The South African Communist Party (SACP) was central to President Jacob Zuma’s rise to power and the fortunes of its leaders rose significantly under his presidency. Now the SACP is at the forefront of the anti-Gupta campaign and is also challenging Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko and his henchman Berning Ntlemeza. The long-running dalliance between Zuma and the SACP appears to be over. The party is now the lone voice against the “premier league” faction and is yanking up the pressure, suggesting that those involved in “state capture” engaged in underhand dealing with the rand, with a little help from a friend in a high place. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The Gauteng ANC has for some time been considered as the last outpost against the rule of the mob. It led the “Anyone but Zuma” campaign ahead of the ANC’s 2012 national conference in Mangaung and even though it was walloped there, it held its line on issues it felt important. The ANC in Gauteng has remained firm in its opposition to e-tolls in its current form, even when there was pressure from government and the ANC’s national leadership for the system to go ahead.
When everybody else in the ANC was falling over themselves to defend the security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla home and protect the president from having to pay back the money, the Gauteng ANC was the lone critical voice. After lobbying a number of times within the ANC that the money for Nkandla should be paid back to close the chapter, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile spoke out openly on the matter at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering last year. He said Nhleko’s report on the Nkandla upgrades, which contradicted the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, had not been approved by the ANC. He also said that the ANC did not consent to more money being spent on the Nkandla project, as Nhleko’s report had recommended.
Perhaps the clearest example of the Gauteng ANC bucking the trend was the position it took after the Constitutional Court found that Zuma had violated the Constitution through his handling of the Nkandla report. The Gauteng provincial executive committee (PEC) said Zuma’s public apology was “just the beginning of dealing with the political damage and mistrust caused by the mismanagement of the Nkandla matter”. Zuma should “reflect deeply and do the right thing to resolve the unprecedented crisis that the ANC currently faces”, the PEC said in a statement. Other ANC structures within the province were more direct, wanting Zuma to step down.
It was quite fascinating to observe how Zuma crushed the dissent in the Gauteng ANC. His appearance at the Gauteng provincial general council (PGC) meeting earlier this month was calculated to strengthen those in the province who supported him but were hitherto outnumbered. After Zuma’s address to the Gauteng PGC, sentiment swung. The outcome of the PGC saw the Gauteng ANC backpedalling on its position on the Constitutional Court judgment, with agreement that Zuma’s apology should be accepted and no mention of any other action against him. It was clear that the PGC felt that its leaders in the province had overreached by saying Zuma should “do the right thing”.
With the Gauteng ANC tempered, and the the dominant faction in KwaZulu-Natal led by the chairperson Sihle Zikalala booting their opponents out of government this week, it appears the “premier league” faction is now unchallenged. The faction, which stands firmly behind Zuma, and is led by the premiers of the North West, Free State and Mpumalanga, now has free reign in the ANC. Together with the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, as well as the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, they are also fierce defenders of the Gupta family
But now another lone voice has piped up and is determined to be heard above the cacophony. For several years after Zuma’s rise to power, the SACP was indistinct from the ANC and was resented in some quarters of the ANC for being “overrepresented” in government. With so many SACP leaders serving as ministers, deputy ministers and members of Parliament, the party seemed to be operating on autopilot.
For the past year, talk has mounted in the alliance that the relationship between Zuma and SACP general secretary and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande had turned frosty. A Cabinet reshuffle was anticipated in the middle of last year and the SACP braced for Nzimande and others to be either moved to other portfolios or booted out altogether. While Nzimande had been a close confidante of Zuma’s during the time of his trials and the early years of his presidency, he has had very little contact with the president, particularly during Zuma’s second term.
While the SACP and Cosatu were extensively consulted on Cabinet appointments and the like when Zuma became president, there is nothing of the sort now. When a mini reshuffle did occur in September last year, the appointment of Mosebenzi Zwane as Mineral Resources Minister came as surprise, and was also confirmation that Zuma preferred the advice of the Guptas rather than his former allies.
When the “Fees Must Fall” protests erupted, some people in the ANC blamed the crisis on Nzimande. ANC Youth League president Collen Maine called for Nzimande to be fired. Nzimande apparently felt set up as he was not given the mandate to agree to the students’ demands. He was also angered to be left in the lurch and then became a spectator as Zuma took the lead to settle the matter.
