South African Demonstrators Demand Zuma’s Resignation
ANC’s leadership called into question as Zuma’s corruption ridden Presidency is headed to an end, who will lead the country next, ponders Trevor Ngwane of the Johannesburg United Front and Professor Patrick Bond
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
President Jacob Zuma got quite a birthday party this week. While he was celebrating and dancing in the streets, over 50,000 South Africans took to the streets in the country’s capital of Pretoria on Wednesday. They were demanding Zuma’s resignation. The protests were organized by some of the parliamentary parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters, and the Democratic Alliance, as well as several other parties and the civil society organizations.
Organizers appear to have had enough of Zuma’s numerous corruption scandals, and the country’s deteriorating economic conditions. Even former ANC allies of President Zuma, for example, President Thabo Mbeki, and a former general secretary of the Congress of South African trade unions, Mr. [Zwelinzima] Vavi, are calling for a national ANC conference to decide how to resolve the problem of Zuma.
Joining us from Johannesburg to talk about these latest developments is Patrick Bond and Trevor Ngwane. Patrick is professor of political economy at Wits University in South Africa, and is the co-author of South Africa: The Present as History. He is also the co-editor of, BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique. Trevor Ngwane is head of the Johannesburg United Front.
Gentlemen, I thank you both for joining me today.
MEN: Good to be here. Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Trevor, let me begin with you. The protests in Pretoria today, what were they like, and describe the scene for us?
TREVOR NGWANE: Well, it was a very big march, boisterous, happy, confident. It was very rare because the supporters of the Economic Freedom Front dominated the march, in terms of numbers. But it was also colorful, in the sense that there were t-shirts of other political parties, the DA, Democratic Alliance, the African Democratic Christian Party, ACDP and other parties. But it was a very kind of African and black march, because most of the EFF supporters, Economic Freedom Fighters, supporters are black.
It was also youthful, because many of those supporters are youth. It was a really fantastic march. And it was raining, but people came out in their numbers.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, there are many scandals around Zuma, but why were these protests detonated now?
TREVOR NGWANE: Well, I think we are approaching what I can call a tipping point, because Zuma has done a number of things, what I call political blunders, and it has come to a point where everyone can see that he is doing the wrong thing.
For example, this time around, he fired the finance minister. But this is the second time in two years that he has fired the finance minister. The first time he fired the finance minister, the rand, our currency, took a dive. This time he fired the finance minister, and South Africa was reduced to junk status by the rating agencies. So, it’s almost like people are saying enough is enough.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, let me get Patrick in. Patrick, Pravin Gordhan, who was the finance minister, why did Zuma fire him?
PATRICK BOND: Well, it’s a very good question. Theories that seem to predominate relate to Gordhan opposing the patronage that Zuma had wanted, especially a nuclear energy deal that might cost $100 billion. Far, far in excess of the fiscal capacity, and the electricity company has vast over-capacity of its own. But this was a Russian-promoted deal that also was connected to an Indian family, the Gupta brothers, who are the main owners of the uranium mines.
That’s one, and then related, the Guptas had tried to start their own bank through allies in South Africa. The four big banks, the white-dominated banks, had blacklisted the Guptas about a year ago, and so in this contestation for their ability to do business, the Finance Ministry has been one of those sites of struggle.
It’s considered by the world financial community to be a neoliberal, market-oriented, and fiscally austere Finance Ministry. For example, cutting the budget for poor people’s social grants, or cutting the health budget at a very, very fragile time, more than 100 debts related to some of those budget cuts, just this year.
And I think what Zuma did with his patronage bloc, going up against the neoliberal bloc, the last time, as Trevor Ngwane said, he lost because the neo-liberals were able to compel the reappointment of a more neoliberal finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. But this time, Zuma has felt sufficiently powerful or desperate, as he enters his last two years of president of the country, so this was his last gasp to take control or state capture of this huge power in the Finance Ministry.
SHARMINI PERIES: Let me ask you, Trevor, I understand that the Economic Freedom Fighters, one of the main organizers of this demonstration, you saw many of them, members of this new party that I think managed to get 25 votes in the Parliament — seats in the Parliament this last election.
Give us a sense of who they are, how well-aligned are they with the Democratic Alliance, and how many civil society organizations like the student movement and others, are working with them, in terms of these protests against Zuma?
TREVOR NGWANE: Well, the Economic Freedom Fighters are a youthful party, which started less than three years ago, and it is led by Julius Malema, who is the president of the African National Congress Youth League. He was expelled from the League after helping Zuma take power from the previous president, Anton Lambede. The program of the Economic Freedom Fighters is the nationalization of the land, is the nationalization of the factories. They call themselves socialists.
Their ideology officially is Marxism-Leninism-Fanonism. Fanonism is about the struggle for decolonization. They are a very young and vibrant political party, and they are flamboyant, and they dominate the media here, and in parliament, they are very boisterous. And many times they have been kicked out of Parliament for being irreverent. So, they’re a really strong, new political force in South Africa.
SHARMINI PERIES: And how aligned are they with the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, and also the… how aligned is this whole group, in terms of, is there such common ground that they have bonded together to oppose Zuma?
TREVOR NGWANE: Well, the common ground is quite recent actually, where everyone seems to be saying, or uniting behind the slogan of, “Zuma Must Go”. But the EFF, the fighters, in the last look at government elections, which was last year, August 3, supported the DA for example in Johannesburg, the biggest city in South Africa, to help the DA, the Democratic Alliance, take power. Where the ANC had won the vote, but did not have enough seats to run the Council. The EFF said they would help the DA.
