Ronnie Kasrils on South African Election

15 May 2019 — Rebel News

Ronnie Kasrils on South African Election

Ronnie Kasrils joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1960 after Sharpeville and later played a leading role in Umkhonte we Sizwe, the ANC’s armed wing. He served for a number of years as a minister in Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid government as Deputy Minister of Defence and as Minister for Security. He has since become a major left critic of the ANC and its embrace of neo-liberalism. He is also known as an outspoken opponent of Apartheid Israel. Rebel is pleased to publish his assessment of the recent South African election here.

The best aspect of South Africa’s sixth national election since democracy in 1994 was that it was extremely peaceful, virtually incident free, fair, and credible. The top marks go to the 16 million who cast their votes, many in difficult rural terrain and some in cold, rainy conditions. The downside was that this was the lowest turnout of registered voters since that first seminal democratic election.

As the curate said, assessing a none-too-fresh boiled egg at breakfast: ‘It was good in parts.’

Almost 10 million registered voters stayed away on 8 May 2019. More than a quarter of a million spoilt their ballot papers, many possibly deliberately. That’s five parliamentary seats.

Adding to that tally, almost 10 million eligible voters over 18 years old did not even bother to register. That many declining the vote might not be considered poor going in so-called mature democracies, but given the sacrifices and lives shed in the bitter struggle for the universal franchise in the country not so long ago, the lack of interest is cause for concern.

A certain degree of apathy might account for some percentage of the negativity. It is apparent that in the main, however, the credibility of the elective system to solve people’s problems is seen to be the causal factor. There is also ongoing political contempt, which is quite another factor than apathy. And that is particularly dangerous. The lack of faith, trust and disillusionment amount to a protest vote and cannot be brushed under the carpet. That’s the spoilt taste of the curate’s egg and more.

ANC vote decline

After being elected six times running, with a decreasing majority, the ANC with 57.5% of the vote has thanked the electorate for giving it a “second chance”.

That’s down from its all-time high of 69.69% in 2004. The ANC, having achieved just below 54% in the 2017 municipal elections, has heaved a sigh of relief, having expected far worse this past week, given the looting of the state and crony-capitalist corruption of the Zuma years and the wasted chances frittered away in the obscene march to self-enrichment.

It was that local election nightmare that haunted the ANC and still breathes down its collective neck. The “second chance” goes to Cyril Ramaphosa, who has apologised to the people for the Zuma larceny, State Capture and failures of the state, the non-performing economy, the growing gulf between wealth and poverty and his own role in the 2012 Marikana massacre.

ANC elected governments of the people have presided over South Africa’s slide into the position of the most unequal country in the world, with a soaring unemployment rate of 27%, but well above 35% of unemployed youth and far higher than that in many a doomed rural community.

Ramaphosa, as a one-time trade union leader, Lonmin Board member and billionaire businessman, has lifted the ANC from that 53% low to the 57% mark.

Comparisons between the ANC’s national share and outcome in the nine provinces reflect a higher score for the former, which is attributed to Cyril enjoying greater popularity than his party. In every single province, the ANC’s vote fell from a once remarkably high level. Expectations for the next round of municipal voting, a mere 18 months away, particularly in the key metros, are none too sanguine. The ANC is fortunate that the DA mayors in Johannesburg, Pretoria-Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay-Port Elizabeth have proved controversial and inept.

With the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) receiving 20.76% of the vote and slipping badly, the two major parties constitute 78% of the vote. A solid block of black voters might engage in service delivery protests, but will turn to the ANC come elections given that 17 million benefit from social welfare grants and see no hope for a better deal other than in the ruling party – for the present at any rate and as long as the country doesn’t become bankrupt.

Neoliberal economy & the ANC faction fight

Woe betide that situation and the possible bailout by the IMF! The patronage system and black economic empowerment, as well as the liberation legacy, has ensured the 25-year hegemony of the ANC at the polls. Key beneficiaries are the 1.2 million public servants plus the emergent black middle class and intelligentsia.

The DA has lost a significant number of white voters to the Freedom Front Plus and voters of colour to Patricia de Lille’s so-called Good party. Their internal squabbling has cost them dearly.

The political centre has been dominant for several elections and might have clear differences in many respects, but both the ANC and DA, despite representing different race and class interests, accept the neoliberal global economic system despite the leftist rhetoric of the former and the clearer privatisation, anti-union thrust of the latter.

What about the serious rift within the ANC? The Ramaphosa faction is in the ascendency, greatly strengthened by the election result, but not yet out of harm’s way. The Zuma faction is terrified at the prospect of the legal processes and of losing lucrative government posts — and to borrow a much-used phrase from opposition election rhetoric — will fight back and do so in a dirty way.

Those concerned over which side their bread is buttered have long moved like flies to jam with Cyril. He can now drive through with greater vigour his purge of the most obvious of the criminal elements and clean up the ANC and government. This is a testing time of his resolve. This will be a great advantage for the country. Big business both at home and abroad may even answer Ramaphosa’s prayers for significant investment. And what then of that?

The most fundamental question is the economy. Unless the ANC pursues an alternative policy to global neoliberalism it cannot succeed in reviving a stagnant economy, massive unemployment, growing crime and instability and an environment and ecosystem under grave threat. Hardly a word about that from all parties in the election.

Relying on direct foreign investment by business instead of industrial policy with teeth to reinvigorate production, giving rise to economic modernisation with jobs, and redistribution instead of austerity, will spell certain failure and greater impoverishment of the masses.

