South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa has been part of the ANC leadership for decades, aiding and abetting in the very criminality he now pledges to eradicate, says Vishwas Satgar. Watch part 1
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. We are continuing our conversation on South Africa, the ANC, and the changing of the guard in the presidency of South Africa from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa with Vishwas Satgar. He’s joining us from Johannesburg.
VISHWAS SATGAR: Thank you, Sharmini. It’s great to be on your show.
SHARMINI PERIES: In segment one, we talked about the ANC and how it orchestrated the departure of Jacob Zuma so that he has a “soft landing,” as Vishwas Satgar puts it.
In this segment, we’re going to talk about the new President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, his history with the ANC, and his already marred history associated with the Marikana massacre and the dealings that he has with international capital. But before we do that, let’s listen to a speech that Cyril Ramaphosa gave not too long ago prior to becoming the president to demonstrate why he should be elected the President of South Africa by, not only the ANC, but of course the Congress.
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: We will continue with this legacy of fighting corruption and making sure that those who are corrupt and steal from the poor are brought to justice. We will at the same time continue to resist any form of attempt to capture our state institutions for the self-enrichment of the few. We will make sure that our state owned enterprises become state owned enterprises that will manage the assets of our people correctly.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vish, in a party leadership election held in December, Deputy-President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to lead the party and there was much negotiations between Ramaphosa and Zuma to ensure that they would, they meaning ANC, would usher Zuma in a respectable manner out of his presidency. Give us some indication of the conditions surrounding those negotiations and then of course who is Cyril Ramaphosa?
VISHWAS SATGAR: Ramaphosa’s had an illustrious political career in South Africa. I mean, he was the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers in the ’80s. He was a very powerful movement leader inside the country in the ’80s. He played a very, very crucial role in the transition to democracy and he was one of the key negotiators of the ANC operating at a very high level around building relationships with the National Party, ensuring that the kind of roadmap towards a constitution and a government of national unity and so on were put in place. He is a very sophisticated political operator, but of course, you know, he was also, if you like, nudged out of the political race inside the ANC by the likes of Thabo Mbeki and so on who viewed him in a particular light, et cetera.
But, you know, he went into business, he became very, very rich. He’s one of the richest South Africans around today and he’s had shares in numerous companies including McDonalds and so on. He was sitting on numerous boards, including Lonmin.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vish, sitting on the Lonmin board, who were the owners of the Marikana mine is very significant given the Marikana massacre where police massacred 34 striking mine workers that were just protesting and demonstrating for better working conditions and something that one would think the ANC leadership would have supported but because Ramaphosa was sitting on the board of Lonmin, the corporation that owned the Marikana mine, he put himself in a very compromising situation.
VISHWAS SATGAR: You know, what happens at Marikana, I mean, you know, he calls for concomitant action vis-a-vis the mineworkers’ strike and, you know, that has been interpreted in so many ways legally and politically, but it clearly had implications. Many people feel that the Farlam Commission and the Marikana Commission didn’t really hold him to account but also most importantly the political principals in the state, the ministers including President Zuma and so on. So, you know, he is going to live with this blot of Marikana and that’s always gonna be a taint but, at the same time, he brings, if you like, to the ANC an orientation that we’ve had previously in South African politics. He’s very, very much, if you like, loved by the World Economic Forum. He himself said recently he went on a pilgrimage to Davos and various commitments were made around investment and things like that.
So, in a sense, it sounds like there’s going to be a continuity vis-a-vis the Mbeki Project of neo-liberalization in South Africa, but at the same time I think we must appreciate that Cyril Ramaphosa and the leadership that have ascended since the December conference of the ANC also, if you like, aided and abetted the Zumafication of South Africa. For almost 10 years, Zuma as the former head of state was given license to do what he did. He was defended at every turn by the ANC including with Cyril being in the top six of the ANC leadership. So, you know, when Cyril Ramaphosa talks about the fight against corruption, when he talks about turning around parastatals and addressing mismanagement, well, they were all in the collective of the ANC together with Zuma that brought us to this crisis, so that is something that we also need to keep in perspective.
In terms of corruption, you know, it’s very easy for the ANC and including Ramaphosa to scapegoat outgoing President Zuma and, in that process, if you like, hide the deeper rot inside the ANC. The ANC political machine is deeply criminalized at a whole host of levels. It is deeply corrupted and corrupting as a political force. Cyril Ramaphosa heads that political machine. It is going to be very interesting to see how far they go in terms of fighting and ridding systemic corruption in our society.
Now, if you look at the top six of the ANC, the current General-Secretary of the ANC, the new General-Secretary of the ANC, Ace Magashule, he is a former premier of the Free State Province. He comes from a province that has had an audit that suggests that he has, his government has irregular expenditure to the amount of 10 billion Rands, okay? And there’s a whole set of questions emerging around corruption and transactional politics in the Free State Province. The Estina Dairy issue which involves the infamous Gupta family and it was basically a scam to leverage money from an agrarian project and channel that into sort of private hands, et cetera. He seems to have his fingerprints all over it. Now he is currently the General-Secretary of the ANC. He sits alongside Cyril Ramaphosa, so the question is how far and how deep is the arm of the law going to reach into the ANC?
The other issue around this is the rebuilding of the autonomy of our criminal justice institutions, our National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, which is a special agency to kind of zoom in on corruption and other serious crimes in our society. Are these institutions now going to be, if you like, reaffirmed in terms of their democratic mandates, in terms of their public service roles, and so on and so on? Will they be able to act without fear of favor, including going after top ANC leadership?
Linked to this of course is the whole question of turning around our parastatals. Now, Zuma, together with Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC collective, have brought our parastatals to a place of near collapse. Our parastatals are a very crucial part of the South African economy. Eskom, for example, is a major supplier of energy to the South African economy. It is sitting with credit around 250 billion Rands. If Eskom defaults, if you like, if Eskom crashes, this’ll bring down the entire fiscal system in South Africa. There are other parastatals that are also indebted as well to international lenders and creditors et cetera, probably around 500 billion. If these institutions default, we’re gonna have a catastrophic fiscal crisis in South Africa.
What is complicating all these parastatals in terms of mismanagement and so on is also the reign of corruption, okay? So, as the gaze and the spotlight has kind of taken hold around Eskom and the different kind of transactional stuff that has happened, it’s very clear that many of these parastatals have been milking cows, basically, for the Zuma kleptocratic regime. So, you know, there’s a lot of work to be done to kind of redefine those institutions, re-strategize around those institutions, and get them to work again in the national interest. There’s a lot of institutional reclamation and transformation that has to happen.
The other challenge, of course, that Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership face is the whole question of our economy. Now, you know, the neoliberalization of post-apartheid South Africa has produced a society where just over 50% of our population still earns about 440 Rands, okay? That’s the large majority. You have structural unemployment that has consistently increased and, you know, some would argue that we’ve had jobless growth. That is a very, very serious reality. We’ve left out 80% of South Africans from the kind of democracy that has been constructed. Now Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC have a very, very serious challenge around economic transformation, and if it’s just going to be about managing a consensus with the International Monetary Fund, with the World Economic Forum, with certain fractions of capital in South Africa, this country does not have a viable democracy going forward. So, these are some of the big issues confronting, if you like, in the immediate term the Cyril Ramaphosa regime.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Vish, what options do this people’s-powered movements that are still struggling, that forced the resignation of Zuma, I mean, you saw so many demonstrations where people were holding placards saying “Zuma must go,” so there is a certain element of a real groundswell that you referred to. Where are they at and what options do they have?
VISHWAS SATGAR: Well, the Zuma Must Go campaigning, if you like, has expressed itself as I said across progressive civil society into institutional politics amongst oppositional parties, in the media, and in the faith-based communities and so on. One possible direction this has taken has been the formation of what is called Future South Africa, and that’s a coalition of organizations that are beginning to think about a post-Zuma social and political order, the transition beyond Zuma. The other direction this has taken is the South African Council of Churches that has convened a set of dialogues to really think about the deeper challenges facing the country around inequality, the crisis of democracy, the whole question of climate change. This is a very, very big issue. It doesn’t feature in the resolutions coming out of the December conference of the ANC. Right now we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in our history. Cities like Cape Town and so on face catastrophic sort of challenges around water. This is not featuring, it hasn’t featured in the Zuma reign, if you like. It’s not part of the discourse of Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC, but the churches are championing some of these perspectives.
Beyond that, of course, there are a whole set of other campaigning initiatives. There is what is called Corruption Watch. They’ve had a tribunal recently, a few days ago actually, to gather the whole coalition of organizations in South African civil society around looking at the history of corruption in South Africa going back 40 years and opening up a whole debate about how we deal with systemic corruption in South Africa, its historical roots, its transformation under conditions of neo-liberalism, and so on. You also have, if you like, trade unions, particularly SAFTU, the new trade union federation very, in a focused way, picking up on a whole host of legal issues vis-a-vis Zuma, challenging the National Prosecuting Authority to take forward certain charges that have been put in abeyance because this institution has been compromised by Zuma. You have them also ringing the bell around a whole host of corrupt and murky stuff at a whole sort of host of levels in society.
So, you have a lot of that right now on the horizon in South Africa, different forces, all, if you like, committed to the challenge of fighting corruption, all committed to reclaiming and strengthening democratic institutions, and many of them committed to looking at deeper issues of transformation, including the climate crisis. So there’s a lot of potential for reconfiguration and realignment in South African politics today. It’s not given that this is necessarily going to, if you like, spawn a political party in opposition to the ANC. I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen at this point in time, but at the same time, though, I think these platforms are, if you like, raising a whole set of questions that in the past would have been led by ANC but are no longer being led by the ANC.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Vish, it’s late. I appreciate you joining us from Johannesburg at this late hour and I welcome you back for us to continue this conversation and the analysis that you have so well provided us in the very near future. So, I hope you can join us again.
VISHWAS SATGAR: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.