SOUTH AFRICA: POLITICS IN TRANSITION
ROYAL AFRICAN SOCIETY at UCL, LONDON
DECEMBER 4, 2008
Moeletsi Mbeki, political economist; deputy chairman, South African Institute of International Affairs;
Adam Habib, professor of political science and deputy vice chancellor, University of Johannesburg
The ANC will win next year's election in South Africa but is unlikely to get two-thirds of the vote, Professor Adam Habib told a meeting of the Royal African Society in London on Thursday.
Habib also predicted that COPE, the breakaway party formed by Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, would become the official opposition, winning 10-15% of the vote and wresting control of two and possibly four provinces from the ANC. These were the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape (where he predicted a hung parliament), as well as conceivably the northern Cape and Gauteng.
"COPE has a good chance of becoming the official opposition and this simple act – however small – will have non-racialised the opposition, with the potential to grow."
Both Habib and Mbeki – who spoke mainly on foreign policy issues – welcomed the formation of COPE, saying it was good for both development and democracy, while acknowledging that the resulting uncertainty had made investors nervous.
Habib referred to Andreas Schedler's concept of "substantive uncertainty", the product of conflict between elites in a ruling party, and said that COPE had externalised this conflict. This was a positive development, he said, as it had opened up debate.
Habib said there were 1.8m newly registered voters, mostly young women who, if they were educated professionals, might back the new party.
However, COPE still faced several challenges including financing, a national organisational structure, a clear policy agenda and more leaders with "liberation pedigree". These might include Jabu Moleketi, and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, possibly the Pahad brothers and former deputy-president Phumzile Mlambo-Nquka.
The ANC would still win the election, he said, and a less than 2/3 majority would not be a major loss (if one considered that Obama's 53% victory was described as a 'landslide'), especially since SA parliamentary legislation only needs to be carried by a majority of '50 plus 1'.
Habib dismissed concerns that South Africa's economic policy would change under Jacob Zuma - but said this could also be a problem if the new leadership did not deal with the biggest single challenge to South Africa: unemployment. The expansion of welfare grants, which increased 20-25% under Mbeki, was unsustainable, he said.
"Employment will require state intervention to redirect patterns of investment and provide skills training," said Habib. "We are going to have to grow sectors of the economy that can absorb the under-skilled as well as launch public works programmes and an industrialisation drive that is mentioned in ANC manifestos but never carried through."
Habib said GEAR (the Growth Employment and Redistribution macro-economic programme) was the "major indictment of the Mbeki regime". It had brought inflation under control but doubled unemployment in the first five years of Mbeki's rule.
There had been a shift in the last few years, with 12m people now receiving social grants and increased spending on health and education, but Habib argued that it was Mbeki's conservative economic agenda – rather than his imperialist leadership style – that cost him his job.
"Most analysis focuses on Mbeki's technocratic style, his personal alienation (Gevisser et al), but Polokwane represented an institutionalised revolt against the ANC; the branches revolted against the lack of representation of those who did not benefit from the economic agenda."
Habib said the ANC had been forced into adopting a conservative set of policies as it had inherited a bankrupt state with limited resources (apart from those under the ground) and had to make concessions in order to appease investors.
"Once Mbeki did that, he had to bypass the 'comrades' and create a centralised system with a cabinet that would pass legislation through parliament, as well as provincial and municipal leaders who would be loyal to him. This marginalisation of Cosatu and the SACP is what came back to haunt him."
Habib said that although the SACP and Cosatu used Zuma to confront Mbeki's policies, there would not be a radical shift under a Zuma government. Spending on social grants, health and education would continue, the pension age for men reduced from 65 to 60, there might be a shift away from inflation targeting and a huge investment (R2 trillion) on energy, but "not the projected nationalisation of Sasol, Mittal and other enterprises".
Habib also addressed human rights concerns and said that institutions such as the media, the NPA and the courts, 'despite being subjected to amazing pressure', were robust and surviving. He said prosecutors may yet produce surprising results: the Nicholson case might be overturned although this would not reverse Mbeki's dismissal, which, however 'silly', was not unconstitutional.