So, in a way, the EFF hatred of the ANC has pushed it closer to the Democratic Alliance.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, the EFF, as you said, is a socialist party, so, Patrick, let me ask you, the ANC of course, started as an anti-capitalist and socialist political party, but has since then… since the apartheid ended, has moved more and more to the right, embracing neoliberal programs.
How did all that happen? And what are the conditions that led to this kind of corrupt, neoliberal economy in South Africa?
PATRICK BOND: Well, you know, it is, as Trevor Ngwane says, related to the teachings of Frantz Fanon, especially the theory that there’s a false decolonization, because you get the political kingdom. But the economic structure in most of Africa, are still controlled by multinational capital, and in places like South Africa, and Zimbabwe, until recently by whites, the settler colonial power bloc.
Now, the critique, of course, of this power bloc, was that they always supported apartheid; the white capital and the white racist regime were together. And they were broken because of the sanctions and the protests in the late 1980s, and then 1994 Mandela was freed. But he had to do deals with that white power bloc, the so-called Faustian pacts, especially with international finance.
And that meant gradually, and then ultimately, in the late 1990s, as Mandela was leaving office, the big multinationals all moved away, but they’ve been taking their profits out. And that is the squeeze that the credit rating agencies can use, because of the desperate outflow of funds, and the need to borrow, and a very high foreign debt and the fairly high domestic — especially government — debt. That means these credit rating agencies have been very powerful.
Now that they’ve used their weapons, this last week — Standard & Poor’s and Fitch gave a junk rating to South Africa — that’s in turn, going to make the ANC less likely to toe the line of neoliberalism in a last-gasp attempt to keep populist support. And that’s the old classic, talk left, walk right, but the talk left radical economic transformation, especially, is the framing that we’re going to be hearing. And as Jacob Zuma tried this week, he will blame these protesters on whites, and capital, who want to retain their privilege.
He’s already said he’s being impeached in the next couple of weeks. There may be another vote to impeach him, because South African African National Congress is part of a liberation tradition that is fighting imperialism, it’s part of their BRICS, fighting imperialists, and he’s sketched out a story line that allows him to say he’s being victimized by this residual white power bloc.
And to the extent that white capitalists, international capitalists, really do want to get rid of him, and what they want [name inaudible] as deputy, a billionaire in his own right, to move in as president, there’s a little truth in that. But the real dilemma for Jacob Zuma today, is that 50,000 to 100,000 people were out protesting, led by the left. And that’s not just the neoliberal bloc, or the corrupt patronage bloc. Now there’s a third force in this political terrain as of today, which is led by the Economic Freedom Fights, a secular and politically powerful mass bloc that will lean left.
And I think that’s an incredibly interesting development in a country where most of its civil society, left, trade unions, student groups, social movements, have not… have failed to come together in the united front that everyone had expected.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Patrick I understand that there’s a no-confidence vote pending in Parliament. As well, the ANC has called for — or members of the ANC — is calling for a national congress. Will they be able to rein Zuma in and force a resignation?
PATRICK BOND: I doubt it. I think this may well go to the vote. And the critical question is whether the Parliament has its own rules, and those rules force the members to have an open vote, where everyone knows which way they voted. The request, which is … until the Constitutional court decides is, can they have a secret ballot? And if they do have a secret ballot, a great number of African National Congress parliamentarians need to have at least 50 to unseat Zuma.
If the opposition are all united, which it looks like they are, that’s the big question in the coming couple of weeks, as to whether the Constitutional Court says this can be a secret ballot. If so, the power relationships will change. Zuma might… may well have to resign in advance of knowing that he wouldn’t have the support, at which point, either the Speaker — if he is impeached — the Speaker of the Parliament, or perhaps the Deputy President, would come in and replace him.
It’s a very fluid situation, and so at this point the ball is in the court of the Constitutional Court.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Trevor, let me give you the last word here, give us a sense of what you’re planning to do. What you’re anticipating will be the demands of the ANC, in terms of a resignation, or demanding the resignation of Zuma, or… And also what kinds of other protests are being planned for the coming days, to sustain this kind of resistance?
TREVOR NGWANE: The real question is if Zuma goes, who will replace him? So we are mobilizing around that question. Because we don’t think that many, or most of the opposition parties, or any of the existing ANC leaders, would make matters any better for ordinary people, for the working class.
The pressure in South Africa, it’s a crisis of capitalism, a crisis of social democracy, in the sense that the ANC government, the government of liberation, has failed to deliver a better life for the poor, for the working class. So, people are against Zuma because he represents and symbolizes that failure. And they see his corruption as one reason why their lives are not getting better.
But as the left, as organized formations, we know that the Finance Minister, as comrade Patrick was saying, Pravin Gordhan, who was replaced, is a neoliberal. He also pushes the agenda of the rich, of the bourgeoisie, of the capitalists.
So, we are trying to focus on Zuma, but at the same time, raise the bigger question of what kind of system, what kind of economy do we want for South Africa? An economy which can benefit the poor, which can benefit the working class. So, in a way, our movement is a movement to build the power and the confidence, of ordinary people to fight for a different future. A future where there is no exploitation, there is no oppression.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Trevor, Patrick, I thank you both for joining us, and we look forward to ongoing reports of what’s happening on the ground, and hope that you can join us again. Thank you so much.
PATRICK BOND: We’ll see you again.
TREVOR NGWANE: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.