It was a communist conference where they were repeatedly told the ANC is still in charge and that Zuma's the boss. And they seem to have accepted it… for now.
President Jacob Zuma has laid down the law to the SA Communist Party. In probably his toughest speech to an alliance partner since Polokwane, he told them the SACP was “the party (that) can be tempted to find itself in (sic) the borderline between constructive criticism and being in opposition to the African National Congress, the leader of the Alliance”. He also mentioned the fact that the ANC was the leader of the alliance seven more times in his speech, just in case they didn’t hear him the first time.
That must be a bitter pill to swallow for some comrades. You go to a party convention, only to have the leader of another party tell you that they’re in charge and to stop mucking about. And all you did was be the only political group in the country with the balls to tell Julius Malema where to get off. Politics is unfair in that respect. Malema deserved what he got, and for him of all people to claim he was owed an apology simply made most people laugh. It certainly didn’t get him one (an apology, that is). What it did mean is that a small political event that would really only interest the political addicts now became the headline story in the Sunday Times.
And it was less than flattering. It claimed that Gwede Mantashe, who had a bad week, had to call Zuma to make sure he was coming to the conference. No doubt the spin machine will enthusiastically deny all of this had anything to do with the booing of Malema. But most people will see a simple link: Malema is Zuma’s guy, boo Malema, expect retribution from Zuma. And there was political retribution in his speech. When alliance leaders talk about discipline, they mean, don’t attack us in public. When they say that the SACP may be indulging in “opposition” to the ANC, they may be trying to link Blade Nzimande to Helen Zille. It’s a dirty world isn’t it.
But what was striking about Zuma’s lecture, was how some of it could have come out of Thabo Mbeki’s mouth. Remember how Zuma’s tsunami started? With Mbeki getting the alliance partners under his thumb. Lecturing them in public. At the time it was claimed there were no real divisions in the alliance. Then the denials said there were no real divisions in the ANC, which was all rubbish, of course. Fast forward to this weekend, and it’s too early to say that this is a major rift. But Zuma must have made that speech at some political cost to himself. He can’t expect a massive reception next time he goes into an SACP tent. He may miss the old times, before he started governing the alliance and reminding them who’s the boss.
The other person who may suffer as a result of all of this is Blade Nzimande. He can’t stand up to Zuma as much as some comrades would like. If he does, he may find himself moved out of the department of higher education, and into minibus taxi management, something he might want to avoid. But he has won the battle for now. As expected, the SACP has agreed to let him stay on as general secretary, while keeping his day job in cabinet. This applies to a couple of others too.
One thing this conference may ultimately have contributed to is the end of Mantashe’s rise in the SACP. As ANC secretary general and SACP chairman, there were always going to be some difficult days. But having to watch the cameras roll while Malema was booed, and then having to remind Malema he didn’t have the right to address the SACP must have been difficult (although a not-so-small part of him might have enjoyed saying no to Malema). Yet there is a small rumbling from people who feel he keeps putting the ANC first. He was always going to, but the last few days have made him do that publicly, and it’s a little embarrassing for him and other comrades who may feel they deserve better from their chairman.
However, perhaps the most frustrating thing for die-hard SACP members, is that so much of this has happened before. Disagree with the ANC. Get nowhere. Disagree publicly. Get smacked around by the ANC’s leader. Cower. It’s a bit like a bad marriage. The question of course is where is the SACP going with this. As Samuel Beckett put it, nowhere. Or so it seems at the moment. That could change, if enough people in the SACP are angry enough. And oddly enough, the behaviour of some of Zuma’s ANC may just have started a little ball rolling.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
Photo courtesy of ProProfs.com