17 December 2015
The sacking of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene on 9 December 2015, the financial chaos which followed it, the rapid replacement of his successor, David van Rooyen, by Pravin Gordhan, and the #ZumaMustFall (ZMF) marches have raised some fundamental class questions.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) believes that some of the reactions to these events display a misunderstanding of the economic and political issues which lie behind them.
We therefore need a theoretical, Marxist response, the cornerstone of which is to put these events in the context of South Africa’s economic crisis – the outrageous levels of unemployment, poverty and unemployment – and to place the blame not just on individuals but where it truly belongs: on the capitalist system, and those in government and the ruling party who have colluded to impose free-market neoliberal capitalism, as enshrined in the National Development Plan.
The Treasury and successive Finance Ministers, including Pravin Gordhan, have played a central role in enforcing neo-liberal fiscal and monetary policies. They have used their control of government purse strings to strangle reforms such as a National Health Insurance and Comprehensive Social Security, even though these are supposed to be ANC Conference policies.
The #ZumaMustFall campaign has however struck a chord among middle and working-class people of all races, who are rightly sickened by the scourge of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and the looting of the state, which they see as being personified by the President himself.
But, while sympathizing with their anger, we should not jump on the bandwagon and make the same mistake as in 2007 and create a ‘coalition of the wounded’ which does not offer the working class an alternative to Zuma or the ANC. We have to oppose those in the ZMF campaign who see the solution purely in terms of replacing one pro-capitalist leader with another.
We particularly condemn those capitalists who support the ZMF campaign on the basis that the Treasury’s ‘independence’ was threatened by Nene’s sacking. NUMSA rejects this notion of the Treasury’s ‘independence’. It has never been ‘independent’ but capitalism’s Trojan Horse in government, through which they exercise their stranglehold on economic policy, and which they feared President Zuma’s sacking of Nene would weaken.
They want Zuma to fall not because the President, or any of the rest of the Cabinet, have fundamentally different views from big business, or of successive Finance Ministers, whose policies and actions they have all consistently backed. Indeed, in trying to explain his reshuffling, Zuma categorically reassured business that the Treasury would not depart from the path of ‘prudence’ (by which he means neo-liberalism and austerity).
The only problem for Zuma and his cronies is that while they want the Treasury to protect the capitalist class as a whole, they have their own allegedly corrupt personal interests, which they depend on government to protect and cover up.
This appears to have been the motive for Zuma’s erratic zigzags, a concern that Nene was not prepared to depart from his broad pro-capitalist strategy in order to accommodate the personal interest of himself and his cronies’ in government and business.
That is why these capitalist supporters of ZMF want a President who is a more reliable servant of monopoly capitalism, who is wealthy enough not to have to resort to manipulating orthodox policies to safeguard his or her personal interests.
For them the re-appointment of Gordhan is a victory, which they hope will continue their control of government neoliberal economic policies, as happened under his previous term in this office.
Post 1994, Numsa has consistently condemned the mortgaging of South Africa’s economic and financial sovereignty to the local and global money mongers – which is the role National Treasury has played. The ZMF campaign is in defence of the continuation of the lack of economic and financial sovereignty!
But what does the working class stand to gain from the ZMF campaign? Would Zuma’s removal necessarily bring about the resolution of deepening levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality and corruption?
Demanding that Zuma must fall without adding that neoliberal monopoly capitalism must fall, and that the Freedom Charter and socialism must rise is just class suicide, with nothing that the working class can gain at the moment.
This is not to suggest that both Zuma and the ANC-led Alliance are not complicit in maintaining the capitalist economy, serving a tiny minority since 1994, and subjecting workers, the unemployed, young people, students, rural poor and the broader working class to misery.
Workers rightly condemn Zuma’s involvement in corruption, his appointment of cronies as ministers and officials, who help him to cover his tracks, and those of all the others involved in a network of corruption. They must be exposed, prosecuted and punished.
The fundamental problem however is that their conduct is an integral part of a wider crisis in which capitalism and corruption are structurally intertwined. Ministers who accept bribes must have a businessperson who pays the bribe. Officials who fix tenders have to be in collusion with the companies winning the contract.
Capitalism is riddled with tender collusion, price fixing, tax evasion, illegal international capital transfers and it then spreads its tentacles into government, the public service, political parties and trade unions.
That in no-way excuses the politicians, public officials, or for that matter trade union office bearers who are sucked into the system. But the call for the bureaucratic replacement of one corrupt capitalist leader with another will change nothing. It implies that changing personalities changes policies.
In fact, it would at best make no difference to policies, and at worst could replace one individual with an even worse individual. Zuma’s replacement by a more orthodox capitalist leader, who is not personally implicated in any corrupt dealings, will do nothing to change the underlying structural corruption of the capitalist system, but may even create a false impression that things have changed for the better when in fact they remain the same.
The working class cannot perpetually subordinate its interests to hyenas who promise heaven and earth, but conceal their corrupt capitalist agenda. But change must come from below, through the mass mobilization of the working class, not by bureaucratic coups at the top.
Replacing leaders, or tinkering with the system, is not the answer. Tactics is not strategy and strategy is not tactics. We cannot subscribe to the tactical call for Zuma to fall without any strategic consideration of what is the alternative for the rural poor, the unemployed, workers and the broader working class.
The only real alternative to the current mess was adopted by NUMSA’s Special National Congress in 2013, which resolved to build new platforms of working class organisation to build working class power so that the working class acts as a class for itself, based on a programme for the fundamental, socialist transformation of the economy and society.
Issued by Numsa National Office Bearers.
Statement of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa on the crippling political crisis in the ANC Government