After a tight race that exposed stark divisions within the party, the African National Congress elected Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid crusader, business tycoon, and key suspect in the 2012 Marikana Massacre is positioned to be the country’s next president. But will he root out corruption, or is he part of the problem?
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Monday, the African National Congress, the ANC of South Africa threw out scandal-ridden Jacob Zuma and elected yet another controversial member of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, as its party president. This virtually guarantees that he will be the party’s nominee to succeed President Jacob Zuma in the next general election to be held in 2019. He faces many challenges, including South Africa’s economic troubles and corruption scandals that have involved the ANC. Joining me now to analyze Ramaphosa’s rise to power is Glen Ford. Glen is the editor of The Black Agenda Report and author of the book The Big Lie. Glen, thank you so much for joining us.
GLEN FORD: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, let’s start with what we know about Cyril Ramaphosa thus far.
GLEN FORD: Well, we know that he’s a very rich man, one of the fourteen or fifteen richest men in South Africa, which is a, well, a big way to climb for a guy who was a lawyer and a former labor leader, a leader of the Mine Workers Union. But Ramaphosa was one of the beneficiaries of the Black Economic Empowerment policies that the post-apartheid African National Congress government put into operation and those policies were designed to create Black millionaires like Cyril Ramaphosa and his colleagues.
Ramaphosa was the number two man in the ANC. He defeated in this runoff, he defeated a former wife of Jacob Zuma, who was also a former commissioner with the African Union. Jacob Zuma was once a favorite, as well, of multinational capital but he fell out of favor and the word that hangs over his head is “capture.” He’s been accused by folks from all sectors of South African society of allowing the three Gupta brothers, those are Indian brothers, born in India but raised in South Africa who are very wealthy. The scandal that enveloped Zuma was that he had basically handed over the South African government to them.
So “capture” became the hottest word in the South African vocabulary but Gupta threw that word right back at his critics. He charged that they had been captured and by “they” he meant people around Ramaphosa, that they had been captured by multinational capital, by foreigners who wanted to claim control over South Africa’s economy. The big word, of course, that hands over Ramaphosa’s head is “Marikana,” and that’s the 2012 massacre of 34 striking mine workers that Ramaphosa is widely believed to have given the green light to. It must be noted that those were the same mine workers that he used to represent as a union leader. It is really doubtful that the word “Marikana” will not dog him just as the word “capture” has dogged Zuma.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, let’s take a step back. Glen, I think in terms of the ANC, it has such a dominant effect and it’s such a dominant force in South Africa that people can not imagine South Africa without the ANC. If you step back and look at the history of South Africa, people not only in South Africa but all over the world recognizes ANC for its freedom struggle, for liberating South Africans from their plight under the apartheid, and all of that was of course great and we supported that effort. What has happened to the ANC since?
GLEN FORD: Well, as you said, almost all Black political activity occurred within the ANC. The ANC was the home of Black political activity. Everyone spoke the common language of the ANC, which, by the way, was a language of socialism. So, South Africa’s a really kind of unique country in which everybody speaks socialism but there is no socialism. So, socialism is always on the agenda but never within reach.
SHARMINI PERIES: And of course with Zimbabwe and the leadership crisis that took place there most recently, Africa is poised to really embrace some progressive leadership, at least its people living there deserves it. What’s happening in the South African context? Is there a rising political force that can stand up to the ANC from the left?
GLEN FORD: Well, South Africans will tell you that they are the most revolutionary or at least protest-minded people in the world. The rate of protest and that includes strikes and community-organized protests demanding services is at the highest level of any country in the world. So, who is the left? Who is challenging the ANC? Well, we have two main forces, I believe. One on the electoral front is the Economic Freedom Fighters. They’re an outgrowth of the ANC’s youth wing, a portion of which broke off and has engaged in electoral competition with the ANC. They have scored notable successes in lots of urban areas. They picked up about, I believe, eight percent of the vote in parliamentary elections and have a very prominent profile politically in the townships and everywhere.
The other focus of left opposition to the ANC is centered within NUMSA, that’s the largest trade union in South Africa, the Metalworkers Union and their leader, Irvin Jim. He and comrades in the labor movement have also set up, created an alternative labor federation in competition with the COSATU, the South African Labor Federation that’s affiliated with the ANC. Irvin Jim and his comrade’s goal is to create a genuine Workers Socialist Party and he’ll have to do it rather quickly in order to compete in these elections that are set for 2019.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright. Glen, I thank you so much for joining us today. There’s so much more to discuss in the South African context but I’ll leave you for now and we’ll take it up another time because these emerging forces, whether it’s the EFF or the NUMSA’s party, united front that they are about to launch are certainly alternatives to the ANC. It’s a matter of whether they can gain the momentum necessary to actually sideline ANC at this time. So, I thank you again for joining us.
GLEN FORD: Thank you. The one thing we do know is that all sides will be seeking that same common language of socialism and that’s what’s unique about South Africa today.
SHARMINI PERIES: Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us.