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Political Earthquake in South Africa: ANC to Form Coalition Gov’t Amid Genocide Case Against Israel

Web ExclusiveJune 03, 2024
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Watch Part 2 of our interview about the election in South Africa, where the African National Congress has lost its majority after last week’s election. The ANC, which has been in power since the end of apartheid, won just 40% of the vote, marking the first time the party that was once led by Nelson Mandela will not hold outright power in 30 years. We speak with Trevor Ngwane, a Soweto-based activist and chair of the United Front, and Louis Freedberg, veteran South African journalist, about what the ANC had to overcome by 1994, where the party took South Africa, key players then and now, conditions in the country now, and the response to taking up a genocide case against Israel before the International Criminal Court.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we continue with Part 2 of our interview about the historic election in South Africa, where the African National Congress has lost its majority after 30 years. The ANC, which has been in power since the end of apartheid, won just 40% of the vote, marking the first time the party that was once led by Nelson Mandela will not hold outright power in 30 years.

We’re going to turn to South African president, head of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, who must now attempt to build a coalition with other parties. This was his speech, a part of it, after the official results were announced on Sunday.

PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: The final announcement of the 2024 national and provincial election results today in many ways represents a victory for our democracy as South Africans. It also represents a victory of our constitutional order, but, more importantly, represents a victory for all the people of South Africa. We have held another successful election that has been free, fair, credible and peaceful.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Sunday. In a moment, we’re going to look at what happens next. But first, we’re going to go back in history to Nelson Mandela speaking at his inauguration on May 10th, 1994, after the ANC victory in that election that ended apartheid and brought Mandela to the presidency.

PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA: The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have at last achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continued bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination. We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re continuing with our two guests in South Africa. In Johannesburg, Trevor Ngwane is a Soweto-based activist, chair of the United Front, an umbrella body of community and labor organizations. And in Cape Town, we’re joined by Louis Freedberg, born and raised in South Africa, veteran journalist who covered Nelson Mandela back then, in 1994, also covered the anti-apartheid movement and the transition to democracy, reporting now for The Nation magazine.

So, we’re going to start with Trevor Ngwane and talk about what’s happened over the last 30 years. According to some estimates, the gap between the richest and poorest South Africans is greater than it was when Nelson Mandela took office in ’94. You have over 40% unemployment. Almost two-thirds of Black South Africans still live in poverty, compared to 1% of white South Africans. Can you talk about what you had to overcome by 1994, and then where the party took South Africa, ANC, I mean, the party?

TREVOR NGWANE: Yes. When the party, the ANC, took over, you know, it was the culmination and the victory of the anti-apartheid struggle. So, the first step was to get rid of a racially based constitution, a racially based form of state, to usher in democracy where everyone could vote. That was achieved. And indeed, when Mandela was speaking in that clip you played, Amy, he talked about and marveled that the transition to democracy was peaceful. Of course, we know that there was a lot of political violence between 1990 up to 1994, you know, the day of liberation. Nevertheless, it’s true in the sense that the election on Wednesday, when the ANC lost its majority, the national liberation party, it was just an ordinary day in South Africa, an ordinary election. It was peaceful. It was calm. So, I think that is a great achievement upon which we can build.

Of course, Black people, in particular, workers did not have all the basics in life, such as electricity. You know, famous townships in Black areas in South Africa, like Alexandra, next to Sandton, are called “dark cities,” because there was no electricity. Black people, they used their labor to dig out the coal to pay the electricity pylons, but they lived in darkness. So that is one of the first things the democratic government did. It laid out electricity to about 80% of the Black population. Also, housing was laid out.

But, of course, all these things were undermined by poor management, poor maintenance and, in particular, the fact that most of the money was still finding its way into the pockets of big capital, because, basically, what Mandela did, he was trying to square a round peg. He wanted a balanced, peaceful coexistence between the exploiter and the exploited. He wanted peace between those who took the land by force and those who were dispossessed. I think, after 30 years, the wheels are coming off this wagon. The ship is sinking. And, in fact, the ANC could have done better to manage the situation, but they failed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Louis Freedberg, as you continue to describe what happened over this 30 years, let’s also talk about the way forward at this point. Of course, it doesn’t mean the ANC is out of politics. They have a large plurality, but they do have to work now in coalition. And what parties will it be working in coalition with? And what do you see the key issues as?

LOUIS FREEDBERG: Well, right now a lot of discussions are going on. Well, I think tomorrow there’s — you know, every day, there’s serious discussions to see who’s going to join this coalition.

I did just want to say, Amy, that the situation, as described, is grim in terms of the conditions in the country, but there are some major accomplishments — I mean, just even having free and fair elections, as Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out. No president in South Africa has served more than one term, as opposed to presidents for life in other parts of Africa and the world. There is a Constitutional Court. I went around to rallies of new parties being formed — no security police like there would have been in the old days. You can say what you want to. There’s a free press. So, democracy, in some ways, is flourishing in South Africa. But, as my good friend Rich Mkhondo said, you can’t eat democracy. And that is — that is the problem.

And so, the issue, going forward, is certainly preserving the democracy. And I do think it is an accomplishment that these elections did occur peacefully and so on. And it was quite moving to travel around the country and go to polling booths and so on. This is an accomplishment, and that this has to be safeguarded.

But now the challenge is: How do you undo some of the damage? How do you get the lights back on? I’ll just say, the last few weeks, the last two months, there have been no power outages in South Africa, as opposed to these major power outages, called “load shedding” here, for the last several years. Many people saw this as a sort of an electoral stunt and that they are anticipating the lights going out, you know, shortly. I heard people are charging up all their appliances, because they really don’t believe that the ANC will be able to really make a difference. So, those are some of the issues as to who’s going to be in the best position to undo the damage, try to build back some of these institutions that have failed. And that is the big question.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Trevor Ngwane, if you can talk about your group, the United Front, an umbrella body of community and labor organizations? How much support has the ANC retained among labor organizations and unions? And what are they demanding now?

TREVOR NGWANE: So, the United Front, of which I’m the chairperson, was formed by the biggest union in South Africa, NUMSA, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. Remember that NUMSA, in 2013, on the back of the Marikana massacre, NUMSA broke out of the ANC-Communist Party-COSATU alliance, the Communist Party of South Africa and the biggest union federation in South Africa, COSATU, in a formal alliance with the ruling party, forming what Antonio Gramsci called a historic bloc. So, they are running the country.

Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of labor, because the union leaders actually, basically, dance to the music of the ANC. In return, they get plum ministerial positions when they retire from their unions. So you get them becoming minister of employment, minister of this, minister of that. So, that alliance is at the expense not only of organized labor, but also of the poor, of the unemployed, of pensioners, because, basically, the alliance allows the ANC to continue failing to deliver on its promises.

So, when NUMSA split from the ANC, it was even called the NUMSA moment. It gave hope that the unions, at least NUMSA and those with NUMSA, would be able to form a strong left challenge, and even a workers’ party. However, that experiment did not succeed, because, basically, although NUMSA split from the ANC, but the politics of nationalism — I’m sorry, the politics of Zionism still lived in the heads of the leadership.

So, I think that now the time has come to recalibrate our politics, to leave behind exhausted nationalism, to get rid of neocolonialism, to try and pick a bigger wedge between us and imperialism, and to come with imaginative way forward to make sure that we challenge or at least make inroads to what is basically racial capitalism. You know, South Africa is a settler-colonial society. This is what is needed. Too much was taken, Amy. A lot must be returned. The land was stolen. It must be returned. The wealth was stolen. We must take back the wealth. Unfortunately, although the Economic Freedom Fighters, although Zuma and his MK party, they mouth these slogans, I don’t trust that they can do this. But I think probably the ANC has got no choice but to actually make a coalition with these parties. And then we, on the left, we have to form a new political vehicle, a workers’ party, a mass party, which can challenge for state power.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Zionism. And I wanted to ask Louis Freedberg about how popular the move by South Africa was to take a genocide case against Israel to the International Court of Justice and continue to pursue this issue, demanding emergency relief, as the final decision will take quite a long time.

LOUIS FREEDBERG: Well, I’d say that it has the support of the majority of South Africans, not in the — many in the Jewish community. Some in the Jewish community, of course, supported it. I think one of the things that — there was speculation that one of the reasons that the ANC took this on was — you know, given everything else going on, what was the rationale for taking on this very high-profile case in the middle of a campaign? — was to really, you know, boost its support in the Western Cape here amongst the Muslim community. And that didn’t happen. The Muslim community stuck with the Democratic Alliance. So, I’m not sure what the political fallout will be. But certainly, there’s support here in South Africa amongst, you know, probably the majority of people.

But I did want to say that one of the issues the ANC faces now in terms of forming a coalition is that, really, the only party that has actually had experience in governing is — other than the ANC, is the Democratic Alliance. And I think if some alliance is formed with the Economic Freedom Front or potentially Zuma’s party, these are just parties on paper. They have had no real experience in governing. And there has been some coalitions at a local level in Johannesburg and other places, and those coalitions have been semi-disastrous. So, the problem with a coalition is you have to form alliances. It’s a forced marriage with people you wouldn’t want to get into bed with. But this is what happens when you lose the majority. So, compromises are going to have to be made. And the question is, if Cyril Ramaphosa tries to form an alliance with the Democratic Alliance, whether the forces more on the left will revolt and force him out. I do think that there’s a very strong feeling in — certainly amongst many progressives around the country, that if the coalition is made with the Economic Freedom Front, that would be very, very problematical, and that we’re going to see more of the same in terms of what’s happened over the last several decades.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Trevor Ngwane a question about MK and about Jacob Zuma. To many who, you know, followed, of course, South African history and were part of the anti-apartheid movement, uMkhonto we Sizwe, MK, was the paramilitary wing, the armed wing, of the ANC. Where is it today, 30 years later?

TREVOR NGWANE: Well, uMkhonto we Sizwe veterans, many of them, of course, got absorbed into the ANC, got jobs in the state, got jobs in the army. But some were left outside and are disgruntled. So, basically, when Zuma formed uMkhonto we Sizwe, it’s because — as a party now, it’s because his faction inside the ANC lost power, to the extent that he couldn’t finish his second term as president and was replaced by the president, Ramaphosa. So, basically, uMkhonto we Sizwe is a faction of the ANC outside the ANC. Indeed, Julius Malema, you know, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, put it quite well. He said, “Hey, we, EFF, were ready to have a coalition with MK, you know, and with the ANC. We are relatives.” So, I think Louis is correct that there is that apprehension that these are all birds of the same feather. They’re just quibbling over power inside the palace.

Another important point is that, actually, when people voted for MK, many of those are ANC members who were taking half a step away from their beloved ANC. So, Zuma projects himself as representing the true ANC. So, in a way, the struggle in South Africa is to wean the masses — “wean” as in wean the baby from the milk — of their love for the ANC. So, I think that, although not so positively, you know, this election did achieve that, because for the first time, the ANC no longer dominates in terms of parliamentary majority. I am sure that in the next elections, especially in five years, national election, the ANC will fall much further, lose more, and there will be more scope to create real alternative parties, real policies, which will challenge what we call here white monopoly capital, which will challenge imperialism. OK, the ANC did a great thing, you know, going to the ICJ and all, but it has not done as much as it should have done in fighting on the side supporting the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Louis Freedberg, your final comment?

LOUIS FREEDBERG: Yes, I just want to say, this uMkhonto we Sizwe calling a party, I mean, that’s more or less a joke, because uMkhonto we Sizwe does not exist anymore. This was the armed wing of the ANC that Nelson Mandela was instrumental in setting up before he was sentenced to life in prison. So, taking this name is just a way to try to confuse people as to who represents whom, and to try to claim the mantle of Nelson Mandela. But I just wanted to — I just wanted to clarify, clarify that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Jacob Zuma was the past president of South Africa, as well.

LOUIS FREEDBERG: He was the past president of South Africa, for nine years. And it was under his watch that there was — really, this corruption got completely out of control, this term “state capture,” where outside corrupt forces just robbed the treasury of funding, which is one of the reasons that the country is in such bad shape, why this economy is growing at 0.6%. I mean, it’s essentially a stagnant economy, the worst economy in terms of GDP growth on the continent, other than Equatorial Guinea and Sudan, which, you know, is in the middle of a war. This is one of the — should be one of the strongest economies on the continent. It’s certainly one of the largest economies on the continent. And the fact that it is so stagnant — the economy is so stagnant, which is why so many people are out of work.

The key challenge is how to get the economy going again. And I’m certainly hoping that that’s the basis on which the decision will be made as to which — what coalition is formed in the next couple of weeks. And by the way, they have 14 days under the Constitution. And if you know anything about South African politics, maybe politics in general, to get something of this magnitude nailed down in 14 days is going to be very difficult. And we’ll just see how all this plays out.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we’ll continue to cover it. Louis Freedberg, veteran South African journalist, writes for The Nation here in the United States. We’ll link to your articles. And Trevor Ngwane, a Soweto-based activist and chair of the United Front, speaking to us from Johannesburg. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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