The primary lesson for us is that apartheid may have ended in its overt political forms, but in its economic form, that is the brutal exploitation of millions of people in South Africa and southern Africa, apartheid has not ended. The principle lesson is that the ANC became a partner of the economic forms of exploitation, and in the process, it deteriorated its leadership and the top cadres of the ANC became low-level allies of international capital and local capital. That is the same capitalist classes locally and internationally that exploited the working people of South Africa. The ANC made an alliance with them.
The people of South Africa and southern Africa have been trying to find new ways to oppose them. We must credit the young people of South Africa in bringing about this change. The campaigns for service delivery, the campaigns for Rhodes Must Fall, the campaigns for Fees Must Fall, the campaigns for Zuma Must Go, the mobilisation of the working people in South Africa, they are the ones who brought about this turbulence within the ruling party to the point where the most crude forms of accumulation that had been carried on by Zuma were exposed.
So, the ANC became embarrassed. In the embarrassment, what do they do? They replace Zuma, a crude capitalist, with an overt capitalist like Cyril Ramaphosa who, over the last 15 to 20 years, become a billionaire and whose claim to fame in South Africa was not his relationship with the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa, but that he became a billionaire and he became an ally of local capitalists in South Africa. So, although Zuma is gone, the ANC has replaced Jacob Zuma with another capitalist. That tells you the rot in the ANC as a political party and the distance they have travelled from the road when they were fighting as a liberation movement.
The most important point about this is that that ideology coincided with neo-liberalism and it allowed for the promulgation of things called “Black Economic Empowerment”. Black economic empowerment meant that politically, the leadership of the ANC became junior partners of international capital. And the worst example of this was in the case of the Armscor International (Armaments Corporation of South Africa)—the arms procurement agency of the South African Department of Defence—scandal when the ANC between 1994 and 1999 in the run up to the elections embarked on a number of arms deals with arms corporations. Probably the most notorious of these deals was with the BAE Systems (a British multinational defence, security, and aerospace company) where they set up something called “offsets” so that they could get bribes from foreign companies.
So, Black Economic Empowerment provided the conditions for the creation of millionaires and billionaires and Trevor Manuel who was a darling of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These were the ideologues along with Thabo Mbeki that created the economic and intellectual conditions for this rot. I think if we continue in South Africa to discuss about Mbeki and discuss about Zuma and Ramaphosa without discussing about the fundamental contradictions inside the South African economy, which continues from the white apartheid, then we do a disservice for the working people of southern Africa.
The transformation of Cyril Ramaphosa? goes back to the transition. The international capital was very afraid of the mobilisation of the South African working people; so they spent US $300 million setting up non-governmental organisations, talking about governance, anything to demobilise the working people and to cool out and remove those intellectuals that were calling for fundamental change.
The message that Ramaphosa got when he was working with Mandela in 1990 to 1993 was “Well the ANC is moving in a direction of supporting accumulation and compromising with imperialism.” This message came very clearly after the killing of Chris Hani. The killing of Chris Hani sent a message that “Well those in the African National Congress that wanted profound change will be removed.” So when he lost the battle with Thabo Mbeki, the battle for top leadership in the ANC, he decided to go to private capital, but the cynicism of Mbeki and the leadership was to choose Jacob Zuma. This cynicism of Mbeki was manifested in all the things that went on in South Africa around the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma administration itself.
So, Ramaphosa himself became the deputy of Zuma when the Communist Party and Zuma moved against Mbeki. So he, Ramaphosa, knew all along of the corruption of Zuma, but he was there standing beside Zuma, smiling with Zuma when all the charges, 783 different charges, against Zuma were being written about in the press, and he said nothing. He was silent. He was biding his time to become the president of South Africa because he wanted to take over that network of corruption that Zuma himself was overseeing. So he himself is an accomplice to whatever Zuma was doing inside of South Africa.
The role of NUMSA and the metalworkers in South Africa is crucial because the levels of political consciousness of this organisation and their platform they rolled out five years ago in 2013 holds great promises for South Africa as long as it provides room for the maturation of the alliance of progressive workers and progressive intellectuals.
What we need is for the progressive intellectuals—and we have progressives in South Africa, and we have numerous grassroots formations in South Africa—to ask themselves an important question: “How can they build a united front with the working people of South Africa, with the students, and with the progressive exiles from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia so that the workers in South Africa are not prey to the xenophobia that the leaders will come with again?”
Our job as progressive intellectuals is not to point to leaders such as Zuma and Ramaphosa but to point to the criminal activities that they have been involved with. Now when Zuma was charged with rape, the women’s movement in Africa called for support and many progressives turned their backs and said, “Well we turned our backs because that is not a central issue.” When Mbeki was making those outrageous statements about retroviral drugs, people turned their backs. We must have the kind of solidarity inside of Africa and internationally that brought down apartheid because South Africa continues to be the linchpin for international capital in Africa.
* Professor Horace G. Campbell is Kwame Nkrumah Chair of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana.