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In this interesting radio interview, Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network discusses with renowned pan-Africanist, Professor Horace Campbell on the recent changes in South Africa that saw Cyril Ramaphosa, a former working class militant turned corporate magnate become fifth president of that country. 

SHARMINI PERIES: It is The Real News Network. I am Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America. After the African National Congress (ANC) finally forced the hand that led to the resignation of former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma on Wednesday 14 February 2018, the country’s Parliament voted to instate the ANC’s President—and then Deputy President of the republic—Cyril Ramaphosa as the new president of South Africa.

At his inauguration, Cyril Ramaphosa said, “I would like to thank all the members of this assembly. I thank you for the honour that you bestow on me by electing me to this position. I truly feel humbled to have been given this great privilege. I will be coming to this house on a regular basis to exercise my accountability as president of the republic, to answer your questions, and to interact with you on a range of matters that affect the lives of our people”.

SHARMINI PERIES: This ends the scandal-ridden Zuma era. However, what follows is the question. Is this a new era for South Africa under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa? Or is it a continuation of the scandal fraught capitalism bracing the ANC leadership that has chosen to ignore the needs of the workers and the working poor in South Africa? Joining me now to discuss all of this is Horace G. Campbell. He is Kwame Nkrumah Chair of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Horace, thank you so much for joining us.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you for having us again.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, let us get your reflections on this moment in South African history. What lessons should be carrying with us, the people of South Africa and the rest of us who have been painfully watching this young democracy shaping itself after the apartheid?

HORACE CAMPBELL: The primary lesson for us is that apartheid may have ended in its overt political forms, but in its economic form, that is the brutal exploitation of millions of people in South Africa and southern Africa, apartheid has not ended. The principle lesson is that the ANC became a partner of the economic forms of exploitation, and in the process, it deteriorated its leadership and the top cadres of the ANC became low-level allies of international capital and local capital. That is the same capitalist classes locally and internationally that exploited the working people of South Africa. The ANC made an alliance with them.

The people of South Africa and southern Africa have been trying to find new ways to oppose them. We must credit the young people of South Africa in bringing about this change. The campaigns for service delivery, the campaigns for Rhodes Must Fall, the campaigns for Fees Must Fall, the campaigns for Zuma Must Go, the mobilisation of the working people in South Africa, they are the ones who brought about this turbulence within the ruling party to the point where the most crude forms of accumulation that had been carried on by Zuma were exposed.

So, the ANC became embarrassed. In the embarrassment, what do they do? They replace Zuma, a crude capitalist, with an overt capitalist like Cyril Ramaphosa who, over the last 15 to 20 years, become a billionaire and whose claim to fame in South Africa was not his relationship with the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa, but that he became a billionaire and he became an ally of local capitalists in South Africa. So, although Zuma is gone, the ANC has replaced Jacob Zuma with another capitalist. That tells you the rot in the ANC as a political party and the distance they have travelled from the road when they were fighting as a liberation movement.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, this is then a good time to trace the history of what has happened to the ANC that fought for the end of the apartheid, actually from the leadership of Nelson Mandela to now where we see Cyril Ramaphosa taking on the reins.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Three things. One, the class composition of the leadership that took over the leadership of the ANC. Secondly, the ideological legitimation for coming to power, and third, their subservience to a foreign capital.

Now let us deal with the class composition. The top leaders who took over power in 1994 in the transition from 1990 to 1994, it was a leadership that had been trained mainly in Western universities and trained in the idea that socialism failed in Eastern Europe, there was the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and therefore any idea about redistributing wealth in South Africa would bring South Africa into chaos. So that class, because they were no longer living in the township in the terrible conditions that the working people lived, they abandoned the working people.

Secondly, that class and we can name the individuals like Trevor Manuel, they adopted theories and ideas that justified the accumulation of capital. The Communist Party of South Africa in particular was part of the rot of the ANC because they came out with a theory called “The National Democratic Revolution” which meant in principle that you needed the black capitalist class to come to power before South Africa could become socialist. That was a reading of old texts from progress publishers and nothing to do with the reality of the conditions in South Africa.

For your listeners, the most important point about this is that that ideology coincided with neo-liberalism and it allowed for the promulgation of things called “Black Economic Empowerment”. Black economic empowerment meant that politically, the leadership of the ANC became junior partners of international capital. And the worst example of this was in the case of the Armscor International (Armaments Corporation of South Africa)—the arms procurement agency of the South African Department of Defence—scandal when the ANC between 1994 and 1999 in the run up to the elections embarked on a number of arms deals with arms corporations. Probably the most notorious of these deals was with the BAE Systems (a British multinational defence, security, and aerospace company) where they set up something called “offsets” so that they could get bribes from foreign companies.

Now what they were doing is what the National Party of South Africa did before them for 20 years, that you enter into using the scarce resources of South Africa to buy weapons and then make kickbacks from the purchase of those weapons. You use that to strengthen the ANC. So, even while Mandela was there, the ANC was involved in that scandal. One of the things Jacob Zuma is saying is that, “You are targeting me, but this rot started in the ANC and Mbeki knows about it, Mandela knows about it.”

