Ralph Mathekga

ANC finally getting its 'Lula moment', but it's not what they hoped for

2018-04-09 10:17
A woman carries a poster that reads in Portuguese "Lula is Innocent," during a protest in support of the Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia, Brazil. (Eraldo Peres, AP)

A woman carries a poster that reads in Portuguese "Lula is Innocent," during a protest in support of the Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia, Brazil. (Eraldo Peres, AP)

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Brazil's once revered revolutionary president Lula da Silva has begun serving a 12-year jail sentence following a corruption conviction last year.

I've been following the developments in Brazil with keen interest because their story could not be closer to that of South Africa on many levels. Lula has been one of the few South American presidents who struck a strong solidarity with leftist formations in South Africa, namely the ANC, Cosatu and SACP. It is Cosatu's fascination with Lula's economic progress that got the federation talking about a "Lula moment" for South Africa.

Lula's interventionist policies were credited for lifting a significant number of Brazilians out of poverty. Given what has happened with the total collapse of the economy in Brazil, I wonder if Cosatu still hold Lula in high regard. 

Towards the ANC's national conference in Mangaung in 2012, talks within the tripartite alliance were that South Africa needed to capture its "Lula moment". That ignited thoughts of radical interventionist policies within the tripartite alliance. Alliance members debated the idea of a "radical second phase" of the transition. The confusion was palpable. Luckily, nothing came out of the discussions on this, until recently when the ANC adopted radical interventionist policy resolutions at the Nasrec conference.

It took a long time for the ANC-led government to begin to sink its teeth into the "Lula moment" by voting for a parliamentary motion to expropriate land without compensation.

The "Lula moment" is here, but in stranger ways than we could imagine.

Lula is fighting to stay out of jail, and he argues that the corruption conviction against him is a neoliberal vendetta to undermine his progressive (leftist) legacy and prevent his political comeback.

The script perfectly fits the one that is being written in South Africa against Lula's admirer, former president Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has reignited his political life as he is fighting to stay out of court, and possibly jail. He successfully defied the ANC's call that no party members should go and support him in his first court appearance. Not only did supporters go out to support him in court, but they also identified themselves as ANC members defending their comrade.

Zuma also likes to portray himself as a revolutionary who is being castigated by those who are aligned to the markets.

Back to the Brazilian script, Lula's supporters are mobilising against his incarceration in such a way that the issue has become a defence of the progressive agenda, an agenda that Lula has identified with throughout his presidency. To put it simply, the neoliberals want Lula off the street in the same manner that they want Zuma off the sidewalk.

The ANC is in a difficult position in the sense that if the Zuma project gains momentum and brings about instabilities within the party, it would raise doubts about the ANC's willingness to walk away from Zuma legacy. This spells bad news for the party in the 2019 elections, and it will get the opposition parties to regain lost grounds against them.

With mixed messages such as its initial willingness to use the state's money to pay for Zuma's legal fees, the ANC is clearly leading from behind on the matter. Zuma must be watching the developments around Lula very closely. Brazil is at crossroads because of the Lula issue, and so is South Africa due to the Zuma standoff.

The two cases show how the former presidents have to keep crawling back to power, not because they have an agenda to implement, but because that is the only condition on which they can stay out of jail.

- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes

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Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  brazil


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