On the 14th of February 2018 after an intense process, President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma resigned from his position as President of the Republic of South Africa. This event has been followed by the swearing in of President Cyril Ramaphosa as president until the next scheduled elections in 2019. The decision taken by former President Zuma is consistent with his past pronouncements stating that he would only vacate office if recalled by his party the ruling African National Congress. President Zuma first tried to seek clarity on the reasons why he was being recalled and tried to negotiate with the former liberation movement to no avail, which eventually led to his late night resignation, amidst various threats including the threat of an unprecedented impeachment from his own party. The President, in characteristic Zuma diplomacy has for some time been feigning ignorance as to the reasons why his comrades had taken a hostile stance towards him.
These events are a watershed in the continued experimentations in governance that the former Liberation movement has attempted, and they represent major policy shifts which are certain to have far reaching ramifications both for the party’s domestic and international policies. Focus is now expected to quickly shift away from former President Zuma to the incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa. President Ramaphosa is by political character and evolution a very different man who epitomises a very different approach and world-view from that of President Zuma and is sure to take the ANC and South Africa in a radically different course.
The key political issue in Africa generally is the economic reality which millions of Africans are confronted with on a daily basis, which means that the main barometer of performance is rooted in the ability of every incumbent’s policies to emancipate the impoverished black masses. Although President Zuma himself never explicitly articulated his policies in this manner, the fact is, he represented a resolve within the South Africa state which has come to the conclusion and taken a position that the Codesa “Convention for a democratic South Africa” framework, “the process by which the democratic South Africa was negotiated”, was fundamentally flawed. President Zuma represented the position which affirmed that the Black masses had gained little economically from the whole process and in fact the primary beneficiaries were white capitalists and a select group of black “entrepreneurs” who had been adopted into the capitalist class through deliberate identification for mere window dressing purposes. The great irony in this phenomenon is his chosen deputy Cyril Ramaphosa who was the “chief beneficiary” of this capitalist adoption (which explains his massive wealth) as President Zuma had sought to take South Africa in a radically different position from what Codesa had established.
In line with this world-view President Zuma prioritized new international partners in the form of BRICS both in rhetoric and active policy, because he believed in that a global shift in economic power was taking place. He articulated this international phenomenon in his theory of the global balance of forces and sought to exploit this phenomenon to South African advantage by trying to harness the critical ability of young black entrepreneurs and seeking to source alternative forms of finance from the emerging East: Russia and China. These policies are the basis that led to the proposed Russian Nuclear Deal and other massive joint Sino-South African deals, which faced considerable resistance from all state institutions both private and public. But these proposed projects have been in serious doubt of ever being implemented for some time, and are now certain to be altogether scraped.
The reality is, in contrast to President Zuma, the incoming President Ramaphosa was in fact the central man in the entire Codesa process, which means that he and others who were trusted by the financial and capitalist class were well positioned to accumulate the colossus fortunes they have since acquired in just over two decades. This is because Ramaphosa was the head of the negotiations committee unlike President Zuma who was chief of negotiations and was deliberately side-lined from the core process. Cyril Ramaphosa was responsible for the transfer of vital institutions of state like the Central Bank, while Zuma was deployed in his native province of KwaZulu Natal to deal with a tribal conflict between IFP and ANC supporters, which was a side issue from the main issues of democratization and the transfer of power to the black majority.
This background is what has led to the first ANC recall of President Thabo Mbeki and the current recall of President Jacob Zuma. The ANC and by extension the whole South African state is going through a peculiar process of internal socio-political negotiation and in the process it is trying to be responsive to the needs and expectations of its dynamic people, who are constituted of different social and racial classes. This is expressed through policy formulation, trial and error and the rise and fall of particular leaders as represented by various interests groups within the movement itself, and the state as a whole.
Politics is ultimately a function of the social reality, and a look at South African society is critical to understanding the current political moves. The South African society is the same as all societies, it is not static, and this has meant the ANC had to go through internal reform many times in its history in order to adapt to present realities and meet the needs and expectations of its demanding people. This fact has not changed. President Ramaphosa is the chosen leader of a young black nation which is integrated into the western culture of hyper-materialism, owing to the ever present western cultural influence, the country’s relative economic development and its large and wealthy white minority. The majority of these young black people never experienced the horrors of Apartheid rule, nor do they understand the world in its metropolitan essence. These young black smart phone users dream of a New South Africa that will offer them the life the modern technological revolution has exposed to them, a reality that was quickly exploited by the highly influential and liberal South African media which successfully lobbied the masses to view Jacob Zuma as a danger to all they aspire to and value. The ANC fearing losing power at the ballot and in typical responsive character, took the bait and sacrificed Zuma.
This reality means that the educated, rich, successful, metropolitan and seemingly competent billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa is a far better proposition to the pro business media itself and the media influenced voters as President. This is the real reason why the ANC has decided to sacrifice the rural Jacob Zuma, who has been successfully branded as corrupt by the same media and was never recruited by the capitalist class as a partner and candidate for advancement. Indeed Zuma had to barter his own bread using traditional ANC connections, that have since been deliberately miss-represented as corruption. These miss-representations form the basis of the state capture allegations. This means South Africa will henceforth more faithfully return to the Codesa framework as clearly articulated in Ramaphosa’s New Deal, meaning engagement with “Business” and the “white capitalist class” will be at the centre of economic policy.
However, a pertinent question would be, will the capitalists be as responsive and invest in creating a “radically transformed” South Africa as Ramaphosa is explicitly promising? The financiers and capitalists Ramaphosa is confident of successfully engaging had the capacity to invest meaningfully for the past two decades of democratic rule, yet, the historic fact is they didn’t.
It is pertinent to keep in mind that the “Business class” had their explicitly stated and desired socio-political environment, both under former President Mandela and Mbeki’s administrations, with all the media endorsement, favourable ratings from international credit ratings agencies and multi-lateral financial institutions, yet, this didn’t lead to either local or international investment of the desired sort. This historic fact is the reason why a man of Jacob Zuma’s character and political evolution became ANC choice of President 8 years ago. Now it waits to be seen if they will actually invest in black empowerment. Like Zuma always says when his beloved nation seemingly hits a bottle-neck, “time will tell”.