Ramaphosa’s policies and will to act in the above respects will be closely scrutinised and harshly judged. Reverting to the era of Gear instead of an updated reconstruction and development programme in step with the changed conditions will be the kiss of death.

The EFF’s share of the vote almost doubled, rising from 6% to almost 11%. Its number of MPs will increase from 25 to 44 in the 400-seat national assembly. That’s one of the more interesting areas of the Curate’s Egg. They have been hugely emboldened. Watch that space!

The ANC is down to 230 and the DA down to 84 in respect of the loss of 19 and five seats respectively. The EFF has been capturing the youth vote and its populism and dynamism will see it continue to grow. While the SACP has denounced it as potentially proto-fascist, it is the sole parliamentary force to the left of the ANC.

Clearly, the EFF has made great inroads into the ANC vote and I would say that accounts for a good percentage of previous ANC voters that have floated to the red berets. Unless the working class and socialists get their act together it is the EFF which will in future draw more support away from the ANC.

Trouble for the Left

Forty-eight parties contested at the national level with only 14 achieving parliamentary representation. The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) received a derisory 24,439 votes, which is an embarrassing 0.14% of total votes cast, not equating to a single parliamentary seat. This was from a party whose leaders claimed it would do better than the EFF and would be targeting South Africa’s 11 million unemployed.

It’s not that it did not have funds or volunteers, courtesy of the 370,000-strong National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa). Something is indeed radically wrong since it did not benefit from that army of labour or from the endorsement of KZN’s radical shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. Would-be sympathisers have seen it to be sectarian and dogmatic instead of creating a broad socialist front which the country so desperately needs.

It claims to have established structures throughout the country, but those structures failed to deliver. They need to avoid the tendency of denialism and face up to the fact that Numsa’s huge membership, never mind that of the other trade unions or the new federation (Saftu) ignored them.

Indeed, Saftu leader Zwelinzima Vavi by all accounts was barely consulted and not taken fully on board. Its feeble showing is a huge setback for socialists. Unless it acts seriously and honestly to admit its shortcomings and outlines a different strategic approach with sustained practical work on the ground, rather than revolutionary phrase-mongering — a sure sign of self-delusion — this disastrous result will give rise to immense disillusionment. This is a tragedy for many hard-working comrades who gave their time to a project that appears to be stillborn. Those who have respected their zeal and commitment can only hope that the party shows the ability to learn from its errors.

The SACP fully supported the ANC and despite the painful lessons of the Zuma years it yet again opportunistically believed that the new ANC leader would be the best bet for the left. True socialists and communists, among them many workers, trade unionists and revolutionary intellectuals, would in all probability have voted for a socialist party in significant numbers if a credible one existed.

And such a force would do far more to keep the ANC on a progressive trajectory if an independent socialist party existed in a parliamentary alliance with an extra-parliamentary programme of action. At its July 2017 congress there was a strong demand for the SACP to field independent candidates in this election, but when Ramaphosa came to the fore at the ANC’s December Nasrec conference that year, that tendency was unceremoniously dropped.

Under a proportional representative system, a core of SACP MPs in an election pact with the ANC would not necessarily weaken its parliamentary majority. Taking parliamentary elections seriously is not to make a fetish of bourgeois democracy, but rather to use the opportunity in a mature manner.

Any form of election can be dismissed as rigged or inconsequential by vainglorious egoists and jackasses who claim they represent hundreds of thousands and have a pathetic number of votes cast for them.

A credible democratic election is a test of the people’s will and a barometer of the extent of support a party has, whether we like that party or not. Now we can see where support lies, albeit within the electoral context. We are fortunate that no dangerous swing to racist extremism stoked by demagogy has been indicated, as has occurred in other countries, particularly in Europe at this historic juncture. However, unless inequality and poverty are addressed, the country could move in a very troubling direction.

At the moment, in the immediate wake of a successfully organised election, the mood for Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” is hopeful and expectant. The curate’s view of his egg is full of contradictions.

In a sense, it is neither fish nor fowl. South Africa’s sixth general election has delivered a predictable mix. The newly elected legislature must improve its capacity to hold the executive to account, in which its record during the Zuma decade has been abysmal, but that has been mainly the failure of ANC MPs.

The overriding responsibility, of course, has been the role of the executive and that is where the corruption and the cancerous rot stemmed from.

What is to be done?

Ramaphosa is promising reform. The hopes and expectations of most of our people in this respect are with him and correctly so, given the nightmare scenario of outright criminals at the helm.

Yet danger still lurks within the ANC.

Many corrupt elements are toeing the Ramaphosa line and hoping to continue with careers based on patronage and self-serving deceit. ANC supporters gathered at party headquarters after the election victory and pledged to build the ANC. But build it for what and how?

They should be pledging to smash corruption and press for a people’s programme to build the economy and reconstruct the country and society.

They should be pledging to mobilise the masses not just as election fodder, but to deepen and develop participatory democracy and the mobilisation of voluntary reconstruction campaigns from below.

The challenge for the left is to create a broad-based, united, people-centred, grassroots movement under working-class leadership for democratic socialism — political, social, cultural, gender, youth and environmental renewal — and an alternative economy.

This can only be achieved through the involvement and creative energy of the masses in motion, without which Parliament, among many things, remains a compromised curate’s egg.

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