The world applauded when the African National Congress led the fight to liberate South Africa from apartheid. But the ANC’s planned “second transition” could be more controversial.
No final decisions have been made, but some influential ANC factions are pushing for an ambitious agenda to “transform” the courts, the media, the economy, and even the much-praised constitution.
In South Africa, “transform” is code language for introducing a greater level of black ownership – and, with it, usually a degree of government control. It’s an impulse that remains powerful among many politicians in the ANC, fuelled by a dangerous mixture of high unemployment, slow growth, weak leadership, and fierce feuding within the ruling party.
In the past, the most radical proposals have usually been vetoed by leaders such as Nelson Mandela, who refused to allow the nationalization of large sectors of the South African economy. But now, in the heated climate of an unofficial campaign to topple Jacob Zuma from the ANC’s leadership, the radical voices are becoming bolder and more aggressive.
Demands for the nationalization of the mining industry have been rejected by the government, yet they continue to be repeated by the ANC’s youth league. And now some union leaders, allied with the ANC, are calling for the nationalization of all major industries, not just mining.
Leaders of the youth league, meanwhile, are warning that blacks will seize white-owned farms in a Zimbabwe-style takeover if the farmers refuse to surrender their land. The vast majority of South Africa’s farmland is still owned by whites, even though apartheid ended in 1994.
“Whites must voluntarily give up their land if they don’t want to see young black people flooding their farms,” said Ronald Lamola, deputy president of the youth league, in a speech this week.
The independence of the judiciary is also coming under fire. One member of the ANC’s national executive, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, this week attacked South African judges for thwarting the will of the ANC government.
Mr. Ramatlhodi, who has significant support in the ruling party, wants reforms to the constitution and the courts to prevent the judiciary from blocking government actions. And he made it clear that he is blaming South Africa’s white minority for the court decisions that go against the government.
“There is a tyranny, a minority tyranny, that is using state institutions to undermine democratic processes,” Mr. Ramatlhodi said in a speech at an ANC event. “I have seen now in our country the courts are being used to replace the executive.”
Mr. Ramatlhodi, who is also the deputy minister of correctional services, was apparently angered by several recent cases in which the courts have halted or overturned government decisions on top appointments in the intelligence and prosecution agencies. Last year he launched an attack on the constitution, saying it gave too much power to the courts.
In his speech this week, he praised the ANC for leading a wave of street protests against a painting that portrayed Mr. Zuma with his genitals exposed. The painting was eventually vandalized and removed from a Johannesburg art gallery. “The second transition must deliver unto our people their dignity,” he said.
The media, too, are facing demands for black ownership. South Africa’s parliament is holding public hearings this month on the ownership and control of the print media. On average, only 14 per cent of the print media are owned by blacks, according to a recent report.
Increasing black ownership of a formerly white-dominated economy may be a laudable goal, but the ANC could be using it as an excuse for its cronies to gain wealth and win power over the media and other key sectors. One senior ANC leader and wealthy businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa, is reported to be considering the purchase of one of South Africa’s biggest newspaper chains, Independent Newspapers, which would certainly increase the ANC’s influence over the media.
It would be a mistake to fret too much about a potential ANC authoritarian state. The country remains diverse and democratic. The demands for state control of the economic and judicial levers have been mostly rhetorical so far.
This week, for example, the ANC slapped down the youth league leaders who were calling for the expropriation of white-owned farms. “It is not ANC policy to expropriate land without compensation, and personally I don’t think it will work,” said the ANC’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe.
Yet the demands for nationalization and expropriation remain hot subjects in ANC backrooms, along with proposals to amend the constitution and impose tighter controls on the courts. Many of these proposals will be debated at a major ANC policy conference near Johannesburg this month.
With a vaguely defined “second transition” still on the official agenda, and with the leadership of Mr. Zuma up for review at another conference at the end of this year, South Africa is facing a tense political season.