Dark cloud over South Africa, by Charles Onunaiju

South Africa

Following the desperate push to get him out of office and eventual capitulation of former President Jacob Zuma to the intense pressure by his own party to quit, dark clouds hanging over the country since the December elective national conference of the ruling party, which narrowly produced Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa as the leader of the party has not and will not be clearing soon.  Mr. Ramaphosa, former labour organiser, ANC top stalwart turned tycoon and now President of the Republic of South Africa has promised a new dawn, not only for his country but for Africa. Given that inaugural speeches in Africa by newly triumphant helmsmen are replete with such boisterous and optimistic rhetoric, it will be more reasonable to wait and see the magic wand that Mr. Ramaphosa wants to wield.

However, South Africa suffers from deeper and profound secloris that cannot be fixed by a mere change of baton within the ruling elite. The trouble started almost as soon majority rule was achieved with the legendary Nelson Mandela or Madiba as he was fondly called, was installed as the first post-apartheid President of the Republic. Former President Mandela ascent to power was the psychological triumph of black majority rule, the cause of nearly a century struggle to end a white majority racist rule. But white minority rule was more than political domination and hegemony but a neo-fascist capitalist economy in which the majority of working and toiling blacks and Indians were excluded for meaningful economic engagement.

The nature of exclusion of the majority of the black and other coloured population did not take the form of simple political exclusion, but the structural framework in which the productive base and the market process was systematically built and skewed out of their skilled competence and consumption pattern. The main front for anti-apartheid and nationalist activities for the demand of majority rule,  African National Congress, ANC, founded in 1912 contained a broad framework of tendencies not only the achievement of majority rule but a thorough-going restructuring of the economy to address the entrenched structural bias of the economy, against the black population.

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Nelson Mandela became President to great global acclaim, coming mostly from western media and political establishment who have initially described him a terrorist along with the organisation he led. Concerned with his international stature as a statesman and bridge-builder, former President Mandela was mostly  devoted to his notion of political reconciliation aimed at building a rainbow country. The sustaining economic infrastructure of the apartheid system based on economic exclusion did not get considerable attention as the theoretically and ideologically advanced tendency within the ruling ANC, which worried about the consequences of perpetuating the structural marginalisation of the voting majority were burgeoned to silence.

In the absence of radical restructuring of the economy,  new emergent stalwarts of the former liberation movement made remarkable in roads in the deliberately carved- out offshore economy that left the mainstream undisturbed by the rhetoric of majority rule and multi-party political process. It did not take long for the politically off-shored economy to be overwhelmed by state patronages giving rise to the serious charge of corruption and state capture that dogged the Jacob Zuma Presidency. Between the mainstream economy still riddled with apartheid-era structures and the tiny off-shored liberal economy is the wide gulf of rudimentary economy in which majority of the South Africans subsists. The occasional misdirected or mistargeted violence against foreigners identified as Xenophobia is actually the concentrated expression of the frustrations brought by inequality and shrinking space of productive economic activities.

Even the vaunted corruption that is held to have allegedly flourished under former president Zuma cannot be seriously expected to disappear despite the tough talk of president Ramaphosa. Angry politics that arose from the crises of expectations which followed majority rule will continue to express itself in the mutation and fragmentation of political tendencies. The ruling African National Congress must seek to express itself in its historical consensus to build an inclusive economy in which workers and other working people would be prime stakeholders. This core historical consensus of the ANC, which defined it as a broad patriotic front of all anti-apartheid forces would have to be revisited and re-articulated. The historic gesture of national reconciliation flagged off by former President Nelson Mandela can be enriched and made more meaningful with an inclusive economic process whose structures would reflect broad aspirations of the majority of the population to engage productively in continuous value multiplication.

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The ruling African National Congress cannot engage perpetually in musical chairs of leadership turnover, each phase uglier than the one that preceded it. The movement has a rich revolutionary history of creative and imaginative policy platforms drawn from its experience in the evolution of the anti-apartheid struggle. In its greatest moment of need as now, it is not the sound bite of the new helmsman that would matter, but to draw from the revolutionary experience and collective wisdom of the movement whose finest activists and combatants  legacies can be instructive in the reflection of the direction not taken and also options still open to realize one of mankind’s historic aspirations, paid with blood and great sufferings.

The thoughts and work of Chris Hani, leader of the South Africa Communist Party and chief of staff of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) who was assassinated on the 10th of April 1993 can be instructive. Chris Hani was a charismatic leader and the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela. He was mostly considered a rival to the more moderate leadership of the ANC and had Hani not fallen, South Africa and the ANC would have been different. In fact, it was Chris Hani’s support for negotiation with the apartheid government that kept militants in line.

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His militant colleague, Mr. Themba Harry Gwala, a firebrand leader of the ANC and South Africa Communist Party was completely paralyzed while serving jail term in the notorious Robben Island Prison. Gwala’s work along with others are critical fountain springs that the ANC can draw on as it navigates through the increasingly tense moment of South Africa’s political life.

Onunaiju is director, Centre for China Studies, Utako, Abuja

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