Part 4: An elitist ANC leadership finds a pro-poor agenda a grave discomfort

Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA)

As the ANC readies to deliver its much-anticipated January 8 statement, we remain convinced that the time for empty promises, broad smiles and convoluted words by an elitist and privileged leadership collective that considers itself the leaders of the landless, poor and still disenfranchised people, whom they in patronising sense emptily refer to as ‘our people’ has finally run out.

Let us put our disclaimer upfront, it is not at all our intention to launch an ‘attack’ on President Ramaphosa, nor to undermine his position as President of both the ANC and the country, but rather to understand the history that shaped him, and how that will impact on the exacted leadership challenges that he is faced with.  For one of the two authors of this article, ANC veteran Carl Niehaus, it is necessary to state the obvious, namely that he accepted the outcome of the leadership election of the ANC’s 54th National Conference, and acknowledges President Ramaphosa as his leader too. That it is actually necessary to make such a declaration, in what is an attempt at analysis, without malice or the intention to undermine anyone with political point scoring, is a sad indication of how factional and intolerant politics in the ANC, and in South Africa in general, have become.

It is important to state, we have subsequent to the publishing of Part 1 “The ANC attests an elitism” that appeared in the Sunday Independent on January 6, received strange threatening calls, which we duly ignored because the right to hold and articulate an independent opinion or share in public analysis regardless to how for some it may upset, remains a freedom we fought for and will defend. It was not the first time we were threatened, apartheid did the same and we outlived it.

It has often been said that President Ramaphosa is not your typical and less historically associated ANC member who emerged as its president.  Anthony Butler’s biography on Ramaphosa generously shares the narrative of Ramaphosa’s emergence to prominence in political life as traced back to his association with the Harry Oppenheimer birthed Urban Foundation, hardly two years after the 1976 Student Uprising.

What then was the aim of the Urban Foundation?  Perhaps a slower read will help us understand, that the mission of the Foundation was liberal and ‘charitable’, but was never to fundamentally challenge and reorder the boundaries defined by an apartheid racist system. The intention was to maintain what was already established. All indications are that it was the overarching aim if not the fundamental aim of the Urban Foundation, to continue confining apartheid’s blacks to these townships. The Urban Foundation therefore as articulated by Anton Rupert, to accommodate and coordinate, on an ongoing basis the private sector’s endeavours at improving the quality of life in urban black townships. The same townships that EFF leader Julius Malema, on August 2018, during a presidential question and answer session referred to as ‘concentration camps. 

Any analysis of a Ramaphosa in public life emergence ontology must be cognisant of this, his erstwhile association and elongated ties to the Urban Foundation (UF), and its role players. The same UF as Butler states Ramaphosa was invited to by Clive Menell of Anglovaal, in what Irene Menell described as a ‘charity gesture’. Lest we forget, it’s the same UF that later equally would contribute to the formation of a National Union of Mineworkers, the – for some – revered springboard from where we know Ramaphosa’s emergence on the national public stage. It goes without saying that his epistemology would equally have been shaped by the organisation that thrust him into this public space presence.

While Ramaphosa was the Secretary-General of the ANC elected in 1991, a post he resigned from later when he joined inaugural parliament of 1994. He obviously could not escape his own documented history and the space and environment of his grooming.  Ramaphosa’s path to political leadership stems from this base and was later defined by organised labour immanent in his CUSA association as invited by the late Piroshaw Camay, who later would accuse Ramaphosa of betrayal. Ramaphosa would later be instrumental in the formation NUM instead of the CUSA preferred African Mine Workers Union in memory of an earlier labour formation which led a strike in 1946 This became his means to negotiate with FOSATU for the establishment of a COSATU in 1983. The rest of a much celebrated 1986 Labour Strike is known, while the technical, and at times simple questions of why Anglo America was so comfortable to have NUM and engaged so ‘constructively’ with the actual strike that delivered Ramaphosa a prominence of public identity, have never been adequately engaged. Again, leaning on Butler, what is a fact of history now, “is that Anglo was more than happy to see a competitor emerging to white mineworkers’ unions, and much keener to recognise an elite union than the mass organisational monster they believed Moss Mayekiso was openly trying to create.”

