It was only to be expected that when the ruling-class puppet who still enjoyed the support of the ruling-class managed to replace the ruling-class puppet who had forfeited the support of the ruling class, the ruling-class propaganda organs would pretend that this event represented a new beginning for South Africa and that all which was bad was now good, and all which was old was now new. The nation was Born Again, washed in the blood of the Buffalo.
In the real world, nothing like this could be said to have happened except by malicious liars. In the real world, there were real problems in South Africa in 2017; the lack of a clear government policy on resolving the problems of the people, and the presence of a clear government policy on not resolving those problems but instead exerting its energies to helping rich people grow richer.
The manifest nature of these policies bred a wide-ranging discontent with the government which was encouraged by the habit which the South African government had developed of telling outrageous lies and making preposterous promises which it never attempted to fulfil. This again served the purpose of rich people, since they were they able to accuse government of being intrinsically incapable — or alternatively, of declaring that certain people whom they had captured were intrinsically incapable, while other people whom they had captured were intrinsically capable by virtue of doing exactly what the ruling-class told them, when they were so told.
These two key problems — the failures of government policy, and the public response to these failures (partly manipulated by ruling-class ideology and propaganda) fed on each other; as government became ineffective it became less popular, and as it became less popular it had less reason to be effective because the crisis seemed inescapable, and the spiral of disaster went round and round until the consequences are to be found in places like Port Elizabeth.
Anyone who wished to solve these problems would, of course, have to work through the African National Congress, which was unfortunately the instrument through which the problems had been made possible. Somehow, the African National Congress would have to be turned into a different kind of instrument, one working towards the goal of developing the country in a way which served the interests of the majority, and which united its members and mobilised its supporters towards that goal by pursuing and implementing policies which furthered that goal. By doing this the party could first unite itself and discourage crass and unthinking self-interested factionalism, and then gradually win back the support which it had lost and the public trust in the potential efficacy of good governance which had been all but discredited.
That would require strong and principled leadership and a mass base within the party willing to support the leadership at all costs. It would also, however, require leadership which was prepared to challenge the hegemony of the ruling class, repudiate its automatic leadership, and be ready to refute its propaganda. The problem with this was that most of the leading figures within the party who were promoting factionalism and misgovernance were under the thumb of the ruling-class and could be expected to side with the ruling class against the ANC if it came to a conflict.
All that is sheer speculation, since the man selected by the ruling-class to do their dirty work was Cyril Ramaphosa, who possessed none of these qualities and maintained none of these objectives. All the same, the last six months have not been a positive experience even for those who had no illusions about what was likely to take place.
The first surprise was that Ramaphosa seemed genuinely likely to lose to Dlamini-Zuma in the elections for the Presidency of the ANC. Had that happened it would have been the end for Ramaphosa, for Dlamini-Zuma had no reason to love or admire him and would certainly have ruthlessly purged his supporters — and the ageing serial loser Ramaphosa would have been a ludicrous choice for 2022, even for a white business elite who appear in love with incompetence.
Dlamini-Zuma had no charisma, but she had Zuma’s supporters behind her, having promised not to act against them in the way that Ramaphosa’s cheerleaders in the media said that Ramaphosa would — in effect she was promising not to break up the ANC and align herself with the ANC’s enemies in the run-up to the 2019 elections, while Ramaphosa was doing both. Also, Dlamini-Zuma hearked back to the Mbeki era, to a time when the ANC was both popular and competent. She was known to be a tough-minded, no-nonsense person. In effect she was the nearest thing to the kind of person who might conceivably roll back the failures of governance — and thus, perhaps, of popularity — bedeviling the ANC. Hence the propagandists of white monopoly capital smeared her incessantly, which sealed her positionamong her supporters (and probably made little difference among her opponents).
So Ramaphosa had to fight back, but he couldn’t. His campaign had peaked too early, while it was pretending not to be a campaign back in 2016, and now he had to sit and watch his support leak away. The only option was to use the SACP to rig — or in the case of the Eastern Cape, violently disrupt — provincial consultative elections. But even that seemed not to be enough, so Ramaphosa, or perhaps his backers, had to do a deal with the Zuma faction to ensure that Ramaphosa, at least, would become President, and some of his henchmen would also gain preferment.
The details of this deal have never been revealed and the deal itself has been erased from history by the corporate propagandists, but essentially it seems to have been a simple one — Ramaphosa would win the Presidency, in exchange for half the posts in the National Executive Committee (and particularly three of the six senior office-bearers) being reserved for Zuma supporters. Naturally this entailed throwing Dlamini-Zuma under the bus — without the support of the Zuma leaders she didn’t make it into the top six.