When Nhlanhla Nene was fired in December, the SACP again expected that Nzimande and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies would lose their jobs. Five months later, they remain in Cabinet, but uneasily so.
Over the past few months, the SACP has regained its voice and has been the key agitator against “state capture” and the abuse of state organs for political purposes. Through the complaints of SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila about the improper influence of the Gupta family on state affairs, the ANC commissioned an investigation into “state capture”. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has now received representations from a number of people, including Mapaila, about the Guptas’ interference in government.
The SACP has also come out in defence of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan who was being pursued by the Hawks in connection with the special investigating unit operating at the South African Revenue Service when he was commissioner of the tax authority. The SACP said in a statement that Gordhan had become “a barrier against the looting of public resources” and was therefore “visibly being isolated and targeted”.
At a time when Gordhan was becoming a lonely figure politically, the SACP was one of the few voices in the alliance speaking in his defence.
“The Minister and his Deputy Mcebisi Jonas, who blew the whistle on machinations by the Guptas, have the support of the SACP in protecting public resources,” the party said, following media reports that Gordhan was to be arrested.
But the SACP also had a vested interest in targeting the Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza. One of the party leaders had allegedly overheard Ntlemeza telling a third person that “communists must be harassed”, and naming an SACP leader in the North West as his next target. The SACP has since said it would be lodging a formal complaint against Ntlemeza in this regard.
The police minister has hit back against the SACP, saying the attack on Ntlemeza was “unfair” and “malicious”, and that it was puzzling that the party would criticise others based on rumours. The SACP then hit back at Nhleko saying the minister was trying to curtail their constitutional right to freedom of expression. “We are not here to clap hands – we are here to offer constructive criticism from a critical point of view and to congratulate when good work is done,” SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo told News24.
And the SACP keeps bringing the fight. Writing in the party’s newsletter on Thursday, SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin challenged Zuma’s assertion at the Gauteng PGC that there was no such thing as state capture. In response to Zuma’s statement that “If you talk about state capture, you’re misleading people”, Cronin said the way the debate was being shaped underestimated “the wide variety of ways in which corporate capitalist power subverts democracy”.
Cronin also pointed out that the issue of state capture was first raised at the alliance summit that Zuma had convened last year. “It was with this wider understanding that last year’s ANC-led (five day) alliance summit first gave local currency to the corporate capture debate,” Cronin wrote.
While the Gauteng ANC seemed to have crumbled after hearing Zuma speak at the PGC, the SACP is now challenging the president. Cronin said corporate capture “diverted billions of rands into private bank accounts in Dubai and elsewhere”.
He also made a bold, yet unproven, allegation: “We all remember what happened in early December, a Cabinet shuffle and three finance ministers in quick succession. This reportedly knocked R500 billion off the rand’s value. But was there more at play? There are indications that, just ahead of this tumultuous December week, somebody (presumably with foresight into the events about to unfold) took a multi-billion rand bet against the currency (technically known as “shorting”). They borrowed rands to purchase dollars and when the rand crashed they sold the dollars back for rands, walking away with several billions in profit.
Cronin claims something similar happened recently when Gordhan was to be arrested: “The same pattern appears to have occurred just over a week ago. Another multi-million rand bet is followed by a leaked rumour about the imminent criminal charging of an incumbent finance minister. The rand tanks and someone reaps another bonanza.”
The allegation that businesspeople benefitted from the rand’s fall in December can only mean that information about Nene’s firing was discussed and plotted with them. This is a heady allegation to make against a political leader, particularly the one who has the power to boot a number of SACP leaders out of his Cabinet.
The SACP is clearly poking the bear, and must be aware of the consequences. Perhaps they think that the Cabinet purge is inevitable, or perhaps the relationship is so soured that they no longer care.
There will be a price to pay and this could land the SACP out in the cold. It should be remembered that the last time the SACP found itself it purgatory, its leaders plotted a comeback that resulted in a sitting president being recalled. It could get dirty yet again. DM
Photo: (in the Pic – 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
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