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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Red Alert

This week the South African Communist Party (SACP) will hold its mid-term Special National Congress. One of the “big” items on the agenda, much hyped by the media, but played down by the party itself, is the issue of whether the SACP should go it alone in the next local government elections.

Personally, I don’t see it happening. Perhaps some time in the medium to distant future, but definitely not now. The move to go it alone is being spearheaded by the Young Communists League (YCL). Buti Manamela, national secretary of the YCL claims that they have a lot of support from provincial SACP leadership and members, he also claims to have support from some members of the SACP Central Committee.

I think that old loyalties die hard, and the older guard of the SACP who hold the power are too close to the ANC to seriously consider breaking away from the Tripartite Alliance. The lines between ANC, SACP and Cosatu membership are extremely blurred which suggests that although there may be bluster on the surface, essentially loyalties lie in keeping the Alliance together. The ANC and SACP have been in bed together since the struggle days and their relationship goes back even to the late 1940’s. When Nelson Mandela started the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in around 1961 it was Joe Slovo, and other SACP stalwarts like Rusty Bernstein that he roped in to get the movement off the ground. Chris Hani, head of MK during the eighties was also secretary general of the SACP.

Many SACP members hold dual ANC membership. SACP members are cabinet ministers in the ANC government – Sydney Mufamadi (Provincial & Local Government), and Ronnie Kasrils (Water & Forestry) are currently members of the SACP Central Committee. Charles Nqakula (Safety and Security) is currently National Chairperson of the SACP. Jeff Radebe, Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, Alec Irwin, and Trevor Manuel, believe it or not considering their capitalist bent, were all strongly involved in the SACP, not sure if they are still members or if they have allowed their memberships to lapse. Blade Nzimande, the fiery and outspoken general secretary of the SACP is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee. This kind of dual membership/dual loyalty probably goes all the way down through the ranks of the SACP.

Judging from the above set up, it does seem as though a strong possibility is that the SACP is likely to be able to exert more policy influence on the ANC by remaining within the Alliance. It’s difficult to actually measure how much influence the SACP is able to exert as a left wing pressure group within the ANC, as much the wheeling and dealing goes on behind closed doors. Possibly the SACP has played a significant part in getting the ANC to increase government’s role in the economy of late, but it’s difficult for outsiders to really know. If anything I think if the Alliance were to break the move would be more likely to come from Cosatu than from the SACP.

There is also a huge overlap between dual SACP/Cosatu memberships even more so than the SACP/ANC overlap. It would be interesting to find out if Cosatu supports the SACP go it alone stance, to the best of my knowledge they haven’t made any public statement regarding the issue. I would imagine that if anything, Cosatu is experiencing a similar situation to whatever’s going on within the SACP. If anything happens the decision would probably be a joint Cosatu/SACP decision to break away from the Alliance together. Although Cosatu might be a larger movement with greater membership and organisational ability, it does seem as though the SACP has greater influence on the ANC than Cosatu does. For now, it makes political sense for them to remain in the Alliance.

Because of the strong historical ties and loyalties to the ANC in the context of the struggle, I think the older guard would basically have to die off, or become diluted by a newer generation of members for a split to occur, and this is something that we are already seeing in the SACP with the YCL. But even so, Buti Manamela has made it clear that that the upcoming congress will be grounds for debate only, the issue will not be voted upon. In a discussion paper ahead of the congress, laying out the SACP’s vision, Blade Nzimande says, “This SACP vision must be located within the context of ensuring that we improve and enhance the functioning of our ANC-led tripartite alliance. In particular, the independent strength and capacity of working people needs to be consolidated within the broader alliance. This requires, amongst other things, a much greater active participation of workers in grass-roots level ward committees, community policing forums, school governing bodies, and ANC branches themselves”. This does not sound like a party that is planning to go it alone for now.

I have one more scenario, and this is definitely a maybe, and a very small maybe at that, but maybe……The Alliance is often referred to as being a “broad church” and it seems that within it there are as many shades of socialism and communism as there are members. A lot of trade unionists and “communists” have been rewarded for towing the ANC line by being given parliamentary seats, or plum positions in government or the private sector. One of the aims of this weekend’s congress is to allow the SACP to consolidate their class analysis of South African society after 10 years of democracy – whatever that means. But interestingly, this so called class analysis will also extend to looking at the SACP itself. Such an analysis might very well conclude that there are class differences within the SACP between fat cat capitalists and “real” socialists who have not betrayed the working class. The Youth Leaguers seem to have a very strong socialist bent, so possibly we could one day see a break away from leftist hardliners within the SACP and Cosatu breaking away still leaving the original capitalist leaning Alliance in existence, but weakened.


CORRECTION: Apologies to my readers. I am afraid that I have slipped up. Farryl Liefson has pointed out that Trevor Manuel was involved with the UDF and not the SACP. I hope this will in no way reflect on the validity of this post or my writing in general. I usually try to be very careful to check my sources and facts before posting.

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