South Africa: Behind the ANC’s corporatised ‘liberation’

Poverty in South Africa. "The ANC and the state it has politically controlled for two decades have become corporatised in form and content. This has produced a major shift in the balance of forces away from the mass of workers and the poor."

The African National Congress (ANC), which led the struggle against Apartheid, has become the key political vehicle, both in party and state form, of corporate capital.

This applies to all capital — domestic and international, black and white, local and national, and includes a range of different “fractions” of capital.

Over the past two decades, it has been the fight on and over this terrain — with some for, some against, some in the middle — that has defined the ANC’s journey since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

Central elements of this have taken place within the ANC and its alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. But it has also taken place between the ANC alliance and the majority of workers and the poor, along with its allies.

Factions and power

Like the journey of capital itself over the last few centuries, this fight has produced different “fractions” or, more accurately in political terms, factions within the ANC. Examples include a modernising, cosmopolitan and technocratic faction; an older-style, traditionalist nationalist faction; and a politicised gangster faction.

There are some inter-linkages, and each occupies various “positions” and exercises differing degrees of power in the party set-up at national, provincial and local levels.

At the heart of the ANC’s strategy is an underestimation of the revolutionary potential of popular, democratic power and how it can be harnessed and exercised to lay down the foundations for systemic change.

Underlining this is the patently false notion that capital’s ownership and control of the economy (most often presented as the main element in a “balance of forces” unfavourable to more radical change) has meant, a priori, that the power of capital is objectively unassailable. Therefore, by this self-perpetuating logic, more radical, systemic change is impossible.

Before 1994, the ANC consciously chose to turn its ideological and strategic back on the possibilities of organising a huge wellspring of popular power to pursue much more thoroughgoing systemic change — despite this being at the heart of the Freedom Charter that formally guided the ANC’s program.

Serving capital

The ANC also made a conscious choice after 1994 to exercise its unparalleled political position and power (mostly through the state) in partnership with, and in service to, capital — in all its various forms and at all levels of society.

As a result, the ANC and the state it has politically controlled for two decades have become corporatised in form and content. This has produced a major shift in the balance of forces away from the mass of workers and the poor.

This is in direct contradiction to the argument that the ANC’s choices have been made because of the existing “balance of forces”, and that its choices were made to create the spaces to radically change that balance in favour of the masses and away from capital.

The ANC’s corporatised state constitutes a triangle of power: class, organisational and institutional. This does not mean that corporate capital controls the state. It simply means that the ANC has corporatised its politics and organisational form in a way reflected in the three components of state power.

Where elements of the state, individual or institutional, do not fully follow or bend to the dictates of this centralised power triangle, they are variously attacked, marginalised, restructured or eliminated.

Extended to a society-wide level and within the ideological frame of the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the driver of societal development has been the party–state–capital nexus.

In this scenario, the party becomes the ultimate political vanguard of the various capitalist class interests. The state becomes the main vehicle for “implementation”, with the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program as the main driver.

What is different here from the generic corporatised model is that the driving goal of private profit is replaced by the goal of maintaining control of institutional power. In this way the state becomes the means for both access to capital and individual upward mobility.

Sole ‘voice of the people’

To create political cover for this, the ANC presents itself as the self-declared sole “representative” and “custodian” of the “will of the people”, the “nation” and, indeed, the entire struggle for liberation.

Here, the needs and interests of the majority of people are secondary, as is the case with the corporate model in general. This is the case even though, politically, they remain central to the ANC’s ongoing project of regeneration and re-legitimisation or consent — with the electoral terrain being crucial.

Another way of looking at this is at a more internal, organisational level. Just as with corporate CEOs and their executive structures, it is at the level of leadership structures that power lies in the ANC.

This starts with the president and the National Executive Committee (NEC) and filters down to provincial, district and branch levels. ANC leaders — and South African and ANC President Jacob Zuma is the prime example — know they only need to have the support of a majority at the level of the various leaderships, as well as from the main “stakeholders”.

This ensures that power is not about, or in service to, the people. Rather, power becomes the “property” of the leadership in the key party structures.

As a result, the leaders can effectively ignore, buy off, intimidate or marginalise party members and the larger populace. The exception is election time, when the dominant approach shifts to political salesmanship, commodification and “party loyalty”.

What the ANC has been trying to do ever since it came to power, and even more intensely over the past few years as the realities of the choices it has made have begun to bite deeper, is convince itself, its alliance partners and its main constituencies that it is the only entity able to lead South Africa.

Further, that the path it has chosen (with a few twists and turns here and there, although these are mostly about who drives the ANC vehicle) is not only in the interests of the majority of people. It is, objectively, the only possible path.

Those who, whether singularly or collectively, question, dissent from or oppose any of this are labelled naive, “too smart” or useful stooges for third forces of various kinds (usually identified as white, or foreign).

Or else they are dedicated political enemies, whether from the left or the right, of the ANC, the “liberation movement” and, indeed, the “revolution” itself.

This approach translates into increased powers and resources for the intelligence-security cluster in the state. Depending on the perceived “threat level”, the ANC and the state respond through a concerted campaign of denial, delegitimisation or the use of coercive force and violence.

South Africa has been subjected to the corporatisation of liberation.

In the more than 20 years that the ANC has been in power, this has allowed for the generalised political and economic commodification of South African society and its development.

[Abridged from an extract of Dale McKinley’s latest book, South Africa’s Corporatised Liberation: A Critical Analysis of the ANC in Power, published by Jacana Media (2017) that was first published at Pambazuka News. McKineley is an independent writer, researcher and lecturer based in Johannesburg.]