Freedom day and the question of non-violence (Polity, 24 April 2017, reprinted on Daily Maverick and


It is exciting that at this time, when we mark Freedom Day, we are witnessing the revival of mass popular action, manifested in marches and other forms of organised political activity in defence of our freedom. This includes informal groups composing songs and dances, writing slogans on garbage bags and posting these with slogans on trees, in at least one of the streets in Johannesburg (which I have seen).

This graffiti and the protests relate mainly to corruption and the related question of state capture and most of the debate around removing Jacob Zuma relates to corruption and the need for integrity in any leader of the country or the ANC.

Mass activity and popular organisation are important because one of the features of democracy that seemed to have fallen by the wayside after 1994, is that of the popular, that we, as members of the public have the right and duty to engage in political activities of a range of kinds. In the 1980s and early 1990s many people did not see their political role being confined to periodic voting.

But it is important, in wanting to remove Zuma that we are clear about what it is that he represents and what needs to be put in his place, what must be remedied to give ourselves another chance to recover the freedom we cherish. It would be wrong to restrict the problems to corruption and the more dangerous version of graft, that of “state capture”, where state sovereignty is ceded to a family who is able to influence the course of our lives.

At this moment it is tactically correct to mobile people around corruption as something that readily captures people’s imagination.   But in focusing on one feature of the threats to democracy, important as this is, we need to keep in mind the broader character of South African society, where there are other manifestations of anti-democratic conduct.

One of the questions that are neglected, in my view, is the question of violence and non-violence as a principle. My focus here is on physical violence.  I recognise the importance of discussing multiple forms of violence, including that continued denial of the basic needs of people in South Africa is also a form of violence, although it may appropriately be referred to as structural violence. It is, nevertheless, a form of violence, although not normally entailing a physical attack.

It is appropriate to return to the use of force in public life and in our daily lives, not only because it bears a crucial relationship to the possibility of freedom but also because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Chief Albert Luthuli, South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner. He was committed to non-violence and peace, but also recognised that certain conditions made resort to force, especially in self-defence necessary and justifiable.

But once those conditions that made the use of force necessary, were removed, one could infer that the principle of non-violence needed to be restored, as an unconditional principle –from which only limited exceptions- could be permitted.

It is also necessary to return to this question because of the role of the MK Military Veterans Association (MKVA) in continually threatening violence against opponents of President Zuma, and indeed recently attacking DA protesters who caused them no harm.

Peace and non-violence have been insufficiently grounded-as principles- in South African public life and in the consciousness of the South African people. That is one of the reasons why the violence of political life and South African life in general is not sufficiently foregrounded in public discourse. Insofar as it is mentioned, it tends to be in the context of exceptional cases, like the Marikana massacre or the killing of Andries Tatane in front of television cameras, rather than as a practice that suffuses our lives.

The rise of Jacob Zuma was linked with violence of a range of types. First there was the violence of the rape trial –where a judgement that was unsatisfactory in many respects, found he was not guilty of raping Fezeka Kuzwayo (Khwezi). Outside the courtroom there were threats of violence against the complainant and when Zuma emerged from court every day he sung a militaristic song (which also bears phallic connotations) umshini wam, meaning roughly “bring me my machine gun”!

Shortly thereafter Zuma was elected president of the ANC and the organisation fought the 2009 elections with him as its leader. That election campaign saw violent attacks on the breakaway COPE movement.

Political violence has continued as in attacks against some opponents of ANC-led government at various levels, like the shack dweller movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo in KwaZulu-Natal, whose makeshift shelters are often demolished and many of whose leaders have been attacked and murdered. Amongst many others there has also been the killing of the Pondoland Wild Coast community activist, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who had resisted attempts by mining companies to access its titanium-rich Xolobeni coastal dunes.

To this day violence remains a major feature of South African life in general and political life has possibly become significantly more violent in recent years and some of its features have changed.

The most significant change in the character of political violence has been the emergence of extensive intra-ANC violence. For more than two decades violence raged between ANC (and the UDF, mainly before the ANC’s unbanning) and Inkatha supporters in KwaZulu-Natal as well as on the Witwatersrand. Now many of the IFP warlords have been absorbed into the ANC and together with the ANC’s own warlords, killings have become a regular practice. This was seen in the local government elections in August 2016 and in the aftermath, councillors have been killed but also town managers and other officials of local government.

This is not to suggest that violence against ANC opponents has disappeared. The violence has entered the parliamentary chamber with the introduction of special security, from the South African Police Services deployed into parliament in order to remove members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, through the use of force. Although parliamentary officials unsuccessfully attempted to block television coverage, this violence is now practised in full view of the public.

Another worrying features of current political life is that a significant element within the student movement that emerged in the #Feesmustfall protests, believe that resort to violence, even when unprovoked, is legitimate. Violence is not theorised as a practice whose adoption needs to be justified and debated. There is a correct uncovering of structural inequalities that in many ways amount to commission of violence against vulnerable people. But there is not a careful and responsible discussion of when the use of physical violence is a legitimate resort. It is often depicted as redemptive and purifying.

If the country were led by people more committed to peace and non-violence it would be easier to reduce the levels not only of political violence but also of violence generally experienced by many people in the country. Insofar as the leaders themselves are politically intolerant and this is part of South African political life that too enhances the level of public tolerance for violence.

Unfortunately there is not significant inter-generational dialogue, from which earlier student cohorts used to benefit. My sense is that one of the legacies of the last 10 years is that the delegitimisation of the Zuma-led ANC has extended to delegitimisation of the struggle in general. This has meant that there are not many people from older generations, who are respected by the students, and who can bridge inter-generational gaps and act as a form of legitimate restraint.

When I say that we need to ground and foreground the principle of non-violence it is because there can be no freedom without peace. One of the reasons why there was a negotiated settlement, which has come under fire by some who are insufficiently aware of the conditions of the time, was that continued killing is not a route to a free country. In South Africa it is almost invariably the poor who experience injury or die whether in criminal violence or political violence, which is also usually criminal in a technical sense though it may relate to political affiliations.

How do we address the problem of violence? At the moment there are few role models of a type that can help arrest the tendency to resort to violence.

There are very few heroes whose lives ought to be emulated by young people and this is one reason why violence may be seen as legitimate, since leaders practise it. We need to advance a new version of leadership, especially applicable to men since men perpetrate most violence.

Throughout South Africa, across all population groups there is extensive resort to violence to resolve disagreements. We need to find ways of encouraging the resolution of differences between people through argument, debate and reasoning rather than superior force.

Freedom and violence cannot coexist because violence implies imposing one’s will on another. By its nature it denies the full freedom of the Other. Peace and non-violence need to become part of our discourse and instilled in people from their early years. That will make an important contribution towards consolidating democratic life.






The ANC “succession race” and rebuilding South African democracy (Polity 18 April 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and on


There is something uninspiring in the activities of aspirant and unacknowledged candidates for the ANC succession. They give one little confidence in the idea that the ANC and the country are set for regeneration when Jacob Zuma is scheduled to vacate the ANC Presidency in December. Insofar as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa are described as “frontrunners”, neither has advanced any political programme. This is in line with the broader depoliticisation of the ANC, where the debates that excited so many people in the past are no more.

The country is in the throws of multiple crises, but no significant debate or contestation is evident in the ANC, including for the forthcoming policy conference.

Nowadays, as we know only too well, the ANC is about jobs and contracts and people are still being murdered for that in KwaZulu-Natal and sometimes in other parts of the country. Since a commission was appointed in October to enquire into the political murders during the local government elections of last year, a further 12 people have died. It is no longer simply councillors, but also people in other positions such as town manager who are killed. (

Now Dlamini-Zuma may be provisionally supported by the “Premier League” – that is the premiers of North-West, Free State and Mpumalanga – as well as the majority of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, although that province is now deeply divided. (

That support base links her firmly with the most venal section of the ANC, those most determined to perpetuate the patronage, corruption (and related violence) that have characterised the rule of Jacob Zuma. That legacy affects the ANC in general, where branches and support for candidates are now bought in many parts of the country.

That she is in no way uncomfortable with the conspicuous consumption that goes with this version of the ANC is demonstrated by her swift entry into the world of luxury through a vague and disputed report of a threat analysis leading to her being accompanied by a blue light brigade, normally reserved for a head of state or someone holding her previous position as chair of the African Union Commission.

This conveys a sense of entitlement, that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sees herself as a president-in-waiting, but that she need not wait until 2019 to access the benefits associated with the presidency. That she is now reported to be living most of the time in Nkandla also symbolises continuity with what has gone before.

Dlamini-Zuma has decided to re-enter the public realm with a series of speeches.I have not seen her for some time, but some of these interventions reminded me of when I was with her in the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) in the 1990s. I remember her then, and also as Foreign Minister, as being articulate and clear. I remember being impressed with her reading to familiarise herself with the Great Lakes region when she was appointed Foreign Minister. She had some professionalism, wanting to know the areas in which she was tasked to act.

But there was an intimidatory side that would periodically emerge. I remember experiencing that during an NEC meeting in the 1990s, when I made some suggestion about accountability for funds, not directed at her, but more generally, on the need to be aware of the danger and monitor the question.

She upbraided me, as I recall, outside the meeting, albeit with others present, for suggesting that such dishonesty could arise. In other words, the honesty of officials, their possibly succumbing to temptation could not even be raised and anyone who did that, mentioned what was beyond debate. I return to these memories because they bear on some of her actions in her public re-emergence.

We saw that intolerance in her reaction to the suggestion that ANC MPs could be intimidated into voting in a motion of no-confidence and needed a secret ballot. The mere suggestion, she said in a tone of anger, was an insult. In other words, some things ought not even to be raised.

