SACP conference: smooth victory for the usual suspects

By Sipho Hlongwane 14 July 2012

Not one of the top six berths available in the South African Communist Party were contested. All the newly elected leaders were nominated by all nine provinces and the young communists. Done by consensus, as the party likes to say. And yes, Blade Nzimande is the general secretary again. But, says SIPHO HLONGWANE, despite the hard sell on unity, something seems rotten in the kingdom of Denmark.

This was one of those congresses where the outcome was known long before it even began. The SACP elected every single one of its top six officials by consensus, meaning that no position was contested. Blade Nzimande will be the general secretary for another five years. Jeremy Cronin will begin his seventeenth year as the first deputy general secretary. A new position – second deputy general secretary – was created, and will be occupied for the next five years by Solomon ‘Solly’ Mapaila (formerly Nzimande’s right-hand man at party headquarters as the organising secretary). Former deputy chairwoman Joyce Moloi-Moropa will be the new treasurer, the mineworkers’ union president, Senzeni Zokwana, will replace Gwede Mantashe as the national chairman, and Thembelani Thulas Nxesi (you will know him as the public works minister) will be the deputy national chairman.

All nine provinces, plus the Young Communists League, nominated the six people elected. No candidates were nominated from the floor.

Mapaila’s position was created via a constitutional amendment at this congress. It came about after some controversy arose from Nzimande’s deployment to the national cabinet as the minister of higher education and training. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which is easily the SACP’s most important ally, complained that this deployment tended to dilute the party’s impact in the tripartite alliance between it, the union federation and ruling African National Congress. Nzimande has been a vocal supporter of the SACP’s need to deploy its leaders in government (or “all spheres of the national democratic revolution”, as he might call it), and the decision to expand the general secretary’s office was a compromise between the competing views.

Former national chairman Mantashe himself heavily criticised his dual deployment as both chairman in the SACP and secretary-general in the ANC. In his speech delivered on Thursday he said, “It is impossible to run both positions. It creates a situation where there is always an absentee chairperson.” The party is understood to be happy to have him serve on the central committee, while continuing to serve as the ANC’s top administrator. 

“[The SACP] is a relatively small party. It has successfully deployed people to all centres of power. As a result, it has paid a price at the level of the actual organisation,” the outgoing chairman said in his final speech.

Nzimande used the first chance he got as the newly elected party leader to criticise the press for reporting on an incident that was first raised by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. The union said that on Thursday night its general secretary Irvin Jim was followed by a suspicious-looking car from the University of Zululand, where the congress is being held. Eventually, Jim’s security confronted the car’s occupants, who were all heavily armed. According to them, they thought they were tailing the deputy mayor of Durban, in whose entourage they actually belonged.

Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese cast aspersions on this story. 

“When confronted, the occupants of the other car claimed that they thought the car belonged to… the mayor. Surprisingly, they did not know the name of the mayor, and even worse, they could not produce authentic SA Police Service identification cards. The cars had false registration plates and were heavily armed,” he said.

According to Numsa president Cedric Gina, this may have been an intimidation tactic against Jim for his radical economic views. 

“Who knows where this group that intimidated him came from? Numsa’s call for the nationalisation of mines is a call that makes all types of people angry. Some right-wing organisations might want to take the situation into their own hands,” he said.

Vavi himself tweeted the news as Numsa presented it.

Nzimande blamed the media for sensationalising a non-incident. “It was an honest mistake; they followed the wrong car,” he said. The press was trying to present KwaZulu Natal as a ‘killing ground’, which it no longer is, he scolded. He was not present at the press conference after the open session on Saturday to explain what he meant by all of this.

Nzimande and Cronin both said that the SACP was united, and that relations between the three pillars of the alliance were healthier than ever – but then the former blamed the press for reporting on what Numsa said. At the press conference, Cronin denied that they were doing so in order to avoid publicly scolding the unions for revealing information that might present a picture of trouble in wonderland. It was a strange statement from Nzimande – one that did nothing to dispel the suspicion that Jim might be facing enormous pressure to change his tune on nationalisation of mines and his annoyance at ANC president Jacob Zuma.

We might have been sold a line of harmony and unity, but we’re finding it very difficult to accept. Something doesn’t add up. Sorry, Blade, but that’s exactly what it looks like. DM

Read more:

  • Intimidation of Irvin Jim might be because of Irvin Jim’s views in Mail & Guardian

Photo: Jeremy Cronin is beginning his seventeenth year as the SACP’s first deputy general secretary. (REUTERS)


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