Prof. Vishwas Satgar provides a climate justice critique of South African political parties: What are the commitments of the ANC, DA, and EFF to a deep, just, life-sustaining transition?
SHARMINI PERIES Welcome back to my conversation with Dr. Vishwas Satgar. He is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Wits University in South Africa. We’ve been talking about the upcoming May 8th elections and the environmental policy of the leading parties. So let’s assume that the ANC comes to power, which is likely given the political dynamics in the country and we are getting more of the same as far as South Africa is concerned. Do you think that the ANC is capable of grappling with this issue of climate crisis we’re facing?
VISHWAS SATGAR So the ANC’s manifesto almost on its last page alludes to the Paris Climate Agreement. There is no imperative. There’s no sense of urgency in its political imagination. Also historically speaking, the ANC as a liberation movement has not had an ecological consciousness, for understandable reasons. It was fixated and concentrated on the national grievance on racial oppression, etc. and that’s understandable, but it doesn’t have an ecological politics in its ideological frame, in its ideological makeup. So a lot of what’s going to come out of the ANC will be a crisis response to the situation. And you’ll probably see, as I said, the routinization and performative aspects of international relations. So yes, we committed to the Paris Agreement and we’re doing what we can within that, but all our long-term mitigation scenarios, our climate policies, etc. are completely out of sync with what is a quickly changing climate science. Again, underlining the urgency for deep and decisive cuts. So the ANC is not there around the climate issue. The ANC is also facing a legitimacy deficit. So this is a very difficult election for the ANC. The ANC has become a criminalized political force in South African politics. So the corruption that has happened over the past 26 years has reached systemic proportions. It is hideous. We’ve had scandal, after scandal, after scandal, and right now there are three commissions that are prominent, that have been set up by the sitting president. One is called a State Capture Commission and that has tried to bring out a whole lot of evidence around how nefarious networks and connections between the party, the state, and emergent and existing capital, has worked to bring about corruption. We have a commissioner on the South African Revenue Service. We’ve had an amazing Revenue Service in the African context, but that institution has been completely broken and compromised by a whole set of interests. And this commission is revealing a whole set of again, corrupt networks that even reach into the ANC. We have a commissioner around our Public Investment Commission. This is the largest pension fund in the country with trillions of rands of worker money. And again, all kinds of transactional stuff has been happening there. Again, linked to forces close to or within the orbit of the African National Congress. So we actually have a parasitic process of accumulation that has been happening to create a black bourgeoisie, a new elite, but through a transactional politics, a deeply corrupt politics, and the ANC has been implicated in that. A result of that has been the compromising of our state and its capacity to deliver on a whole set of issues facing the country, a whole set of public goods. We are having crises in local governments. We are having crises in our parastatals, as I mentioned the Eskom crisis and debacle, and so on. But it’s not just Eskom, it’s Transnet, it’s a whole set of major institutions that are reflecting this crisis of looting, etc. So the ANC is going into this election in the context in which it has been painted with the brush of corruption. The mints of national liberation are all over. If you like, the emperor’s naked going into this election and I think the country knows that some of the factions even on electoral lists that the ANC has put forward, are deeply corrupt. So it’s open, it’s visible. The country knows this, so we are in a very, very serious dilemma around this. It’s going to be very difficult, even with an ANC victory, for the ANC to deal with these challenges. To decriminalize the ANC and politics will mean bringing down some of the most powerful people inside the ANC, including people like the Secretary General of the ANC. There’s just been a revelation about his role as Premier in the Free State Province in a book called A Gangster State. It’s just been published. There’s been attempts to burn the book in book shops by forces loyal to the secretary general of the ANC, and so on. But it really reveals again, the depth of the rot, the corruption, the criminalization, etc. So to deal with this problem, will mean that some of these powerful people are going to have to face criminal prosecution. They’re going to have to go to jail, etc. and I’m not sure if Cyril Ramaphosa and the people around him in his faction have the appetite to deal with this kind of issue. We