The ‘Gatvol’ Factor

The ‘Gatvol’ Factor

By Jane Duncan

In a recent opinion piece entitled ‘A threefold crisis, but Zuma is listening’, political analyst Adam Habib argued that the balance of power has shifted towards the poor under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, leading to the trade union movement and the South African Communist Party (SACP) having more of a say in the affairs of the country. Furthermore, Zuma has proved to be much more responsive to public opinion than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, in the process paying attention to citizen and stakeholder concerns. However, several factors frustrated his ability to deliver according to expectation, such as state capacity.

The problem with a great deal of political commentary in the media, including Habib’s article, is that it is insufficiently informed by the realities on the ground. Much commentary lacks a research base. Rarely are working class viewpoints canvassed to establish what they are actually thinking and feeling about the performance of Zuma’s administration.

The hegemony of middle class interpretations of politics in public discourse is dangerous, as it fosters a society that is unable to see itself properly. Such a society may lack the early warning systems to recognise problems on the ground and to respond to them as they emerge.

In key respects, Habib’s argument that Zuma is more responsive than Mbeki is at least twelve months out of date. Last year, evidence mounted of a lack of responsiveness, and in some cases, outright intolerance on the part of the Zuma administration of the sort that made Mbeki notorious. Furthermore, there are signs of grassroots sentiment shifting against the Zuma administration much more rapidly than it did against Mbeki, as more working class formations form the view that the ‘listening president’ is big on listening, but not very big on acting.

This shift in sentiment could be read in the outpouring of anger during the public sector strike, expressed at times in language and imagery so vulgar that the trade union leadership felt the need to apologise to government officials. More people took part in strikes and protests than in recent memory.

The repressive face of the Zuma administration also revealed itself last year. Evidence emerged of blanket and wholly illegal bans on gatherings in the troubled Vaal, in the vicinity of the Union Buildings in the wake of the soldiers’ 2009 march, and in the run up to the World Cup.

Furthermore, in a series of moves, Zuma has enhanced the coercive capacity of the state by tightening control of the security cluster, which lies at the heart of his power base. His administration eroded spaces for public scrutiny and accountability of the cluster last year, including Parliamentary oversight of the cluster’s activities, which has greatly increased the chances of the sorts of abuse of the security cluster that occurred under Mbeki. The Zuma administration also launched a full-scale assault on press freedom, in the form of the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal.

These developments unsettle Habib’s claims about greater responsiveness and imply that the Zuma administration recognises that its persuasive powers may be on the decline. Furthermore, Habib needs to ask himself why Zuma has become so obsessed with the need to protect national security if the balance of class forces have, in fact, changed. If this were the case, then threats to internal stability, fuelled by class conflict, should surely have diminished.

In order to test Habib’s argument about Zuma’s responsiveness more carefully, it is instructive to examine Zuma’s handling of the anti-incorporation struggles in Moutse, Matatiele, Ba Ga Mothibi and Balfour. In his initial responses to these struggles, Zuma turned in an exemplary performance as a responsive President, strongly suggesting that Zuma’s ascent to power had, in fact, shifted the political opportunity structure towards greater openness.

During Mbeki’s term of office, the unilateral incorporation of these communities from one province to another – following a decision to abolish cross-border Municipalities – became emblematic of his top down approach to governance The fierce, often violent, struggle in Khutsong became an emblem of working class resistance to this style of politics, eventually leading to Mbeki conceding the community’s demand to move back to Gauteng

On the whole, the affected communities make compelling cases for a reversal of the initial decisions, citing unhappiness with levels of service delivery in the provinces the areas were located to, as well as concerns about the distances involved in accessing provincial services from their new provinces. Resistance struggles have been waged in various ways, including Constitutional Court challenges and direct action (violent and non-violent).

Determined to stand Mbeki on his head, the new ANC leadership fell over themselves to address the issue, seeking meetings with the affected communities. In the wake of violent protests in Balfour, convoys of Ministers and even Zuma himself have visited the area to discuss the community’s grievances. Views testing exercises were conducted in Matatiele and Moutse.

