OPINION: SA's political future remains unsettled
Ramaphosa has made some significant moves, and his primary political success has been the removal of the dangerous and deeply corrupt cabal that had captured the eThekwini Municipality in Durban.
But elsewhere in the country, and at the national level, he has not been able to deal decisively with the kleptocratic faction in the ruling party.
That faction, which is characterised by authoritarian nationalism as well as a brazenly kleptocratic orientation, continues to hold real power within the governing party. It also has strident support outside the ruling party from the EFF.
Our future remains on a knife-edge. A return to kleptocratic and authoritarian nationalism would end any prospects for social justice, and almost certainly put an end to democracy too.
But many commentators are inadvertently worsening the situation by relentlessly writing and speaking as if there are only two broad camps contesting for the future of our country.
They speak as if one camp is made up of the kleptocratic and authoritarian nationalists in the governing party and the EFF, while the other is led by Ramaphosa and supported by big business and civil society.
They are correct to describe the kleptocratic faction as grossly misusing the language of radical nationalism as a mask to disguise their aspirations to accumulate personal wealth via the state.
But they are seriously incorrect when they describe the anti-corruption faction as uniformly committed to a standard set of neoliberal policies such as privatisation, inflation targeting and austerity - including mass retrenchments from state-owned enterprises.
These commentators miss the vital fact that there are also left-wing actors who are simultaneously opposed to both corruption and the neoliberal measures that are being called for by the business press, Tito Mboweni and many others.
One commentator has even gone so far as to assert that there is no “left” in South Africa.
This claim is obviously not true and amounts to a sweeping and sneering erasure of various kinds of organisation and struggle, often at significant scale, on the part of working class and poor black people.
No serious analyst considers the EFF to be a genuinely left-wing formation and so it is true there is no left-wing party in Parliament.
It is also true that the left is scattered across a variety of organisations.
But it is undoubtedly evident that there are powerful left-wing forces in our society, including some important and influential left-wing intellectuals, some trade unions, factions in unions organised in both Cosatu and the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), individuals and factions in the SACP, and Abahlali baseMjondolo, the movement of shack dwellers that is often described as the largest urban social movement on the planet.
We have a large and vibrant left in South Africa, and it exists in and outside of the tripartite alliance, in a variety of organisational forms and in a diversity of broadly left ideological orientations.
The SACP and Cosatu continue to have significant influence within the ANC, and, because they are a critical part of the coalition that brought Ramaphosa to power, and keeps him in power, he cannot alienate them entirely and be confident of retaining his hold on power.
Saftu has been able to mount street protests at an impressive scale reminiscent of the 1980s and remains powerful on the shop floor in various industries, including some of the state-owned enterprises.
It’s largest and most militant union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), has hundreds of thousands of members and is growing rapidly. Abahlali baseMjondolo is a powerful actor in Durban where it has more than 70000 paid-up members and regularly holds mass meetings at football grounds. It is also growing rapidly in provinces like the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Opposition to Zuma’s kleptocracy came from a wide variety of social forces. Big business, led by Sipho Pityana, threw its weight behind Save South Africa, as did much of civil society. But there was also considerable opposition to Zuma outside of the mostly middle-class and neoliberal politics of Save South Africa.
Abahlali baseMjondolo opposed Zuma from the start, and paid a very high price for this in Durban in the form of repeated assassinations.
Numsa was also relatively quick off the mark in opposing Zuma and was expelled from Cosatu for this reason in 2014. Cosatu and the SACP were the last faction of the left to come out against Zuma, but when they eventually did, their role was decisive given their influence within the ANC.
This means that by the end of Zuma’s reign the forces opposed to him included pro-business neoliberals, big business itself, civil society and more radical groups like Numsa, other unions organised in Saftu, parts of the SACP and Cosatu, as well as Abahlali baseMjondolo and a number of left intellectuals.
When analysts forget this and speak as if the anti-corruption forces are all neoliberals, a set of serious analytical and political problems arise.
One of these problems is that all the forces that are opposed to mass retrenchments at the state-owned enterprises, as well as privatisation and austerity in general, are unfairly painted as being in the camp that aims to restore a form of kleptocratic nationalism to power.
We need to understand there were left- and right-wing currents in the opposition to Zuma and that today there are left-wing forces that are simultaneously opposed to both neoliberalism and corruption.
We need to be aware that when popular forces opposed to both corruption and neoliberalism are egregiously misrepresented as being for corruption because they are opposed to neo- liberalism, this creates the false impression that it is only neoliberals who oppose corruption.
Creating this mistaken impression could do serious damage to the popular standing of what will be a long fight against corruption.
Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation.