Political situation demands the launch of a mass workers’ party.
The cabinet reshuffle Jacob Zuma announced, like a thief in the night, at 12am, on 31 March, 2017, is the most audacious act of factional manoeuvring since Zuma’s election as president of the African National Congress (ANC) in 2007 and of the country in 2009. It has rightly been met with outrage. It is this administration’s most defiant public pledge of allegiance to the Guptas yet. It is the most brazen confirmation that the looting of the state is now the official policy of government under the Zuma administration. This cabinet is not just an insult to every section of society, especially the working class, but it also a declaration of war. This government must go!
By retaining Bathabile Dlamini as Social Development Minister, Zuma is spitting in the face of the poorest of the poor. The promotion of Faith Muthambi to Public Service and Administration is a condonation of incompetence – an invitation to take her wrecking ball from the communications ministry to wield against more than a million public sector workers. Worse than this, in justifying the retention of both in his cabinet in the name of women empowerment, Zuma has demonstrated once again his complete contempt for women.
Bathabile Dlamini has consciously acted as a conduit for billions in tax payer money to end up in the accounts of the US-owned Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and for the grants of beneficiaries themselves to be raided with loans, funeral polices and pre-paid airtime. This is an illegal and corrupt contract by the vultures of CPS’s accomplices.
This development has exposed the Zuma faction’s slogan “radical economic transformation” for what it is: the creation of an enabling institutional and policy environment for the self-enrichment of Zuma’s family friends and cronies in the black elite. That is what lies behind the takeover of Treasury. The way has now been cleared for, in the words of the South African Communist Party (SACP) second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, “parasites and vultures to encircle it and loot it completely.”
Zuma and his faction have dressed up their corruption and looting in radical clothing, portraying their factional opponents as lackeys of white monopoly capital, to which they are allegedly opposed. Their project is being presented as the “second phase of the transition of the National Democratic Revolution.” Yet new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s first statement was to assure the rating agencies that he remained as committed to the austerity policies his predecessor was implementing, to appease big business at the expense of the working class.
The reaction of the markets (the capitalists) to these developments is already being felt in the 8% decline in the value of the Rand. The downgrade of the country’s sovereign credit rating was predictable and inevitable. That Zuma has taken this action, in spite of a ratings downgrade threat, confirms not only his economic ignorance, but also his insolent indifference towards the consequences of his actions for the middle and working classes.
The Standard & Poor’s downgrade, which could now be followed by Moody’s, as well as Fitch, will mean that the cost of borrowing by government will skyrocket. Already government bond yields have been forced up 9.2%, which is ‘junk’ territory. Government debt, at 43% of gross domestic product, is at levels higher than in the wake of the of PW Botha’s Rubicon speech in 1985. The cost of servicing this debt is already the fastest rising item on the expenditure side of the budget. Not only will this require even further cuts in social spending, but, with a fall in the value of the Rand, lead to spiraling inflation, as the cost of fuel, transport and food go through the roof. To the vicious circle of a declining Rand, capital flight and raising inflation, the Reserve Bank, whose primary mandate as a key institution in the implementation of the ANC government’s neo-liberal capitalist policies is to keep inflation under control, will be to raise interest rates. It is a policy to make the working class pay the price for a crisis created by the capitalists themselves, their number increased by the middle class that will be dragged into their ranks.
The current level of interest rates – the servicing of which consumes 80% of annual household income – will mean hundreds of thousands if not millions more will swell the ranks of the 19 million indebted. House, car and furniture repossessions will escalate alongside personal and small business bankruptcies. Even from a capitalist standpoint, the actions of the Zuma administration are reckless in the extreme.
Strangled economic growth
The looting of Eskom by the Zuptas has resulted in huge increases in the price of electricity and strangled economic growth. At 0.3%, economic growth in 2016 was the lowest since 2009. The 2017 budget’s strategic aim is to reduce the budget deficit to 2.4%. Its calculations are predicated on economic growth reaching 2%. With economic growth having contracted in the last quarter of 2016 to 0.3%, there is now a distinct possibility of a recession. The recession that followed the 2008 world economic crisis led to the loss of a million jobs. That recession came against the background of an average growth rate of 4.3% over the previous five years. Growth rates since 2009 have averaged less than 2%. As the massive retrenchments in the mining, metal, engineering and now the poultry industry indicate, potentially millions more will be thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment and poverty.
