“South Africa, politically, is actually quite unstable,” he told Sapa, speaking after delivering an address at Stellenbosch University.
Asked if he thought the ANC would still be in power 20 to 30 years from now, Mbeki, the younger brother of former president Thabo Mbeki, responded: “No, I don’t think so.”
Asked which party he thought would replace the ANC, he said: “I think there are new political parties… [there are] awakenings happening in the country that I think will create [this alternative].”
Earlier, he told University of Stellenbosch students there was potential for the “emergence of a new political party, driven by organised labour and business”.
This, Mbeki said, would be a good thing for South Africa, but something the ruling party saw as a “major, major threat”.
The primary challenge facing the country was that half to three-quarters of the population were living in poverty.
Arab Spring equivalent
Asked what he thought the likelihood was of South Africa experiencing the equivalent of an Arab Spring – the revolutionary wave of protests and uprisings that swept across parts of the Arab world over a year ago – he replied: “Very high.”
The North African states where the revolts had taken place were middle-income countries like South Africa.
“The North African countries and South Africa are the only middle-income countries in Africa. It’s them that are faced with this problem.
“You have a relatively well-educated population that have high expectations, but the economic system is not delivering. Those are the countries that are susceptible to what happened in [that region]”.
On South Africa’s economic prospects for the next two to three decades, he said there were two ways the country could go.
“If we carry on along the path we are following, which is to divert more and more of our gross domestic product to private and state consumption, then the [local] economy is going to shrink and continue shrinking.
Can’t have it both ways
“If, on the other hand, we change the policies, and move more like the Asians are doing towards investment… it’ll make a huge difference.”
But he warned that South Africa could not have it both ways.
“You can’t have these hugely highly-paid politicians and civil servants, who are consuming imports like 4x4s and those kinds of things, and, at the same time, develop investment for the economy.
“Politically, if you’re having a stagnant economy, you have the instability that we’re having in South Africa today.”
South Africa was politically stable, but there was no organised opposition among the poor, who made up the bulk of the ANC’s support base.
“It’s just that the poor people are operating on their own. But, sooner or later, they are going to be joined by others – like, for example, the ANC Youth League.
“You can see the ANCYL are now starting to join the poor. Then it becomes a new political equation.”
Poor put ANC in power
Delivering his address earlier – titled “The Social Structure of South Africa and its Impact on Economic Performance” – Mbeki criticised the party that he once, in the 1990s, served as a media consultant.
“If you look at the political elite in South Africa today, their main objective… is to maximise their own consumption, and the consumption of those who keep them in power.
“And the people who keep this group in power… are the poor. Seventy percent of the voters for the ANC do not work.”
He suggested the ANC had secured its electoral power base by massively increasing social grants, with the number of recipients rising from about two million in 1996 to 15.5 million today.
“The payback [for the ANC] for this is [the poor] voting for whoever gives them money.”
Mbeki, who holds an MA in Sociology, said many of his friends within the Congress of SA Trade Unions believed that the federation had put the ANC in power.
“It is not them that put the ANC in power; it’s the poor, who are not working, who put the ANC in power.”
Mbeki also warned about what he called capital flight out of South Africa.
“Since 1994, capital flight has been getting higher and higher and higher in South Africa.”
Lack of interest
In 2007 alone, South Africa had lost – according to a Wits University study – an estimated $20bn illegal capital exports.
“Since 1994, there has been a huge amount of capital flight; up to 20% of South Africa’s gross domestic product flies out of the country annually.”
Mbeki said the ANC had demonstrated a “lack of interest” in attracting investment.
“However, organised labour realises the consequence [of this]. Already we are beginning to see this alliance playing itself up.
“The National Union of Metalworkers of SA has formed a partnership with what is called the manufacturing circle, which are the manufacturing industrialists.
“They have formed a partnership to stop the de-industrialisation of the country. So this process is already working itself out.”
Mbeki said South Africa’s “political elite” felt threatened by business capitalists, civil society and organised labour.
“And there is a reform that is being put in place by the people who control the state, which is to tackle the issue of the independence of all these groups.”
This was being done by “trying to undermine the independence of the media and by trying to control the judiciary.
“The independence of the judiciary is being threatened because this group feels very, very threatened by what is emerging in the country.
“The media is under threat. The state has long [ago] taken control of the SABC, which is supposed to be an independent public broadcaster, but which is actually run as a branch of the ANC,” Mbeki said – SAPA