U.S. and World Politics

South Africa: Zuma—and Capitalism—Have Got to Go

By Glen Ford

In South Africa, everyone speaks the language of revolution and socialism, but the country remains under the yoke of international capital, 23 years after the end of white minority rule. Jacob Zuma, the current president and head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), is widely considered to have been “captured” by the billionaire Gupta family, a clan of vulture capitalists whose many properties include television stations that are routinely compared to FOX News, in the United States. President Zuma sparked outrage among the opposition, and unprecedented dissent within his own party, when he fired Pravin Gordhan, the minister of finance, along with about a third of his cabinet. Former finance minister Gordhan was thought to be on the outs with Zuma because he blocked deals that were favorable to the Gupta family. The fact is, most of the international financial community—the people who actually own South Africa’s economic infrastructure—got along just fine with Gordhan, and have enjoyed a cozy relationship with the ANC government.

But, in this instance, global capital reacted quickly to Gordhan’s firing, threatening to lower South Africa’s credit rating. Suddenly, the political crisis became general, with virtually every other party in the country calling for Zuma to step down. But, the ANC has such a huge majority in the National Assembly that a vote of no confidence in Zuma is impossible unless a bare minimum of 51 ANC lawmakers break with their leader—which is punishable by expulsion from the party and, ultimately, expulsion from the legislature. The nation’s Constitutional Court is now considering whether a no-confidence vote can be held by secret ballot.

The struggle over the future of South Africa remains largely a battle within the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela. It is a left-right struggle, with neoliberals and Black capitalists calling the shots in the ANC. The crisis has become so acute, that the ANC’s longstanding partners in the historical tripartite alliance, the South African Communist Party and COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, are also calling for Zuma to step down—although they are deeply implicated in the ANC’s pro-capitalist policies.

The strongest opponents of the ANC’s capitulation to capital are the Economic Freedom Fighters, headed by Julius Malema, with 24 seats on the National Assembly, and the labor movement-based activists grouped around the metalworkers union, NUMSA, the nation’s largest, led by Irvin Jim, which promises to soon launch “a genuine revolutionary socialist political party of the working class.”

The pro-capitalist political forces in South Africa, like the white business dominated Democratic Alliance party, want to get rid of Zuma because he has given collaboration with capital a bad name. They want to make “corruption” the issue—not social transformation. But, the real problem is capitalism. In the words of Zwelinzima Vavi, former head of COSATU and an ally of Irvin Jim:

“We have a crisis of capitalism, a system that was never designed to address the interests of ordinary people. But more importantly, it’s a crisis of the cut-throat laissez-faire fundamentalist capitalist system which is being led by Jacob Zuma.”

Black Agenda Report, April 18, 2017