South Africa

SACP takes on Zuma: ‘We can’t keep quiet’

By Greg Nicolson 30 March 2017

The South African Communist Party is taking on President Jacob Zuma and the ANC. It’s part of a broad coalition building against the president’s move to replace the finance minister. The question is: Will its efforts make an impact? By GREG NICOLSON.

In an East Rand boardroom in August 2016, the SACP proposed that a non-elective consultative conference be held before the ANC elections in 2017. For a decade the ANC and its alliance has been eating itself through a cycle of factionalism, leadership contests and patronage, and only an extraordinary event could save the party and halt its extraordinary election losses. The conference would include civil society and see provinces send equal numbers of delegates. Over 100 ANC stalwarts later proposed a similar idea.

The ANC agreed to tack two days on to its policy conference in July to discuss the state of the organisation, but the idea was rejected by the stalwarts and, clearly, the SACP. On Thursday, in a rejection of the ANC leadership’s abilities to turn the organisation around, the SACP announced it would hold a national imbizo from April 22 to 24 in Gauteng.

Alliance partners, civil society organisations like the SACC [South African Council of Churches] and other MDM [Mass Democratic Movement] forces have already been issued with an invite to participate in the national imbizo, including the veterans of the movement, the MKMVA [Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association],” read SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila from a statement. The tripartite alliance is led by the ANC, but the event announced by the SACP will literally discuss the future of the movement – “the successful execution of the second more radical phase of our National Democratic Revolution”.

The future of the ANC is tentative and the communists have been pushed to play a bold hand. On Thursday, Mapaila was the first person to publicly acknowledge that President Zuma has proposed replacing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas in a Cabinet reshuffle and that he wants to give former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe the keys to the Treasury. “The removal has nothing to do with [Gordhan’s] performance as minister. It has to do with some shoddy report that casts suspicions.”

Mapaila said the SACP was consulted during a bilateral meeting on the proposed reshuffle, which is the norm for a president before making such moves, and Zuma justified the planned removal of Gordhan and Jonas by presenting the “Operation Checkmate” report. The report claimed the pair planned to work with international bankers to conspire against the president. “This intelligence report is indeed part of the reason given why these comrades were brought back from the outside,” said Mapaila.

Zuma ordered the minister and deputy minister to cancel an international investor roadshow in the United Kingdom and United States last weekend and abruptly return home. The presidency hasn’t explained the instruction.

The SACP was cautious not to directly call out the president, but Mapaila still took on Zuma like few alliance leaders have before (and survived). “We can’t keep quiet when wrong things are happening,” he said. To believe the intelligence report and doubt Gordhan, a long-standing comrade and important Struggle activist, was “pathetic”. Mapaila said the Treasury is an “extremely sensitive department. It must be treated with care… We cannot allow the parasites and vultures to encircle it and loot it completely”. Officials, he said, can’t “be allowed to get away with murder”. He meant it metaphorically, but it holds as literal given his criticism of state security and intelligence agencies.

The SACP has laid a complaint with the intelligence inspector-general and the minister of state security, who he said hasn’t responded adequately, over the report. Mapaila slammed “rogue intelligence” operatives. “We have a responsibility not to allow ourselves to be run by gangsters nor degenerate into a gangster state wherein public office-bearers and officials cannot discharge their responsibilities without fear or favour.”

He said intelligence organisations are ignoring crime and wasting resources to focus on political battles, following the example of the apartheid government. “It’s corruption on steroids. It’s abuse of state resources on steroids.” What’s scary is the president using what appears to be a bogus and very poorly written report to make, or justify, decisions.

The SACP has made no qualms about backing Gordhan and condemning Molefe. Gordhan’s department should serve as an example of clean governance that needs to be emulated if the ANC government is to deliver, said Mapaila. Molefe came into Parliament under suspicion, resigning from Eskom for a lower-paying job after the Public Protector made strong links between him and the Gupta family and the contracts they appeared to have received improperly from the electricity utility.

It’s alleged that the Gupta family are the puppetmasters behind Zuma’s attempt to change finance ministers; they have a number of reasons to want an immediate change. The SACP can, and has, hit out at the Gupta family and on Thursday Mapaila reiterated the call to revoke the family’s citizenship. He wouldn’t say Zuma is a minion of the Guptas, but said they had a negative influence on the movement. He noted deals that have been put on hold, at Eskom and Denel, suggesting they might be approved to benefit the Gupta family after a Cabinet reshuffle.

So what now? The SACP has found its voice since it started to question (or fell out of favour with) Zuma.

Mapaila said no decision had been taken on what to do if the president decides to change finance ministers. They may decide on a plan this weekend at an SACP meeting. They could recall their many ministers and deputy ministers, but it would be unlikely to work because deployees hold memberships with the ANC and SACP, as well as split allegiances, and may not comply. The party could contest elections alone, an issue that would come up in the SACP’s June congress, but Mapaila said there’s no chance it will split from the alliance.

When the SACP left Monday’s meeting, ANC leaders remained in discussion. According to reports, three of the top six were against the reshuffle. The SACP doesn’t know what happened after it left. It urged Zuma to be “presidential” and denounce factions. It said Zuma and Gordhan don’t need to be friends, but should be able to work together. Mapaila also suggested a reconfiguration of the alliance could be on the cards, with dynamics changing since the 1990s, but he didn’t go into specifics.

Forces within and outside the ANC and alliance are rallying to prevent Zuma’s reshuffle. The SACP said it hopes that, by objecting, the president will now continue the dialogue and come back to the party for more discussions. But as Bheki Ntshalintshali, Cosatu general secretary, said recently, the president always consults the alliance on Cabinet appointments, but sometimes he does so at the last minute or doesn’t listen to advice.

That’s why the decision to hold a consultative conference, or national imbizo, counts. The ANC can’t self-correct and the SACP has decided to take the reins. The imbizo could set the agenda for the ANC’s policy conference, but the challenge will be in how to avoid perpetuating factionalism – how to prioritise the alliance and ANC over just Zuma. DM

Photo: SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande (Siyasanga Mbambani, DoC)

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