South Africa

Op-Ed: Ramaphosa must show whether South Africa has a Zuma problem – or an ANC problem

To the great relief of most South Africans, Cyril Ramaphosa emerged victorious in a very tight-run battle for the presidency of the ANC. Of course, there are widely divergent views on Ramaphosa himself but even those who are critical of him have to acknowledge that he is in another universe compared to what we have had to put up with since 2009 when Jacob Zuma became President. By DIRK DE VOS.

There is a widely held view that voting delegates had seen a fall in support for the ANC, reflected in falling membership and the outcome of the 2016 local government elections where the ANC won 62% of the vote, its worst result since 1994. Going into the 2019 national and provincial government elections with a highly compromised presidential candidate like Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma might have resulted in electoral defeat if the ANC’s support were to fall below 50% - or so the analysts said. There might be some merit in that argument, but the tables below show that the decisive factor was the surprisingly wily strategy of the now Deputy President of the ANC, David Mabuza.

David Mabuza has been in big in Mpumalanga politics since 1994 and supported Zuma in Polokwane in 2007 and was thought to be part of the so-called Premier League, along with premiers “Ace” Magashule of the Free State (now secretary general of the ANC) and “Supra” Mahumapelo. Let us remind ourselves, that under Mabuza, Mpumalanga has also become a haven for corruption and thuggery.

ANC Branch Delegates Polokwane 2007 No ANC Branch Delegates Mangaung 2012 No ANC Branch Delegates Nasrec 2018 No
Total ANC membership 621 237 Total ANC membership 1,220 057 Total ANC membership 769 870
Eastern Cape 906 KwaZulu Natal 974 KwaZulu Natal 870
KwaZulu Natal 608 Eastern Cape 676 Mpumalanga 736
Limpopo 400 Limpopo 574 Eastern Cape 648
Free State 363 Gauteng 500 Limpopo 643
Gauteng 354 Mpumalanga 467 North West 538
Mpumalanga 325 Free State 324 Gauteng 508
North West 280 North West 234 Free State 409
Northern Cape 220 Western Cape 178 Northern Cape 182
Western Cape 219 Northern Cape 176 Western Cape 197
Provincial Total 3, 675 Provincial Total 4130 Provincial Total 4 731
Women’s League 45 Women’s League 45 Women’s League 45
Youth League 45 Youth League 45 Youth League 45
Veterans League 45 Veterans League 45 Veterans League 45
ANC Provincial Leaders 180 ANC Provincial Leaders 180 ANC Provincial Leaders 180
NEC Votes 82 NEC Votes 82 NEC Votes 82
Total 4,054* Total 4500 Total 5128

* actual 4,075

Mabuza obviously played a long game and was able to massively increase the number of voting delegates from his province. This has been played out before. KwaZulu Natal (and the Eastern Cape) had managed to double its ANC membership between 2005 and 2007, then increased it again by a third to 2012. The rise of the number of Mpumalanga-based delegates at Nasrec in December is spectacular. The other trend, already well under way before Zuma became ANC president is the relatively small contribution by the richest and most urbanised provinces. The ANC membership is now mostly rural – in an urbanising country. From 2016, most of the country’s major cities are held by opposition parties.

Although delegates are supposed to vote on behalf of their branches, it is hard to imagine that all those newly minted branches in Mpumalanga would have not been anything more than Mabuza’s voting cattle. All one needs to form a branch is 100 paid-up members. The way the ANC’s constitution works in practice is also surprising for the uninitiated. For a party that espouses democratic centralism, its own constitution is very federal-like with provincial structures wielding significant power – far more than is permitted to provinces in terms of the constitution.

So, what does this likely mean for the ANC and the country under a Ramaphosa presidency? We know a few things already. We know that the ANC remains a very powerful brand. The ANC, even if it performs badly in government, is severely divided, has an unpopular leader and in times of poor economic growth, was still able to win a very health majority in the 2016 local government elections. The next biggest political party, the DA was only able to win less than half the number of votes that the ANC won and, if the truth be told, the DA only performed as well as it did because it managed to get everyone who would vote DA to come out and vote. Large numbers of ANC voters simply stayed at home.

Charles Simpkins at the Helen Suzman Foundation showed just how strong the support for the ANC remains. In wards (voting districts) where the ANC is in the majority, its majority is very significant. In only 20% of the wards where the ANC has a majority is that majority less than 60% of the total vote in them. Sure, the DA has its own traditional support base sewn up but it can’t seem to break into the support base of township dwellers, even where the DA is in government, as it has been in the Western Cape.