It’s hard to believe that there was not also a clause under which Zuma would be protected from prosecution and would be allowed to make a dignified exit, unlike Mbeki before him — why do the deal otherwise? Indeed there were rumours of such agreements. However, big businessmen are characterised as “snakes in suits” (which is grossly unfair to snakes) and any such clause would have been drafted by Ramaphosa with the fingers of the hand behind his back crossed. In any case, Ramaphosa was not his own man; he had to act according to the orders of his white monopoly capitalist patrons, and those orders were clear; Zuma had to be humiliated.
As it turned out, the moment Ramaphosa and Mantashe were in a position to act on their orders, they did so. Zuma’s supporters were not in it for solidarity or ideology, they were in it for money and power, and Zuma could no longer offer as much money and power as Ramaphosa could. Hence it wasn’t hard to get a few Zuma supporters to turn their coats — no doubt for cash — and once this had happened the whole Zuma coalition, made unstable by the 49% nature of their support in the National Executive Committee — collapsed. The people who had previously declared their loyalty to Zuma cheered, or looked on mutely, as Zuma was hounded out of office and charged — as, of course, he richly deserved, but then so does Ramaphosa.
The immediate problem was that Ramaphosa’s support was thus itself not based on anything other than money and power, which had to contend with the personal antipathy which most former Zuma supporters felt both for Ramaphosa himself and for the thugs and fixers who had supported him. There was also the broader antipathy felt by ANC supporters for people like Ramaphosa who were collaborating eagerly with the ANC’s enemies. As a result, Ramaphosa’s position was unstable — something like Zuma’s position after Polokwane; stronger because Ramaphosa was not facing charges as Zuma had been, but weaker because Ramaphosa had no propaganda narrative sustaining him.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa needed to find positions to reward his loyal supporters, partly to maintain that loyalty, and partly to ensure that such loyalty could translate into authority over the ANC. He tried, and failed, to hound the ANC’s Secretary-General out of his position (which was a formidable one, and Magashule was a formidable politician holding it; by comparison, Mantashe’s Chairmanship was far less really powerful even if supposedly senior). With a weak position in the NEC, he had to fall back on the provinces, as Zuma had done when he was preparing for the purge of Mbeki loyalists in mid-2008. Could the leadership of the ANC be persuaded to betray their allies in the provinces? Doubtless they could — if they were fools enough not to see that this would be a precursor to their own political destruction.
However, the process was long and complex. Where Zuma and Mantashe in 2008 had gone through the Western and Eastern Cape like a chainsaw through a cow’s midriff, Ramaphosa’s action against the Eastern Cape and North-West (he didn’t dare act against KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga) resembled someone trying to murder someone with a Weed-eater. The slower it happened, and the more violence and self-destructive propaganda it required, the more Ramaphosa undermined the stability of the ANC in these provinces and stored up potential disaster for the following election — thus further dispelling all hope that he might be able to resolve the political crisis.
Admittedly, under Gordhan’s supervision the Ramaphosa regime nominally tightened its grip in the state enterprises. Zuma supporters in these bodies were systematically purged and replaced by corporate loyalists. However, these were not people who supported Ramaphosa or the ANC; nor were they people who supported the use of the state enterprises to serve any national development project. They were simply there to help big business make money out of the state enterprises, or alternatively to prevent the state enterprises from costing the ruling class money. Symptoms of this were evident in the appointment of a leading privatiser to run ESCOM, and in the SABC’s further collapse into a babbling hollow of neoliberal business jargon. None of this served any useful purpose for the government or for Ramaphosa’s position; neither Gordhan nor Ramaphosa enjoyed any real control over these people, nor was there any move towards the real reform of state enterprises by decommercialising their Byzantine pseudo-corporate structures, structures which have always defeated any real effort to reform them.
So under Ramaphosa the African National Congress has been weakened, both organisationally and electorally. (The attempts to win over Julius Malema to the ANC fold might seem to be a cheap way of winning back votes, but after the EFF sold out to the DA in 2016 those votes which will be cast by former EFF supporters were always going to come back to the ANC; there is nowhere else for them to go.) As for reconstructing the national economy, there is no sign of this, and no plan for it — except for continuing present bad policies alongside hopelessly holding out a begging-bowl to the NATO countries. Provincial and municipal governance continues to deteriorate, partly driven by in-fighting fuelled by Ramaphosa’s incompetent efforts to seize control. No doubt this is what his patrons wanted.
But it is not what any of us need.