President and CEO Toyota SA Andrew Kirby speaking at the Business Unity of South Africa (BUSA) in Gallagher Estate Midrand North of Johannesburg. Photo Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)/Taken January 29, 2019 –
By Trevor Ngwane
Is the ANC redeemable? This question has been vexing the minds of millions in South Africa because, of late, it seems that everything that the ANC touches turns into dust. Under its watch, devastating and debilitating loadshedding, corruption, crime, GBV, unemployment, poverty and inequality have been normalised.
Recently the ANC has scored own goals notably spawning a foreign affairs crisis involving the US and Russia that saw the rand weakening and allowing a fatal cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal. Can the ANC be trusted with governing the country after the 2024 elections?
South Africa’s captains of industry, those Karl Marx defined as the ‘personification of capital’, have also been pondering over this question of the future of the country under ANC rule. Normally, the capitalist class is content to sit back, keep out of the limelight of the political arena and let the political clout that derives from its ownership of the means of production speak for itself and influence state policy. But there is nothing normal about South Africa today. It is crisis after crisis. There is uncertainty and anxiety among the CEOs in charge of the country’s conglomerates, banks, mines, factories and farms.
On Tuesday, June 6, the CEOs called a meeting with the ANC government where they ventilated their concerns about the political and economic situation in the country. Present at the meeting on the side of capital was Business Unity South Africa, Business Leadership South Africa, and other big business leaders. On the side of the state was President Cyril Ramaphosa and senior government officials including the finance and trade ministers. Apparently, the discussions went well despite the mutual criticisms and recriminations that were brought into the meeting.
The period leading up to the meeting had seen various representatives of capital publicly expressing their frustration with government inertia in solving the energy crisis, reducing crime and corruption, and improving transport and logistics. The tiff with the US over South Africa’s position on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was also provoking capitalist jitters of possible Western sanctions against the country. There was talk of South Africa being on the verge of becoming a failed state.
The meeting addressed some of capital’s key concerns and agreement was reached to form joint tasks teams on energy, transport and crime that would facilitate business working with relevant government departments, sharing skills and resources, in addressing these three priority areas. Everyone left the meeting hopeful and happy, not least President Ramaphosa who saw the meeting, with an eye to the 2024 elections, as having successfully achieved a toenadering (rapprochement) with capital. Is the president’s optimism justified? Will everything end well for him and the ANC, come 2024?
To answer these questions, it is perhaps necessary to understand the nature and character of the capitalist class in South Africa, from a working-class perspective. For centuries workers have been expending their labour making profits for this class. It is the blood and sweat of workers, especially black workers, that helped South African big business amass the wealth and power that it enjoys which allows it to summon the ANC president to a meeting and ostensibly give him marching orders. This is how capital is using its power today but let us look at how it has used this power in the past.
Under colonialism, apartheid and racial capitalism, South African capital has rapaciously exploited the country’s human and natural resources giving very little in return. Big capital has made its billions but the majority of people in the country, today and yesterday, live miserable lives of deprivation, poverty and misery. Under the guise of racist colonial policy and apartheid laws, the lives and livelihoods of millions of black working-class people were ruined as their land and labour was commandeered to serve the capitalist machine. Millions of able-bodied men were displaced by the migrant labour system leaving women, children, the old and the sick to fight for survival and rot in the rural areas.
Today the capitalists can kiss and make up with the ANC president giving the impression that everything will be all right. However, the truth is that the capitalists have never really cared for the country and its people, certainly not for the black working class and the poor.
They never wanted freedom, they never wanted the universal franchise, they never wanted the ANC to run the government. They were forced to enter negotiations to end apartheid and usher in democracy when it became clear that their system – capitalism – would go down with the racist state. And the people who forced them to do this were the masses especially the working class who fought and sacrificed almost everything for freedom.
Today, where are those masses? To what extent have their lives improved? Has the promise of national liberation been fulfilled? These are the questions the millions and millions are asking themselves as we move closer to the 2024 elections and the ANC confronts the real possibility of losing power.
The ANC was at the forefront of the negotiations with white capital and the apartheid state that led to the transition to democracy. Indeed, its chief negotiator was Ramaphosa. The outcome was the destruction of the racist system, but the deal was based on the continuation of capitalism, of private property, of keeping the stolen land and wealth, of the exploitation of labour.
The concern of the South African captains of industry is about their profits and whether their system will continue beyond the 2024 elections, with or without the ANC. The concern of the working class and the poor is whether they can survive the hardship and suffering beyond 2024, with or without the ANC. In truth, the toenadering between capital and the ANC means nothing because both represent the downfall of this country and its people.
Trevor Ngwane is the director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice, University of Johannesburg