However, after this promising start, the Zuma administration still has not decided on their fate; so there is no indication yet that this shift in the political opportunity structure has yielded fruit. One year later, the results of the views testing exercises have still not been released, prompting activist Zamicebo Mjobe to ask, “Has this become another Zimbabwe?”

As a result, the mood in the affected areas is changing rapidly from hope to frustration, even anger, leading to a radicalisation of protest action. Activists who campaigned for Mbeki’s replacement by Zuma felt deflated by Zuma’s lack of delivery on the matter. One activist has suggested that the ANC’s lack of seriousness in resolving the conflicts around these areas is because “Khutsong was burning more than Moutse and Matatiele.” Furthermore, the areas are rural while Khutsong is more urbanised. Thus, the ANC’s decision betrayed an urban bias.

Activists also suspect that local politicians and businesspeople had developed vested interests in remaining in their new provinces, leading to pressure on the ANC leadership to let the status quo remain: according to Moutse activist Seum Mogotji, “The politics of the moment is the politics of the stomach, not the politics of principle.”

Largely, the affected communities have chosen the non-violent direct action route, combined with making submissions to formal structures like the Demarcation Board. This approach was described by Ba Ga Mothibi activist Masego Khumalo as the “civilised route,” which he felt was the most appropriate technique of protest for a “listening government.” But there is evidence that this approach is being reconsidered.

In a significant turn-around of sentiment on the part of the Moutse community in the by-election held in May 2010, the Chairperson of the Moutse Demarcation Forum and regional SACP chairperson Mothiba Ramphisa – who contested the local government elections in 2006, and lost against an ANC candidate – won the Ward in the most recent by-elections. The Moutse community are also returning to the Constitutional Court in March this year to force a decision on the issue.

SACP activists in Ba Ga Mothibi decided to vote for the ANC in the 2009 National Elections to help the party stave off the electoral threat posed by the then-newly formed Congress of the People (Cope). But according to Khumalo, “Now we couldn’t care less. We will only vote if our people are in the Northern Cape.”

Since the ANC conceded Khutsong, some activists have adopted a tactical rather than a principled stance towards the use of direct action, even violence, although there is no unanimity on the issue. Khumalo said:

“Our route has been to follow procedure. We have never had any violence. People who get into a march and start to do these things [violent acts], we then call the police if they do these things, but in future we won’t stop people from going this route. The government will listen only when tyres and Councillor’s houses are burnt. You have fooled us into believing that this is a government that listens. The civilised route has not worked…We will not participate in the census and we won’t participate in local government elections. We will make the area ungovernable.”

Commenting on the Matatiele community’s bitterness about the fact that the ANC had conceded Khutsong (a violent struggle), while not conceding Matatiele (a nonviolent struggle), Mjobe stated, “The nature of our struggle being non-violent is being taken advantage of. [The] people of Matatiele will have to choose whatever strategy we need to get our way. We are capable of being violent, but have decided to use the correct legal means.”

This shift in sentiment should be taken seriously, as the anti-incorporation struggles are clearly nowhere near at the top of their protest cycles. If the Zuma administration were responsive to working class demands, then it would listen and act accordingly. Instead, tellingly, the Department of Co-operative Governance has argued that votes are not the only consideration in taking the final decision.

There can be little doubt that there have been shifts in the political conjecture towards greater openness, leading to Zuma listening to working class concerns more than Mbeki did. But listening does not mean hearing. After all, hearing would require tacking the systemic constraints on redistribution, which are much more intractable than the obstacles to delivery identified by Habib.

While Zuma can afford to listen, he cannot afford to hear, because he knows that he cannot possibly meet the expectations he has raised. Habib’s assertion of a structural shift in the balance of power is somewhat naive and reproduces the Zuma administration’s spin, rather than considering the empirical evidence.

Noam Chomsky has argued that the responsibility of a writer is to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them. Intellectuals, who have the resources, training, facilities and opportunities to speak and act effectively, have a particular responsibility to do so. South African public intellectuals will not rise to this challenge until they themselves take the time and trouble to uncover the truth.

Professor Duncan is Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society, School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University.

Read more articles by Jane Duncan.