We also know that while many students in 1976 left to join the ANC ranks, Ramaphosa did not, hence he was never shaped by the exile experience. According to Butler, Elijah Barayi from Cradock, who surprisingly would emerge as the vice – president of NUM was probably the first ANC member Ramaphosa had knowingly met. Ramaphosa readily admits to his temporal association with Black Consciousness in the ’70s although he later disowned it, with the words “at that stage, it was the in thing”. He would say, “Black Consciousness is a sectarian type of movement which tried to get black people to be on their own.” Ultimately Ramaphosa’s association with the ANC is not from its historical trajectory of struggle, it is not from its bedrock of an ANCYL involvement, nor its armed struggle, but a more distant observant analysis of and preference for the Freedom Charter which the ANC adopted.

It was important to present a cursory background for the current ANC president since it will help us understand his actions, preferences and true interest better.  It is important since President Ramaphosa is the exception to the rule on ANC presidential leaderships hitherto understood from its inception until his advent. We do not state this in a judgemental manner, but as a fact understanding that as history unfolds new leadership with different historical trajectories from the previous will inevitably rise. It is, however, important to understand how such differences can challenge and change the traditional trajectory of the ANC, and the new dialectical – sometimes unforeseen – tensions it generates. 

A year later the Ramaphosa leadership has the unenviable obligation to explain what his leadership made of the exacted ‘work for unity’ mandate his presidency was tasked with. Beyond a superfluous unity mirrored in a deputy presidency of a DD Mabuza identity, and a workable environment between himself and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lays the reality of a still unresolved ocean of ANC disunity aided by some hardliners from the CR17 campaign, who in triumphalist praxis continue to lynch many they have labelled Zuma or even NDZ people. We know this because large pockets of ANC constituencies from core regions in KZN, Mpumalanga, Northwest, Free State, Limpopo, Gauteng too deep in the Eastern Cape jolts of disunity, and revengeful and triumphalist purging practices, that up to now sadly refuse to dissipate. 

No amount of talks or putting up a brave face will deceive the masses. Not even empty threats to take action against those members you don’t appreciate, when you silent on those who support you. The ANC cannot deny this colossal problem of the chasm of disunity that is hurting, if not destroying the ANC if it is not urgently and decisively addressed. As with all issues of this nature, the accommodation and grace to do so will have to come from the victors not from the losers because their victory has granted them the power to do so. As long as arrogance, triumphalism and purging continue the much sought-after unity in the ANC will remain an elusive pipe dream. In order to deal with this, with any authenticity and integrity, it must be understood that the root cause of the contest is ideological between the elitist and the poor, the fight is personal among the elites, and that the interest for the elites in and outside the ANC remains economic.

Beyond the unity mandate that President Ramaphosa is confronted with. lay the bigger reality of explaining what his leadership did on the exacted RET mandate. His challenge increasingly, and more so this week, is to show his hand on whether he will either let the ANC elitist identity take pre-eminence, or will grasp the nettle of responsibility of executing the people’s campaign for RET and true Land Redress. He, and his supporters, simply cannot have both any longer.

Even if the Ramaphosa led ANC was to attempt giving the exacted people’s campaign-mandate the proverbial legs, it will have to engage two cardinal challenges: Firstly, during the hard-fought campaign for the ANC presidency the CR17 group mastered the art of framing former president Jacob Zuma as corrupt, bad and everything it does not want to associate with. Meaning since Zuma remains the only ANC president since 1994 to have attempted to place the RET and Land redress agenda foursquare, Ramaphosa in the narrowness of rejecting Zuma equally could be seen as rejecting the people’s campaign. The fundamental error that the CR17 campaign made (and which we warned against as it unfolded in the run-up to the 54th National Conference), is the fact that having made Zuma one with the people’s campaign, thus if they seek to destroy one the other falls by the wayside automatically. It is a real pity that what genuinely expressed as concerns and warnings in this regard were not heeded, because now the whirlwind that we have predicted is harvested with all the concomitant havoc that it is causing in the body-politic of the ANC. 