“I would find that as an insult because as a public representative you are there to represent the electorate and you are there as an ANC MP to represent the ANC. Why do you want to hide from the ANC what you are doing in parliament‚” she asked.

“There must be something wrong there and I’m glad that the ANC has not agreed to that because even if you want to vote whichever way‚ you must do it with integrity and honesty and be able to defend your position.

“Why do you want to do things and hide and not be known. It’s strange.”

She has also entered the debate over education, not in order to engage with the manifold problems in basic and university education, but to claim that these are hotbeds of anti-ANC sentiment.

She told party members that she was shocked‚ after speaking to the youth‚ at what pupils were being taught at some schools.

“They are actually taught against the ANC …. It’s not surprising that kids will think ANC is corrupt‚ ANC is useless … because this is what they are fed at school and I think that must also be transformed.”

She said some universities‚ such as Wits‚ refused to allow their students [to] call the country a “democracy”. (‚-opposition-politics-and-school-pupils-taught-to-hate-the-ANC)

Personally, while not being a specialist on school education, I am sure there are many issues to criticise, but does Dlamini-Zuma engage with any of the problems that concern the poor, such as the lack of basic needs in an educational environment, including safe toilets, clean water, electricity, and textbooks? Instead, she makes an unsubstantiated claim regarding Model-C schools having an anti-ANC sentiment. Even if there is an anti-ANC sentiment, is there no basis for the perception of corruption in the ANC? In simply dismissing this, in denying what is proven in very many cases, Dlamini-Zuma again signals continuity with Jacob Zuma’s approach to this question.

With regard to Wits, it is just plain nonsense to suggest that students are not allowed to call South Africa a democracy. I do not agree with the views of many of the lecturers, but no one would think of denying that South Africa operates under a democratic constitution. Insofar as they would question the quality of that democracy and the applicability of the word “democracy”, it would be part of debates over theories of democracy, whether one can be a “consolidated democracy” where a single party remains dominant over time. Others may question the electoral system or other issues. All of this is standard political science debate, whether or not one agrees with the views expressed.

Students, in my experience (I taught in the Political Studies department at Wits a few years ago), have no instruction on what they should write, although in the power dynamics of education, many students do write in a way that they believe will please their lecturers. That is part of the power dynamics in educational institutions, where some believe they will do better if they mimic teachers, and some teachers may encourage this.

What astonishes me is that this is advanced as part of a serious discussion by a potential president. Is this the basis on which one may criticise how Model-C schools and universities perform? This is very unlike her earlier preparation for entry into international diplomacy. If that is how she will relate to controversies, it does not bode well for the democracy that Dlamini-Zuma says they deny exists.

Quite a number of people advance the candidacy of Cyril Ramaphosa in business, in the media and amongst ANC members who are disaffected with Jacob Zuma. There is some doubt that Ramaphosa has significant support in ANC structures outside of Gauteng and possibly one or two other provinces that are more divided than Gauteng. It is not evident that he has built support at a branch level. That all counts in terms of being elected at a conference. It also means entering a world where the ANC under Zuma has been transformed into one where members are “bought” in order to secure their votes, and where people join the ANC in order to secure lucrative employment or contracts.

It is said that Ramaphosa is not corrupt and I have no reason to believe that he is. He has his own sources of income and wealth and does not need to accumulate through corrupt means.

It is said that he gets things done and that he will return the state to a regularised mode of operating and end the multiple forms of mismanagement and corruption that we now witness. Ramaphosa has been complicit in almost everything that he has seen Zuma do, mainly through silence. But if he is elected president, he is likely to restore legality and regularise government to a great extent. This will be a big job, but I do believe that he would engage with that. He has nothing to gain from maintaining the present parasitic mode of governance.

The first problem with the candidacy of Ramaphosa, assuming he is a candidate, is that his performance as Deputy President cannot fill people with confidence. He has spent these years relatively passively, often defending Zuma or in silence while Nkandla, social grants, State of Capture and other scandals have occurred.

He recently joined ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize in criticising the cabinet reshuffle. He had previously expressed confidence in Pravin Gordhan as finance minister while he was facing charges and threats of further charges.

But after being reprimanded by the ANC National Working Committee (NWC) over his criticism of the reshuffle, Mantashe assured the public that this would not happen again. Ramaphosa has not responded to the criticism and “self criticism” by Mantashe to the effect that these matters ought to be discussed within the ANC only.

All the time there are people who are looking for signs that Ramaphosa is a candidate and to see him representing something different from Zuma, as in his recent differing response to marches calling for Zuma’s resignation.

But what represents an alternative to Zuma goes deeper than the Nkandla scandal and corruption. Assuming Zuma leaves office in 2019 and that it is expected that the ANC president will take his place, what will be put in place to remedy what has characterised the Zuma era? My concern is that many of the calls for removal have been unclear on what are the main features of the Zuma era, for they are not simply corruption. Zuma has done things to the ANC and government that affect the moral standing of the organisation and of state institutions. Their connection with the most marginalised and poorest communities and their representation of the values of the constitution that are aimed at remedying the continuing legacies of apartheid, have been undermined. This rupturing of the link with the ANC’s traditional constituency will take time to rebuild, if indeed it is possible to achieve that.

