Will New ANC President Ramaphosa Bring Real Change to South Africa?

Cyril Ramaphosa, who was recently elected to head South Africa’s ANC, is closely associated with major economic interests in South Africa, such as the Lonmin Mining Company, and is thus unlikely to bring about real change says Patrick Bond

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Story Transcript

GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert joining you from Quito, Ecuador. Last Tuesday, the African National Congress of South Africa, the ANC, had its 54th National Conference. Cyril Ramaphosa became its president by a narrow margin, replacing Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, as head of the ANC.

Many say it’s a foregone conclusion now that Ramaphosa will be the ANC’s next presidential candidate in 2019. As a successful businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa is strongly connected to the Lonmin Mining Company. Professor Patrick Bond of the Wits University in South Africa analyzes this connection in a recently published article, “In South Africa Ramaphosa Rises as Lonmin Expires.”

Joining me now is Patrick Bond, the author and also the co-editor of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique. Welcome Patrick.

PATRICK BOND: Great to be with you, Greg. Thanks.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, recently we spoke to Glen Ford here on The Real News about Ramaphosa’s election. He said that the word that hangs over Ramaphosa’s head is “capture.” Do you agree that Ramaphosa is captured by multinational corporate interests such as the mining sector?

PATRICK BOND: Yes. That’s been the case, particularly since he became the major investor in Lonmin. That’s a company that more or less went bankrupt last week. It was taken over for about 1.4 cents on the dollar in the sense that it in ‘27 had a much higher capital share value.

In that process, in 2012 Ramaphosa was implicated, as Glen pointed out, in the massacre of 34 mine workers because the day before that massacre happened on August 15, 2012, he sent some incriminating emails to the police that asked for “concomitant action” against “dastardly criminals,” by which he meant about 4,000 wildcat strikers; in fact, strikers who’d left his union, a union that he had brought to greatness in the 1980s.

In that massacre, and by the way, Ramaphosa did apologize this year for those emails, but not only did 34 mine workers die and 78 were gravely injured but it really shook up South African politics and it broke a left flank away that included both the Economic Freedom Fighters, a new party that’s getting about eight to ten percent of the vote; but also the metal workers, the biggest trade union with about 330,000 members.

They split largely because of the class relations that Ramaphosa unveiled; that is that the South African state had become very much a collaborator with multinational capital, in this case, a company that was once called the “unacceptable face of capitalism” by a British, Tory Prime Minister. That in a sense gives you in just that one instance in August 2012, five years ago, the tragic relationship of Cyril Ramaphosa, the money in power.

GREGORY WILPERT: Given these kinds of accusations against him or his involvement really, both in the mining company and also in the Americana massacre, how is it possible or how was it possible that Ramaphosa was nonetheless able to win the election for the ANC presidency?

PATRICK BOND: Well, to get to that answer requires us to quickly review the two camps that have been contesting this election, and that includes the camp led by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is an ex-wife of President Zuma but also more importantly for the former Foreign Minister and Home Affairs Minister and Health Minister, and the Chair of the African Union until recently, a very impressive woman in her own right.

She was seen as connected to the state capture group of the Gupta brothers and the network around them, a patronage-based group. In fact, there became a slogan, “The Zuptas” to reflect how the Zuma family had benefited from their relationship. Very corrupt, often involving “tenders,” or outsourcing in contracts with major state agencies. That was the group that nearly won and indeed you could say won on several counts, including the Secretary General of the ANC elected this week, Ace Magashule, his deputy, whose name is Jessie Duarte. They’re both very connected to the Guptas as well as Cyril Ramaphosa’s deputy president, David Mabuza, who has a big corruption history surrounding his role in the ANC.

So, we’ve seen Cyril Ramaphosa come to the presidency barely beating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma 51 to 49, but three others from the opposing camp, the Zuptas, actually winning major positions in the ANC, hence its stalemate in this important ruling party, a party by the way that hasn’t lost an election since it came to power with Nelson Mandela in 1994. But the next election, 2019, will be very close. If they go under 50% there may be a coalition of opposition parties and that was what many in the ANC feared and why they thought Ramaphosa would be their best bet to avoid that.

