The uproar in the country (and the world), coming from monopoly capital, religious leaders, trade unions, civil (and not so civil society), opposition parties, from the left to the right, came to dominate the media space and conversations in factories, families and our streets with one common denominator - #ZumaMustFall.
The rallying cry of the #ZumaMustFall campaign is that our society must not allow the looting of state coffers by Zuma and his henchmen.
This campaign claims that what makes the removal of Pravin Gordhan more suspect has been Gordhan’s alleged protection of the National Treasury against the Guptas, whose banking solutions have all but run dry, and whose alleged lust for the nuclear deal has generated an appetite for looting.
Other arguments, used to reinforce the theory of the 2017 #ZumaMustFall campaign, lie in the failure of the South African president to decisively deal with the shambles that all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) find themselves in; the drama caused by the Social Development Ministry which gave a billion rand tender to Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which is neither South African nor black-owned; as well as the crisis and mismanagement caused within the SABC by the former minister of communications, Faith Muthambi. The reward for Muthambi was a sideways deployment to the Public Service Ministry.
All of this, of course, finds traction and appears plausible, but as we up the ante to have Zuma removed the critical question to be asked in 2017, as we did in 2015, is: Which class forces stand to gain the most from this important site of struggle?
It is also important to ask the question about how to turn this period of crisis into something that will benefit the working class. Inasmuch as we must analyse the class forces at play, we must also use the crisis and popular feelings of ordinary people to concretely benefit the working class and build working-class hegemony.
Who stands to gain?
In raising this pertinent question we are not for a moment undermining the need for everyone in our society to defend constitutional and democratic institutions against capitalist state capture.
An example of this is that, as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), we have lodged a complaint with the public protector for her office to investigate the Road Accident Fund. Our members have been on strike at the organisation since March 16 because of a myriad issues, including bad working conditions, poor wages and gross mismanagement.
We want to make the point that reference to state capitalist capture does not narrowly refer to the Guptas (as some would have it today).
More importantly, it refers to the historical and present-day role white monopoly capital plays in the mining, energy and finance complex and it represents the landowners, a tiny white minority, who own most of the land in this country.
Using Vladimir Lenin as a pathfinder we want to talk about important things which must help us clarify the questions we raise in this article on what, for example, constitutes democracy and what constitutes tactical class alliances, what the opportunities are and the risks and dangers therein.
Lenin made the following important points about democracy: “We social democrats always stand for democracy, not ‘in the name of capitalism’, but in the name of clearing the path for our movement, which clearing is impossible without the development of capitalism.
“Democracy is for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich - that is the democracy of capitalist society.
"Whoever wants to reach socialism by any other path than that of political democracy will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense.”
From this outlook it is crystal clear that democracy plays an important role, but from a class perspective Lenin stipulates under which conditions we struggle for democracy - and it’s not in the name of capitalism.
Not staying aloof from inter-class struggles and alliances, the working class, however, should never aid an agenda that replaces one butcher with another. The world knows all too well what Cyril Ramaphosa’s role was in Marikana and the mass murder of miners by the SAPS in 2012.
The cold reality is that some of those who are calling for Zuma to fall are actively campaigning for Ramaphosa to become the next president. Ramaphosa has the backing of Cosatu and the SACP, and perhaps even Save South Africa and others are also supportive of him.
The other “hero” of the campaign is Pravin Gordhan. It is necessary to mention that the former finance minister is no hero of the working or the middle strata, given the austerity measures that he has implemented over the years. Just because Gordhan plays by the “rules” of democracy doesn’t mean he is good for the majority or for democracy.
We cannot escape the question that if Zuma is removed, who would replace the chief executive of the capitalist state to subject yet again the working class, the rural poor, students and informal-sector workers to the endless pain and misery they have suffered under neo-liberal capitalism since 1994?
Factually, this is the state and the crisis of the South African working class:
35.6% of the population of working age is unemployed;
47% of all workers earn below the proposed national minimum wage of R3 500;
The total net wealth of three South African billionaires is the equivalent of the total combined wealth of 50% of the population.
We must ask those who are marching under the banner of #ZumaMustFall where are they in the struggle of the working class when for years we have been struggling with Zuma and the ANC government on issues directly affecting workers?
In this context, what demands do the working class have, as a class for itself? Or shall our class interest be subordinated to some of those who march with us, only for them to hijack the working class once more. We must ask who among those marching for Zuma to fall are with the working class and the poor?
As Numsa, we want to see full employment, a national living wage, a 40-hour working week and fully paid maternity leave.
We want to have the stolen land returned without compensation, we want the mines, banks and monopoly industry returned under democratic worker control, we want re-industrialisation and beneficiation of the mines.
We want a transition from capitalism to socialism. It is an ideal that we know our capitalist fellow marchers will recoil from.
We must stop the rot together with others who are genuinely concerned with the prospect of looting, but we must do so on our own terms as workers and with our own class demands.
What form, shape, character and direction this #ZumaMustFall campaign takes is dependent on whether the working class is properly engaged. Already all sorts of opportunistic efforts are under way to lure the working class by forces that have different agendas.
In conclusion, this struggle against the disciples of neo-liberalism, which is cloaked in radical economic transformation talk, calls for a national strike and rolling mass action if we are to embolden the working class in an effort to build working class power.
To organise the current popular feelings among ordinary people there needs to be organisation, an effective spear and shield for all those who want to build a socialist South Africa under working-class leadership.
Only then will the real rot of the system be fought. This, of course, can be nothing short of building a Workers’ Party.
Numsa is not standing on the sidelines but is putting forward alternative actions and an alternative socialist agenda in the present. Forces of the left must be rallied and organised to develop a clearer line of struggle with concrete working class demands.
* Karl Cloete is Numsa deputy general secretary.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.