Blade Nzimande has come under a lot of flak since joining the Zuma administration as higher education minister in 2008. His close involvement in government has been seen as damaging the South African Communist Party’s traditional role of intellectual critics in the Tripartite Alliance. Nzimande’s response to all these charges has been rather subdued.
Not anymore. On Tuesday morning, he came out swinging. In case the message wouldn’t get across, the speech was titled: Let’s Close Ranks to Defeat the “New Tendency” and its “Vanguard” – Populist Demagogy.
The SACP is worried about populism that could sweep the alliance. Nzimande calls it a “populist, demagogic agenda that uses leftist language to advance a narrow accumulation agenda”.
There was the issue of “the vanguard” – a phrase that is likely to recur repeatedly – and the ANC Youth League’s claim that there is no “vanguard of the working class”. It is quite a provocative ideological challenge to the SACP and Cosatu, a bit like saying that the ANC is no longer taking an interest in the plight of the poor. Nzimande’s response was to remind the Youth League of the fact that they’re the youth and have no struggle credentials. “It is important to know that being a vanguard is not like a tender award (‘One for you, one for me’), but is earned in struggle, on the ground, and therefore not declared through podiums,” he said.
He continued: “Perhaps this illustrates the extent to which tenderpreneurship mentality and practices have penetrated our ranks. The ‘vanguard’ role we are hearing today is that of being a vanguard for tenders, and not for the workers and the poor of our country.”
Like Vavi’s secretariat report, Nzimande specifically accused the Youth League of pushing the nationalisation agenda in order to save black mine owners. “The impact of the 2008 global capitalist crisis on our own economy particularly exposed the highly indebted BEE capitalist stratum as share prices in mining and other stocks tumbled. Hence, the call for nationalisation by elements within the ANCYL, whose intention is to save these BEE elements in crisis, and not to address the interests of the workers and the poor of our country.”
The way to transform the economy wasn’t through nationalisation, which had been tried elsewhere in the world and hadn’t really worked, but through “socialisation”. Yes, South Africa’s top communist said that.
Still doubt that the SACP secretary-general was speaking about Malema? In a part of his speech which he didn’t read out, he said: “Demagogic anti-white utterances and theatrical parading with sub-machine gun-toting heavies, fuelled the DA campaign not just in the white community, but also in other so-called ‘minority’ communities – with the DA appealing to a sense of ‘minorities under threat’. Clearly, the election campaign further underlined the necessity and urgency to deal much more decisively with demagoguery, ill-discipline and factionalism associated particularly with the ‘new tendency’.”
Nzimande once again justified the SACP’s new role of getting into government. “Often what has caused some complications has been the public denouncement of the SACP’s decisions on the deployment of its cadres,” he said. “Publicly, the SACP has said that we accept the bona fides of Cosatu leadership who raised this point, and we accept that it is out of genuine concern for the well-being of the party. We have also always stated quite categorically that this is a decision for the party and not any other formation to make, and that this is indeed a decision taken by the party after long discussions and based on a very extensive internal party debate around our MTV (medium-term vision) and around how we should engage with the state.
“Therefore, we wish to state categorically that the decisions of the SACP on the deployment of its cadres, is a now a closed matter. None of us dare raise this matter in public, as this can only play into the agenda of those who are against us,” he said.
Nzimande spent a large part of his speech off-script, accusing the “liberal media” of being the greatest opposition in the country. According to Nzimande, the Democratic Alliance has the public profile that it has today because of the media. “It is for this reason that the SACP re-affirms the clarion call of our movement, that the people shall govern – not the liberals, not the DA, not the print media – but the people, through their own genuine representative, the ANC-led alliance!” he thundered. Switching back to isiZulu, he told the delegates to read tomorrow’s papers to see how he would now be smeared, which the conference found hilarious.
Photo: Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu President Sidumo Dlamini and Cosatu first deputy president Tyotyo James react to Blade Nzimande’s speech.
This was a Cosatu central committee meeting when all is said and done, so the exact effect of Nzimande’s homily will be less impactful than he desired. But he very successfully got the message across that Cosatu and the SACP were now more united, in response to perceived threats. He has also laid the foundation for the left’s push-back against the ANC Youth League, which has been threatening to take up the ideological playing field previously occupied by the communists. Unless the SACP secretary-general retreats back into his shell of silence, of course. DM
Photo: SACP’s Blade Nzimande at the Cosatu’s central committee conference, 28 June 2011. (The Daily Maverick)
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