THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE 2019 SOUTH AFRICAN ELECTIONS
1 – Two years ago, in local elections, ANC had its worst result ever. Shortly after, Jacob Zuma was accused of corruption, and was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa. What has changed since then and can the party now hope for a better result?
The election of Ramaphosa to become President on 15 February 2018 is a reminder that the South African President is not actually a president, but rather a Prime Minister who at any time depends on the simple majority support in Parliament. In practice this means this means that he needs the continual support of the National Executive Committee -NEC of the ANC majority party. It is this NEC that has the final say over who may become and ANC candidate for election, in South Africa’s list based proportional election system. The important consideration is that the composition of the NEC changed very little since the resignation of Zuma. It is still principally distrusting and hostile towards Ramaphosa. The current NEC does not mirror the rather opportunistic or accidental majority that supported Ramaphosa for President at the party congress in December 2017.
Ramaphosa is therefore forced to forever negotiate his majority support in the NEC. The result has been a rather administrative than political governance. But it has been successful in improving the quality of public administration. Gone are the days when hundreds of millions in tenders were adjudicated and attributed in the lobby bar of the Michelangelo hotel in Johannesburg. A lot of corruption has been uncovered and denounced in public and some of the worst culprits were removed. With the appointment of a new head of the NPA, some will go to trial. Others will simply see their banking accounts frozen, under South Africa’s new and draconian FICA banking laws.
2 - What has Ramaphosa done for the country? Particularly for the economy, for employment, gender and racial equality, combating HIV/AIDS?
In fact, little has happened over the past 15 months. Unemployment has increased. There are violent protests day by day. The health services in public hospitals are in a state of collapse. The economy continues to decline, the basic services at the level of the municipalities are crippled, with more than 80% of municipalities without liquidity and the totality of State-Owned Enterprises in a state of bankruptcy. There is an alarming mafia style disintegration of the police, the defence force and in the intelligence services. But the post office service which was paralyzed, is working again.
The promise to attract external financial support in terms of new investments and credits, in the order of 100 billion Euros, for restarting a stalled South Africa, has failed. The major EU trading partners have delayed their decisions on new loans and investments until after the elections. Merkel, on the part of Germany, made billions of Euros available for Africa north of the Sahara, to reduce migration destined for Germany, but she did nothing for South Africa, besides a symbolic support for the administration of Cape Town, ruled by the opposition party DA. Only last week, the Ambassador of China in Pretoria explained that the loan of 2.5 billion Euros from the of China Development Bank for the recapitalisation of ESKOM, promised at State visit of President of Jinping to South Africa, at the end of July 2018, is not being paid out whilst China lacks confidence that this loan can actually be repaid. What they Chinese are saying that management reforms at ESKOM lack credibility.
However, the major economic partners should understand that the necessary internal reforms to reduce barriers to investment (labour law, rigidity of BEE rules, bureaucratization of economic licensing, and a nationalist immigration policy), will be possible only on the basis of political success of Ramaphosa, a success that will depend on the economic recovery of South Africa.
3 - The greatest threat to the ANC seems to come, not from the Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition party, but from the EFF. According to some surveys, the party led by Julius Malema could double its percentage of votes in relation to 2014. Where is he fetching these votes and what explains the rise of the former leader of the ANC Youth League, who was expelled on Zuma’s instructions, on accusations of instigating racial hatred?
According to the latest polls the EFF will attain some 15%. But the opposition of the centre-right party, the DA, will be able to increase their national support to above 20%. There is an interesting new party, supported by the “African” Christian churches such as Shembe and ZCC, counting with close to 20 million committed faithful. This is the African Transformation Movement (ATM) party led by Vuyolwethu Zungula and supported by the "Council of Messianic Churches Church Leaders." They may well gather some 3 to 5% or even more, giving a possibly defeated ANC a coalition option after the 8th of May. The alternative could be an ANC-EFF coalition which would put Julius Malema in the Vice-presidency and risk a Venezuela type future for the country.
