The tripartite alliance comprises of the ANC, SACP, Cosatu and Sanco. This alliance has come a long way from the apartheid times, though the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) was established at the eve of the democratic dispensation.
Recently the tripartite alliance met to discuss the repositioning of the national democratic revolution under the title of “Radical Socio-Economic Transformation”. This came after the SACP, at their 24th National Congress, stated that they would contest the next election independently if the alliance is not reconfigured. Equally, there is an urgent need for the rebuilding of the tripartite alliance in order to reflect the reality on the ground.
The ANC has agreed that they will establish a task team that will develop the discussion document to inculcate the reconfiguration of the alliance. Subsequently, there will be an economic summit which will be attended by the tripartite alliance officials. This is a clear sign that the SACP will not contest elections in 2019. There is a misinterpretation of the formation of the tripartite alliance, which is that it was formed during the apartheid by the spilling of blood. The alliance is a relatively recently formed one – it was only formally constituted on 9 May 1990 when the end of apartheid was in sight. Cosatu was also only formed in 1983. So the alliance is neither a sacred nor ancient one.
The issue of the reconfiguration of the alliance is not a new discussion inside and outside the SACP. The archives show that in the 1950s the ANC, South Africa Congress of Democrats and SACP formed the Joint-Executive. All key decisions were to be taken by the Joint executive. That was simple as there was no leader of the alliance, even the ANC was not the leader of the alliance, but only the joint executive of the alliance was the centre of power. When Nelson Mandela was travelling abroad he realised that other African countries were supporting the Pan-African Congress rather than the ANC, because the ANC was a multiracial party. This led to Nelson Mandela initiating the debate on the African-Image. The ANC, in taking the approach of the African-Image, took a decision that the ANC leadership must have an African Image which means that black Africans must lead the executive of the ANC.
Furthermore, after the unbanning of political parties, on 9 May 1990, the ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance was formally constituted. Pre-1990 the alliance was viewed as being equal partners by Cosatu. It was Jeremy Cronin, in 1990 May, who proposed that the ANC must be the leader of the alliance. However, since 1996 the tripartite alliance has been crumbling, leading to the SACP’s call for its reconfiguration.
During the era of former president Thabo Mbeki, the tripartite alliance was badly affected as the ANC approved the neo-liberal macro-economic strategy of Growth Employment and Distribution (GEAR). The SACP and Cosatu posed a backlash to the market based economic structure of GEAR. The leadership of the ANC was referred to as the Class-Project by the SACP and Cosatu, which means that the leadership acts in the interest of business not the working class and the poor.
Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma, the alliance has suffered the most as the SACP and Cosatu called for president Zuma to resign after the allegations of state capture and corruption made against him. However, the ANC refused to acknowledge Cosatu and the SACP’s call for Zuma to resign or be recalled by the ANC. This resulted in Zuma being banned from speaking at Cosatu events, a first for an ANC president.
The former president of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, in his biography Long Walk to Freedom in 1994 has argued that: “The cynical have always suggested that the communists are using us. But who is to say we are not using them.”
Mandela, in the above quote, put to the fore a rhetorical statement about who controls whom in the terrain of the alliance. This rhetorical statement can be revisited again today by looking at the current state of the tripartite alliance. The SACP last year vehemently declared that it will contest state and popular power. This was resolved at the 14th National Conference of the SACP. The SACP in their 2017 discussion document resolutions stated that:
“That the 2007 12th National Congress of the SACP resolved that, while the SACP is not, nor will it become, a narrowly electoralist formation, the SACP must contest elections within the context of a re-configured alliance.”
The resolution left open different modalities under which the SACP might contest elections – either on an ANC ticket but within a reconfigured Alliance, or, in the context of a re-configured alliance, under the banner of the SACP but with a view to post-election coalitions with the ANC.
In fact the SACP made it clear that it is not a party which was formed to contest elections. However, the resolution, to contest for the state and popular power by the SACP, will be subjected to the context of a reconfigured Alliance. The SACP’s call to contest the election depending on the reconfiguration of the alliance stimulates the discourse as to why the SACP has continued to be in an alliance with the ANC in the post-1994?
The discourse about the alliance should start by asking whether the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is still relevant in today’s social order. The NDR envisaged a democratic society after the colonial and apartheid projects deprived black people of the right to vote. Secondly the NDR argues for a non-sexist and non-racial society and prosperous, democratic society. The remains, does the “prosperous, democratic society” of the NDR mean prosperous and democratic under the premise of the macro-economic framework of neo-liberalism or under socialist policies. As it is clearly obvious that neo-liberalism is in opposition to popular democracy and radical economic reform.
In the context of the re-configuration of the alliance, the SACP must force the ANC to think socially. Without posing contradictory logic, we have to continue to ask what the National Democratic Revolution means by a prosperous society, what does a prosperous society mean to South Africans? The NDR points out that the subjects of the revolution are the oppressed who are dominantly black people. But under this democratic dispensation, the ANC has produced black elites and a black ruling class without economically emancipating the majority of the oppressed – in general black people (which by their definition includes coloured, Indian and Chinese people) but in particular black Africans.
In layman’s terms, the black middle class since 1994 have surpassed the white middle class. The former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke argued that:
“We know that one of the trophies of the national democratic phase of the transition is that the African middle class has shot up from 1.8-million to 5.7-million. That may indeed appear to be an indicator of a more equal society until one locates 5.7-million within a population of 52-million people. Then the black middle class peters out to a mere 10% of the population.”
We now need to question whether these middle class black people who were previously oppressed are still the subjects of the revolution or motive forces which the NDR put at the fore of the revolution. For example, can Cyril Ramaphosa or even Julius Malema, black men who have now acquired wealth, be trusted to be representatives of the poor and subjects of the revolution?
Clearly the reconfiguration of the alliance must also review the duty and relevance of the National Democratic Revolution. Today there are a few black people, who enjoy opulent lifestyles by using government contracts and establishing their own private businesses. But the majority of black people are marginalised in the economy. Furthermore, the polarisation of black people into haves and have-nots frustrates the revolution.
The re-configuration of the alliance must also raise this question, why is the ANC still the leader of the national democratic revolution and yet it has legitimised tribal authorities, who are patriarchal in nature and deepen ethnic divisions?
The contestation of the state and popular power by the SACP is a decision that needs not to be contextualised. The SACP must contest the election within the framework of Alliance. It is important to note that the ANC is not a rigid organisation; it is a dynamic and adaptive organisation. It always changes its leaders and, if the SACP wants to be involved in the sweet talk of President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is positioning itself for failure if an opposing leadership arises within the ANC. The SACP should align itself with pro-working class leadership and not individuals.
If the alliance is re-reconfigured then the alliance must be the centre of power. Meaning that every decision taken by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the premiers of the provinces or mayors regarding government deployment and policy, must be a consultative decision of the alliance. This might undermine the role of the ANC National Executive Committee and probably the ANC National Working Committee. A re-configuration of the alliance could downplay resolutions taken by the ANC National Congress in terms of the policies.
It seems that the re-configuration of the alliance is taking place. Especially when looking at the meeting of the tripartite alliance that took place last week. Since the SACP is thinking of contesting elections, it is forcing the re-configuration of the alliance so that the SACP will not contest the elections. However, re-configuration of the alliance will give the SACP and other alliance partners’ voice within the state and policy discussions. DM
Ashley Nyiko Mabasa is Secretary of the YCLSA Wits
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*Proteas, you know we love you. We’d just love you more if you won occasionally...
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