[Marxism] South Africa: The Zuma Presidency - New Era or Business as Usual?

Sky Keyes skeyesvogt at gmail.com
Tue Apr 28 08:12:23 MDT 2009

The Zuma Presidency: New Era or Business as Usual?

By Fazila Farouk


Election 2009 has turned out to be a landmark event for the ANC. The party
faced some of its stiffest competition and still came out tops, despite a
dismal 15-year delivery record.

In an ironic twist, the people whom the ANC has failed most turned out en
masse to keep it in power, while those that it’s been bending over backwards
for appear to have voted for the opposition.

The actions of both groups defy belief, but in a world where perception
trumps reality, perhaps one shouldn't be surprised that it is the estimation
of the ANC's perceived worth that seems to have motivated voters' behaviour.
Despite being sold down the river by the elite politics of their party, the
poor still see the ANC as their saviour. While the party's detractors smell
the "rooi gevaar" around every corner.

Zuma ascends South Africa's presidency at an interesting time in world

Conservative governments have swung to hard line positions, as evidenced by
the political landscape in Israel. While centrist governments like America's
Obama administration are dithering more than ever.  As one commentator put
it, either Obama can't do anything seriously wrong; or he can't do anything
seriously right. At the other end of the spectrum, progressive governments
from Latin America are openly nailing their socialist colours to the mast.

What path, in the midst of all these, will Zuma and his new ANC carve out
for South Africa’s future? Who will their role models be? Under Zuma’s
stewardship, will the ANC finally right the wrongs of our apartheid past?

Early signs are worrying. Zuma has not said anything that indicates a break
from the past, which would put South Africa firmly on the road to dealing
with structural poverty. For the time being it looks pretty much as though
the poor are still going to get screwed.

South Africa's economy is still firmly rooted in the legacy of apartheid and
the pressure to maintain the status quo is strong. Over the years, the
economic policies of the ANC, rather than transforming the economic
landscape, have divided our economy and we are led to believe that this
dualism between the first and second economy is a necessary evil.

So while the ANC has always promised “a better life for all," high-level
research reveals that it is their obsession with neo-liberal economics that
perpetuates the apartheid status quo in post-apartheid South Africa.

To coincide with our first decade as a democracy in 2004, the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) released a report assessing South Africa’s
human development. The report stated that  "The current strategy and
policies for achieving (economic) growth are objectively anti-poor as, on
the one hand, the gap between economic growth and employment growth is
widening and, on the other, given their capabilities, the poor are not able
to integrate into the current processes of economic expansion."

In other commentary, it has also been argued that income inequality is one
of South Africa's biggest challenges and that this inequality in income
distribution is the result of a growth path that ensures high earnings for
the owners of capital and employees with skills.

The main conclusion reached by the UNDP report was that "South Africa's
sustainable development prospects depend on a successful re-orientation of
the economic structure and policies – such that the economy becomes
inclusive (broad-based), equitable and sustainable over time."

In the five years since this report was released, this has not happened and
in the aftermath of this landslide victory for the ANC, it is still doubtful
whether South Africa will finally be put on a trajectory to achieve this
goal. Two problems, among others, come to mind.

Firstly, Zuma has gone on record assuring corporate South Africa that there
will be no major changes to economic policy. The financial media have
assured their readers that Zuma will be “business friendly.”

Secondly, what impact will the global financial crisis have on the policies
of the new ANC government? Are the poor in South Africa doomed to join the
estimated 53 million people around the world who will fall deeper into
poverty in 2009 as a result of the global recession?

Rather than looking to the North for advice from experts that didn't foresee
the financial crisis, one hopes that Zuma will look for inspiration in other
parts of the world.

If it's jobs and decent pay that his constituency is after, then it would
certainly be worth Zuma's while to look at what's happening in Latin
America, the only region in the world where inequality has declined. Bucking
global trends, nine countries in this region are experiencing declining
poverty rates, notably from 2002-2007. To date, the trend is only marginally
affected by the global economic meltdown.

How did they do it? They raised the wages of their poorest and reduced the
earnings of their richest; we are informed by this excerpt from a briefing
paper released by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the

"Changes in the structure of income distribution between 2002 and 2007
reveal three clearly distinct situations. Nine countries (Argentina,
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador,
Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay) have significantly narrowed the gap between
the groups at the extreme ends of the spectrum, both by increasing the
poorer groups’ share of total income and by lowering that of the highest
income households. The most notable reductions in the two aforementioned
indicators (36% and 41%, respectively) were recorded in the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela. Significant improvements were also observed in
Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua, where both indicators fell by about 30%."

Just a few days ago, some of these Latin leaders vetoed a declaration that
came out of the Summit of the Americas, also attended by bankers'-best-buddy
Obama. Progressive Latin leaders pointed out that the role played by
capitalism in bringing about the global financial crisis, was not addressed
by the declaration.

These issues are important for Zuma to consider because political leaders
who are genuinely interested in pro-poor development and social justice -
with track records to boot - are challenging the abuses of big capital. They
are taking on the rich and powerful. Something that Zuma shows no sign of
doing, regardless of the fact that he was carried to victory on the
shoulders of the ANC’s Alliance partners, whose thinking one assumes would
be more in line with the Latin American leaders.

Many are waiting with baited breath to see how long Zuma's honeymoon with
the Alliance partners will last. His cabinet appointments will reveal his
true intentions. Is he just a power hungry career politician willing to
exploit any relationship to get to the top or does his proximity to the
Alliance partners indicate a genuine willingness to break with the recent
tradition of the ANC, which has been to consistently betray its strongest

South Africa's poor want jobs and houses. They deserve these and more.

By Fazila Farouk, executive director of the South African Civil Society
Information Service.

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