The resignation or non-resignation of President Jacob Zuma has become conflated with the fight against white monopoly capital. White monopoly capital has been reported to be engaged in remote-control politics and acting as external decision-making bodies in the political realm, a realm that is the preserve of ANC structures. The refusal (or inability of the ANC) to recall Zuma is said to show that the ANC is in charge of SA and not at the behest of some remote control holder in London. I do not subscribe to this view.

The spectre of remote-control politics in SA has been broadly located within the concept of state capture. The debate has often narrowed (to the point of degeneration) around the notion of whether the influence of private capital, in state affairs, can ever be legitimate within a democratic state. Whether a Gupta influence is inherently abhorrent or not. Whether a Rupert influence is inherently destructive or not.

South Africa runs a mixed economy. A non-obvious implication of this fact is that there are certain functions, which many understand to be sole preserve of the government, that the government cannot (I repeat, cannot) perform without private capital.

A good example of this is the state parastatal Eskom and its mandate to provide electricity. Eskom on many an occasion needs to raise funds to enable its infrastructure expansion programme and, also, to run its day-to-day operations. Eskom often meets its funding challenge through debt capital by issuing on-shore and off-shore bonds; this issuance is done to raise funds from both domestic and off-shore private capital.

It is folly to think that private capital would simply give Eskom its money and not want to have some say in how Eskom conducts its affairs (or SA for that matter – given how big Eskom is). Simple logic tells us that in a mixed economy, government and private capital co-govern (in the broad sense) the country.

The influence of private capital becomes a problem when it skews the programme and policy thrust of government to serve narrow profit motives. This is what I term state capture and it is a problem. That is, state capture is when the programme, policy and governance thrust of government is skewed towards narrow interests.

The problem of state capture becomes acute when you consider how capital often clusters around certain individuals, families and groups. This clustering creates monopoly capital. That is, the natural tendency of capital to cluster around the few creates monopolies. This monopoly gives certain individuals a voice that further exacerbates the state capture problem. Thus the monopoly is doubly so: (1) Monopoly on capital and (2) monopoly on determining thrust of government.

South Africa has a history of colonial plunder and apartheid. These two regimes of governance, that is colonial and apartheid, were pronounced in their focus on economic accumulation of whites while expressly blocking blacks from doing so. Post-apartheid South Africa has seen the use of this colonial and apartheid accumulated capital to engage in remote-control politics and advance certain outcomes.

This reality for me then properly locates the notion of white monopoly capital and how it is an ever-present feature of governance in South Africa. That is monopoly capital is necessarily white because of our history.

This brings us to our thesis: many see the refusal by the ANC to dismiss Zuma as an up-yours to white monopoly capital. That is, the ANC is saying to white monopoly capital that the ANC shall recall Zuma if and when it suits the ANC.

A similar episode in the recent history of the ANC occurred when former president Thabo Mbeki refused to acquiesce to big pharmaceutical companies. The Mbeki government refused to mandate country-wide Nevirapine availability at government expense. Nevirapine counters mother-to-child HIV transmission. Then, like now, the case eventually reached the Constitutional Court. The Concourt in its usual oblique language ruled that the government was inconsistent in its policy implementation.

Given the damage that a constitutional crisis would have caused the country (had Mbeki refused to comply), the ANC government relented.

A breakdown in governance makes a country more easily captured by organised interests (which would be white monopoly capital in this case). We have seen this in many a destabilised developing country. The Colour Revolutions in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005) speak to this. The Colour Revolutions were pronounced in having genuine governance issues being used as springboards by narrow interests to capture the state.

Similarly, given how legitimate a concern the Nkandla saga has become, surely the ANC cannot believe this to be a wise site of battle against monopoly capital. Many in the ANC have spoken to this Nkandla saga as a legitimate governance crisis. Hence, I do not subscribe to the view that the non-recall of Zuma is an ANC, anti-monopoly capital policy implementation.

The shrewd politicians within the ANC already started manoeuvring to form a new governing coalition at the point when Zuma recalled Des van Rooyen as finance minister. This then implies that the new coalition is thus incapable of or not interested in collapsing Zuma’s current governing coalition.

If the reason for not collapsing Zuma’s governing coalition is because the coalition is incapable, then an external intervention is needed. That intervention is at ANC branch-level voting.

If the reason for not collapsing Zuma’s governing coalition is because the coalition is not interested, then the more convincing angle to this monopoly capital argument is that the site of struggle is not in refusing to recall Zuma but rather in the indecision surrounding who should succeed him and when.

A classic case of the devil you know.


Melo Magolego

Melo Magolego

Mandela Rhodes Scholar. Fulbright scholar. California Institute of Technology. MSc in electrical engineering.

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