Open for business
Battle lines between ANC and breakaway party increasingly defined by class
AS THE FALLOUT from the ANC’s political implosion starts to settle more definitively in a new political party to be launched by backers of Mosiuoa Lekota in December, the jury is out on which side of the political divide business will hedge its bets. What’s clear is that the battle for black business support is on in what seems to be the formation of new coalitions of interests and identities within business communities and constituencies.
Allegations by the ANC Youth League last week that Lekota’s – yet un-named – party had the financial backing of Absa brought to the fore a more profound process of de-alignment from the ANC-led tripartite alliance and realignment of the country’s political landscape. Absa flatly denied the allegation. But the fact of the matter is that since the resignation of former President Thabo Mbeki and the departure of Lekota and other cabinet ministers from Government, Jacob Zuma’s supporters in the Communist Party, trade union federation Cosatu and the ANC youth and women’s leagues have been in disarray as traditional party loyalties based on race cleave along class lines.
ANC opposition parties, the SA National Civic Organisation and many leading black business figures – notably Wendy Luhabe, Peter Vundla, Andile Mazwai, Popo Molefe and former UDF activist turned businesswomen Hilda Ndude – have thrown their weight and finances behind Lekota’s initiative in recent weeks.
In theory, Lekota himself appears to be the immediate beneficiary as he moves swiftly to gain the confidence of the middle class and business in a market-led policy alternative to the ANC’s apparent attempt to reinstall the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) base document as the Government’s new economic policy.
But the ruling party has also wasted no time launching a charm offensive to woo black business and the middle class. Last weekend the ANC raised R30m through a gathering of 150 mainly young black entrepreneurs who paid R250 000 for a seat at a dinner table with Zuma. The message from the ANC was it could be “trusted” – because its policies were responsible for fast-tracking the middle class and that it remained the home of middle class voters, especially black business.
Yet a left-wing shift in economic policy would seem to be squarely on the cards as the Communist Party and Cosatu prevail on the ruling party’s leadership and policy-making machinery. According to Communist Party deputy general secretary and ANC NEC member Jeremy Cronin, the ANC is simply reclaiming “the essence of the 1994 RDP”. Cronin argues the RDP was erroneously “dumbed down in about 1995 into welfarist targets to be redistributed out of market-driven growth” – in stark contrast to the ANC’s policy that “development isn’t primarily a redistributive subtraction from growth”.
Says Cronin: “We’re now seeing more people coming to appreciate that transformation of healthcare, education and rural development are critical ingredients for any sustainable growth.” If there was ever any doubt, Cronin concedes the alliance summit last month helped formalise and consolidate the policy shift to the left.
That apparent contradiction between the policy choices of the ANC and its attempt to seduce the black middle class and business is prompting controversial but challenging prognoses in the run-up to next year’s election.
The question is whether the ANC’s policy shift confounds the hopes of business and makes practical alliances impossible. Should business still try to revive the progressive features of a market-led growth path inside the ANC? Or is support being driven by some other, hidden, agenda?
Those questions have congealed into black business’s paramount political challenge: bluntly, to determine where its interests are best served.
Some analysts say support by some black business figures for the ruling party is largely a result of their proximity to power and procurement opportunities. Wits University political analyst Susan Booysen says the new ANC leadership appears to be committing the same crimes it accused Mbeki of – purging those who aren’t loyal and rewarding loyalty with position and power, in some cases overlooking criminal records. Which raises serious credibility issues.
Indeed, some NEC members and Cabinet ministers privately admit to being conflicted about the very points Booysen raises, especially after the recent appointment of the ANC’s new chief whip in Parliament, Nyami Booi, who faces Travelgate corruption charges.
Yet it’s also conceivable that a segment of black business would be influenced by the ANC’s left/centrist perspective that the need for economic growth would have to be consistent with a recognition that growth would falter without adjustments that favoured capital accumulation in two respects: First, dysfunctional features in the social and economic spheres (low social wage, productivity, skills, healthcare and education) had to be addressed.
Second, the RDP would enable profitable forays into new and expanding sectors and markets identified by the State. Rather than a mere spectator, business would position itself in partnership as a leading agent in RDP projects. The State’s role in that regard would be to facilitate and regulate the economy – assuming a hegemonic role in the ordering of society.
But although historical patronage remains a major drawcard for black business support of the ANC, nobody can deny the wilting influence of the “liberation factor” – particularly among younger, more business savvy entrepreneurs – that has ceded to mounting disaffection by a fraction of the black business community and white-collar workers within and outside Cosatu. In essence, black business leaders in the ANC are increasingly uncomfortable with the escalating push from the left but would rather remain inside the circuit of power and wealth.
Fact is, while the ANC’s policies have been made to harmonise with business at the level of rhetoric, the battle lines between the ANC and class and macro-economic policy are increasingly defining the breakaway party.
