Now that its house is in order, the South African Communist Party must begin to look forward to the congresses of its two allies. It has to position itself to at least retain the hold it has on the government. And that has to start with fixing its unravelling relationship with the unions. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The SACP’s 13th national congress has concluded. We know who the top six officials are, and we know that they were all elected by consensus. There was no vote. That tells us something about the nine provinces and the Young Communist League (often referred to as the 10th province).
It also tells us a lot about the strength of the general secretary, Blade Nzimande, within his own party. He has been a strong advocate for the move to deploy top SACP leaders to the government. And, despite strong pressure from Cosatu and some people within the party, that decision still stands. The compromise was that a second deputy general secretary would be appointed to form a secretariat with the other central committee members, who are permanently employed by the party. The person who now occupies that position is Solly Mapaila, formerly the organising secretary and Nzimande’s right-hand man in the party. So the general secretary won there too.
The party resolutions were not the shrill or clumsy affairs that other tripartite alliance structures have been known to come up with. There were some seriously good brains at work, and you could see it. Take the mining question, for example. We must be one of the few countries in the world where the communist party has not taken the most extreme position in this regard. Rather than the wholesale nationalisation demanded by the ANC Youth League and the metalworkers’ union, the SACP recognises that we live in a nationalisation regime of sorts already. The government licenses mining companies to dig up minerals it already claims are in the national interest. The stance of the SACP is to tax the profits on mining companies. It wants to introduce a windfall tax on mining profits above 15% - this has also been raised in the ANC’s own policy proposals.
The SACP also wants a windfall tax on Sasol. The first deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, said the company has been very reluctant to release figures on how much it actually costs for it to produce a barrel of oil. He reckons it is something like $35 to $40. Then Sasol sells that oil on at the international price, which is roughly $100 – and pockets the difference. So it’s only fair that Sasol’s super profits be taxed, since the company was built up on public resources. (Actually, SACP wants the government to eventually re-nationalise Sasol.)
The decision to sell Iscor was also heavily lamented. Since ArcelorMittal is in serious trouble thanks to the global recession, the SACP believes its South Africa subsidiary is being asset-stripped and jobs are being lost locally. The communists believe that re-nationalising the steel company will prevent that.
There’s another idea which sounds good on paper but could have some seriously bad ramifications – the SACP wants to redesigns the grants system so that the money given out is spent at the local level and not given to super companies who will then take that money out of the area. In essence, instead of taking the grant money that you received from the government and buying vegetables from Checkers, the SACP wants pensioners and the like to buy from local co-ops.
It’s an attempt to connect welfarism to local development, but it could go horribly wrong. The government simply does not have the capacity to carry this out, let alone well. How would they police the system? And what would the impact be if they somehow took money out of the equation and used coupons (which is one conceivable way of doing it)? Without even knowing what people actually do with grant cash, it’s a bonkers idea. Well meant, but mad.
From now, the SACP has to look outside of itself. It has to think hard about how it positions itself in relation to the ANC – because that’s where the big prize is. It has been complaining for a while that it doesn’t like the fact that it is given hand-outs by the ANC in the form of allocated space on parliamentary lists, and perhaps a seat or two in Cabinet. The system doesn’t work all that well for the communists because it removes them from the chain of command. Their deployed comrades report elsewhere.
On the other hand, the party only has about 155,000 members. The ANC is many times that size. Trying to get influence by swelling its ranks won’t get the SACP anywhere. Even Cosatu is struggling to do that.
But there’s another problem – the SACP needs to sort out its mess with Numsa and Cosatu. The main disagreement is with the national union of metalworkers, and it seems to stem from a simple disagreement over the possibility of a second President Jacob Zuma term. Numsa doesn’t want him to have one, the SACP does. This disagreement has festered to the point where the union is suggesting someone is trying to assassinate its general secretary, Irvin Jim.
Nzimande and the other top leaders of the SACP had to spend large portions of their time in press conferences denying that Jim’s life was in any danger. Whatever the truth, the whole thing looks pretty ugly. And for now, Jim seems to have Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi on his side. Nzimande needs to get Cosatu back on his, publicly, and as quickly as possible. Otherwise he’s just ensuring that Jim’s unhappiness is out in public – and the opponents to Nzimande and Cosatu within the ANC won’t hesitate to use that rift against the left-leaning organisations.
The SACP needs to get Zuma re-elected. It’s as simple as that. They can’t take the chance that he might get replaced by a leader who is as openly distrustful of the communists as Thabo Mbeki was. In the greater scheme of things, almost nothing else matters as much as that. With a hostile leader in the ANC, they can just as well burn all their resolution papers. DM
Photo: First deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, general secretary Blade Nzimande and national chairman Senzeni Zokwana. Sipho Hlongwane/Daily Maverick