Cablegate: South Africa: Wits University Sociologist Comments On

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1. Professor Eddie Webster, head of the Sociology of Work Unit
at Wits University in Johannesburg and colleague/wife Luli
Cullinicos, presented a sociological assessment of the Polokwane
conference at a February 29 breakfast seminar. Webster said
the 1996 introduction of GEAR without Parliamentary or NEDLAC
oversight was the "original sin" that created a split between
within the tripartite alliance of the ANC, COSATU and the SACP,
but that the selection of Jacob Zuma as the standard-bearer did
not come until later. Webster presented data that indicated 62
pQent of ANC members were either members of COSATU, the SACP
or the ANC Youth League, and the 42 percent of ANC delegates in
wealthy Gauteng Province were unemployed. He described COSATU
and the SACP as the "elephants in the room" at Polokwane, but
urged that the labor movement remain a separate force outside of
government. End Summary.

Demographics of ANC Delegates at Polokwane
--------------------------------------------- ------------

2. Webster, who had attended Polokwane as an SABC observer,
provided an overview of the demographics of the ANC in the
run-up to Polokwane. His statistics showed that membership in
the ANC increased from 416,869 paid up members in 2002 to the
621,231 members in 2007, with one in four of all members in 2007
coming from the Eastern Cape, where ANC membership doubled
during this period. Webster noted that membership fees were
R12 a year (or less than $2) and it took just 100 members to
form a new ANC branch. He thought that much of the growth of
branches was due to an "amoeba" theory, in which those who felt
excluded in one branch simply split off and started their own
branch. Many of the leaders of ANC branches were deployed in
the public service, legislature or private business, essentially
leaving a vacuum, which was then filled by grassroots activists.
Webster said that these activists capitalized on resentment of
how ANC insiders had used party membership to promote their
careers and fortunes, capturing "the resentment engendered by a
simultaneous growth of opportunity and inequality."

3. Webster also had statistics about poverty within the ANC
membership. A 2006 study commissioned by the ANC in Gauteng
province showed that 42 percent of its delegates were
unemployed; that 30 percent lived in informal settlements; 44
percent lived without access to water in their homes; 47 percent
had not completed matric (Note: roughly equivalent to a high
school diploma. End Note) and 25 percent had less than R1000 a
month in disposable incomes. (Comment: Since Gauteng province
is the third largest economy in Africa, and, together with
Western Cape, has the lowest unemployment in South Africa, these
rates may underestimate the overall poverty of ANC delegates on
a national basis. As Webster pointed out, the rates of
unemployment for ANC members appear to be higher than the
national unemployment rate. End Comment.)

4. Webster added that the differentiation between those in
power and the common run of delegates in Polokwane was
pronounced. Those in power arrived in 4x4s, and dined in
air-conditioned "network" rooms, while regular delegates came by
bus and ate in tents or cafeterias. Dense informal networks
were built up, such as among rural women present. Polokwane
became a national theater that allowed a "coalition of the
aggrieved" to "frame their resentments in a sense of moral
indignation that enabled Jacob Zuma to seize the mantle of

Original Sin and Macroeconomic Policy
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. The adoption of the Mbeki government's neo-liberal GEAR
(Growth Employment And Redistribution) macroeconomic strategy in
1996, without consultation with COSATU and the SACP and
bypassing NEDLAC, the National Education Development and Labor
Advisory Council, which has a statutory mandate to disQ
economic and labor policies among tripartite constituencies and
civil society, was the turning point in the Alliance. Webster
characterized this "bypassing of democratic structures" as
post-apartheid government's "original sin." Neither COSATU nor
the SACP, though both alliance members, were able to influence
this policy, developing a set of common grievances against the
"hegemony" of the Mbeki government. COSATU then-President
Willie Madisha told Webster in 2003 that the labor federation
resolved in 1998 to "recapture" the ANC and "ensure that the
bourgeoisie does not run away with the revolution."

6. Webster noted although there were divergences, Zuma's
selection as a standard-bearer for the "coalition of the
aggrieved" was not made until sometime in 2000, when it first

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became known that Zuma was under investigation by the Scorpions
for alleged corruption. COSATU was outraged at the perceived
use of state resources to eliminate a rival, according to
Webster. Although neither COSATU nor the SACP were officially
voting at Polokwane, the organizations were the "elephant in the
room". Webster said that 62 percent of paid-up ANC members were
either members of COSATU, the SACP or the ANC Youth League.

Polokwane as Warning and Opportunity
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. The typology of leadership styles in post-colonial Africa
varied along a grid of "authoritarian populism" and "popular
democracy" either of which could be characterized as using state
resources for private accumulation/corruption or for a
commitment to public service. Webster questioned where along
that grid Polokwane would take South Africa. He noted that too
close an alignment of labor with the policy process would not be
healthy, and warned that having labor be captive to state power
could be dangerous. However, Webster believed that COSATU was
aware of this danger, as its February 28 press conference
showed. (Note: COSATU Central Executive Committee took issue
with public statements made by ANC President Zuma on labor
market flexibility. End Note.)

Implications for Policy

8. Despite the "recapturing" of the ANC by COSATU and the SACP,
Webster doubted that national policies will change
significantly. Jacob Zuma is a politically ambiguous leader
who represents multiple constituencies, including rural
traditionalists, Webster said. In addition, a shift in economic
policy has already taken place in the form of increased social
spending and the adoption of industrial policy. This shift took
place two or three years ago and will simply be continued by
Zuma, Webster said.


9. The demographic data presented by Professor Webster
indicate the deep economic divisions still present in South
African society, creating a fertile field for nuturing populist
economic policies. Webster was encouraging COSATU's membership,
many of whom were in the audience, to Qtinue on the labor
federation's path of policy independence from government. In a
follow-on conversation, he noted potentials parallels for COSATU
with the experiences of other African state, where trade unions
had become "clearly subservient clients of governments until the
inevitable fallout". COSATU's General Secretary Vavi, who
recently implicitly criticized Zuma in a radio interview, at any
rate seems unwilling to cut even his political allies any slack.
If politics is the art of compromise, then his personal
unwillingness to do so, as much as any views on labor's policy
independence, may result in COSATU remaining an independent --
and critical -- force in Alliance politics.
End Comment.

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