ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has a new leader. Controversial former Deputy President Jacob Zuma defeated his fellow party member, President Thabo Mbeki, to ascend to the ANC’s top position. Mbeki and Zuma are bitter political rivals. In order to survive, they both must negotiate with the Tripartite Alliance. Its members include the Congress of South African Trade Unions, otherwise known as COSATU, and the South African Communist Party, also known as the SACP. I spoke to Professor Adam Habib in Johannesburg about recent developments, and how Jacob Zuma, despite his controversial reputation, won the ANC’s top job.
PROFESSOR ADAM HABIB, POLITICAL ANALYST: If you want to truly understand the popularity of Jacob Zuma, you have to understand the rebellion against Thabo Mbeki. We’ve effectively had a rebellion from the membership against the mainstream leadership of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki and those around him. One is about a belief amongst some of the ANC branches, amongst the Tripartite Alliance partners like the Communist Party and COSATU, that this transition has been primarily beneficial to the rich. The poor and marginalized have actually not been the primary beneficiaries of this transition, and they therefore have thrown their institutional muscle behind Jacob Zuma. That added to the fact that this guy is an incredibly popular politician, in the sense that he is able to strike a rapport. Mbeki was an aloof president. He was a kind of intellectual figure that even reflected contempt for the masses, whereas Jacob Zuma is somebody who doesn’t quote Shakespeare. He ends up doing a jig on the platform. And people relate to that.
NKWETA: In addition to the rebellion of COSATU, the largest trade workers’ union in the country, critics cite the economic policies pursued by Thabo Mbeki as precipitating his downfall.
HABIB: That economic policy largely was very neoliberal in nature—emphasized privatization, deregulation, cutbacks in state expenditure, the kind of normal processes. The only exception was labour act reform. Other than that, in every other sense it was neoliberal. And what happened was it managed to stabilize our macro finances, but what it also did was double unemployment in our society and greatly increased poverty and inequality in our society. Now, it’s also true that in the last three or four years policy has begun to change under Mbeki. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s gone far enough for COSATU and the Communist Party. Because what it’s done is there are still elements of the old policies, we still have a very rigid inflation-targeting agenda. We have a very rigid deficits. We’re still running a surplus. The morality of a society with a 40 percent unemployment and 50 percent poverty rate running a surplus is beyond me. And it is precisely that that has made COSATU unhappy. They would like to see a greater shift to the left. But I think their economic policy only is one element of it. I think that also COSATU and the Communist Party are very concerned about what they call the centralization of authority around Thabo Mbeki, which in part, I must add, I have argued, is the product of the macro-economic policy choices that Thabo Mbeki made. Nevertheless, the centralization of power around him, his manipulation of state institutions to settle political scores, etcetera, etcetera, all antagonized the Tripartite Alliance partners. And Mbeki always had a very acrimonious relationship with the Tripartite Alliance parties. And all of this translated into quite a dislike for him, and ultimately the rebellion against Thabo Mbeki. …Policies don’t fundamentally change on the basis of individuals, even if those individuals are presidents. Policies are effectively a reflection of the balance of power. What Zuma has to his benefit is that structural constraints have changed quite dramatically in the last couple of years. The Washington consensus, for instance, has lost its shine. We’re now in a world where China and India have become major players in the global economy. Those developments fundamentally changed the game plan. It fundamentally changes the relations of power and the possibilities for developing nations, and it’s precisely that which creates great opportunity to move to the left. What we’re likely to see is policy changes; and they will be very much in line with what has already happened over the last two or three years, more vigorous action on the crime and HIV/AIDS front. But I don’t anticipate suddenly a much more radical shift to the left. And I think what COSATU’s hoping for is more open engagement.
NKWETA: No stranger to controversy, Jacob Zuma may be on his way to becoming the next president of South Africa in 2009. He was acquitted of rape in 2006, and still faces charges of corruption over a government arms deal. The case remains before the national prosecuting authority of South Africa.
Pretoria, South Africa
December 20, 200
Insofar as all that investigation has been carried out, enough ground has been covered, to a point where informations suggests, or evidence is to the effect that there is a prosecutable case. However, the NPA is yet to make a decision in this regard. That decision is imminent; that decision has not been made.
HABIB: The answer is an interesting one. What do we do about it? I think it does put us into a bit of a dilemma. The chief prosecutor says there are significant charges, and that he has a case to answer for. Now, it seems to me that what we should do is, following the South African Constitution and liberal sensibilities across the world If there is a prior case to be made, he must then be charged, he must fight his case in court. If he is found guilty, he has to step down. If he is found guilty I might add that the South African Constitution excludes him from having an office of state. Jacob Zuma might have won the ANC presidency, but by no means is it a done deal. I think this is the unfolding story for 2008. I also think the second story for 2008 is two centers of power. You have a ruling party under Jacob Zuma, and a state presidency under Thabo Mbeki. And I think it could be that a conflict between these two centers of power could evolve in a particular direction that undermines stability and democracy.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.