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Why Blade Nzimande is still close to the cutting edge o...

South Africa

LEADERSHIP STRUCTURES

Why Blade Nzimande is still close to the cutting edge of power in the SACP

Blade Nzimande, chairperson of the South African Communist Party. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

This past weekend, social media users and analysts were shocked when Blade Nzimande was elected as chairperson of the South African Communist Party. The backlash was mainly because he has served as the party’s general secretary for almost 24 years and many felt he should give younger members a chance to lead.

At the weekend, the majority of South African Communist Party (SACP) members voted for Blade Nzimande to have another term in the party’s national leadership structure. This sentiment was shared by the newly elected party general secretary, Solly Mapaila, and seven provinces that supported Nzimande as well as the Young Communist League (YCL). 

The SACP held its congress at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg.  

Nzimande received 266 votes, while his competitor, a former director-general of the Department of Higher Education, Gwebinkundla Qonde, garnered only 148 votes. The two men have a turbulent history in the department, where Nzimande is the minister. 

The argument is that Nzimande was not the first to pull this move. Most members would bring up the fact that anti-apartheid hero Moses Kotane led the SACP for 40 years, so it is normal for individuals to lead the party for long periods of time. 

There was a strong sentiment that the SACP, unlike the ANC, is not a mass organisation but a vanguard movement. This means that its focus is on the advancement of ideas and not necessarily leadership.  

Another reason Nzimande was voted in was that he has, over the years, managed to negotiate with the ANC that SACP leaders be given an opportunity to work in the government, a feature which many members want the party to continue building on.

YCL leader and newly elected central committee member Tinyiko Ntini   explained his understanding of the matter when he expressed his support for Nzimande. 

“To us, it is not about how many years a person has served, it is about the contribution that as a collective what do you do. The fact that for these years he has been returning … does not mean he has been electing himself.   

“You do not join the party to contest leadership; you influence on various levels, so it is not about you being a leader. When you are a member you will still be able to contribute. The problem is that you cannot blame the person because he was told to avail himself by the structures of the organisation. So, it becomes a shock if even those within that have issues, because it is them who over all these years were retaining the same leadership.”  

Ntini argued that the central team would balance the entire leadership structure when it comes to age and gender. The party managed to vote in only one woman, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, as the national treasurer yet again.  

“The structure will be completed when there is a Central Committee as a whole and surely that outlook will represent the same values and principles you are raising. So there is no crisis; the outcome will be that principle of the national question of women representative of the younger generation.  

“It is not about individuals, it is about policy positions taken. It is important that we take decisions that are going to be key. The fact of the matter is time, space and conditions in politics are important. You do not need to elect the best of the best, you need the relevant person to advance the agenda of the organisation at the particular epoch. Whether you are a young person, if there is no zeal to implement those issues, nothing will change,” Ntini said.  

With Nzimande by his side, Ntini believes Mapaila will be able to ease into the position of general secretary. 

‘There is [an] SACP that we wish to see and inherit in the future; you do not just do an abrupt transition. You do not just create a situation where you put an organisation on to life support … The old and the new, there is sometimes a need to co-exist, so that the organisational memory is not lost and you are able to transfer it correctly. In 10 years, we are hoping to have a youthful organisation that will be able to advance,” he said. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Solly Mapaila likely to take over reins from Blade Nzimande as leader of the SA Communist Party  

Nzimande’s successor, Mapaila, backed him during a media briefing on Sunday, shortly after assuming his new leadership position.  

Mapaila told the media that Nzimande’s presence in the top six would have no implications on the party and explained that he had worked with the longstanding leader of the organisation for years without any problems.  

“There is nothing that will impede the collective work of the national officials of the SACP because of the presence of comrade Nzimande. I have worked with him for more than two decades,” he said.

Madala Masuku was elected as first deputy general secretary, David Masondo was elected as second deputy secretary while Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi retained his position as deputy chairperson of the party.

On Monday, the additional members were announced and Deputy Minister of Higher Education Buti Manamela appeared as the first member on the list. Other familiar faces in the Central Committee are ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi, ANC Limpopo chairperson Stan Mathabatha and former Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.  

Last-minute lobbying 

The SACP congress seemed to be going according to plan throughout the weekend; however, lobbying for Nzimande to be elected uncontested was taking place behind the scenes. The party experienced a new phenomenon where for the first time it was not able to reach a consensus about the entire leadership slate to be appointed. Only Mapaila and Masondo were elected uncontested.  

The Western Cape and Eastern Cape and a group from North West wanted Qonde to emerge as chairperson, arguing that Nzimande had to make way for new blood. Nzimande’s lobbyists tried to change his mind for the sake of unity but their attempts were rejected.  

While acknowledging that open contestation is a norm in democratic parties, Mapaila worried it could cause deeper factions in the party. 

“Last [Saturday] night when this matter was being processed in congress, one of the provincial secretaries stood up and said: ‘Comrades, let us be patient about this process because we are not used to it.’ Even though the Revolutionary Electoral Commission has a technical team that runs elections, the technical team had to alert them about the steps taken.  

“They are not used to that, they are used to a political engagement and consensus-seeking process, but are open to the process and learning. We hope, going forward, there will be no deeper factions, ideologically. If it is a posture going forward it should not be a problem if it develops in a framework of a democracy,” Mapaila said. DM

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