My belief is that if Ramaphosa is officially a candidate for president of the ANC and ultimately the country, he should commit himself to set in motion a broad debate. It may be that Zuma is forced to resign and that Ramaphosa enters as a caretaker or acting president till Zuma’s term ends. In either case, Ramaphosa should indicate very clearly that he does not accept what he has inherited and that he will initiate debates within and outside the ANC to remedy the breach of trust between the ANC, government and the broader population.

I suggest a series of consultations and discussions because one needs to hear the problems from the mouths of those who are experiencing the wrongdoing of this period. There needs to be humility. It may well be that Ramaphosa falls by the wayside. But if he is to represent an alternative, he needs to signify that he will act with this humility and that what ideas he has are subject to discussion and scrutiny with the broader South African public and within the ANC.





ANC Collective decision-making and organisational disintegration (Polity, 12 April 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and on

The ANC under President Jacob Zuma is sinking ever more deeply into decadence, losing all semblance of the vibrancy and debate that many once saw as characterising the organisation. Not only is there a lack of concern for ideas, but freedom of expression is under threat as thuggery is deployed to break up meetings and to silence internal and external critics of Zuma’s leadership.

In this time the organisation continues to draw on emblematic features of the past, which were part of belonging to a liberatory organisation, however inappropriate they may now be. Thus, it depicts itself as the authoritative heir of the legacies of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani and others.

It also tries to justify what it does by resorting to notions that have been transmitted from previous generations, often in quite different conditions, of how ANC members are supposed to conduct themselves. One of these is the idea of collective decision-making and leadership. The notion of collective decision-making always bears a tension insofar as it requires individuals to sometimes bury their own deeply held views in order to abide by the decisions of the organisation. They do this because they join an organisation representing values with which they agree. They have understood that in subscribing to an organisation, with values that are their own, they abide by some decisions that they would not choose in order to maintain organisational integrity.

This is relevant to the recent cabinet reshuffle. Three top ANC officials, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, General Secretary Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize, publicly voiced their dissatisfaction with the way Zuma made the decision, saying they were not consulted, but presented with a list whose origin was not disclosed. In other words, Zuma did not operate collectively, as part of a leadership team, as prescribed by ANC conference resolutions.

The three officials lamented that they were not asked their opinion, but presented with Zuma’s decision, which he went on to announce publicly on national television. Interestingly, that is how most of the dismissed ministers appear to have learnt of their fate, not through a meeting with the President. It appears, however, from reports in the Sunday press that some of Zuma’s closest allies, including his son Edward, knew of the reshuffle beforehand, referring to it on a WhatsApp chat group before the reshuffle was made public. (Some individuals who appear to have known of the imminent reshuffle, appear to have made considerable gains on the stock exchange:

Such public disagreement between top ANC leaders may have been unprecedented. On the one hand it pointed to the level of discord over Zuma’s leadership. On the other, it evoked considerable backlash in the days that followed from various Zuma allies in the provinces, as well as from the two other senior officials who had not voiced disagreement with the reshuffle, Jessie Duarte and Baleka Mbete. The general trend of the criticism has been to appeal to ANC traditions. If there is a problem, it should be sorted out internally and behind closed doors. This is another facet of collective decision-making.

No matter what the level of support the three leading officials may have had outside the ANC, clearly when they attended a National Working Committee (NWC) meeting a few days later, they received an angry reception. Before their “self-criticism” was announced, through Mantashe’s report on the meeting to the media, there was a leak of the discussion implying that they had been reprimanded. That reprimand also covered an ANC Youth League rally in support of President Zuma where Nomvula Mokonyane, a Minister, made some intemperate remarks about what they had done. Mokonyane is one of a number of ANC figures whose leadership position does not derive so much from popularity and support within the ranks of the organisation as from her link with and support for President Zuma. When such individuals speak, it is not so much the voice of the organisation as that of a person who is in a patronage bond in relation to the President and speaks in defence of that interest rather than any broad organisational base. That has a bearing on the question of collectivism and how its quality changes under different conditions.

The anger that was aroused could only be appeased through public humiliation. The General Secretary, Mantashe, announced in reporting on the meeting that he and the other two officials had been wrong to air their differences publicly and that it would not happen again.

The character of their disagreement with Zuma over the proposed cabinet changes was, in this report after the National Working Committee (NWC), reduced to Zuma’s reliance on a dubious intelligence report to justify his recall of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas and the Treasury Director General Lungisa Fuzile from a series of meetings with investors in the UK and US. But Mantashe, in his report back, said that Zuma had explained to the NWC that a further reason for dismissing Gordhan was in fact an irretrievable breakdown in his relationship with his finance minister. There is no explanation provided for why the relationship broke down.

The intelligence report had been an issue of disagreement, but the key question, mentioned initially on Radio 702 by Mantashe, was that they were presented with a list that came from “elsewhere”. The ANC Treasurer General, Zweli Mkhize, had put it this way: “Unlike previous consultations, which take place with senior officials of the ANC during such appointments and changes to the composition of the national executive‚ the briefing by the President left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre.”

The wording used immediately evoked the impression that it was a list emanating from the Gupta household, given the alleged proclivity, related in the Public Protector’s State of Capture Report in 2016, of that family to compile names of people to be made cabinet ministers.

What we have is the application of “collective decision-making” being deployed to defend what was in fact not a collective decision, where the President, instead of the required consultations with his fellow leaders, bypassed them and imposed a reshuffled cabinet.

This illustrates a wider problem in understandings of the ANC. It is important to understand what decisions belong to or represent the ANC as an organisation. These are therefore properly and necessarily within the scope of collectivism, in order to preserve organisational integrity and what derives from serving a faction within the ANC that is loyal to President Zuma (or any other powerful individual). Many commentators refer to the notion of cadre deployment as decisions of Luthuli house. The recent cabinet reshuffle points to the need for a distinction between decisions made to defend or advance patronage relationships and, those decisions and deployments that may be made in order to advance the interests of the organisation as a whole.

Because the ANC fears losing the next election, it may appoint some very astute strategist as its campaign manager. In such a case that would not be an appointment related to patronage in that the person would not necessarily entail procurement or other patronage benefits. It would be a matter of urgency to have someone with the required skills in the light of the possibility of the ANC being defeated in 2019. The person would mainly be charged with ensuring that the ANC remains the ruling party and, although the ANC has often appointed people who are not well suited to such jobs, it is one of those jobs that now requires, even from a corrupt party, the appointment of someone with the requisite skills. The appointment cannot be part of a business deal.

If there are to be debates within the ANC over whether or not to field candidates in some places, the decisions are likely to legitimately relate to collective decision-making and to require keeping the internal debate private. On the other hand, selection in one or other place may relate to loyalties between individuals and not that of the organisation as a whole. There may not be an invariable pattern.

Conditions for collectivism not given for all time

What is happening now is that the conditions that may have sustained collective decision-making and discipline before do not necessarily hold in the ANC today. When individuals associate with an organisation and accept its discipline they do so because of identification with common values represented by the organisation and accepted by themselves.

No organisation is immune from influences that undermine the foundation of its existence or the basis on which members were initially attracted and there may be other insidious ways of undermining its values

What do those who are supposedly bound collectively by the decision of the organisation then do?

An elected leadership does not mean the same thing when electoral processes are subjected to influences other than the core values of the organisation, in particular where they are undermined by patronage or corruption or intimidation or violence. A leadership that is bought, a practice widely acknowledged in ANC organisational reports, is not a democratically elected leadership, at whatever level that occurs. The basis for respect for an elected leadership means something different when the electoral process is flawed by dishonesty or undue influence.

What has been happening within the ANC undermines the basis that led it to enjoy loyalty and its members to see the necessity of collective decisions being binding. The assumed organisational integrity has been undermined. This is symptomatic of a deeper disintegration of the ANC.








The reshuffle, “junk status” and South Africa in crisis (Polity 5 April 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and on


The word may be over-used but there is little doubt that South Africa is in the middle of a significant crisis, which has engulfed the country’s democratic system, its economy and the ruling party. This has been precipitated by actions of President Jacob Zuma, although we should not see the recent firing of ministers and the subsequent declaration of “junk status” by the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) ratings agency as the onset of the crisis. It has been ongoing and deepening over some years. How do we understand the condition of the country, why do we speak of a crisis and what is the way out of this?

Historical context behind cabinet appointments in a fragile economy

While South Africa’s democratic advance of 1994 and its progressive constitution have won widespread admiration, the new democracy has always been vulnerable. It entered an environment that was inhospitable from an economic point of view. It also faced dangers within, with doubts about the loyalty of security personnel and civil servants from the apartheid era. Some of these doubts proved to be well founded and led to dismissal of some senior security officials.

It inherited a huge debt from the apartheid regime and had to find a way out of the junk status it was bequeathed so that any further borrowing would not necessitate paying a premium. Even though the “new South Africa” attracted many admirers it entered a world that was unfavourably disposed to the transformatory policies that the ANC had advanced in the 1980s and in many of its policy discussions prior to the 1994 elections.

It entered what was becoming a unipolar world with the gradual collapse of the former Communist-led states on which the ANC had counted for much of its support. This was a globalised world where hard-nosed investors were not swayed by emotions and the charisma of Nelson Mandela. They wanted to be sure that their monies were safely invested and that they would see returns, whether or not the investment made a material difference to the country in which they placed their funds.

It was especially hard to secure fixed long term investment, with much of what was attracted being “hot money” looking for quick results and high returns and prone to retreat and move quickly to greener pastures in the event of the outlook in a country proving risky.