GREGORY WILPERT: It seems that one of the main reasons that he won was his emphasis or his opposition to corruption, although he doesn’t really seem to have so much of a track record on that issue. How likely do you think will he actually crack down on corruption within the ANC?

PATRICK BOND: Well, the very big test is whether he will manage to persuade or even fire Jacob Zuma. Persuade him to leave office before his term ends, which is in middle of 2019. This is what happened to Jacob Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, when Zuma’s people more or less voted him out, redeployed him and had him fired as the State President of South Africa about nine months before his term ended in 2009. So, that’s the number one objective of the critics of Zuma and the Zuptas, and that’s especially big business critics.

However, there are a lot of other steps that Cyril Ramaphosa will be taking in the coming weeks, including replacing the national prosecutor and getting state capture inquiry underway that will put pressure probably not just on Jacob Zuma but on Ace Magashule from the Free State province and others that are very important. Whether this is going to be a force of unity, this ANC, or an ongoing set of splits and contestations between these two camps remains to be seen.

I don’t think they’re going to make much progress. I think it’ll be a rather constipated period and that’s where the opposition, both the center right, Democratic Alliance that’s getting in the sort of 25% range, and the far left, the Economic Freedom Fighters, may be able to get some attraction before 2019.

But let’s not forget that the major question is whether Cyril Ramaphosa will impose austerity as the President-In-Waiting, as the current Deputy President of the country with influence over the Finance Ministry.

We’ll know that in February when the next budget comes and hinging on how much austerity is imposed is another chance at a junk rating, which scares business because that invariably means the currency comes under pressure, interest rates go up and the long, slow recession that we’ve been in, a very low-growth or negative growth over the past couple of years, will continue and capital flight will worsen. Unemployment is at the highest levels in the industrial world, nearly 40% and protests are breaking out everywhere.

It’s a question of whether they can keep the lid on this boil, which I’m not sure they can given how much dissent there is. Even a little bit of relief for the ANC from having a new president, a fresh face, but no. It’s fairly obvious, to answer your question. Cyril Ramaphosa is not going to make much progress fighting corruption since it’s so deeply embedded in this ruling party.

GREGORY WILPERT: Well, it sounds like he’s also going to steer more towards a neoliberal direction or continue the existing neoliberal direction of the ANC. This would provoke a reaction perhaps. Does that mean that the ANC could actually lose an election the next time around?

PATRICK BOND: Possibly, but the critical question is whether the various fragmented forces will come together, and we’ll see some of that very soon for the reason that when Lonmin went bankrupt effectively, it was bought by another company for a fraction of its former value; that company is called Sibanye. It’s a local gold company. They’ve promised to fire 40% of the Lonmin workers and these are tough workers who’ve been through the most amazing battles: a five-month platinum strike in 2014. They’ve also retracted some of the commitments they’ve made to community investment.

Again, very tough areas northwest of Johannesburg in the big platinum belt. I’m anticipating some worker community and especially feminist unity. There are some very strong women’s group like Sikhala Sonke, “We cry together” that are already signaling they won’t put up with yet more exploitation by this new platinum company taking over from Lonmin. That’s one of the signs of struggle.

I must say another is that the students who demanded free tertiary education seem to have won but they’re going to have to fight even harder in 2018 to make sure that promises made this week by Jacob Zuma on his way out for free tertiary education are kept. This is very controversial because it will cost about a billion dollars this year and more in the next couple of years.

The big debate that’s going on, especially in the business community, is “Where will that money come from?” because big business isn’t so committed to making tertiary education more available that it would agree to a further budget deficit. We’re at about a 4.2% budget deficit and the promises to the big ratings agencies, Moody Standard and Poor’s and Fitch, who seem to have an excess of power in this, is that we would be decreasing it below 3% and that extra billion dollars will break that budget, so the huge contest over whether we’ll see increases in the value-added tax or more austerity or both, and that too will generate protests February, March, April, I can safely predict.

GREGORY WILPERT: Well, we’ll continue to follow the situation. I was talking to Patrick Bond, Professor of Political Economy at Wits University in South Africa. Thanks so much for being here today, Patrick.

PATRICK BOND: Great to be with you, Greg.

GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. If you like the news and analysis that we provide, please donate to The Real News Network this holiday season.