Zuma’s actions amount to a declaration of war. The primary consideration behind this reshuffle is the need to strengthen his factional grip over the ANC, to bolster his support amongst the parasitic black elite whose mouths are watering at the prospects of riches beyond their wildest dreams; riches that will completely insulate them from the disaster that awaits the masses in whose name they claim to be acting. The consolidation of Zuma’s factional grip over the ANC is intended to guarantee that he is succeeded as president, whether after the ANC’s elective conference in December, or after the general elections in 2019, by someone, preferably his ex-wife and mother of four of his children, Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma, from whom he expects an amnesty for the more than 700 corruption charges the courts have ruled must now be reinstated.
Alongside the burning anger of the masses there is a sharp feeling that something must be done. The protests at Treasury and Church Square in Tshwane are an indication of the indignation, albeit, at this stage, mostly of the middle class. But they are a harbinger of much bigger storms to come when the masses enter the stage of revolt against this regime.
Demands for Zuma to step down will gain increasing support not just from broader society but even from within the ANC itself. Zuma has effectively captured the ANC in a one-sided factional war in which only his faction has a clear plan and strategy. Secretary General Gwede Mantashe’s complaint that the list of new cabinet ministers came from elsewhere other than the ANC is a damaging admission of the impotence of the anti-Zuma forces in the party in the face of what is now a dictatorship over the ANC.
After months of suffering blow after blow, especially at the hands of the courts, Zuma and his faction are attempting to crush the opposition from within the ANC. By retaining leading SACP members, Zuma is daring the SACP to carry out the rumoured threat of mass resignation. It is a cunning attempt to outmanoeuvre the feeble opposition of the very forces that brought him to power – the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) - which now stand completely discredited buried under the rubble of their ideological bankruptcy and political cowardice. The call by the SACP politburo, likely to be echoed by the Cosatu Central Executive Committee, for Zuma to step down, is a desperate attempt to salvage the last vestiges of their credibility.
Open confrontation with the masses
But having dealt this knock-out blow to the entire Tripartite Alliance, Zuma has stepped out of the ring into an open confrontation with the masses. In this arena, he faces a force that he not only holds in the same contempt as the class forces he represents, but whose power he does not understand and for which he has no respect.
His confidence will be bolstered by the adulation of his cronies and his sense of omnipotence will be heightened by the absence of an organized mass working class political opposition. But it will be all too brief. The havoc their actions will unleash will detonate a revolt that will ultimately sweep not only the Zuma regime, but the ANC itself aside.
But for that to happen, the working class needs to be organized politically. The desire for a mass workers’ party has been present in the consciousness of many workers, especially since the Marikana massacre of not just organised workers, but of much broader layers of society. This includes the middle class, who are looking desperately for the kind of leadership the working class gave in the struggle against apartheid. It is to the task of compressing the raging fires of discontent across society into a mass workers’ party that all activists, progressive democrats and socialists must now dedicate themselves.
A rolling campaign of mass action to prepare for the increases in fuel, food, and mass retrenchments, which are on the near horizon, must be undertaken. With the connection between the onslaught on our living standards and the political developments in the ANC now obvious, the political situation demands the launch of a mass workers’ party.
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) calls for the convening of national people’s assembly to draw up a road map for the launch of a mass workers’ party. All socialists, youth, communities and workers, including the forces building the new federation , must organize to elect delegates to this assembly, whose main task must be draw up plans towards the lunch of a mass workers’ party.
It is vital that such a party adopts a socialist programme. Both ANC factions are committed to neo-liberalism. In the final analysis, the present crisis does not originate with the corrupt Zuma faction, but derive from the neo-liberal economic policies the ANC has been implementing since 1996, for which all the various factions into which the ANC is disintegrating are collectively responsible.