4 - Malema has made Ramaphosa his main target and predicted: "The ANC is ready to vomit someone, and it will be him." Is there any risk that Ramaphosa might be replaced in mid-term?
This will depend on the success that the next Ramaphosa government can deliver. Ramaphosa is 66 years of age and in this electoral campaign has shown signs of tiredness and disillusionment. The West that pushed him into the confrontation with Zuma, but afterwards denied him the "Marshall Plan" which it had outlined, to turn around the decline of South Africa. In February 2019 German Ambassador Schäfer with caustic sensationalism, published on the front pages of the newspapers a letter full of criticism and threats against South Africa, addressed to Ramaphosa and allegedly co-authored with the Ambassadors of the US, UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. They never distanced themselves from the letter, but also never confirmed that the letter was indeed an expression of a “trumpist consensus” amongst the more conservative European nations and the US. The diplomatic scandal stabbed Ramaphosa in the back.
The poultry industry of South Africa is in crisis because of the "dumping" of surplus chicken meat (drumsticks and wings) from the EU, under the European Partnership Agreement (EPA). At the same time, post-apartheid cooperatives of Black citrus farmers had to close down because they lost access to European markets, on the basis of a an entirely fictitious and malicious accusation of a "black spot" fungus risk to European plantations, ignoring the scientific evidence that the “black spot” fungus cannot be propagated by already harvested fruit. And furthermore, the forcing of a renewable energy transition in South Africa by EU multinationals and their governments, especially Germany, contributed substantially to the bankruptcy of the South African power utility ESKOM; it currently spends 24% of its income on renewable energy generation which, however, represents only a maximum of 5% of the total energy produced.
In addition to the European disillusionment, the great hope of an unconditional and generous bailout by South Africa’s BRICS ally China, has also been on hold. Whilst Australia enjoys a complete exemption from duties on their wines exported to China, the South African wine industry continues to see their exports to China hampered by heavy import duties. China obviously is giving forever greater consideration to financial sustainability of loans and investments.
For Ramaphosa to be able to complete his next term in office, he will need to continuously leverage his support in Parliament, but as importantly, rehabilitate the confidence of China in the future of South Africa. He will have to invest in the relations with the main trading and investment partners in Europe but he can no longer do this by relying on South Africa’s traditionally privileged relations with the United Kingdom. The UK is already irrelevant when it comes to EU policy. Repairing the damaged relations of friendship and mutual understanding and cooperation with the United States is another top priority. The USA continue to be the main contributor in the fight against HIV/AIDs. They are also the country that fostered most effectively industrial exports from South Africa, on the basis of the preferential customs and trade agreement AGOA. The success of these foreign relations goals will to a large extent determine the internal social and economic success that Ramaphosa will need to survive politically.
5 - The leader of the EFF also said that the President should be arrested because of Marikana (Ramaphosa was a non-executive director of the British group Lonmin when the police killed 34 miners in protest for better wages at their platinum mine in Marikana). Do you think that there is any chance that this scenario might become reality?
No, because there is no causation in legal terms between the position of Ramaphosa as partner in the company Lonmin and the police action that ended up costing the life to 34 workers and former miners, as well as a number of police officers. There is no risk of legal proceedings against Ramaphosa. But Malema explores the moral responsibility of Ramaphosa and he wants to undermine his support in the NEC. Ramaphosa depends at all times on the NEC, in order to escape a vote of no confidence that can be taken by simple majority in Parliament. The composition of the NEC will not change after the elections on the 8th of May. And in Parliament will sit 22 ANC deputies accused of very serious acts of corruption, who are diehard supporters of Zuma and whose removal from the list of candidates Ramaphosa failed to obtain. In relation to the NEC, Malema is the one who continuously gives the most vivid expression to the intimate aspirations of the professional politicians who rule the ANC. But this emotional aspect of ANC policy will only become relevant in the case of failure of Ramaphosa’s governance over the next two years to bring about a tangible economic and social turn around.