Source of article:  The South African Civil Society Information Service (


A Hard Year Looms for the ANC

By Richard Pithouse

Jacob Zuma’s ascent to the presidency in May last year was an ugly business, a really ugly business. And Zuma was hardly a candidate with the gravitas to rise above the mess. He was the former head of iMbokodo, a social conservative in whose name sexism and ethnic chauvinism were openly mobilised, the former Deputy President who had never stood up to Thabo Mbeki on any question of principle and a man who had surrendered his personal political autonomy to some of the shadiest elements in a predatory and corrupt crony capitalist elite.

Some people fled the ANC in horror. Others rushed into the party from the IFP. But with COSATU, the SACP and various spin-doctors presenting Zuma as a genial man of the people, expectations were raised in some quarters. We were even told, in all seriousness, and by all kinds of people who really should have known a lot better, that Zuma was a man of the left.

But popular confidence in Zuma had clearly been overstated and within months popular protest rose to new levels intensity. Instead of a jump to the left we got the co-option of the SACP via the distribution of cabinet posts to its leading intellectuals, paralysis in the Presidency, a rapid worsening of the already dodgy links between the party and business and the emergence of an increasingly belligerent debate between the authoritarian crony capitalists of the ANC Youth League and the social democrats in COSATU.

The SACP has at times been something of a brake on some of the excesses of the ANC. But that doesn’t change the fact that any assumption that an increase in the influence of a party with the Stalinist history of the SACP would actually be in the interests of the working class and the poor is, to deploy an undeservedly polite phrase, as dubious as all hell. Given the deeply authoritarian currents that continue to run through the SACP Zuma’s easy co-option of the party and the consequent shift in the centre of gravity of the alliance left to COSATU may well be a good thing.

COSATU has not taken a position against the repression of popular organisations outside of the alliance but it remains, clearly, the most democratic part of the tripartite alliance. And while it does not represent the poor and is much more comfortable in aligning itself to NGO based civil society rather than popular poor people’s organisations it is willing to vigorously confront the increasingly strident attempts in the ANC to cloak authoritarian crony capitalism in the language of nationalism.

If the elevation of Jacob Zuma to the Presidency gave the ANC its fillip for 2009 this year was all about the World Cup. But as we move, some of us limping under the weight of intolerable burdens and some of us skipping on multi-million rand pay cheques, through to the conclusion of Jacob Zuma’s first full year in office the millennial expectations that were raised around 2010 have shrivelled and rotten away. We still have Zuma ineptly trying to referee a bout with COSATU in the left corner, the ANC Youth League in the right and the SACP intellectuals writing increasingly torturous letters to their members from the VIP box while barricades continue to go up in the streets outside.

But while the ANC could exploit the spectacles of the national elections in 2009 and the World Cup this year to rally the nation with empty but well spun visions of new hope the political agenda for next year will be largely set by the local government elections. Most South Africans retain considerable investment in national politics and there is plenty of enthusiasm for Presidential elections. But since at least 2004 there has been an extraordinary degree of hostility towards local government in general and towards ward councillors in particular. Amongst the many reasons for this are that local government is often blamed for the failures and limits of service delivery and that local government is where relations of patronage are most visibly and a times brutally exercised through local party structures.

Given the degree of popular hostility towards ward councillors it’s no surprise that the ANC is keen to reform the electoral system in a way that would allow local elections to be smuggled in under the radar by aligning them with national elections. But next year the ANC will have to deal with local government elections as an event in their own right. They are sure to be fractious within and outside of the party. In the 2006 local government elections there was severe repression, including bans on protest, police violence and mysterious assassinations against independent groups that had the temerity to challenge the ANC by boycotting the election or running their own candidate. The hammer fell hardest in Durban from where Zuma has drawn most of the people that now lead his increasingly securitised state.

As the ANC confronts Zuma’s third year in office with local government elections to contend with, and without any major distraction from its failures ready at hand, the risk of increased repression is high. Of course we need to be clear that it’s not just the ANC with its ludicrous but nevertheless dangerous paranoia about imagined sinister forces animating popular protest that is in the business of dividing the people, and especially the poor, into good and bad factions with a view to justifying the exclusion, vilification and repression of the latter. There are plenty of civil society organisations that are equally invested in the business of separating the deserving poor from the undeserving poor. In some cases this is a consequence of their strategic alliances with the party or the state. In other cases this is part of a global project of disciplining the poor that is a central function of mainstream civil society around the world. In still other cases this is just a question of their own authoritarianism and assumption of a right to lead.

