Twenty-four years ago when we established our new non-racial democracy we hoped that South Africa would settle down to the humdrum process of becoming a normal society.   We hoped that we would be less ‘interesting’ than we had been during the preceding 30 years.

We were wrong.  South Africa was never destined to be a boring country.

The first ‘interesting’ development came only two years after 1994 when the ANC under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki dumped the RDP – the socialist Reconstruction and Development Progamme that had been strongly supported by the South African Communist Party and the trade union confederation COSATU.  In its place the ANC adopted the neo-liberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme, known as GEAR.

Under the guidance of Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel, GEAR achieved some spectacular results.  Between 2005 and 2007 the economy grew at the 5% plus levels that South Africa so desperately needs to create jobs and a better life for all its people.  Manuel halved the national debt to only 23% of GDP and succeeded in achieving budget surpluses.   All this was, of course, anathema to the SACP and COSATU, which were side-lined from any meaningful policy role.

At its 9th Congress in 2006 COSATU decided to launch a battle for the ‘heart and soul’ of the ANC at the organisation’s next National Conference which would be convened in Polokwane at the end of 2007.   It resolved, among other things, that

“the working class must re-direct the National Democratic Revolution towards socialism and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies that are attempting to wrest it from achieving its logical conclusion, which is socialism”. 

COSATU, the SACP and the ANC Youth League – at that time still under the leadership of Julius Malema – chose as their presidential candidate at the Polokwane conference the disgraced former Deputy-President, Jacob Zuma – despite the fact that he had 783 outstanding fraud charges against him.

To Mbeki’s immense shock and surprise, Zuma won the ensuing ANC presidential election by a margin of 60% to 40%.

Polokwane was the second ‘interesting’ development in the history of the young republic.    It signalled a complete changing of the guard; the resurgence of the SACP and COSATU and a radical change from the orthodox macro-economic policies.

Having secured total control of the ANC’s machinery it was just a question of time before the left wing recalled President Mbeki and forced him to resign as national president. The Polokwane Conference also resolved to dismantle “the Scorpions” – the highly effective and independent anti-corruption unit that had become a real threat to Zuma and to many of his colleagues in the ANC leadership.  The destruction of the Scorpions opened the floodgates of corruption.

In 2012, in another ‘interesting’ development, the left wing launched the ANC’s so-called Radical Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution.  The ANC announced its intention to proceed with radical economic transformation – primarily by means of the redistribution of economic power and wealth on a racial basis.

By 2015 the SACP had once again established a strong position in the formulation and direction of economic policy. It controlled some ten key ministries – most of which were involved in economic policy and land reform. The SACP boasted that there had been a “considerable strengthening of the left’s ideological positions on government economic and social policies and programmes”.

The SACP’s policy successes included initiatives and legislation that seriously undermined property rights.  Among them were:

Interestingly enough, the corrupt – but perhaps more pragmatic – President Zuma pushed most of these initiatives to the back burner.

After Polokwane the left wing had thought that they would be able to control the avuncular and traditionalist Jacob Zuma. They were so busy trying to capture the state for the advancement of socialism that they failed to notice that the wily old President was moving with great skill to capture the state for himself and his associates.

Soon after he became President, Zuma:

The SACP – and respected ANC leaders from the Mandela era –  were shocked by these developments and began to criticise those around Zuma vociferously – especially the so-called Premier League – which included the premiers of Mpumalanga, North-West and the Free State – who were all strong supporters of President Zuma.  By last year the SACP had become the core of the opposition to President Zuma within the ANC Alliance.  Inevitably, it paid the price and was once again thrust into the political wilderness.

There was nothing new about state capture. After 1994 the ANC – according to its own documentation – set out consciously to secure all “the levers of state power” including “the legislatures, the executives, the public service, the security forces, the judiciary, parastatals, the public broadcaster, and so on”.

However, the ANC’s idea was always that the captured state should serve the organisation’s altruistic ideological purposes. The idea was not that the levers of state power should be abused for the purpose of amassing immense hoards of private wealth.

The latest ‘interesting’ development was, of course, the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the ANC president some seven weeks ago.

Speech by Dave Steward, Chairman
23 February 2018