The South African Communist Party heads to its 13th national congress this week, and its top leader, general secretary Blade Nzimande, looks certain to secure another term. The SACP has been through an extraordinary five years, but the discussions that will be held in north KwaZulu Natal are unlikely to stray far from topics that have always occupied the party’s thoughts. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The last five years have been topsy-turvy for the SACP. Its leader, Blade Nzimande, championed ANC president Jacob Zuma when he was campaigning to replace Thabo Mbeki as party boss. The end plan, we were always told, was to destroy the ‘1996 class project’ once and for all. Mbeki is gone today and Zuma is in power – yet most policies that collectively fell under the infamous moniker are still in place. The SACP has also had to change itself to deal with the fact that its leaders are now no longer just the academics and ‘clever boys’ of the tripartite alliance, but ANC national executive committee (NEC) members and Cabinet ministers.
The internal discussions of the SACP will dominate the political landscape for a week as we try to catch glimpses of what the state is of the tripartite alliance, and perhaps even the ANC.
Obviously the question of leadership is one that will rise to the top. The communist party is famously allergic to internal factionalism and ugly spats, and has dealt very quietly with the internal dissent over the decision to allow the general secretary to accept both a seat on the ANC’s NEC and the position of higher education and training minister. Just before the local government elections in 2011, a concerted effort to silence Nzimande emerged – and its support incorporated people both inside the communist party and among tripartite pillars. More than a year later, that campaign has been squashed, and the general secretary still stands.
The real point of that particular campaign was to damage the opponents of the nationalists and tenderpreneurs in the ANC – who were most loudly and fiercely opposed by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, but also by Nzimande. The communists, apparently embarrassed that the ruthless moneymen in the ANC almost gained a foothold among them, rallied and are now almost all at peace with the idea of Nzimande serving as a member of the ruling party’s NEC and as a cabinet minister.
But that’s not to say that the communists are not worried about diluted political clout as well. There is a proposal afoot to strengthen the general secretary’s office by creating three secretarial positions instead of one. Previously, this one position was held by one person who was permanently employed at the party headquarters.
Nzimande’s chances of re-election look very good indeed. The Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West provincial structures all support him. In fact, no province has publicly come out and criticised the general secretary. There have been some low-key mumblings about Nzimande’s fingers being in many pies, but those have come from the unions (who are quite influential in the party) and have been immediately and enthusiastically countered by prominent SACP members.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who also served as SACP chairman, will not be standing for another term. The party said that he recused himself from nomination because he wants to focus his energies on the ANC. Given how things have been going at Luthuli House, it would seem that the job of ensuring that the right people win again at Mangaung is a full-time one.
Over the last four years, the SACP was a major opponent of the creeping influence of the tenderpreneurs, and loudly launched anti-corruption campaigns. The public face of that particular faction was the former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, who is now in the political wilderness. Some of the stances that the faction that sponsored Malema took forced the SACP into a corner. For example, the party has always supported a literal reading of the Freedom Charter, which means it supported the nationalisation of mines. Yet it opposed the idea when it came from Malema, saying that what that lot wanted was to bail out a few struggling BEE entrepreneurs who had landed up with toxic mining assets. Now that Malema is gone and his people in the ANC have gone dead quiet on the policy front, is it time for the SACP to reclaim that space? The opportunity is certainly there.
Another ripe opportunity for the party to approach things truly communistically – and this is where they tend to go the full Karl Marx – is where they’re strategising and plotting for the future. A lot of the stuff they want is simply impossible to get, given that the ANC is also under the control of people who are not in the least bit left-leaning in their economics and politics, but it is a reminder to everyone that we do have socialists in our midst. This year, that document is called ‘Road To Socialism’, and it begins by talking about who we ought to be as a socialist republic, but ends up describing how it wants the tripartite alliance to deepen its bias to the working class by bloating the state and limiting the private sector.
Inevitably, the media will get talked about. This is the Eastern Cape SACP in its recent provincial council statement: “The Provincial Council noted that over a period of time the bourgeoisie South African media has placed itself as an opposition to the people`s government and paraded as an anti-alliance force and only focused on profit-making, whilst propagating neo-liberal views and positions. The neo-liberal is on the offensive and seeks to consolidate anti-majoritans using media and courts.”
But it’ll hardly be bad feelings between the communists and the journalists who will be at the University of Zululand for the duration of the conference. The real enemy here is the Democratic Alliance – that’s who the SACP seriously dislikes. The gripe about the media being the enemy is the fact that most major newspapers (all of them, in fact) are capitalistic in nature and tend not to bang on the hammer-and-sickle drum. This is just one of those things that will never go away as long as the media tends to be homogeneous and owned by a small clutch of companies.
So unless something truly unexpected happens, Nzimande ought to coast to an easy victory. That will be good news for Zuma in Luthuli House. It will be one less headache that he will have to deal with in his own campaign to be re-elected by the ANC.
The 13th national congress of the SACP runs from 11 to 15 July. DM
Photo: Blade Nzimande (Reuters)