One of the great joys of a leadership struggle within the ANC and the alliance is that it allows those of us who are outside the glorious liberation movement a chance to see what is really going on inside. Fault lines appear, and that allows us to work out who will win the policy wars of the near future. We are now still two years away from the ANC's 2017 leadership conference, but already the SACP and the ANC Youth League are at each other’s throats. It is not a pretty sight; it tells us that it is getting harder and harder to maintain any pretence of unity within both the ANC and the alliance itself. And that the leadership debate/fight is well and truly underway. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
On Wednesday it was reported that the ANC Youth League had suggested, publicly, that Higher Education Minister and SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande, should be suspended from the ANC’s National Executive Committee. His crime against humanity? Speaking in public about what the party calls the “succession debate”. In a follow-up interview, the League’s secretary general Njabulo Nzuza pulled back a little, saying it was not about Nzimande, but about the public posture of the SACP. It was, he said, very clearly against the rules of the ANC for speaking about leadership now, and thus anyone who did so should be punished. He also claimed that the SACP would be engaging in factional activity by discussing a possible new leader for the ANC.
The SACP sees things differently. Its spokesperson, Alex Mashilo, said that it was a sign of an “infantile disorder” for the League to claim the SACP must be punished, but those who have claimed “the time is right for a woman president” should not. He does, of course, have a point. The claim about a woman president is obviously part of a campaign for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma through gender language. And the League is on incredibly weak ground when it claims it simply wants the rules of the game enforced: by simply talking about this, it is making a political statement that is in somebody’s favour.
This all comes within a certain intra-party context: It’s been claimed, and denied, and claimed again, that when the ANC’s new KwaZulu-Natal leader, Sihle Zikalala, won his position two weeks ago, he “missed” the outstretched hand of SACP Chairman, Senzeni Zokwana, and reached over him to shake other hands instead. This is seen as evidence of real tension between Zikalala and the SACP. To make it more interesting, Zikalala is seen, for the moment at least, as part of the “Premier League”, which is campaigning for Dlamini-Zuma.
And then there is the context of the League itself. It was reconstituted only three months ago. Its new leader, Colin Maine (also known as 34.9, in reference to his age and the fact that you cannot run for the leadership of the League after you turn 35) is surely still finding his office keys. It is way too early for it to have taken policy decisions about whether it can appoint itself as the supreme enforcer of the ANC’s rules. It is barely functioning as an organisation, and it appears to have no policy worth the name. This probably means that it is acting on someone’s behalf, when it attacks the SACP in this way. And that someone, presumably, has interests in alignment with Zikalala; and we’re back to the Premier League.
Nzuza’s claim that the SACP is being “factionist” by engaging in the leadership debate also shows glorious ignorance of the ANC’s history. Yes, the SACP supported a candidate, openly, in 2007. So did Cosatu. And so, in case Mr Maine is too old to remember, did the ANC Youth League. The tsunami they supported won. To claim that alliance organisations cannot play a role in this issue would be to simply deny them their right to exist in the alliance. What would be the point of them being part of the Alliance in the first place, if they can’t actually support a certain candidate and seek to influence policy.
And yet, it does seem that there is now a sustained campaign against the SACP. The question would be, who benefits? In a way, there has always been a fight between the nationalists and the communists within the ANC, so this may simply be a continuation of a very old conflict.
But it also seems odd for tensions to be this public. This points, once again, to the almost unique space we are in right now. In the run-up to the 2012 ANC Mangaung Conference, there was none of this sort of thing, the Zuma machine still ruled the roost, and everyone knew that Number One would remain Number One, and his, then, Number Two was preparing himself to be replaced. Whilst we still did have some of this tension, they were certainly not so vocal, and not so early. This points to the importance of the stakes this time around. It seems important to a group of people to make sure they build early momentum, and that their opponents are both flushed out and weakened as soon as possible.
That could have serious consequences of the ANC. Between now and that leadership election, it still has local government elections to fight, and they are going to be tough. It simply cannot afford to see energy wasted on damaging internal fights. There is also a risk that many people be focusing too much on what is happening inside their particular tent, and not realising how much society is changing outside. This would increase the risk of more moments such as that where students refused to accept the legitimacy of the ANC.
There is also another question, are the interests of the SACP and the Premier League really so different? It would seem hard to think the SACP would back a plutocrat for President, so wouldn’t they support Dlamini-Zuma as well? But then, you would think it would be hard for the SACP to have supported the person they have at Polokwane, who’s actually moved the country to the right? Still, they’ve done exactly that.
This could all also show that the SACP has been badly weakened of late. For the League to come out in this publicly, on the attack, suggests it is not afraid of a consequence. Nzimande is weak at the moment after the humiliation of the student protests. And it is surely hard for him to show SACP members what he and the party have achieved by being in cabinet.
And there is the other big lesson from all of this. It could be that this is another signal that the Zuma era, or the era of Zuma the First at least, is slowly coming to an end. People are now fighting over the future, after him. Considering how impressive his political machine has been in the ANC, it is not surprising that its passing will leave a huge vacuum. That means there is going to be more contestation, and probably more damage to the ANC and the alliance as a result. DM
Photo: Minister Blade Nzimande delivering his SoNA speech Debate in parliament. The joint sitting of Parliament to debate President Jacob Zuma’s State of the nation address held at the National Assembly, Parliament. 18/02/2015, Siyasanga Mbambani, DoC