In this context the new ANC government managed the economy with caution and observed a relatively conservative macroeconomic policy. This caution was manifested also in the first two Finance Ministers: the first and second, Derek Keys and then Chris Liebenberg, being chosen from outside the ANC, and with Trevor Manuel becoming the first black and ANC Minister of Finance only two years later in 1996. But this approach was primarily intended to signal to the world that the economy was being managed in a responsible manner, with stipulated procedures being observed, reducing risks through maintaining stability.   The level of debt and rate of inflation received constant attention. The idea of incurring debt in order to fund investment and especially job creating projects was more limited than had been envisaged by the economists that had earlier formed a significant force within the ANC’s team of advisers.

The Growth Economic and Redistribution macroeconomic policy (GEAR), introduced in 1996 signified a particularly controversial manifestation of the caution that characterised ANC macroeconomic policy and led to much contestation between the ANC and its allies, and within the ANC itself.

Contestation over macroeconomic and developmental policies vs safeguarding the fiscus

While the controversies around GEAR were heated no one questioned the duty of the Treasury to safeguard the resources of the country, to monitor that spending was regularised, that procurement followed procedures that ensured that the state’s monies were not wasted and it was not defrauded. In short, in the period prior to the elevation of Zuma to the presidency in 2009 there was no disagreement about the duties of the Treasury, although there was much contention about the macroeconomic policies pursued. One of the prime goals of those who ousted Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007 was said to be to reverse the “class project of 1996” (i.e. GEAR). In practice, the macroeconomic policies pursued in the Zuma period have not been markedly different from that of the Mbeki period. The Finance Ministers continued to ensure that regularised procedures for disbursing and accounting for funds were followed.

What has been different, in more recent years, is that there has been widespread irregularity, looting of state funds and plans for more substantial pillaging of the resources of the country. The Treasury has stood as a barrier against this. It has blocked deals affecting nuclear energy, as well as questioning ones in SAA, Eskom, Denel and a range of state departments and state owned entities (SOEs).

SOEs have been seen as engines for developing and transforming the South African economy in order to improve the lot of the poor. But for a contract with an SOE to translate into a developmental process requires that it be carefully scrutinised. If controls for entering such contracts were loosened instead of enabling development this could deplete the very resources that are needed in order to effect transformational goals.

The Reshuffle and the radical economic transformation

 Why did the recent cabinet reshuffle arouse such a high level of disquiet and public outrage?

Appointments and dismissals of ministers are acts entrusted to the president as part of the prerogative of his office. Despite this being a right reserved to the president, the appointment and removal of a person in high office should follow careful consideration and evaluation.

Because of the uncertainty and instability that it evokes, any reshuffle of ministers ought to be an exceptional matter, engaged in because the minister or deputy minister who has been removed has failed to perform the tasks with which s/he has been entrusted, either through demonstrating a level of incompetence or lack of integrity or failure to observe the rules governing the tasks that have to be performed.

In other words, on appointment to a position there were expectations of duties to be performed by the minister concerned. For removal not only would the tasks not have been met through some minor errors. A level of inadequacy for the task ought to have emerged that made it not just desirable but necessary to remove the person in order to ensure adequate performance, in accordance with what is required for smooth running of that sphere of government

By definition, the serious flaws that justified the dismissal must not have been present at the time of appointment, for if they were there at the time of appointment there was no justifiable reason for putting the person in such a position in the first place. In other words, the rationale for removal presupposes that appointments are made in the first place, in good faith and in accordance with what is required for the job.

That does not mean that the President is barred from taking into account special relationships s/he may have with individuals. The President may choose people in whom he places special trust, including, through common experiences in the ANC or in the struggle. What is necessary, however, is that the mutual trust between the president and the person appointed is not a reason in itself for appointing someone, though it may reinforce the level of confidence that the president has in elevating that person to perform specific tasks that the person is able to perform in a ministerial position.

One of the reasons for outrage at the dismissals, especially of the Finance Minister and Deputy Minister and appointments that have been made is that these do not appear to bear on the competence, integrity or level of performance of those dismissed or appointed. Nor do the required qualities appear to be present in some who have been appointed to or retain office.

The most marked features of those recently appointed and many who retain office, appear to be the loyalty they owe to the person of the president and their potential willingness to comply with courses of action that individuals like Gordhan would have considered irregular.

The Treasury and the reshuffle

For some time there have been official reports and media investigations that have pointed to a high level of irregularity in the allocation of state contracts and plans afoot for further contracts that raise questions of legality and compliance with regulations. As is well known the role of the Gupta family has featured prominently in many of these issues and the Treasury has refused to consent to certain contracts where it has doubted their compliance with due process.

It is said that this was the reason why Nhlanhla Nene was removed from the Finance Ministry in December 2015, replaced for four days by Des van Rooyen. In those four days, the currency plunged and the value of stocks lost considerable value. This led to widespread reaction from sections of business and the return of Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Finance, the position he had previously held, before Nene. The attempt to appoint Van Rooyen has come to be widely understood as part of “state capture”, that is, to run government through the intervention or instructions of outside parties, in particular the Gupta family. This is very different in scale from the dangers manifested in the corruption engaged in by someone like Shabir Shaik, which did not affect the sovereignty of the state, or making appointments.

Gordhan was forced on Zuma, as a result of the outrage over Van Rooyen’s appointment. Zuma did not want him and Gordhan has come under fire as he has sought to ensure compliance in SOEs and state departments with regulatory frameworks and refusal to release funds or approve deals unless that had been done. There have also been constant threats of criminal charges and other attempts to implicate Gordhan in wrongdoing.

In recent times, a discourse has emerged, embraced by Zuma and ministers who are seen to be close to the Gupta family this discourse that refers to the need for “radical economic transformation”. It also bemoans the scrutiny of the economic activities of the Guptas while allegedly ignoring the real danger of “white monopoly capital” (WMC).

The Treasury, in this discourse has been depicted as held captive to WMC and indeed, when Gordhan was dismissed the new Minister used the language of “radical economic transformation” with which he believed the Treasury needed to align itself. Since announcement of the downgrade, he has been more cautious in his language, stressing continuity.

Loosening controls in the Treasury has no connection with any common understanding of what radical transformation entails. In reality that is antagonistic to transformation and also endangers the stability of the economy as a whole.

This has been dramatically illustrated by the S&P downgrade that may well be followed by further downgrades. The short-term effect of the downgrades is to increase the costs of borrowing and has already led to depreciation of the value of the rand. In the long run, unlike what the Zuma/Gupta supporters claim, it is not the wealthy that will suffer most from the downgrades, but the poor, as the cost of imported goods, including fuel rises have an impact on the economy as a whole.

The cabinet reshuffle was preceded by Zuma instructing the former Minister, deputy Minister and Director General of the Treasury to return from an international road show aimed at attracting investment. The instruction induced shock insofar as it entailed wastage of resources but also undermined efforts to stabilise the economy in relation to potential investors. At the same time as this forced return of Gordhan and his team, which was widely interpreted as a prelude to their dismissal, liberation struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada died. The Kathrada funeral, the subsequent reshuffle and the memorial services and other protests have seen a groundswell of public outrage.

Where to from here?

When people are angry it is important to speak responsibly about how that anger ought best to be channelled. At the moment there are a range of initiatives to protest the reshuffle and call for Zuma’s resignation. Some represent specific organisational forces, other initiatives emanate from unknown sources that may represent no one or very few. I think those of us who do not have an organisational base need to approach this situation with humility and recognise that commonalities need to be sought with a range of people who are angry and want to see change. That may take time and the pace cannot be forced.

It is also important that whatever outcome one seeks, should be aimed at building unity behind a range of forces that aim at defending our democratic gains and conserving the resources of the country from pillage.

Should Zuma resign and Cyril Ramaphosa become acting president until the end of Zuma’s term of office, Ramaphosa would need to have a clear mandate. That ought to include responsibility to engender a public dialogue aimed at rebuilding trust in the institutions of state. It ought also to include a review and public discussion of key moments that have ruptured the sense of legitimacy in state institutions. These include the Marikana massacre (not in order to implicate Ramaphosa, but to discuss its meanings), plus the Nkandla and social grants scandals.

In other words, the removal of Zuma should be understood as part of a broader process whereby we regain confidence in public institutions and involve the broader citizenry in an ongoing dialogue where we can all voice our concerns and recover our political agency.





Remembering “Comrade Kathy” and learning from his life (Polity 28 March 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and on


Sad as the passing of Ahmed Kathrada is, we need to use these occasions to draw lessons from his life. Kathrada is one of the last of a generation of political figures who built the Congress Movement, consisting of the ANC, Indian Congresses, South African Congress of Trade Unions, Congress of Democrats and the South African Coloured People’s Organisation. It was a mighty force that stressed the need to unite all the people of South Africa experiencing oppression or, as whites, willing to combat oppression and build a united democratic South Africa. Initially the alliance that was built was referred to as multi-racial, but gradually the term non-racial came into existence, envisaging that the basis for unity would not be separately organised people, though this separate organisation did persist. Nevertheless an overriding notion of commonality came to prevail – what Chief Albert Luthuli referred to as building a “common society”.

Kathrada, as a youth, was involved in the early days of building this alliance and upbraided and challenged the then Africanist Mandela for his “exclusivist” approach, leading Mandela to report the young man to his organisation. They were later to become life-long friends and comrades in the ANC/SACP underground, in prison and afterwards.

Luckily for historians, Kathrada has left much written material. His important letters from prison, despite passing through the censors, still reveal a great deal of the combination of pain, defiance and the building of an alternative experience by the prisoners on Robben Island.

Kathrada’s later memoirs provide a more substantial account of his personal development. Characteristically, its strength lies in the first place in bringing into prominence the relatively unknown sacrifices by Indian people in the course of the struggle. Without works such as this a new generation may know little of the pioneering resistance of the Indian community. In Kathrada’s time (preceded by that led by Gandhi, some decades earlier), Indian men and women were prepared to be jailed in large numbers in the Passive Resistance Campaign of the 1940s and this inspired the ANC Defiance Campaign of 1952.

Kathrada operates on the national scale, but he remains connected with his early experiences and the small towns that he knew in his youth. In his memoir, he weaves his personal background into the national and international struggle against apartheid. His home town of Schweizer-Reneke is affected by national and international aspects of the struggle. He relates an important account of a white backlash against the government of the then recently independent India’s pioneering international efforts against the apartheid regime.   When the Indian government bans the supply of jute, essential to production of bags needed for storing maize, white farmers faced a crisis, but retaliated by boycotting Indian stores.

The way the drama plays itself out ties into one of the strong themes of the book: not only the non-racialism of the anti-apartheid struggle, but also the strong informal ties between black people and some whites, the right-wing whites who are prepared, without payment, to “front” for Indian traders who are not allowed to purchase certain properties.

In the case of the backlash against the jute boycott, the whites who resist the boycott of Indian traders, despite being National Party supporters, do so because of their relationships with these traders. Kathrada describes the unique way in which Indian traders operated, the extension of credit where others refused (evoking the image of contemporary Somali and other immigrant traders in townships), and the hospitality offered across the colour line.

One of the weaknesses of many political memoirs and autobiographies has been the absence of “the personal”. Although developed in a limited way, Kathrada makes some important statements, which have not previously appeared in such works. While pacing in his cell after the Rivonia arrests he admits: “I must confess without shame or apology, uppermost in my mind always, is my life, my safety” (Kathrada’s italics).

It is significant that a famous leader has said this. Kathrada’s statement is important because it emboldens others to concede that it was not only purely heroic thoughts that crossed their minds at every moment. Kathrada’s honesty strengthens the trend, which is a necessary one. Those who write their stories should try to humanise the struggle rather than populate this literature with cardboard characters who never reveal personal weaknesses and fears.

In noting this statement of concern for his own needs, we should observe that it coexists with a rock-hard determination not to compromise on what he regarded as core issues and to serve the liberation movement without wavering. What is important is that by introducing this note of introspection, Kathrada shows the complex coexistence of thoughts about the self together with those of the wider cause; something, which many activists, wrongly, feel that they should suppress.

Another important element of the memoirs is that they reveal lesser-known personal costs that go beyond imprisonment. These are not unique to Kathrada. In his case, he formed a relationship with Sylvia Neame, jailed for Communist activities shortly after Kathrada; she was later released and exiled, where she married someone else. Kathrada admits to his ambivalence over “releasing her” to exercise this choice, something that was painful, but realistic.

Such destruction of relationships through imprisonment (and exile) was much more common than is acknowledged, and it is important that people understand that those who made these choices and experienced such consequences had the same personal needs as others. But, in addition to being locked away, they experienced the pain of ending relationships without any proper form of “closure”. (Neame, it should be noted, is the author of a history, The Congress Movement recently published in 3 volumes by HSRC press, which constitutes a significant re-reading of the movement).

Luckily for Kathrada, he was able to find personal happiness and love in his relationship with Barbara Hogan, whom he met after her release from prison in 1990. This was a formidable partnership that enriched both of their lives.

Kathrada was modest. He did not broadcast his achievements. Few people know that Kathrada ought to have been found not guilty in the Rivonia trial on legal grounds. But a decision had been taken not to appeal and he did not allow the fact that the evidence against him was more tenuous, to be a basis to break ranks with his comrades and enter an appeal against his conviction. (My understanding that similar choices were open to Denis Goldberg, the only white person convicted in the Rivonia trial, who also refused to appeal and served his sentence separately-because he was white- in Pretoria).

Although he was a leader in his own right Kathrada was content to conduct most of his activities in the background, whether through smuggling contraband newspapers on Robben Island, through conferring privately with Mandela and Sisulu, or conducting innumerable interviews about the struggle after his release. As a result of many of these interviews, generations of researchers learnt of the lives and political significance of Bram and Molly Fischer, Moses Kotane, Ruth First, Albert Luthuli, JB Marks and many others, who were well known to Kathrada.

We mourn the passing of Comrade Kathy at a time of turmoil in South African politics and much of this relates to the prevalence of corruption and dishonest practices, which we know pained Kathrada deeply. Few of those who were involved in the transition to democracy imagined that the ANC that Kathrada and his older mentors, Sisulu and Mandela, so deeply loved would one day be so closely identified with corruption.

Those of us, who cherish the legacies of Kathrada, owe it to his memory to do what we can to rebuild the democratic and ethical promise for which Kathrada fought so hard. We owe it to him and others who sacrificed so much to turn this into a reality.