And there has been a brave fighter in South Africa called Terry Crawford-Browne who has been waging a campaign about this rot in the ANC. The challenge for progressive intellectuals in South Africa and southern Africa is to raise the question of the continuing legacies of this arms deal which have spilled over from weapons manufacturing, weapons sales to every other sector of the economy.

The third part is about this general rot of the ANC in standing up against foreign capital and turning to the same kind of xenophobia of the white racists to divide working people in South Africa. For 100 years, South Africa was a country that had workers from Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Malawi [among other countries] that worked in the mines. The leadership of the ANC was silent on the question of xenophobic attacks on the workers in South Africa especially workers from other [African] countries so that instead of solidarity among the working classes, you had the attacks of workers from Somalia and so forth. Then the beneficiaries of these were the people who were benefiting from “Black Economic Empowerment”.

So, Black Economic Empowerment provided the conditions for the creation of millionaires and billionaires and Trevor Manuel who was a darling of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These were the ideologues along with Thabo Mbeki that created the economic and intellectual conditions for this rot. I think if we continue in South Africa to discuss about Mbeki and discuss about Zuma and Ramaphosa without discussing about the fundamental contradictions inside the South African economy, which continues from the white apartheid, then we do a disservice for the working people of southern Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: While I think it is important to make sure we trace this history in terms of the ANC, we also cannot ignore the fact that it has produced people like Cyril Ramaphosa who went from a credible trade unionist working on workers rights to spending time with Mandela in prison and to now then becoming a businessman and then of course winks at the opening of fire on the Marikana striking workers who were fighting for a minimum wage, a working wage in the mines. He used to be a mine worker representative himself.

Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? Explain this transformation.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well this transformation goes back to the transition. The international capital was very afraid of the mobilisation of the South African working people; so they spent US $300 million setting up non-governmental organisations, talking about governance, anything to demobilise the working people and to cool out and remove those intellectuals that were calling for fundamental change.

The message that Ramaphosa got when he was working with Mandela in 1990 to 1993 was “Well the ANC is moving in a direction of supporting accumulation and compromising with imperialism.” This message came very clearly after the killing of Chris Hani. The killing of Chris Hani sent a message that “Well those in the African National Congress that wanted profound change will be removed.” So when he lost the battle with Thabo Mbeki, the battle for top leadership in the ANC, he decided to go to private capital, but the cynicism of Mbeki and the leadership was to choose Jacob Zuma. This cynicism of Mbeki was manifested in all the things that went on in South Africa around the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma administration itself.

Ramaphosa cooled his heels while Mbeki was the president and while the Mandela-Mbeki regime aligned itself with international capital. On the ground, he and other leaders of the ANC went out to make money so that he could compete with them in the party. By the time Zuma moved against Mbeki – and one should note that the people that Zuma went to to move against Mbeki were the South African Communist Party. The South African Communist Party gave legitimacy to a person who had been accused of rape, who has been known to have manipulated members of the intelligence services of the ANC.

So, Ramaphosa himself became the deputy of Zuma when the Communist Party and Zuma moved against Mbeki. So he, Ramaphosa, knew all along of the corruption of Zuma, but he was there standing beside Zuma, smiling with Zuma when all the charges, 783 different charges, against Zuma were being written about in the press, and he said nothing. He was silent. He was biding his time to become the president of South Africa because he wanted to take over that network of corruption that Zuma himself was overseeing. So he himself is an accomplice to whatever Zuma was doing inside of South Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, there are two very important forces emerging in the South African context. One is Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema who used to be a member of the ANC and its youth wing. When you go to South Africa, you see them at work in communities, in the townships and so on. Then you have NUMSA, which is the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa that is a very important, in fact the largest union in South Africa that has broken off from the former union or worker’s organisations that were represented in the governing party. They are talking about this moment, NUMSA is talking about establishing a Workers Party to compete, contest the ANC. All of these developments are occurring. What are your thoughts on that?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you. I am glad you mentioned NUMSA and the role of the metalworkers in South Africa because the levels of political consciousness of this organisation and their platform they rolled out five years ago in 2013 holds great promises for South Africa as long as it provides room for the maturation of the alliance of progressive workers and progressive intellectuals.

Now in the interim, the media is giving a lot of attention to Julius Malema and the EFF. Julius Malema and the EFF, they became popular because of a void in the lives of the people. They are speaking directly to what the people want. The people want electricity, water, clean and safe neighbourhood, and the people want jobs. But Malema and EFF are not speaking to any kind of fundamental transformation of the South African economy to the point where we can have an intelligent discussion about the direction of the South African economy. So in short, what we have from Malema is a very dangerous kind of populism, the kind of populism that will divert energies from the efforts of organised trade unions, organised students, and people who want to organise alternative forms of representation.

Let me use one of the most important examples in southern Africa. One of the most important examples in southern Africa is a question of the land question and the emotive question that a minority of whites control more than 90 percent of the land. Now the call for the nationalisation of the land is very important, but one cannot call for nationalisation of the land outside of a context of removing the subsidies to the white farmers that they are now getting even before you nationalise the land.

