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“Farmgate” Threatens the Very Foundations of Capitalist Stability in South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces an impeachment vote Tuesday. More than a simple case of corruption, it’s a political crisis of the ruling party and of capitalist stability in the country.

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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa in a suit
Image: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The African National Congress (ANC) is in crisis, with party leader and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa under threat of impeachment. Ramaphosa, who was elected as an anti-corruption president after Jacob Zuma’s scandal-ridden nine years in office, is facing corruption charges himself. How this story develops threatens the very foundations of capitalist stability in Africa’s wealthiest country.

The ANC has been the governing party of South Africa since the fall of South African apartheid in the 1980s. It was a leading organization that resisted apartheid, which included armed, underground struggle. Both Zuma and Ramaphosa are veterans of that period of resistance. The ANC became the ruling party of South Africa when it struck a deal with the capitalists to end apartheid. 

In what is being referred to as “Farmgate,” a panel is investigating Ramaphosa, alleging that he used state resources to retrieve stolen money of his that he did not properly register. This scandal comes as the ANC is set to meet this month to decide who will lead the party in the upcoming 2024 elections. Ramaphosa remains the most popular candidate by far. After all, his main challenger is Zuma who is known for completely destabilizing the country, taking massive bribes to sell off key assets of the South African economy, and overseeing the massacre of Marikana mine workers on strike. If Zuma is the ANC’s candidate in 2024, it will almost certainly result in the party failing to win a majority in parliament for the first time since the end of apartheid. 

This explains why Ramaphosa is refusing to resign, with much of the party backing his decision. Ramaphosa holding onto power is not guaranteed though, since he has not been able to resolve the internal conflict within the ANC over how to deal with the economic and political crisis facing South Africa. At the same time, both Ramaphosa and Zuma have failed to win over important sectors of the working class — like the trade union workers who booed Ramaphosa speaking — who are growing fed up with the limitations of the ANC in general.

The instability of the ANC must be understood in the context of capitalism’s instability, which is acute in South Africa. The legacy of imperialist plunder of South Africa’s resources, the energy crisis which is manifesting in regular eight-hour long blackouts, and the devastating toll of the Covid-19 pandemic are destroying economic stability in the country. 

A vote on impeachment is expected to take place Tuesday. It is unlikely that Ramaphosa will be impeached, but given the volatility of the political situation, it cannot be ruled out. Whatever happens, the ANC will remain in crisis.

It will be important for socialists around the world, and particularly in South Africa, to follow this crisis closely. South Africa remains a strategic part of the world economy with a dynamic history of social movements and class struggle. Our task as revolutionaries is to think of ways to utilize this crisis to extend and deepen the class struggle tendencies recently expressed in the struggle of miners, against evictions, and for land rights and reform.

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Samuel Karlin

Samuel Karlin is a socialist with a background in journalism. He mainly writes for Left Voice about U.S. imperialism and international class struggle.

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