South Africa: the chaotic end of Jacob Zuma

"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.” - Lenin

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” - Euripides

As we write these lines, the Zuma-Gupta empire is crumbling. In one of the most dramatic days in South African politics in recent memory, Jacob Zuma – and his friends, the Gupta brothers – are being purged by a rival wing of the ruling class. The purge is the most emphatic sign that the two rival factions can no longer cohabitate.

Early on Wednesday morning, the Serious Crime Corruption Unit of the DPCI (known as the Hawks), a special unit of the police, carried out several raids on the offices and residences of the Gupta family. At least one Gupta brother has been arrested and others are expected to turn themselves in today. Indications are that this includes Duduzane Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s son, who has been party to the Guptas’ corruption for years. The immediate reason given by the Hawks is the corruption at the Free State provincial government where public money was laundered via banks in Dubai to pay for a Gupta family wedding in 2013. This crackdown could also implicate Ace Magashule, the ANC secretary-general, who was the premier of the Free State government. His son is also involved with the Guptas’ criminal network. Magashule himself could be arrested soon.

EFF and march on Mandela Day Image Wikimedia CommonsThe EFF’s motion of no confidence will be used to remove Zuma tomorrow if he doesn't resign willingly / Image: public domain

But these are not new issues. They have been in the public domain for years. The same Hawks have been turning a blind eye to all of this. Rather, this is linked to political developments that are currently playing out in the country. It is part of the purge Zuma and his cronies in the government by the Ramaphosa faction. It shows that Zuma has lost control over the state apparatus. Ramaphosa’s big business faction realises that the paralysis cannot continue and that the battle for control of the ANC has to be resolved urgently. The danger is that they could lose complete control of the party, which could have serious implications for the class struggle.

At the same time, the ANC has given Zuma until the end of today to resign as president of the country. The parliamentary caucus of the ANC has just announced that if Zuma does not resign today, then they will piggyback on the EFF’s motion of no confidence to remove Zuma from the presidency tomorrow. This means they will amend the EFF’s motion to give their own reasons why Zuma should be removed. This is a huge political move: the same ANC caucus that has steadfastly protected Zuma for a decade is now removing their own president with a motion originally sponsored by the opposition. This could have big political ramifications for the unity of the party in the coming months.

These developments come a day after the ANC announced that it would “recall” Zuma as president of the republic. This follows a week of confusion, speculation, rumours, postponements and high political drama that plunged the country in political limbo. But far from clarifying issues, the NEC’s announcement muddied the waters even further, leaving the party in a bigger state of confusion than before the meeting.

Cyril Ramaphosa Image Flickr GovernmentZACyril Ramaphosa's big business faction needs to get rid of Zuma quickly / Image: Flickr, GovernmentZA

After last week’s drama, when Zuma told the party’s ‘top six’ that he will not resign, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa postponed an urgent meeting of the NEC to engage in direct talks with Zuma. It is now clear that those talks broke down over the weekend, probably for reasons we explained at the time: that Zuma, who is a master at procrastination, was merely seeking more time to make his next move. But Ramaphosa did not have time. The mood in the country darkened as the crisis dragged on over the weekend. In addition, the Economic Freedom Fighters started talking about “mass mobilisations” to force Zuma out. They also put huge pressure on parliament and threatened urgent legal action against the Speaker of the National Assembly to have their no-confidence motion against Zuma brought forward to this week. Ramaphosa therefore was forced to act.

On Sunday, he announced that the NEC would meet urgently on Monday to “finalise the matter.” On Monday night, the NEC held a marathon 13-hour meeting in Pretoria to discuss Zuma’s fate. During the meeting, at midnight, Ramaphosa and Magashule left for the presidential house to deliver the message from the NEC. Zuma then asked that his resignation only take effect in about 3 to 6 months. The two ANC leaders then headed back to communicate this to the NEC. But the majority of the NEC refused and sent Magashule back first thing in the morning to Zuma to hand him a formal letter informing him of the party’s decision. This toing and froing is symptomatic of the paralysis the party has found itself in. It is incapable of decisive leadership. Ramaphosa won the presidency of the ANC in December but the Zuma faction still managed to get about half of the number of seats on the party’s leading bodies. This means that, in the crisis in the party, the weaknesses of the two sides balanced themselves out, leading to further turmoil in the party.

The failure to immediately force Zuma from office is a sign of the deep divisions within the ANC and underlines the failure of Cyril Ramaphosa to impose his authority on the organisation. At the press briefing on Tuesday, Magashule admitted that Zuma had refused to resign. This plunged the party deeper into crisis. It is unheard-of that a member would defy the party’s highest decision-making body in such a open and brazen manner. In the confused media conference Magashule said he had no idea when Zuma will leave office. When pressed, he came up with the idea that Zuma would “respond” to the NEC’s decision on Wednesday. But he also explained that the NEC has not given Zuma a deadline and that it was entirely up to Zuma to announce the date and time of his resignation. “When we recall our deployee we expect him to do what we tell him to do. We are expecting the president to respond tomorrow. There’s no deadline,” he said.

