The Struggle song Umshini wami has come back back to taunt and haunt the leadership of the ANC as the governing party prepares for this year’s national elections.
Belted out with gusto and a neat routine dance by former president Jacob Zuma, the song was the soundtrack to the epic battle at the ANC’s 52nd National Conference in Polokwane in December 2007.
It was there that Thabo Mbeki’s head rolled and the victory that took Msholozi to the highest office in the land.
This time, the stakes are higher. The opponent is the ANC itself and if Zuma wins the battle, it will be the end of the ANC’s parliamentary majority and its 30-year hold on power.
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” wrote Karl Marx in his essay ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’.
His argument was that history never repeats itself. Often, people will follow the same leaders, use the same “names, battle slogans and costumes”, believing and claiming to be protecting and restoring old traditions and organisations. In fact, they are engaged in “revolutionising themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before”.
Zuma dropped a bombshell last year on December 16 when he announced: “I cannot and will not campaign for the ANC of Ramaphosa. My conscience will not allow me to lie to the people of South Africa.”
He accused the president of the ANC and of the country of being a “proxy for white monopoly capital”. He said he was going to campaign for the newly formed Umkhonto weSizwe Party (MK).
MK was the guerrilla army of the ANC. Zuma said he would not leave the ANC but was going to address the ANC and the country’s problems, as MK.
The ANC’s response has, arguably, not been impressive, with mixed messages coming from various leaders and structures. However, the ANC clearly has no intention of immediately pulling Zuma into a disciplinary hearing which would probably lead to his expulsion from the party and win him valuable airtime during an election campaign.
Instead, some leaders have taken to attacking Zuma on public platforms, notably Bheki Mtolo, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, and Minister of Police Bheki Cele who called Zuma names. Fikile Mbalula, the national secretary-general, put his foot in his mouth when he chided Zuma for being ungrateful despite the ANC having lied in order to defend him from corruption accusations.
The ANC’s cowardly failure to hold Zuma accountable over the years has come back to haunt it. The world has seen the rise of larger-than-life politicians such as Donald J Trump in the US who are feared by their own parties who dare not control them for fear of antagonising their supporters and losing the party votes. Such leaders are allowed to get away with outrageous behaviour, including criminal acts, so long as they bring supporters and votes for the party. We live in an era of the dominance of political populism and the elevation of the Messianic political figure which has replaced the progressive political tradition of working-class control and the vision of an alternative society where the power of ordinary people counts for something.
Zuma and his MK party derive their relevance from the failures of the ANC government which Zuma was president of for almost two terms. They sing from the same hymn book of bombastic promises and solutions which sound radical – white monopoly capital and radical economic transformation – but which ignore the continuation of racial capitalism and the protection of private property which constitute the roots of the hardship and suffering of the working class and the poor in South Africa and the world. Zuma defeated Mbeki, espousing that politics of radical African nationalism within capitalism.
Today, Zuma is targeting Ramaphosa for defeat, except that he cannot do it from inside the party. The solution for the working class is not choosing this leader over that leader, nor voting for this capitalist party over that capitalist party.
The ANC might be worried about Zuma and his MK losing it votes but the working class should be more worried about the continuation of a system that condemns it to further suffering and exploitation in the name of radical African nationalism. This politics turns into betrayal of the masses as soon as the aspirant party and its black aspirant bourgeoisie take over the reins of the capitalist state. Zuma must go!
MK must go! The ANC must go! Capitalism must go!
*Ngwane is an activist scholar and senior lecturer based at the University of Johannesburg.
**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL