Part 2: An elitist ANC leadership finds a pro-poor agenda a grave discomfort
Will the ANC 2019 January 8th Statement and election manifesto bring clarity, or simply confirm this dialectical tension?
The advent of the Jacob G. Zuma ANC leadership at Polokwane marked the unsuspecting break with the conventional ANC identity of the formally “educated” leadership. It also in a sense became the second time the ANC was forced to lead and identify more unequivocally with a pro-Poor agenda. We say this not here in a narrow sense of representing the poor, we say it at the essential level sense because the poor would increasingly begin to dictate the agenda of the ANC, with the threat of disturbing the equilibrium of elitist DNA.
We have since Polokwane heard countless ANC leaders, in public and private spaces, lament their claims of a different ANC. Some poignantly said they want ‘their’ ANC back in what can be understood as. the more elitist, and less pro-poor driven ANC, that was temporarily lost. Those who desired its ‘return’ articulated their discomfort of not being able to fit in or be led by a pro-poor agenda. (A very difficult, if not impossible thing to do, if you have managed, with the privileged preferential treatment bestowed on a few selected elite black business people – under the watchful eye of the White Monopoly Capital captains of industry – to become multi-millionaires and billionaires. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that it is indeed a contradiction in terminus to purport to be a leader of the poor masses from that position of created privileged advantage!). They chose to frame it in claims of their discomfort with corruption which they labelled a Zuma leadership with. What they as gross beneficiaries of a negotiated settlement at personal level really found uncomfortable was the ANC increasingly evidencing a pro-poor stance which if left unattended poses challenges for the perpetual existence of the elites.
This era would see the emergence of the Jacob Zuma leadership, who by-default represented a break from the elitism up to then entrenched in the ANC, where formal education understood in claims of intellectualism stood central as a pre-requisite, and often the dominant deciding factor, for a claim to elected leadership.
Zuma, while unconventional for his humble origins and sparse formal education, is an ANC member for close on three score and close confidante of OR Tambo; thus, he did not mark a total break with the elitist character of the ANC. In his first term, he was less aggressive to advocate for radical policy shifts that would benefit the poor. In fact, Zuma did very little to augment what his predecessor stood for in engaging the predominantly apartheid and colonial beneficiaries. It is only in his second term that he adopted a much more public, and no holds bar approach, to what is called a pro-black-poor (and especially pro-African poor) rhetoric.
We may all argue if his second term awakening to lead the ANC as non-elitist was premised on sincere conviction, or a basic political move no different to what Robert Mugabe, also an elitist, across the Limpopo River, did for the better part of his almost forty-year reign of Zanu-PF, and Zimbabwe. We will remember Mugabe only became radical on land reform the last ten years of his term in office, and the jury remains out as to the authenticity of his choices, whether it was out of conviction or for the sake of personal political survival.
Perhaps Zuma’s calculated reading of the mood of the masses, who increasingly felt betrayed by the negotiated settlement between the binaries of white and black elites, that resulted in deformed freedom immanent in political but not economic freedom, thrust him as the face of the people’s campaign for economic freedom. He, with his antithetical identity as not your typical elitist ANC president, already frowned upon by those who believe in ‘education’ as the evidence of intellect led ANC, would now openly begin to campaign on white and black binaries of economic imbalance, and call out the White Monopoly Capitalists (WMC), for their continued control of the South African economy, and continuing exploitation of the black poor, and economically disempowered, masses.
This while the ANC elites were handsomely rewarded from the start to share in the unjust economy, and became the buffer-zone for white privilege. As a consequence, it turned out to be that when the masses challenged the white apartheid-engineered and maintained shaped ongoing control of the economy, they ended up being confronted and opposed by a political leadership it elected who increasingly acted as the insurance policy in protection of white privilege. This consciousness of this elitist and privileged leadership was shaped by their new found material and moneyed comfort, rather than any liberation driven revolutionary consciousness. Proof that Karl Marx was correct when he stated that one’s class consciousness is ultimately determined by the property you own, and your material well-being, or lack thereof.
By the way, this was not an accidental situation, but a meticulously orchestrated and well-executed plan of the apartheid regime negotiators. We warrant extending them credit for having outfoxed their counterparts at the unequal table of a negotiated settlement.
Zuma for his adopted stance on WMC, therefore, could not go to the same white elites whom Mandela, Mbeki and all others were comfortable with, to support his agenda for economic freedom. He thus became the enemy of white privilege to the extent that they actually marched against him, less for what they confused the masses in claims of corruption or an emptiness of morality, but more so because he was leading the ANC into another direction that militated against the negotiated beneficial settlement of, and for, the elites which threatened a revolution in which the biggest casualties would be the very elites on both sides of the proverbial railway line.
Both white as well as black elitist groups feared the personal impact it would have on their economic well-being and opted to resist to such an extent that high-heeled pseudo-NGO’s, like SAVE–SA, emerged as created and heavily sponsored specifically for the purpose to get rid of Zuma. The struggling to be relevant South African Council of Churches (SACC) was enlisted to re-echo this message until Anglican Bishop Makgoba could abuse the most significant day of Christian Faith celebration to prognosticate his personal political preferences of Zuma removal in an instruction to the Ramaphosa leadership. This SAVE-SA agenda would also be joined by various ‘foundations’, that represent white privilege interest as fulcrum realities. Not missing out on this was the SACP and COSATU.
Jacob Zuma thus in a sense accidentally became the face of RET and the by-default face of RET the same some till this moment regard him. It also appears Zuma in his post-presidential life continues to seek to define this as his real legacy and reading the trajectory of the current ANC leadership knows that there is a still a vacuum. From the bedrock of that awareness he has decided to stay in touch and active in the daily politics and discourse with his more recent entrance of the Twitter social media platforms.
For the record, our support of Jacob Zuma was predicated on the axis of four cornerstones. Firstly we were and remain convinced he was disrespected by the elitist essentially for his lack of formal education, the same who until Zuma‘s emergence had never treated any ANC president with such disdain for his lack of education. Secondly, it remains our conviction that Zuma was served a grave injustice with an NPA bungling and political meddling in apparent charges against him. Thirdly his calculated reading of the masses in demand of a RET and land redress and a willingness to associate with it. Lastly throughout our commitment to a liberation struggle which we also in democracy voted for we have always believed the ANC as the vehicle for true change, not an uncommon hope if the measurement of disillusionment of many with the ANC is used as a barometer.
We inadvertently were labelled Zuma people, in defence of corruption looting and therefore needed to be avoided at all costs. Where necessary our economic livelihood needs to be crippled to teach us lessons for associating with Zuma. To prove that we supported Zuma without any intent of personal benefit, we can categorically state that we never benefitted from even him something we both told him in jest when we had independent meetings with him. Some in ignorance consider us fools because we did not benefit from Zuma, yet they fail to appreciate we were never surrendered to Zuma the person but identified with his association of the pro-poor people’s agenda for RET and Land redress, in that sense he is the ANC president that ventured the closest to a pro-poor agenda hence his popularity with the masses to this day. In a sense, he was SA‘s first domestic president and will continue to be remembered as the father of RET, Land redress and free tertiary education. A year after his forced resignation he remains popular because the masses do not appear to trust his successor to drive the same agenda.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine is a writer and political commentator whose work has appeared in most major SA newspapers. including The Thinker Pan African Journal among others. He is the Founder- Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA.
Carl Niehaus is an ANC veteran with 40 years of uninterrupted ANC membership, and a former member of the NEC of the ANC, ANC MP. He also served as the SA Ambassador to The Netherlands. He is currently a member of the NEC of MKMVA, and the National Spokesperson of MKMVA. Carl contributed to this article in his personal capacity.