6 – In foreign policy, has Ramaphosa made a difference, in particular as regards relations with countries like Zimbabwe or Sudan?
The credibility and prestige of South Africa’s foreign policy has improved under the new Minister Mrs. Sisulu. Sisulu is busy rehabilitating the moral foundations of South Africa’s international relations, by refocussing on the human rights imperatives, i.e. on the political, economic, social and cultural rights of peoples. The new Minister managed to reduce the aggressiveness of the discourse of the previous Minister’s Mashabane. Sisulu understands that diplomacy is the art of emphasising what the players have in common, rather than highlighting the differences between nations.
In relation to Zimbabwe, South Africa has refused to finance the pretentiousness of President Manangagwa, former head of Mugabe’s repression and torture machinery. In Sudan, South Africa maintains with great sacrifice its contributions to regional and international peace keeping efforts. In Southern Sudan, Ramaphosa encouraged an important outreach of the South African state-owned national oil industry to start-up a midstream petroleum industry in that country. And South Africa is saving the BRICS alliance at a time when the ideological differences between its members have sharpened, with the ascendancy to power of President Bolsonaro in Brazil.
South Africa also continues to accept and support a real figure of over 7 million refugees from Africa and the Middle East. They make up more or less 15% of the national population. To understand what this means in terms of tolerance and human culture, we should imagine what Germany would look like if it had only one seventh of its current GDP and would have to put up with 15%, i.e 18 million refugees, instead of the current one million that it has provisionally accommodated against fast growing neo-Nazi resistance and aggression.
7 – We have spoken much of the legacy of Nelson Mandela. In 2018, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, the journalist John Carlin, who knew him closely, told me in an interview that "In South Africa the relationship between blacks and whites is better than in the US." Do you agree with this view and analysis or not?
The “ANC Profunda" meaning the hidden soul of the ANC commissars and "old" guards, has a racist strain. It will mutter that Mandela denied the nation its "right of revenge". They also applaud the authoritarianism of MALEMA. What the EFF propagates is the "dream picture" of a left that globally no longer exists: the nationalization all "strategic" sectors of the economy without compensation, the imposition of a policy of investments by command and plan, the granting of bank loans to the poor and disadvantaged, and extensive powers of the state to intervene in the economy. With a Central Bank beholden to the “People’s” power.
However, in the perspective of the majority of the voters, what matters is the availability of drinking water, schools with furniture and minimally trained teachers, hospitals with medicines, competent doctors and nurses, roads where cars can go without breaking down in potholes, trains that do not kill the passengers, police officers who do not use their weapons to engage in robberies and extorsions, and generally a real basis of hope for the future.
The South African middle class exceeds 10 million and despises Malema and its EFF carriers of red caps and T-shirts à la Chavez, whilst wearing high fashion French and Italian footwear and driving fleets of new luxury cars. For this segment of society, the dream of the rainbow nation continues to be relevant and racism is rejected throughout. Racist and supremacist hatred within White communities has little expression and is restricted to marginal groups. The great majority of Whites in South Africa increased substantially their standards of living since 1994 and are far better off than White families that have emigrated in the past 2 decades.
While the ANC continues to promote a policy best described as EFF less X, that is to say that the original or non-diluted product is that what the EFF presents, the challenge remains fro the ANC to demonstrate the success of rational alternatives, associated with the policy of Ramaphosa. According to the opinion polls, the electoral support for Ramaphosa revolves around 70%, some 20% above the electoral support for the ANC party. To capitalize on this margin of support, Ramaphosa will have to resist and transform the NEC where the “commissars” monopolize policy making. To prevent the dreams of the "deep" ANC (ANC Profunda) from turning into the nightmares of South Africa, Ramaphosa should unmask the the vast and mysterious financial resources that Malema has managed to mobilize, possibly from an international racist and right-wing fringe, hell bent on destabilising and destroying the South African rainbow nation.