The EFF? They are stuck at just over 8% of the vote, have peaked in Gauteng and are only seeing growth in the majority SePedi, SetSwana and SeSotho speaking provinces. In the 2014 national/provincial elections, the EFF secured 451,318 votes from Gauteng, representing just short of 40% of all the votes it received in that election. In the 2016 local government elections, Gauteng, as a percentage all votes secured by the EFF dropped to 32.56%. For a party associated with passion, the voting turn-out in wards where the EFF did well in 2016, was very low. Without Zuma to rail against, it is hard to see the EFF making any further inroads.

However, the ANC’s electoral dominance has sowed the seeds of its destruction. The best political parties need an opposition that threatens at the polls. For the country, the almost total political dominance of the ANC since 1994 can be viewed in two ways. On one hand, the lack of a credible opposition has meant that there has been no effective check on the organisation which has increasingly blurred the lines between itself, as a political party, and the state. One consequence has been the unchecked growth of patronage politics and clientelism.

On the other hand, it is possible to argue that the ANC’s almost total political control was necessary in a divided society emerging from apartheid. Given a legacy of extreme inequality and racial division, the ANC as a broad-church movement, has been able to manage potential conflicts. It is possible to argue that true multi-party competition may have destabilised a political system that, in 1994, lacked any legitimate and trusted institutions. Since 1994, successive ANC governments have entrenched the legitimacy of democratic institutions like the courts and the electoral processes such as the IEC.

Under Zuma however critical institutions have been severely damaged by State Capture but in truth, the ANC has long captured the state and has shored up its power by its ability to dispense patronage.

In an excellent essay published in 2012, Hans Pienaar, referred to secret Verwoerd-era broederbond documents which described the essential nature of the apartheid dictatorship thus: Capitalism for whites, Socialism for blacks. Pienaar goes on to write about 2012 South Africa: “The capitalist core is doing better than it ever has, with former state-aided global corporations in the vanguard. This elite is among those who have weathered the global financial crisis the best.” The majority of Black South Africa? Pienaar continues, “the lumpen proletariat, the subalterns, the masses, are trapped in often miserable townships and shack cities, where many have become dependent on the meagre handouts of the state”. The old homelands are now gone, he writes, but now “the core is surrounded by homelands, with names such as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, but also Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo and Lesotho, where socialist policies very similar to Verwoerd’s for the homelands have destroyed societies too”.

The main change since 2012 under Zuma’s administration’s corrupt leadership is that South Africa’s capitalist core is no longer doing so well. The economy is creaking. The large state-owned corporations are also in trouble. Eskom, leveraged to the hilt, is unable to sell its increasingly expensive electricity in an economy that is de-industrialising. Since 2008, government spending has ballooned well beyond its ability to increase receipts via taxes. To get by, South Africa continues to borrow so that now, debt levels are projected to be as much as 60% of GDP and that is a conservative estimate. Bailing out parastatals could easily push that to 75% of GDP. Along the way, losing investment grade status will make debt servicing that much more expensive and crowd out social spending.

The control of state and parastatal spending has allowed the ANC to bind support for whoever is the dominant faction and maintain internal unity. The ability to dispense patronage is described as part of the adhesive that has kept the ANC together. This patronage extends well outside the bounds of the state and extends to regulated sectors like mining. Moreover, over 40% of the country’s budget is spent on procuring goods and services from the private sector.

Given the effectiveness of the “adhesive” described above, contestation and political conflict in South Africa plays out in the ANC itself and not across political parties. This kind of contestation is a zero-sum game and drives violence and assassinations of opponents within ANC structures. The stakes are high. High levels of unemployment mean that participation in ANC politics is one of the very few available ways open to people wishing to escape a life of poverty. One political analyst describes the state as the main instrument through which a new black middle class has been created.

If Cyril Ramaphosa, as president of the country, is going to have any real success, he will have to address South Africa’s poor economic fundamentals and restore trust in government. To do so, he will have to pare down the public service and the bloated parastatals to forestall a fiscal crisis. He will also have to rebuild critical institutions such as the NPA and ensure that they are independent of political influence.

Besides the obvious difficulties of retrenching large numbers from very well remunerated public sector into a private sector that is itself retrenching and an informal sector that is essentially a mass of survivalist over-traded activity , the future president Ramaphosa will need to dismantle pervasive patronage networks, including those that paved the way for him to become president of the party. His problem is this: these patronage networks are the adhesive that keeps the ANC together and he needs the ANC to be held together to become president of the country and then to remain on as president.

Getting rid of Zuma and his preferred successor as president of the ANC in favour of Cyril Ramaphosa should have been a sure thing. Zuma has been a disastrous blight on the country and we will have to suffer the consequences of his presidency for years to come. That is was such a close-run thing, shows that we actually never really had a Zuma problem. Instead, we have an ANC problem. If you have any doubt about this claim, scan through lists of the newly elected top six, the National Working Committee and the rest of the NEC. DM

Photo: Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma. (Sapa)