Not entirely omniscient
16 April 2014 07:07 (South Africa)
South Africa

SACP conference: This is the Blade's world

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa
C:\fakepath\blake nzimande sipho

On Thursday at the South African Communist Party congress, general secretary Blade Nzimande delivered his political report. My, he hasn’t been in such fine fighting form in a while. And as far as he is concerned, the only “outstanding” problem is the wayward union Numsa. How is that for a show of strength? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Daily Maverick predicted at the beginning of the week that the 13th national congress of the SACP would be a breeze for Nzimande. We expected him to receive no stiff competition for the position of general secretary (it now looks like he’ll get no competition whatsoever) and the party was also expected to endorse the direction it took under his stewardship. The rapturous reception that the 2,100 delegates at the University of Zululand in Empangeni gave his political report is a pretty big sign that we read the situation correctly. And then there’s the speech itself – Nzimande conceded almost nothing, but rather celebrated the party’s victories against its enemies, both inside and outside of the tripartite alliance.

We also know now that the SACP is likely to endorse president Jacob Zuma for a second term as ANC president, and its outgoing chairman Gwede Mantashe as secretary-general of the ANC.

Though the political report delivered by the general secretary at these gatherings is on behalf of the central committee, the one delivered on Thursday was bang on the mark in terms of any and every gripe Nzimande has ever had. We don’t know for sure that he wrote it alone (probably not), but it sure reads like it in large parts.

The political report wholeheartedly accepted the notion of the second phase of transition, even though the idea didn’t find wholesale favour at the ANC national policy conference. “The ANC’s characterisation of the period we must enter as that of a 2nd phase of transition from colonialism of a special type into a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic and more egalitarian society is a welcome development for the SACP,” Nzimande said.

Then Nzimande drew himself to his full height to deliver what was one of his most impassioned rants in recent history. “At the Special Congress [held in 2009], we correctly predicted the pending crisis of global capitalism and its likely impact on the working people and the developing world. At the Special National Congress we also identified what we called the ‘new tendency’ – new class forces and interests, largely from inside the ranks of our own movement, which sought to capture the liberation movement, by hook or by crook, for purposes of narrow capital accumulation – as the principal and immediate threat to the consolidation of both the unity of our movement and deepening the [national democratic revolution],” Nzimande said. You could tell how much this “new tendency” – or tenderpreneurs, as they are colloquially known – irks him. He said that they presented the single biggest threat to the ANC and its partners. 

He went on to give the SABC an earful for giving the expelled Julius Malema so much airtime. “We must be ashamed of the public broadcaster… every day there are headlines of people expelled from our movement. You are playing a factional role,” he said. Nzimande’s disdain for Malema is no secret – the former ANC Youth League leader was seen to be the public face of the tenderprenuer class within the ANC. This friction could be something as easy as capitalists versus socialists within the ANC. But Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has also expressed his displeasure with the creeping influence of the tenderpreneurs, though never quite displaying the righteous anger of Nzimande.

“This bit will excite the media,” Nzimande said before going on: “We are currently satisfied with the leadership of the ANC.”

He also endorsed Mantashe for a second term in the ANC top six. “We have not sold you to the highest bidder, but are merely giving you space to go and do that job (ANC secretary-general), and hopefully for a long time to come,” he said.

The relationship between Cosatu and the communist party is strong, Nzimande said. In 2009, the trade union federation said it didn’t like the fact that he was both a general secretary of the SACP and a member of the cabinet. The two organisations managed to iron their issues out, but the only “outstanding problem” is that of the National Metalworkers Union of South Africa (Numsa) which has repeatedly stated that it wants Zuma out in Mangaung. 

“If Numsa is a problem, let’s come to the SACP and discuss matters,” he said. “There can be no Numsa without the communist party. And the communist party would be weaker without Numsa. Let us not allow pettiness to destroy this relationship.”

By contrast, Mantashe was a lot more genial – professorial even – in his address. It will, in all likelihood, be his last as the chairman of the party. He has stated that he can’t continue to serve both as the chairman of the SACP and the general-secretary of the ANC. 

“Notwithstanding problems encountered in the beginning, there is today a deeper understanding of the contradictions in the movement,” Mantashe said. “The depth of understanding is helpful in our ability to better crystalise the contribution of the party in redressing the decline of discipline and values of the movement. This requires that the party, in engaging in challenges facing the movement, is beyond reproach by transcending petty, factional fights and divisions.”

And so he went. We know Mantashe to be curmudgeonly (not to detract from his political brilliance) but we’ve seldom seen him this comfortable and at home. But that’s what all good final farewells are made of. And his particular one will serve the party well if they choose to remember it.

“Comrades, we are fast losing our ability to make a positive contribution without claiming credit. Our fondness at alienating others by claiming to have shaped the course of things makes us resemble an infantile purist formation, as opposed to being a mature Marxist/Leninist party that can play a vanguard role without labelling it as such,” he said. And that, right there, is Mantashe’s philosophy in a nutshell. He’s certainly played things that way in his tenure as the chief administrator in the ANC.

According to the Mail & Guardian, Mantashe is likely to be replaced by Senzeni Zokwana, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. Mantashe himself was once the general secretary of that union – while being a communist party member and an ANC member. 

We briefly mentioned the fight over the ANC between the tenderpreneurs and the socialists – on the SACP wing of the red front, things seem to be lined up perfectly, as they always are. This is a stark contrast to the ugly factionalism that has persistently dogged the ANC in the last 18 months. The elected leaders will most likely achieve their positions via consensus rather than a contested election.

On Saturday, the delegates will spend the day in sessions, discussing the finance report, the organisational report as well as the different commissions. This is the part of the congress where the media is asked to retire to the nearest watering hole until called upon again.

The newly elected central committee will be announced on Sunday. DM

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa


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