Charges may once again be brought against Zuma but Habib suspects the ANC will pass legislation after the election, similar to that in Italy, France and the U.S., to the effect that a head of state should not face legal charges. He did not think Kgalema Motlanthe would continue as president as "a deal was struck that he would not stand in JZ's way".
"Bar anything surprising, Jacob Zuma will be president, with Motlanthe as his deputy, running things from day to day."
Habib said that Zuma's support base was not necessarily tribal, although he sometimes used those symbols. "The people around him are from various backgrounds and his base is from those who felt marginalised and disgruntled, especially in peri-urban areas."
Habib did not think SA would experience widespread violence in the run-up to the election like that in Kenya or KZN in 1994. "I am confident that the IEC will conduct a well-run election", he said.
MOELETSI MBEKI was tasked with discussing the ANC's foreign policy, which he likened to "Sudanese-Nubian hieroglyphics".
He said SA's foreign policy was driven by ideology rather than pragmatism, clearly demonstrated in Zimbabwe where the ANC had tried to entrench Zanu-PF against SA's national interests. Meanwhile India and China, who represented very critical threats to SA manufacturing, were welcomed with open arms.
Moeletsi said this 'schizophrenic' foreign policy was a result of a worldview that saw the world divided between a weak and poor South, vs. a rich and powerful West that preyed on the weak. In Zimbabwe, this meant that the MDC was perceived as an agent of the West because it was 'destabilising an established system'.
"This ideology prevents the ANC from recognising home-grown dissent," he said. The hostility to what is perceived as a 'monolithic' West led to the controversial UN votes against the resolution condemning the Burmese junta and vetoing the resolution against Mugabe. SA's arguments against western hypocrisy (condemning Burma while supporting military rule in Pakistan, or against Zimbabwe while supporting Egypt) were lost in the rhetoric.
Meanwhile SA's interconnectedness with the West – the fact that the extraction of its mineral wealth depends on imported technical and managerial skills – means that its foreign policy is "one thing in the night, another thing in the day".
There was quite a lot of discussion on Zimbabwe:
Habib said that SA had long ago recognised that Mugabe was a thug; the problem was "how do you get rid of a thug with guns?"
Moeletsi said that SA could stop diesel and oil reaching Zimbabwe so that soldiers would not be able to run the armoured vehicles on which they depend.
Habib said that the cholera epidemic (Moeletsi also said there was a widening epidemic of livestock diseases) could become regionalised, forcing the SADC countries to act. "The biggest mistake SADC made was not to wrest control of home affairs and the police from ZANU-PF" he said.
"The latest rampages of the armed forces is a serious signal" said Habib. "We are in the end stages. It may take months, or even a year, but we have to have a deal in Zim. The MDC has to be more astute and not send the wrong signals (like having the US ambassador in the next door hotel room). The ANC is sceptical of the MDC but realises it has to be part of the solution. We are in the last straights but it requires serious choreography."
On COPE, Moeletsi said that disillusionment with the ANC was extensive and that without a new party there would have been a significant abstention in next year's election. "Many who would have abstained will vote for COPE," he said, describing it as a "post-nationalist" party.
Moeletsi said the number of people voting for the ANC – about 11m - has been declining since 1994.
"The ANC has no new message for South Africa", he said.
"It is a developmental state without a development programme – unemployment has not been dented. The ANC's non-performance is very real and I am not persuaded that the population will carry on voting for it."
"I don't think the ANC will get 63%. In the same way that Mugabe lost the last election despite the rhetoric around land reform, the ANC is not exempt - and the breakaway will make these questions sharper," he said.
"Apartheid is no longer the driving force in peoples' consciousness; it's all about resources, competition, economics (look at the xenophobia), real issues of dissatisfaction. This is particularly true in a wage economy where there is no self-sufficiency, 53% below the poverty line, massive Aids infections and enormous distress."
Moeletsi also predicted possible conflict between Zuma and the trade unions. "They supported him and then he trashed them in the U.S," he said.
He also feared the 'real possibility' of intra-Zulu conflict if Zuma went head-to-head with Buthelezi. "Both of them see themselves as king of the Zulus," he said – "and both sides are training their own militia."