Who’s responsible for South Africa’s woes? Zuma or the ANC?

I raised this question in a post last year.

Friend of the blog and Harvard-trained historian Matthew Kustenbauder has this thoughtful response (posted with his permission. Emphases mine).

Hi Ken,

Interesting post on South Africa’s recent rollercoaster and explanations for the economic downturn under Zuma’s presidency.  A few quick comments:

I agree South Africa’s current woes may be attributed to ANC policies, not President Jacob Zuma alone.  Take the issue of land, for example, about which Mr. Mngxitama is as passionate as he is wrong.  As I pointed out previously on this blog, the politics of land redistribution in South Africa are tied to the ANC’s historic decision to support and strengthen traditional authority in the former bantustans.  In short, the ANC forged an alliance with traditional leaders to bolster its negotiating power with the apartheid government in the 1990s and, afterwards, to win elections.  Mozambique served as a cautionary tale: civil war broke out after the socialist liberation government FRELIMO abolished chiefs and traditional forms of authority outright.  The ANC’s entrenchment of traditional chiefs and kings has had a ripple effect across South Africa, creating a drag on the rural economy, locking up productive agricultural land and capital assets, not to mention denying rural people equal justice under the law.

I also appreciate the argument, and agree to a degree, that both Mr. Zuma and Mr. Mbeki are ANC cadres.  When the opposition Democratic Alliance argue that somehow the country was in good hands until Mr. Zuma came along, it is more a political manouver to appeal to the black middle classes, many of whom are embarrased by Mr. Zuma and favoured Mr. Mbeki, than it is a faithful rendering of the historical record.  Thabo Mbeki was, despite his polished veneer, a disaster on many fronts, including but not limited to: unrepentant AIDS denialism, cadre deployment as an ANC policy, racial politics, silencing of internal opposition within the ANC, and a narrative that counterrevolutionary forces lurked within the media. These ideas and practices either began or were ramped up to become de facto party policy under Mr. Mbeki’s presidency.

I disagree, however, that Zuma and Mbeki represent nothing more than two cadres of the same party.  For one thing, the challenges facing South Africa today are different than those during the Mbeki years.  At that time, South Africa still luxuriated in the glow of 1994’s transition to democracy and the Madiba magic of Nelson Mandela had not yet worn off.  Mbeki was a skilled orator with global leadership aspirations, the likes of which have not been seen in South Africa since Jan Smuts was Prime Minister during WWII.  But it is not simply Zuma’s halting English, or his multiple wives, countless offspring, traditionalism, patriarchy, and coziness with Russia, China, and Sudan that make South Africans uneasy.

What is so disturbing – and what Mbeki assiduously avoided – is Zuma’s overt corruption. The most public evidence includes: Nkandla, the Gupta family’s illegal landings at Waterkloof Airforce Base, a prolonged legal battle over spy tapes that implicate him in fraud dating all the way back to his time as Deputy President (for which Mbeki sacked him and Schabir Shaik was found guilty and went to jail), and the most recent dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene for standing in the way of sweetheart SAA and nuclear deals that would have yielded tenders for Zuma’s friends and family.  If Mbeki was a loyal cadre who represented the ANC’s failed policies, Zuma is a loyal cadre who represents the ANC’s descent into patronage, corruption, and jobs for pals hidden behind a façade of election-time slogans, “our glorious struggle history” and “A Better South Africa for All.”  

Andile Mngxitama, booted out of the EFF, and firebrands like him who drone on about the ANC’s errant support of neoliberal policies and the tragedy of Mandela’s compromise during the political settlement period have little appreciation for just how far South Africa has come since 1994. Nor do they grasp the direction in which South Africa must go – and must go soon – to avoid a[n] even more tragic tailspin.

To give just one example, a major problem in South Africa has not been, contra Mr. Mngxitama, that capitalism has been prioritised. Rather, grassroots capitalism has been far too constrained – not just by government overregulation but by monopoly capitalism sheltered by the state.  This is a historical dynamic inherited from the apartheid-era National Party, one that the ANC never addressed, mainly because such arrangements benefitted the ANC so long as they controlled the levers of the state.

The number of state owned enterprises in South Africa – over 700 by the last count – is staggering for a country so small.  Just one, South African Airways, has drained well over $2 billion in bail-outs from state coffers in two decades. The energy sector is even more dire: Eskom, another state owned enterprise, has a near complete monopoly over energy generation and a complete monopoly over its transmission.  Due to a lack of capitalist competition, the country’s electricity supply is not just overly expensive, it is also tightly constrained. Last year South Africans plunged into darkness, and for some time now manufacturers and other industrial electricity consumers have actually been paid by the state to reduce their operations.

The result is that South Africa’s manufacturing sector is less competitive globally and unable to expand to create the jobs so desperately needed at home, where there is a 30% unemployment rate.  There are countless similar examples, where state owned enterprises should have been privatised, or at the very least private companies should have been permitted to enter the market and compete.  What must be remembered, however, is that the country’s economic system, designed by the old National Party, is now controlled by and benefits the African National Congress.

Similarly, in the private sector, too many large companies have a monopoly, making the cost of entry for small companies far too expensive. Government labor regulations and aggressive trade union action ensures that only the largest companies with the deepest pockets can comply and survive. Large private companies – like the mining groups, agro-processing operations, banks, telecommunications companies, and industrial manufacturers – operate with few competitors. Relatively small players in sectors like the textile industry have closed their doors and relocated to countries where labour is more productive, regulations more lax, and costs are cheaper. Too few South African companies can compete globally.

There may be a kernel of truth in Mngxitama’s claims, but his diagnosis is overly simplistic, ideological, and ahistorical.

 

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Mbembe on the State of South African Politics

Rainbowism and its most important articles of faith – truth, reconciliation and forgiveness – is fading. Reduced to a totemic commodity figure mostly destined to assuage whites’ fears, Nelson Mandela himself is on trial. Some of the key pillars of the 1994 dispensation  – a constitutional democracy, a market society, non-racialism – are also under scrutiny. They are now perceived as disabling devices with no animating potency, at least in the eyes of those who are determined to no longer wait. We are past the time of promises. Now is the time to settle accounts.

But how do we make sure that one noise machine is not simply replacing another?

That is Wits professor Achille Mbembe writing on the state of politics in South Africa. The whole piece is definitely worth reading (also liked this response from T. O. Molefe).

Economic elites in South Africa (both black and white) are playing with fire. The lessons of Zimbabwe were not learned. The implementation of Mugabe’s land reform project was a disaster, but there is no question that the levels of land inequality in Zimbabwe were simply politically untenable. Something had to give.

One need not be against everything neoliberal (whatever that means) to acknowledge that the same situation holds in South Africa, and that something will have to give. Consider Bernadette Atuahene’s observations on the land situation in South Africa:

When Nelson Mandela took power in South Africa in 1994, 87 percent of the country’s land was owned by whites, even though they represented less than ten percent of the population. Advised by the World Bank, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) aimed to redistribute 30 percent of the land from whites to blacks in the first five years of the new democracy. By 2010 — 16 years later — only eight percent had been reallocated.

In failing to redistribute this land, the ANC has undermined a crucial aspect of the negotiated settlement to end apartheid, otherwise known as the liberation bargain. According to Section 25 of the new South African constitution, promulgated in 1994, existing property owners (who were primarily white) would receive valid legal title to property acquired under prior regimes, despite the potentially dubious circumstances of its acquisition. In exchange, blacks (in South Africa, considered to include people of mixed racial descent and Indians) were promised land reform.

Rapid economic growth and mass job creation could have masked the structural inequalities that exist in South Africa. Instead the country got Jacob Zuma and a super wealthy deputy president (and BEE beneficiary), both of whom are singularly out of touch with the vast majority of South Africans.

There is no doubt that South Africa needs a complete reorganization of its political economy. The question is whether the process will be managed by a “moderate” outfit like the ANC; or whether leaders will continue to sit on their hands and allow voices of less moderate groups like the Economic Freedom Fighters to gain traction.

ps: Just in case it is not obvious, South Africans are unambiguously better off now — as a people — than they were under apartheid rule.

jacob zuma: why crash so soon?

Update: President Jacob Zuma agrees that he fathered a child out of wedlock with the 39 year-old daughter of one of his friends. Mr. Zuma is 67. In his statement the President said that he had done the “cultural imperative” of admitting to having fathered the child. A few suggestions for Mr. Zuma and those around him:

– having three wives is bad enough. Concentrate on the job. South Africans are looking up to you

– please fire your communications director. You are really bad with PR

– you are embarrassing the entire Continent. Not just yourself and your immediate family but the entire Continent. The whole 700 million of us.

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma may have fathered a love child last year. The South African president just recently got married for the fifth time (he has three wives). He is estimated to have about 20 children. Recently when confronted about his rather colorful matrimonial situation Mr. Zuma shot back with the claim that anybody who was against polygamy was a cultural bigot.This is total horse manure. Mr. Zuma should know that culture is not static and that an attack on his wayward habits is not an attack on Zulu culture.

Until recently Mr. Zuma had exceeded expectations. His cabinet appointments (i thought) signaled his pragmatism. He stayed clear of the incendiary demagoguery that characterizes the ANC’s youth wing leader, Julius Malema. Even the media had warmed up a bit to the man who had to wiggle out of corruption and rape charges to become president. For a moment I thought that Mr. Zuma was going to be the nice blend of populism and realistic politicking that had so much eluded the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki. South African land reform, a fairer redistribution and creation of wealth (through a more transparent BEE and faster job creation), a reduced crime rate, etc etc seemed somewhat doable because the core of his base was the working class. But as is fast becoming apparent, it appears that the man has decided to let his personal life interfere with his job. I hope this latest incident will embarrass the ANC enough for the party to ask Mr. Zuma to go easy on the distractions and concentrate on his job.

Update: This is the last thing that SA and its ailing economy needs. The tabloid-like headings are soiling the SA presidency.