South Africa is in deep crisis. What will happen to President Jacob Zuma? Pressure on him to leave from a rival faction in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) seemed too strong to withstand. From outside the ANC, it appeared that Zuma was all but vanquished. The ANC elected a new party President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had assumed that Zuma would resign as President of South Africa and that he would take his place. But Zuma seems unshakeable.
Evidence of Zuma’s corruption is scattered in government offices and has been broadcast through the television and print media. It is impossible to doubt the corruption. Men who carried envelopes to Zuma are now in prison. The woman who accused Zuma of rape is now dead. There are ghosts all around him. Zuma stands unscathed. His reputation amongst the elites is muddy. But it seems to have no impact on sections of the country.
The Courts are paralysed. So is the ANC. Protests on the streets suggest civil war-like tension. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by the former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, took to the streets in their red caps. Their people took hold of some sidewalks of Johannesburg. They have put down a marker. It says a great deal about their politics that they easily joined with the right-wing Democratic Alliance to propose a no-confidence motion in the parliament.
One faction of the ANC - Black First Land First (BFLF) - went to the ANC headquarters to deliver a petition on behalf of Zuma. They BFLF emerged in 2015 from inside the EFF. It is led by Andile Mngxitama. All signs show that it has become a front for Zuma and his people inside the ANC. Other ANC members came to the office to confront BFLF. They scuffled on the street. It was a sign of the violence that exists beneath this political crisis.
The slogans are unchanged. In 2008, the slogan was ‘Mbeki Must Go’ - as Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa from 1999 to 2008 became too closely associated with the neoliberal reforms that escalated inequality in the country. Zuma put himself forward as the antidote to Mbeki. He rode the wave of dissent to the presidency. Now the fingers point in his direction. ‘Zuma Must Go’ - they say.
On Wednesday, February 7, Ramaphosa went to see Zuma. He begged him to leave. Zuma, the old warrior, knows that this is not a personal matter. He has an entire party structure that relies on his presence. They have been feeding on the trough of South African public finances and on petty bribery. Zuma is at the apex of this structure. They do not want him to leave. It is likely that they are the ones who are funding groups like the BFLF. It is Zuma’s base.
Ramaphosa is no angel. He has made a great deal of money by wheeling and dealing. It is impossible for Ramphosa to pretend to be a man of the Left. His role in the ghastly murder of miners in the platinum mines of Marikana have marked him.
Ramaphosa has put himself forward to renew the party and to provide stable government. But renew what in the party? Can the ANC be renewed or have its guts been too firmly overtaken by the germs of corruption? The only stable government that Ramaphosa can provide is a strong hand against people who are increasingly disoriented by poverty and hopelessness.
Popular movements exist, but they are not strong enough to challenge the malaise in the country. The ANC remains in power. Old forms of capital are unthreatened. South Africa will enter a time of great turmoil before the people can reclaim their country.