Perhaps some credit should be extended to Zuma as still the only professional politician in SA, for having so well read the people ‘s campaign that he in his second term became the embodiment and face of the campaign of RET, Land Redress and Free Tertiary education. Unfortunately, for some of President Ramaphosa’s associates, pursuing the exacted agenda of RET and Land redress in their myopic epistemology is experienced by them to give credit to a Zuma legacy, a bitter pill they seem to find hard to swallow. Those who are still so narrow-minded in their thinking will have to urgently change their approach before irreversible damage is done to the ANC’s position as the leader of society. 

Secondly, any true attempt of honouring the exacted mandate as issued by the 54th Conference held in December 2017, will inevitably – and as a necessity – have to upset entrenched white interest, which for now seems to be a bridge too far for the Ramaphosa presidency. In order to appreciate this, we must understand that white-interest is not singular in its stranglehold, but that it has sponsored black elites and therefore, is in bed with the buffer zone (black elites) also in the ANC. A pro-poor agenda of RET and land redress if taken seriously will deform the ANC in its known elitist identity, something that neither groups of elites on both sides of the railway line divide have vested interest in. 

Unsuspectingly for some, yet known for others, it is in the interest of the elite across binaries of white and black to try and keep the ANC neutralized from the delivery of its pro- RET   resolutions its 54th National Conference unequivocally concluded on. It is thus in this bedfellows’ collective interest that the elitist identity of the ANC is not tampered with because the current equation of a white wealthy elite in bed with a political black elite, it sponsored and dry-cleaned, works because it keeps the ideals of the masses in checkmate. 

Therefore, there are those in the ANC for whom it can only make political sense to water down RET and land redress with a combination of an opaque dogma of ‘inclusive growth ‘, premised on the diaphragm of a slew of summits that keeps SA busy and the poor suspended in hope. 

However, this highlights a fundamental contradiction, and inevitable crisis which the ANC, try as it may, ultimately cannot escape: The poor masses have voted until now for the ANC since it purported to be the hope of their emancipation, their lack of patience with the ANC’s procrastinating on an exacted mandate may just show in the elections come May 2019, if the ANC does not urgently resolve this contradiction in favour of an unequivocal pro-RET programme.  The reality is that this cannot be done by an elite group, that is the insurance policy-signpost of the masses quest for legitimate economic freedom.

Thus, as the ANC readies to deliver its January the 8th Statement celebrating 107 years of existence and its elections manifesto in KwaZulu-Natal, as people who fight for Radical Economic Transformation (RET) and land expropriation without compensation, we must not hold our breath hoping for this to come through, we must accept inclusive economic growth, the CR 17 campaign mantra on economic development, have for the time being usurped RET. We must not even hold our collective breath that land redress will receive its due prominence; since, sadly, the ANC at a fundamental level remains divided on the land issue notwithstanding the parliamentary processes, and the good work of the Constitutional Review Committee.

We sincerely hope that we will be proved wrong by the ANC NEC compilers of the January 8th Statement and Election Manifesto, and that the pro-RET Resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the ANC will receive critical prominence – not only with regards to rhetoric but specifically with regards to clear time frames for implementation that recognizes the absolute urgency for fundamental change.

While the political realities that we have alluded and described above force us to be realistically pessimistic in our expectations, we none-the-less hope that the character of a mass-based pro-poor ANC, led by revolutionary grass-roots leaders, will ultimately prevail.

This is truly the time of reckoning for the ANC. It is the ANC’s Damascus year, threatening to make or break Africa’s oldest movement. For the ANC to remain united, and remain in power by virtue of the majority vote of poor black (especially apartheid classified-African) South Africans, it has no option but to unite around an unambiguous programme for the implementation of Radical Economic Transformation (RET) with clear delivery objectives and urgent deadlines in its election manifesto. 

The vexing question is whether the current leadership of the ANC is willing, and even capable, of doing that …

Clyde N.S. Ramalaine a life-long activist for social justice is an ordained Theologian with SA and USA credentials. He is currently reading towards a D. Litt. et Phil, in Political Science.  He earned a Masters in Systematic Theology (Cum Laude) from NWU, with a thought-provoking dissertation: “Black identity and experience in Black Theology: A critical assessment.” He is also a writer and political commentator. 

Carl Niehaus is an ANC veteran with40 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.