As Lekota observed during a recent political debate: “We’re bourgeois. We weren’t wanted there [in the ANC].”
In his open letter to the ANC last month, Lekota said the distinction between the ruling party and its labour allies had been blurred, with ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe also chairman of the Communist Party. “The ANC isn’t the SACP and the SACP isn’t the ANC,” Lekota said.
In a more recent interview with Finweek Lekota more explicitly outlined the contours of his preferred policy choice for the new party: essentially, adaptations of those implemented by the Thabo Mbeki-led government. Lekota stresses that while the new party’s constituencies still needed to debate and decide on policy, he positions himself at the centre-right of free market policy.
“The Soviet Union and China have fallen in line with the free market system. When Blade (Nzimande, secretary general of the SACP) says ‘socialism is the future, build it now’ what does he mean? If I go out that door now what is it that I must do? Needless to say, it means nothing,” says Lekota, who suggests Marxist idiom isn’t only a cover up for the corrupt but threatens to paralyse economic growth – exacerbating instead of reducing poverty.
“State-owned enterprises don’t prove to be as productive as privately held institutions. People working in State-owned enterprises are indifferent (about the success or otherwise of the institution). We need to become more competitive in a modern world,” says Lekota, who concedes that the Mbeki regime (of which he was very much a part) made mistakes, especially in that it created a system where bureaucrats and politicians were chosen more for their loyalty and connections than their ability. Hence his call for an electoral system that allows voters to directly choose their state president, premiers and mayors.
Even Lekota’s invocation of the Freedom Charter and Constitution as core principles on which his party will stand belies a policy thrust that rests on liberal values and economics. “The ANC leadership has veered away from the founding principles of the Constitution and will move further away if allowed the space. We’re coming together on a clarion call that the Constitution must be defended and retained as it is and executed (by Government),” says Lekota.
For Lekota, the catchphrase “free market” is a provisional response to the ANC’s economic trajectory ahead of the new party’s launch and belies a message of “inclusivity” beyond racial politics.
That’s certainly a reasonable proxy of what UCT analyst Colette Schultz-Harzenberg argues is a split between different coalitions of interests rather than parties or personalities. Schultz-Harzenberg suggests there’s a more profound de-alignment from traditional party support, greater voter volatility and voters seeking a new home where their interests are better matched. The reason might well be a “silent revolution” – under way since the mid-Nineties – that’s seen significant changes in the demography and class structure of the country.
Evidence of that is in the fact that while inter-racial inequality has remained fundamentally intact, intra-racial inequality has increased considerably. The essential assumption, Schultz-Harzenberg intones, is that racial inequality is no longer adequate as a mobilising platform for party hegemony.
Therein lies the rub. Ideologically, Lekota has countered Mbeki’s racial politics and the labour-based exclusivity of the Tripartite alliance by defining his initiative in inverse terms, stressing inclusiveness and playing down difference. At its centre is the conviction there’s no longer any ambiguity within the Tripartite alliance over the economy. “They don’t want intellectuals and business,” says Lekota.
Indeed, Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi has stressed that inconsistent policy issues in the alliance are no longer a problem. Everyone is on the same page, he says. “You’ll notice that he (Zuma) no longer says nothing (in economic policy) will change. He now says he doesn’t have personal policies and that the alliance will ensure there’s continuity and change as things are reviewed,” says Vavi, who adds he’s sure the breakaway initiative is the best news for business.
It may well be. According to Booysen, ANC party president Jacob Zuma’s schizophrenic policy utterances in recent months may leave the impression that the ANC appears to be a “multi-headed organisation” that speaks with different voices. But there’s greater coherence in what now increasingly appears to be a labour-based alliance backed by a fraction of black business.
And while it appears support for Lekota is a motley coalition of malcontents who were in some way sidelined by their support of Mbeki, the potential to make a serious dent in the ANC’s support base is real.
Institute of Security Studies’ political analyst Prince Mashele says the ANC has, until now, been playing into the breakaway’s hands by doing nothing since Polokwane to win the hearts and minds of South Africans. It’s possibly broadened the appeal for the new party, as it’s done everything to “seriously offend” people, including some of its supporters.
Says Vavi: “I’m sure they’re pouring money into their bucket. Some business figures have always hated the fact that the ANC is so dominant. Those aren’t necessarily all white, but mainly so.”
If businesswoman Hilda Ndude’s observation is anything to go by, the ANC should be legitimately worried: “Support for Lekota’s party from business has been overwhelming,” she says. “People are beginning to see how the ANC has lost it. Many of them are remaining silent and investing money in individuals they trust instead of in policies at this stage. People are worried about the ANC’s values, double standards and the rule of law and the special cases being made for leaders who are in trouble with the law.”
Ironically, and despite his racial fixation, Mbeki seems to have laid the foundation for a class re-stratification that’s beginning to overlay a politically paralysing racial stratification.