might have a few short trials. We might have a few scapegoats, etc. But underlying this is a nexus, is a relationship between the party machine, the state, and emergent capital interests. And you have to break that nexus actually to solve this problem. You also have to put in place a whole new regulatory regime around auditing, around accountability in the state, etc. Our auditor general has been raising the alarm bells on irregular expenditure for a very, very long time, despite these commissions set up by the ANC, by the president of the country. We have somewhere between 70 and 78 billion in irregular expenditure for the year 2017-2018. In local governments, we have about 50 billion rand in irregular expenditure. There’s a massive leakage of resources. So you’re going to have to really remake the state for it to be effective. So you have the corruption challenge and that’s there and it’s deep and I’m not sure how far the ANC leadership, including Cyril Ramaphosa, would be willing to go. I think the other issue that’s very, very serious in our country is inequality. The ANC’s approach in this election and in the manifesto is industrialization. But as I said, 20th century industrialization— one of the prerequisites of it is an effective, developmental state that is insulated, that can allocate capital, that can discipline capital, that can actually lead a process of planned industrialization. You don’t have the conditions for that. So inequality within their framework of creating industrial-scale jobs is going to come up against very, very serious limits. So in short, you have the climate crisis, you have massive rampant systemic corruption, and you have a dream for 20th century industrial capitalism, but the conditions are not there for this to be realized so the ANC is going to be in crisis.
SHARMINI PERIES And finally, Vish, what are the polls saying about this upcoming election?
VISHWAS SATGAR Right. So there’s various polls. There’s an Ipsos poll. There’s the South African Institute of Race Relations poll. The Ipsos poll— basically it suggests that there’ll be some kind of drop in ANC support, but not major. The ANC achieved 62 percent in the last election, so for the Ipsos, it’ll probably be one or two points drop in that. The major loss would be the DA in the Ipsos poll. The DA got about 22 percent in the last election and the Ipsos poll suggest it’ll probably be five or six percentage points or more. And of course, the EFF is in that poll seemed to be the kind of winner of gaining some ground. It achieved about 6 percent in the 2014 elections. The Ipsos polls possibly sees probably another 6 percent added, and so on. The South African Institute of Race Relations has done at least three polls and it is showing a massive drop in ANC support, probably closer to 50 percent. It’s also seeing some increase for the EFF with the DA remaining stable around 22 percent. These polls methodologically have various problems with them. It depends on their sample sizes, when they’re done, etc. As you know, they’re snapshots, so you have these two extremes right now in South Africa. One, showing a massive shift away from the ANC and some realignments towards the smaller parties. On the other hand, you’re seeing a perspective that says no, the ANC will retain some ground. And then of course, some of the smaller parties like the DA would lose, etc. So it’s really hard to work out what this means in terms of prediction, in terms of outcomes. This election is going to be a very complex election. The province of Gauteng, which is the industrial heartland of the country— the ANC took a massive hit in Gauteng in the last election. Many people kept away from the polls, longstanding supporters of the ANC and so on. Now it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. South Africa is in crisis. We’re facing very serious challenges and it’s going to be interesting to see how people realign in this election. There are 48 parties contesting in this election, at least 19 more parties than the previous election. So there is a bit of a fragmentation of institutional politics, if you like. And it’s gonna be interesting to see whether any of these smaller parties pick up support, etc. given the disaffection. You also have at least nine million people eligible to vote that haven’t registered for this election. Six million of them are young people. And so there’s again a very strong disaffection factor in this election. And it’s going to be very interesting to see how these interests are represented in society. They’re not going to be reflected in the elections. Again, that in some senses is a big opposition party in itself but it’s outside of the political discourse and around how people are thinking of this election.
SHARMINI PERIES Alright. I’ve been speaking with Dr. Vishwas Satgar from Wits University in South Africa. And I thank you so much for joining us, Vish, and look forward to discussing the results with you after May 8th. Thank you for now.
VISHWAS SATGAR Thank you. Alright.
SHARMINI PERIES And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.