Let us take for example the people who produce wine in the Cape region of South Africa. These people who produce wine in South Africa, produce wine with immense subsidies. One of the most important subsidies that they get is water. Then they have subsidies in terms of roads, electricity, cheap wages, and so forth. And it is not by accident that last year when the government of South Africa had a choice in getting out of AGOA, that is the African Growth and Opportunity Act, because the South Africans were calling for a ban on US agricultural products. So, the American government threatened South Africa to say, “We will just ban your wine.” So, the South African government is protecting those white farmers.

Those protections including technical services are as important as nationalisation. Yes, we should call for the nationalisation of the land in South Africa, but in the meantime, we should expose the subsidies to those [white] farmers. And I am saying that this is the level of detail that Malema and the EFF can get through the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, they are not getting this. They are going behind slogans about taking land from the whites, about the nationalisation. We are all for these things, but we want it to be done in a way that create new property relations among the working people of South Africa so that land is given to the poor and not to rich blacks, from rich whites going to rich blacks. The future of Malema and the EFF is one, which could be overturned by the building of a progressive working class movement in South Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: Which leads me to NUMSA, led by Irvin Jim who is its General Secretary and the formation of this new Workers Party that have been in the air for a while now. Your thoughts on these developments?

HORACE CAMPBELL: I think these are very important developments. The other development is for this party, the Workers Party of South Africa, to build its image as a working people’s party that is for the waged and unwaged workers, for students, and most importantly that it doesn’t fall prey to any kind of division of the working people of South Africa based on whether they come from Zimbabwe or they come from Malawi or come from Mozambique.

South Africa is in a position to mobilise resources for the economic transformation of southern Africa. That is to say that the application of capital in southern Africa was always regional, coming out of South Africa. The NUMSA must embrace things that were developed before 1990 such as the social charter for workers of southern Africa. That social charter for workers of southern Africa came at the same period as the Southern African Development Community and talked about the South African workers supporting workers in Zambia, workers in Zimbabwe, workers in Mozambique. One of the positive things about the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was that it did not suffer from the kind of position that supported Robert Mugabe; they instead supported the plantation and agricultural workers in Zimbabwe. That is a kind of position we need the NUMSA to take in southern Africa so that ultimately it would link up with workers in Nigeria, workers in Egypt, workers in Ethiopia so that the working class movement in Africa will take the kind of traction to break the imperial domination of Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Horace. So, what now? What remains for the South African people? What hopes, aspirations? What can they fight for and what are the institutions, organisations that are in place to bring about what South Africa was meant to be when it established itself?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well in 1976, the students of Soweto rose up and rebelled against apartheid. When the students of Soweto rose and rebelled against apartheid, they inspired their parents. They inspired traders, cultural artists, and they inspired the entire world in standing against apartheid. Even when former US president Ronald Reagan said that the ANC was aligned to communists and that they should be crushed, the students built a movement with the United Democratic Front, with religious leaders, women, workers, and intellectuals to end apartheid.

I believe we are seeing the beginning of that same process. Students in the universities, in tertiary institutions embarked on campaigns in the past five years saying that the system must change. In particular, when they were fighting in the university for Fees Must Fall, they were also fighting for the workers in the university, fighting against outsourcing of jobs to private companies and the bad treatment of workers in the university.

We have new trade union formations developing in South Africa, breaking COSATU, breaking the hold of the ideas of the South African Communist Party. What we need is for the progressive intellectuals—and we have progressives in South Africa, and we have numerous grassroots formations in South Africa—to ask themselves an important question: “How can they build a united front with the working people of South Africa, with the students, and with the progressive exiles from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia so that the workers in South Africa are not prey to the xenophobia that the leaders will come with again?”

One of the things that have been very challenging that very few sections of the left in South Africa have spoken out against is xenophobia. The students themselves live with students from other parts of Africa. So yes, we have hope in the South African movement becoming alive again. It is not only in South Africa. We see this in Zimbabwe where the workers and students and traders came together to remove Mugabe. We have seen it in Ethiopia where workers and students and athletes went on the streets to demand changes. There is a new wave of politics going over Africa.

Our job as progressive intellectuals is not to point to leaders such as Zuma and Ramaphosa but to point to the criminal activities that they have been involved with. Now when Zuma was charged with rape, the women’s movement in Africa called for support and many progressives turned their backs and said, “Well we turned our backs because that is not a central issue.” When Mbeki was making those outrageous statements about retroviral drugs, people turned their backs. We must have the kind of solidarity inside of Africa and internationally that brought down apartheid because South Africa continues to be the linchpin for international capital in Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace Campbell, I thank you so much for joining us today. We carry your words forward. I look forward to having you back very soon.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you for having us. Please send our solidarity to all the working people of South Africa.

SHARMINI PERIES: Indeed. Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


* Professor Horace G. Campbell is Kwame Nkrumah Chair of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. In addition to being a peace activist, Horace is also the author of Global Nato and the Catastrophic Failure in Zimbabwe: Lessons for Africa and Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal model of Liberation. He is currently on leave from the University of Syracuse.