We usually celebrate the New Year in the hope that it will be better than the last. That hope is unlikely to be realised for the ANC in 2011. For a ruling party that has already shown a capacity to treat popular dissent as somehow illegitimate and undeserving of the shelter that must be afforded to democratic dissidence in any real democracy the dangers are obvious.

If COSATU and the civil society are serious about democratising this society rather than just negotiating concessions from an increasingly authoritarian and predatory elite from within the political structures approved and ultimately controlled by that elite they should, in 2011, take a clear and real position in support of the right of all people to, if they so wish, organise and protest outside of the ANC.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. This article is published courtesy of the South African Civil Society Information Service (



South Africa and the New World Order

South Africa and the New World Order

South Africans are inclined to moan about so much…the fact that things don’t seem to function, the corruption, the crude avarice of the new elite, the poor performance of Bafana Bafana, the crime. Add to this Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma’s polygamy and the scandal of the mismanagement of our parastatals and you have a picture that evokes images of imminent collapse for the chattering classes.

From the side of the largely white middle class, there is a deep sense of, “We told you so: blacks can’t really run this country!” And almost in response there is a kind of knee-jerk defensiveness from the black middle classes and from patriotic whites, calling on the whiners to leave the country and, in the case of the World Cup, on all patriotic South Africans to rally to the cause to prove that we really are capable of running an excellent World Cup.

Underlying the perceptions of both the racist whites and the defensive blacks is the same set of assumptions. We have much to prove to the world in showing that we really are “world class.”  We often hear middle class suburbia moaning that the behaviour of some of our politicians is making us the laughing stock of the world; that tourists will be aghast at this or that aspect of South African life; that our behaviour will drive foreign investors away; and so on and so forth.

Except, we are “world class.” We’re right up there in the premier league with British politicians cooking their parliamentary expenditure claims, the Home Office losing the CD database of citizens’ information, the Italian prime minister flaunting his sexual dalliances, the Israeli president charged with rape and all the smart American guys from Enron and WorldCom who lied through their teeth and defrauded millions of people.

The truth is that South Africa has become a force of some significance in the world. We’re not small beer at all…in fact we have the second biggest beer company in the world (SAB Miller), the biggest resource company in the world (BHP Billiton) and the second biggest gold mining company (Anglo American).

And while we may not be able to provide health services in South Africa, we do have private hospitals that have taken over the private sector in Britain and large sections of the Middle East.

We can’t win the World Cup, but South Africans are queuing up to buy English football teams — surely the sign that we have reached the apotheosis of world capitalism.

In the midst of the biggest crisis of capitalism in the last 70 years, South African capitalists at the commanding heights of the economy are flourishing. Not for us the nationalisation pursued by the British and the Americans. Not for us the cutting of interest rates to zero and the printing of money (under the name of “quantitative easing”), so loved by American and European central banks. No, we benefit because investors can borrow cheaply in the United States of America (USA) and the European Union (EU) and then buy bonds in South Africa. We benefit because the Chinese dragon can demand more gold, platinum, coal, etc…everything that South Africa has in abundance.

We have joined the G20, the group of nations who determine the world’s policies. We have troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Burundi. South Africa has even applied to be re-classified as an OECD country.

South Africa, together with Brazil, India and China, is one of the BASIC countries — a group that today is champing at the bit to take over from the declining superpower, America. It is only a matter of time before we are given a seat at the United Nations (UN) Security Council. All we lack is a large enough military presence – and that by the way was the motive for Thabo Mbeki’s arms deal – to combine South Africa’s growing economic and political power with the necessary military clout.

Not bad for the erstwhile pariah of the world languishing at the foot of Africa.

And yet none of this is about South Africa being a force for good in the world, for a more just and peaceful world order, wealth redistribution or sustainable development. It is certainly not a case of our international clout signalling that we are now capable of providing a decent standard of living for our citizens, with quality public healthcare, housing and education (for the possibility of real shifts towards realising these rights, we need to look at the rising tide of people struggling in new movements throughout the country).