Magashule was clearly very uncomfortable. He was part of Zuma’s corrupt inner circle and could himself face prosecution and find himself in jail soon. But,Gwede Mantashe, who is now the party’s chairman didn’t mince his words and had strong words for Zuma. Speaking to ANC members in Butterworth he said: “We trust that President Zuma will understand that we are not fighting him because if he does not resign he will be disrespected by the vultures in parliament. When you resist the call to resign, you leave us no choice but to let you fry in the vote of no-confidence because it means you do not respect the organisation.” The response of the two leading party members is an example of the open divisions in the party.

Jacob Zuma Image Wikimedia CommonsZuma has been stalling for time / Image: public domain

At this stage, Zuma’s key concern is self-preservation for himself and the cabal around him who could all end up being prosecuted on multiple corruption charges in the next few weeks and months. In a twist, on the same day that the ANC decided to “recall” Zuma, the National Director of Public Prosecutions gave the prosecution team dealing with Zuma’s cases until 23 February to give their recommendations about charging him. Zuma therefore has no incentive to resign and is quite prepared to drag the matter out even at the cost of further deepening the crisis in the party and the country.

The ANC has lost control of Zuma and his stubbornness and intransigence is threatening to lead to an implosion of the party. This is why the Ramaphosa wing is now acting. Strictly speaking, there is no “recall” mechanism in the ANC. All the NEC can do is to request Zuma to resign. Beyond this it cannot do anything within the political and administrative processes of the ANC. Therefore, the only option left for them to remove Zuma forcibly is to bring the matter to the National Assembly, where he can be removed through a vote of no confidence. This is a huge political gamble and could turn out to be be a disaster for the party. It could lead to an immediate split, especially given Zuma’s significant support in the rural provinces.

Another scenario is that, in the case of a successful no-confidence motion, the entire cabinet must resign. This would mean that many of the ministers would have to vote to remove themselves from their cushy jobs, government cars, houses, pensions and perks coming with their positions. This would be especially painful for the Zuma faction, who make a comfortable living through their government jobs. This is not an automatic process. The ANC is deeply divided and the factional fighting is still ongoing. The party would therefore have to make a deal with these people – or risk a split in the parliamentary caucus. Another complication is the budget, which is legally scheduled to be presented by 21 February. Already we have seen the unprecedented act of postponing the State of the Nation Address last week. If the cabinet resigns and the budget is delayed it will result in a constitutional crisis. In turn, it could have a disastrous effect on the economy.

Atul Gupta protest banner Cape Town Zuma must fallOrdinary South Africans are sick of the scandals that haunted the Zuma-Gupta years / Image: Public domain

The Zuma faction is clearly finished. They are fighting for their lives and for access to state resources, which they have plundered over the last decade under Zuma’s watch. The big business faction of Ramaphosa has no problem with corruption – they are themselves corrupt to the core. The problem is that Zuma and the Guptas have completely destabilised the situation. Ordinary South Africans have grown sick of all the open looting and scandals, which are the hallmarks of the Zuma years. The more intelligent big business wing, who are terrified of the working class, realises that in the current environment of deep economic, social and political crisis, this could have a profound effect on the working class masses.

The political crisis has now plunged the ANC into deep crisis. The crisis is having a decisive impact on the class struggle in South Africa. The ANC has been the party of the majority of black South Africans for decades. It came to power on the basis of a powerful revolutionary movement, which threatened to overthrow South African capitalism itself. But more than 20 years of governing on a capitalist basis has exposed the party to all the consequences of operating within the limits of the capitalist system. Over the same period, the lives of the vast majority of blacks have stagnated or have regressed.

As a result of the crisis of the capitalist system, the class contradictions within the party have become clearer. The ANC tops have joined the ranks of the ruling elites while the misery of the black majority has increased. What we are witnessing now is only the political expression of the crisis of the capitalist system itself, with a further fragmentation of the party and the continued breaking up of the ANC. This is a process that has been ongoing for years. It is now having a big impact on South African society and, more importantly, on the class struggle.

Ace Magashule Image fair useAce Magashule / Image: fair use

Marxists long ago explained that the ANC leadership would not be able to meet the aspirations of the South African masses if they tried to govern within the limits of capitalism. For the masses to understand this they required a real, living experience of the ANC in government. The limits of the ANC leaders are now clear to all. The question is: what is to be done now? What the workers and youth of South Africa need is a political force that can draw all the lessons out and indicate the way forward. That requires the building of a Marxist tendency within the South African labour and youth movements that can patiently explain that the alternative can only be the radical overthrow of capitalism, the taking over of the commanding heights of the economy under the control and management of the workers themselves.

This would also have to include the demand for the MPs elected by the workers to receive only the average wage of a worker, as the first step to combating corruption. For no matter how strong the left can be, the bourgeois will always use their wealth to try to win over the workers’ leaders by corrupting them individually and then using them against the very people who have elected them.

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