Inauspicious start to the ANC’s year

Posted on February 9, 2013


Produced for the February edition of Zambia’s Bulletin & Record

JANUARY, 2013. It was a not very auspicious start to 2013 for South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC). Not only did a host of unwelcome baggage from the past come tumbling into the new year, but other, new, difficulties also emerged before the year was even a month old.

There was more community unrest, more strikes, new scandals about large-scale spending on ministerial residences, additional evidence of apparent official corruption and the threat of 14,000 or more jobs being lost on the platinum and gold mines. The exchange rate level of the currency also suffered.

It should not have been so, according to the planners of this past centennial year of the continent’s oldest liberation movement. Especially not with a National Development Plan in place promising virtually jobs for all by 2030, and with January 2013 being the start of soccer’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament, hosted by South Africa.

Yet January 2013 provided a more tumultuous kick-off to a new year than had January 2012, when the ANC planned 12 months of celebrations to commemorate the movement’s founding in 1912. A year ago the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), headed by the radical populist, Julius Malema, was causing political storms and an ABZ (Anyone But Zuma) move was getting underway and threatening to wreck the planned highlight of the year, the December elective conference of the ANC. The controversial R70 billion arms deal of 1999, involving Zuma in allegations of corruption, was also subject to a legal demand for an independent inquiry.

However, issue by issue, although sometimes a little messily, these matters seemed to be dealt with. By February last year, for example, the troublesome ANCYL president was clearly on his way out. Malema claimed credit — and not without justification — for helping catapult Zuma to the top post in the ANC, but he had then, while facing accusations of corruption, turned against Zuma. He was finally expelled from the ANC as investigations began into his quite sudden millionaire status, apparently the result of “donations” to his Ratanang Family Trust.

As this new year dawned, Malema was clearly in the political wilderness and complaining that his former friends treated him “like a leper”. He is also protesting that the more than 50 charges of tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and racketeering he now faces, are “politically motivated”

Ironically, it was Malema who was once to the forefront of maintaining that allegations levelled at Zuma about corruption in the arms deal were politically motivated. But before the elective conference, and to the surprise of many observers, Zuma appointed a judicial inquiry into the arms deal and offered to give evidence himself if called on to do so. Court actions were dropped and the matter seemed to have been neatly packaged to finally provide the true facts about the controversial military purchases.

However, just two weeks into this new year, that package came unstuck. A resignation letter from a senior investigator employed by the arms deal inquiry was leaked to the media. Respected lawyer and former acting judge Mokgadi Moabi alleged that the inquiry was being manipulated; that he could no longer, in conscience, remain part of it. The prospect of court actions again arise and there are growing calls for an inquiry into the inquiry.

Serious trouble also continued to flare on the labour front, an apparent ripple effect that began with the wildcat strike in February last year at Impala Platinum (Implats) mines in the North West province. Both management and the ANC-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were caught unawares. At least one miner was killed and more than ten injured before calm was restored by a large police contingent.

However, as the Bulletin & Record has pointed out in previous reports, anger and frustration seethed beneath the apparently tranquil surface. The reality for miners remained unchanged and there seemed to be no attempts to improve matters.

But while the situation on the platinum belt grew increasingly tense, media and general political attention switched to a series of often violent and bitter tussles within various ANC regional and local branches. ABZ factions emerged to suggest one or other candidate to oppose Zuma, and several branches began promoting deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe as a possible successor to lead the ANC.

As it turned out, these sometimes luridly reported battles were essentially side shows. Zuma and his lieutenants very much have control of the party machinery and were able to keep emerging rebellions under control: the elective conference at Mangaung was clearly going to be well stage managed, with Zuma the victor.

Motlanthe, pushed by a powerful grouping in the country’s economic powerhouse, Gauteng, stood against Zuma and was trounced. Up stepped Cyril Ramaphosa, long-time member of the ANC executive, billionaire businessman and one-time general secretary of NUM, to take the deputy position from Motlanthe and so become virtually an ordained successor to Zuma.

It was a neat bit of political packaging, but circumstances affected the content: what is now referred to as the “Marikana moment” of August 16, caused a degree of political contamination. The Lonmin-owned Marikana mine in South Africa’s North West province was the scene of the bloodiest confrontation between police and workers since the transition from apartheid, and one of the bloodiest ever. And Cyril Ramaphosa is a non-executive director of Lonmin.

Some startling evidence — including allegations of police “executions” of wounded miners — is now emerging at a formal inquiry that will continue into March. The inquiry has also heard that, in the days leading up to August 16, Ramaphosa sent emails referring to the need to deal with the “criminality” at Marikana. These followed the deaths of at least ten people, including two police officers, in clashes around the mine in the week leading up to August 16 when, after a sustained burst of police gunfire, 34 miners lay dead, with more than 100 wounded.

On balance, however, Ramaphosa’s election seems to have received support, especially among the business community. He has now embarked on something of a charm offensive around the country, having announced that he will devote himself to politics and not to business.

But the spectre of Marikana keeps surfacing, in incidents such as the strikes and often violent clashes in the fruit and grape growing regions of the Western Cape. There, many casual and unemployed workers who form the core of local protests hail the Marikana miners for “standing against the might of the bosses and the state”.

These protest have put Cosatu and the government very much on the back foot and severely impacted on South Africa’s image. With rating agencies downgrading the country’s debt and the national currency under renewed pressure, the new year has seen frantic efforts to try to contain the public disillusionment and to rally the faithful to support the ANC into its second century.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe summed up the position when he called, in late January, on miners to support — and to stop deserting — NUM. It was the union that had fought for the improvements that existed, he said, and it was the only union to which miners should belong. He could just as well have substituted ANC for NUM.

Posted in: Reports abroad