The SACP's national conference this weekend ended in a political game of cat and mouse between general secretary Blade Nzimande and Kgalema Motlanthe.
The conspicuous absence of top SACP leaders – including its general secretary Blade Nzimande – at the party's fundraising gala dinner in Durban on Saturday night, has been interpreted by some within the ANC-led alliance as a calculated political move to embarrass Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe ahead of the ANC's crucial elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Nzimande is a vocal Jacob Zuma supporter and is being pushed by some of the president's backers to stand for ANC deputy president in Mangaung.
Motlanthe, meanwhile has the backing by a significant faction within the ANC, particularly its youth and veterans wings, to contest Zuma for the top spot as party president.
Addressing the media on Sunday, Nzimande denied snubbing Motlanthe, saying the reason he did not attend the gala dinner was because he was very tired.
"It was not a snub. I was put off by the officials. I was simply exhausted. The officials felt I must rest. We had many challenges. We always debate whether we should have dinners. People will buy tables and not [come]. The deputy president [Motlanthe] is one of the people who have been to our dinners," said Nzimande.
His explanation contradicted the SACP's newly-elected chairperson Senzeni Zokwane, who told guests that Nzimande could not attend because he was ill.
The Mail & Guardian understands that Zokwane privately told Motlanthe that Nzimande was not coming because he was still busy at the conference.
Back at the conference, newly-elected SACP deputy chairperson Thulas Nxesi told delegates that Nzimande and Zokwane had left to attend the dinner.
Before finally addressing the event, Motlanthe was made to wait nearly two hours.
Zokwane was the only top six official to attend the event.
Other central committee members who attended included Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) president Sdumo Dlamini and National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) general secretary Fikile Majola.
Political cat and mouse
SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said it was not possible for Nzimande to attend because commissions only ended after 8pm.
"It was not possible [for Nzimande] to leave after 8pm. We asked him to rest so he can address the conference fresh tomorrow [Sunday]. I sent the letter of invite to the deputy president. We respect him. I spoke to the media last week about the importance of the unity of the alliance," said Mapaila.
A senior SACP leader, who attended the conference, told the M&G that Nzimande's decision not to attend was a deliberate attempt to embarrass Motlanthe.
"They are treating him with disdain to show him that they don't support him. When Jacob Zuma was deputy president SACP leaders ensured they did not miss any event where he was present," the source said.
In the past few weeks, Nzimande and Motlanthe have differed sharply on what the role of the SACP should be.
In his speech, Motlanthe used former SACP leader Moses Kotane, who received political education and rose through the leadership ranks of the SACP and the ANC, to demonstrate the significance of its political education in the past and for the future.
Motlanthe also believes the SACP should play a big role in encouraging alliance members to promote the spirit of non-racialism – a move seen as an indirect jibe at Nzimande, who has been accused of fuelling racial tensions during The Spear saga in the past few weeks.
"All we need to lift from this is that through advanced political education, members of the SACP provided the ANC with formidable political clarity and superior ideas needed to mobilise the people in the struggle against apartheid. In this regard, one among the many key insights that we learned from the SACP is the question of non-racialism. From its very formation in 1921, the then Communist Party of South Africa embraced a non-racial outlook and drew to its ranks a number of black members. Thus by 1928 the Communist Party of South Africa had 1 600 African members out of a total of 1 750, after adopting the Black Republic Thesis which nailed the party's non-racial colours to the mast and cemented its genetic make-up as a force for an equal and non-racial society. We can thus argue without fear of hyperbole that the SACP is the pioneer of non-racialism in South Africa," said Motlanthe.
During his opening speech, Nzimande said that while he acknowledged the quality and the contribution made by past SACP leaders, he warned against building the party on past successes.
"In discussing the challenge of strengthening the SACP it is also imperative that we understand the current challenges and those that lie ahead so that our party is up to the challenge. This means that we must refuse to approach party building from the standpoint of only what we have done in the past. Yes, we have truly been an indispensable component of the liberation movement in the past. We must build on this, but we also cannot imprison the task of party building in the past and ignore the current and future challenges. We need to expose all back-handed compliments to the SACP whose intention is to kill us softly. For instance we must reject this practice of praising the dead in order to condemn the living: "This is no longer the party of Moses Kotane".
"Yes, the SACP has played a critical role in the political education of the cadres of the broader liberation movement over the past nine decades. We continue to do this work today. But this should not therefore seek to relegate the SACP and its relevance only to being a political school, no matter how important this may be. To restrict us to this would be the vulgarisation of the role of the SACP in the liberation movement," said Nzimande.