It's an Illusion That Zuma's Long Road to the Presidency Will Promote Social Change

Cape Times (South Africa), December 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

It's an Illusion That Zuma's Long Road to the Presidency Will Promote Social Change


BYLINE: Patrick Bond

Congratulations are due to Jacob Zuma - apparently far more Machiavellian than even Thabo Mbeki - and the tireless band of warriors from Cosatu, the South African Communist Party and the ANC Youth League, who kept his political life support on when everyone else declared him dead.

A seductive - yet incorrect - line of analysis arises now to explain the logic behind Zuma's landslide victory. The first period of ANC rule (1994-2001) required "macroeconomic stabilisation", so the argument goes, and subsequently a "developmental state" with a strong welfare bias has been under construction. Hence Zuma's victory will not change anything, really.

Zuma's huge margin reflected not a heroic new ruler, but rather a ruling regime out of touch with the misery experienced by its mass base. The SA Police Service recently revealed the rate of social protests had risen from 5 800 in 2004/05 (the world's highest per person then, I reckon) to more than 10 000 per year since, and no doubt even higher numbers will be released for 2007/08, given the long public sector strike.

Zuma wasn't an instigator of more than a few of these, such as when, disgracefully, in May 2006 he let his rape trial devolve into an orgy of misogyny, with effigies of his accuser burnt outside the court.

No, indeed, the grassroots protests were largely against the ANC's neo-liberal economic policies, before and after Zuma's firing as deputy president in mid-2005 after his friend Schabir Shaik's conviction.

Zuma was subsequently harassed by Mbeki's vindictive state. This meant, at the ANC conference and in the words of commentators, the angry rumble from below was readily channelled away from structural critique of neo-liberal nationalist rule, and into the song Umshini Wami ("Bring me my machine gun").

The prodigious venality of the Zuma-Mbeki squabble threw copious amounts of toxic dust high into the air, blinding most to what's really at stake here: class struggle, to borrow a worn but potent phrase.

Indeed, the tone of the internecine battle with Mbeki was sufficiently vicious as to require cries of "unity" from both camps afterwards, as well as in Zuma's speech last Thursday. But like much in this party, the lovely rhetoric concealed yet more brutal power plays.

The other major ANC vote - for 80 positions on the ANC national executive committee - confirmed that the Zuma majority took no prisoners, leaving Mbeki's most trusted allies in the political wilderness.

There really has been a change of the guard. But is it a move left?

SACP intellectual leader Jeremy Cronin - who was number 5 in the ANC vote - offers this spin about the party's ideological direction. The ANC conference witnessed a "deepening and consolidation" of the progressive trajectory already under way, says Cronin. Hence under a President Zuma, "there would be no dramatic U-turn" on matters already under contestation: tight monetary policy, chaotic credit market regulation, and the liberalised trade and industrial policies which have killed a million jobs.

For those like Cronin, the recent revival of the "national democratic revolution" is already undermining the neo-liberal bloc within the ANC.

Is it? In reality, many on the centre-left - Cronin too - have been rather lukewarm about the Zuma campaign, because as national deputy president, starting in 1999, Zuma was nowhere visible with workers and the poor (or women, needless to say) pulling against Mbeki and the other weighty neo-liberals: Trevor Manuel (finance), Alec Erwin (trade/privatisation), Tito Mboweni (Reserve Bank governor), Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (public service) and Sydney Mufamadi (local government).

Of these, only Manuel retained an NEC seat, voted in at number 57 after having been number 1 in 2002. …

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