Jacob Zuma, ANC deputy president (L); Thabo Mbeki, SA’s president (R)
The ongoing trial of Jacob Zuma, former deputy president of South Africa and present ANC deputy president, and a clear frontrunner to the ANC presidency after Thabo Mbeki’s retirement, on corruption charges brought on him in a multimillion dollars arms deal that involves a close associate Schabir Sheikh and SA company, Thint, a subsidary of French arms manufacturer, Thomson ASV, has exposed the increasing polarization between the ANC’s drift towards neo-liberal policies as championed by president Thabo Mbeki, corporate structures, and the minority of SA bourgeouise, and the traditional ANC philosophy of socialism represented by the SACP (South African Communist Party) and the COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions). The ANC, SACP, and the COSATU maintain an alliance in South African politics that is increasingly coming under strain.
Jacob Zuma was a charismatic leader and very popular leader of the ANC struggle against apartheid, spending 10 years in jail at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. He is from the KwaZulu province and rose to become the chairman of the KwaZulu Congress Party. As the chairman and a Zulu, he was responsible for bringing together Zulus represented by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), eschewing tribal politics, to forge a relationship with the ANC. He is the champion of many leftist causes, and is revered by the poor and the workers and supported by the SACP, COSATU, and various South African human rights organizations.
In the years that the ANC with Thabo Mbeki in power, the policies have shifted gradually but inexorably towards neo-liberal goals favoring a more free trade, open market economy. Inevitably as seen in countries like India and Brazil, where these policies are force fed to the polity, in the garb of improving the standard of living for everyone, it has accomplished just the opposite, benefiting a small minority of the populace in becoming enormously wealthy with the larger majority being left untouched. This was not the vision the ANC fought for or on for all South Africans to redress decades old social and economic hegemonism under apartheid. The COSATU have voiced their concerns by saying ” it is disturbing to note that the black elite has bought into neo-liberalism, despite the fact that this ideology and its application is to the detriment of the poor.” The GINI coefficient (an index that measures the gap between the poor and the rich) has shot up from .595 in 1995 to .635 in 2001.
Jacob Zuma and the trade unions are at odds with the pro-business Thabo Mbeki lobby of the ANC. It is feared by many in the lobby that this system of big business patronage will come to an end with Zuma assuming the ANC presidency as popularly predicted. The corruption charges are believed by many on the left to be politically motivated. In addition to the corruption charges, Zuma was recently acquitted of rape charges bought on him by the daughter of an acquaintance. It is believed that the plaintiff was encouraged by Thabo Mbeki to lodge the case to diminish Zuma’s standing amongst his many allies. Initially it led to a split in the trade unions with many refusing to support him on the grounds of his immorality but many rallied to his defence convinced that it was politically motivated, and they were vindicated when the case was dismissed as one of consensual sex. The trial was attended by thousands of his supporters who sang Lethu Mshini Wami with him.
The corruption charges are much more serious but the SACP and COSATU have demanded that Zuma if acquitted, should have his post as deputy president restored to him. At this stage the SACP and COSATU are throwing their support behind Zuma because he is their best hope in resisting being marginalized in the new South Africa. The KwaZulu National Congress also showed up in a strong show of support before Zuma’s trial began this Monday. Students from KwaZulu province bunked classes to demand that Zuma be reinstated as the deputy president and take up his rightful appointment as ANC president.
COSATU’s concerns are well founded as Thabo Mbeki chose to overlook the trade unions in the planning of the World Cup. COSATU objected strongly by giving the South African Football Association (SAFA) an ultimatum to be included immediately in the organizing committee. “Failure of SAFA to do so will lead to an unprecedented confrontation between SAFA and COSATU.”
Many in South Africa are skeptical of the benefits that the World Cup will bring, as they were promised the same when the World Cricket and Rugby Championships were held. COSATU is determined this time that the SA government and the organizers do not renege on their promise of hiring labor for new stadium construction and transportation hubs. It is feared that delays will lead the organizers to go in for machinery or outsource the work to foreign contractors. The trade unions are also concerned about ticket costs and the accreditation of food vendors, fearing that this will benefit SAFA partners and business associates. There are questions that the amount of money the government is pumping into new stadiums, local transportation, roads, hotels, and airports is undercutting ino essential services like sanitation, drinking water, health, and housing for the poor.
Zuma has not been inimical to the idea of South Africa hosting the World Cup. In fact when Sepp Blatter expressed doubts about SA, he was the emergency convenor of a World Cup preparatory committee put together to answer Blatter’s concerns. But all this was before he was accused of rape charges and ousted from his post. The corruption case has far reaching consequences in South African politics, the future policies of the ANC, and consequently, the shape and structure of a showpiece like the World Cup. A Jacob Zuma restored to his past power and influence as ANC president could ensure that the benefit that the World Cup brings to South Africa is maximized in a utilitarian way benefiting everyone especially the most vulnerable. However if many fear that justice is not done in this corruption case and that Zuma is perceived to be a victim of South Africa’s increasingly neo-liberal policies, then the faultlines will sharpen further with demonstrations and disruptions to South Africa’s preparation towards the World Cup and even during the tournament.