In international politics, countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia have attempted to weaken the power of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Word Bank by building other alliances. Notably, the Bank of the South, a development bank promising low interest loans without the conditionalities of the IMF. What did the Zuma government do after being invited to join the bank in September 2009? It declined the invitation.

In Copenhagen, the G77 countries lobbied together to oppose the attempts of the Danes and Americans palming off a cunning agreement on them. One, which would have reduced requirements for green house gas cuts to levels below those prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol, whilst demanding that monetary compensation for poor countries be managed via the World Bank instead of the UN. Some countries led by Bolivia alongside the thousands of demonstrators outside the conference halls took the view that no deal was better than a rotten deal. What did South Africa do? We broke ranks with the G77 and followed other aspirant powers into an exclusive deal with the USA.

This is not about South Africa’s GDP or the strength and output of our manufacturing sector. It’s not about what the Americans used to call the “old economy.” This is about financialisation: the conversion of capitalism into a system of speculative financial capital and the rise of a few successful behemoths living parasitically off everyone else. How quickly the lesson of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the US$14 trillion bailout for the “too big to fail” banks has been lost.

It is about governments making this possible by deregulating investment, freeing up the movement of capital and privatising public services. This is what has happened to South African capitalism over the last 20 years. This is why Pravin Gordhan signalled his intention to relax exchange controls even further in his first medium-term budget speech in 2009. This is why we are only one of five countries with a private central bank. This is why the rand is not only one of the most tradable currencies in the world; it is also one of the strongest. While one million jobs have been lost, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is once again booming.

To understand this tension we need to be a little less generous about the use of the terms “we” and “us” when applied to South Africa. We also need to revisit a number of notions about what South Africa is.

Ex-President Mbeki spoke about two South Africa’s, one wealthy and developed and the other poor and undeveloped. He, of course, relied on an old liberal delineation current in the 1970s and like the analyses of economists from this school, Mbeki then went on to claim that the task of government was to remove the barriers preventing the “second economy” from catching up with the “first,” whilst of course ensuring that the “first” was not hindered in any way from its continued “success.”

In this they presumed that these merely operated in parallel lines and had no bearing on each other. They failed to see that the success of the first was directly the result of the impoverishment of the “second.” And that the “second” here is not only the poor and the working class (although this is damning in itself), but also includes sections of the middle classes, homeowners, people reliant on public services, small businesses and so on; all of whom are losers in the very neo-liberal policies that have made South African corporations so successful.

In this regard, the successes of the Anglo’s and BHP Billiton’s are in direct proportion to the problems they have created for the rest of us. Their successful relocation to London now leaves the rest of South Africa with a balance of payments problem. Successful private equity funds and bond speculators may be scoring from high interest rates and low inflation, but high interest rates are at the same time killing jobs, homeowners and small manufacturers.

The ANC has presided over all this. It has been the most business-friendly government in recent times. Under Trevor Manuel’s watch, Anglo America, Didata and SAB to name but a few, were allowed to shift offshore. Thus making South Africa suffer the dispatch of dividends and profits overseas. Under Manuel’s watch, ex-Eskom finance manager, Mick Davis, took a package to head up of one of the world’s bigger resources companies, Xstrata (Jacob Maroga is small fry in this league).

Under an ANC government, in 2004, for the first time since WW1, the share of national income of profits overtook that of wages and salaries.

At Davos this month Jacob Zuma suffered the ignominy of having to field questions about his polygamy and attitude towards women. You would think that Big Business would be falling over their feet to express their gratitude to Zuma and his predecessors.

By Leonard Gentle. Gentle is the Director of the International Labour and Research Information Group.

Read more articles by Leonard Gentle.

The South African Civil Society Information Service ( is the source of this article.

Gill Marcus new Reserve Bank Governor

Former Reserve Bank deputy and current Absa Chairperson, Gill Marcus has been appointed by President Zuma as Governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa. The appointment will take effect in November 2009. She replaces present Governor Tito Mboweni, whose term will expire in November. The markets reacted positively to the Sunday announcement.