calls those rules into question and thus calls into question the elite’s suppression of debate and dissent.
The same is true, even more so, in the EFF’s attacks on Ramaphosa. Once again it may be said that the EFF, like the “Marikana Support Committee”, is being unfair and even childish in linking Ramaphosa with the Marikana massacre. There is actually no evidence that Ramaphosa had anything to do with that massacre; he was out of government at the time, and nobody could seriously pretend that Ramaphosa had any influence over Lonmin’s platinum mining operations (or any other aspect of the mining industry — the influence is all the other way).
However, Marikana is in the news; for reasons of its own, the ruling-class decided to make an issue of it, and in the run-up to Mangaung, Dali Mpofu decided to attack Ramaphosa, using material presumably leaked to him from ruling-class sources. Possibly the elite wished to remind Ramaphosa that just as they were making him, they could break him, and therefore allowed Mpofu’s attacks to receive considerable uncriticised coverage. This, however, means that the elite cannot effectually challenge the attacks being made on Ramaphosa, which therefore leave him discredited in the public eye. (Not that this matters from the elite’s perspective, since it leaves Ramaphosa more dependent on them than ever.) Attacking Ramaphosa on this relatively spurious basis, therefore, serves to direct public hostility at Ramaphosa and thus makes it a little easier to mobilise support against him within the ANC — even though, of course, Mantashe can easily protect him against any hostility expressed through ANC structures.
But perhaps not so much as in the past. A Zuma-Ramaphosa battle would already be a bruising and damaging struggle. However, the ANC is much more fragmented than in the past. The provincial structures are chaotic. The ANCYL scarcely exists. The Women’s League is spayed, and the Military Veterans’ League, led as it is by a deserter who turns out to have been a former chef, is simply a joke. The SACP is insignificant, and COSATU deeply divided. Into all this potential conflict, throw a massive groundswell against Ramaphosa, and we have the possibility that in the run-up to the 2017 Conference the party might actually disintegrate. This, surely, is what the EFF is banking on — and provided that the EFF does well enough in the 2016 municipal elections (even just doubling its support-base might be good enough — two figures is always more impressive than one), it might be able to exploit the crisis and perhaps unite the bulk of the dissenting ANC supporters under its banner in a special general election and win a plurality. In which case, there might be hope.
The only danger is that the EFF might get bogged down in trivia — in focussing on Nkandla and Marikana, not as symptoms of what the government is doing wrong, nor as tools of political propaganda, but as ends in themselves. If it falls into this trap it will be doing the ruling-class’s work for it. We must hope that behind the scenes some serious political debate and analysis is going on, and that in the fullness of time, perhaps at the national conference, the EFF will provide a real revolutionary way out of our national crisis.