SACP: They aren’t inside … they are on top

The main thrust so far of the National Party’s election campaign the is a hefty dose of rooi gevaar.

Twenty-seven — more that half — of the top 50 names on the ANC’s nomination list, so we are told, are members of the South African Communist Party, a figure which the SACP — with surprising defensiveness – disputes, saying it is not 27 but 16. This little spat is not without its ironies.

One is that, provided they do well enough in the election, some of these red-baiting members of the NP may find themselves serving not before long as handlangers in a cabinet where they are out-numbered by members of file SACP. Publicly identified or otherwise though communist ANC nominees may be, it is diverting to see the NP and SACP slugging it out in the media.

Thanks to the actions of February 2 1990 the communist party is once again a lawful organisation. It will be particularly interesting to see how the NP fares against it on a “level playing field” Will it do better or worse than it did before these sporting analogies came into vogue to guide, dignify, or trivialise our politics?

Forty-four years ago the NP put the Suppression of Communism Act on to the statute book, and within two years had used it to expel Sam Kahn from the House of Assembly, to which he had been elected on a communist party ticket as “native representative” by African voters in the Cape. Not to be thwarted so easily, these voters sent two other communists to parliament to replace him — first Brian Bunting (who was also expelled), and then Ray Alexander (who was not even allowed into the building).

If African voters were going to play games like this, they would clearly have to be sent off the field. Paltry though their franchise was – confined to the Cape, and exercised on a separate roll for a maximum of three (white) MPs — the NP simply abolished it.

One Nat MP Japie Basson, was expelled from the party’s caucus when he objected. He said: “Parliamentary democracy is never exposed to greater and more actual danger than when a political party which is in power at a specific moment and which has been given a limited mandate for a period of five years, uses the parliamentary machine to change the constitution of parliament in a way which, deliberately or otherwise, strengthens its own political position.” Nor did the NP stop there in its efforts to control the playing field.

The suppression Act was the first step towards building up not only some of the toughest security legislation in the world, but also what is reputed to be the planet’s 10th biggest armaments manufacturing industry. Dozens of dead detainees, and billions of rands later, what do we have to show for this, other than some excellent products for export and a constitution about which the chairman of the SACP can say with a large measure of justification, “We got pretty much what we wanted”?

When NP officials express fears about “the strategically strong position into which the SACP
has manoeuvred itself’, one wonders if they are criticising the ANC or their own leaders. Having already conceded some of the most important ANC/SACP demands – notably that the constitutional assembly will have substantial and comprehensive power — the NP seems resolute in its determination to keep fighting the last war.

In his speech on February 2 1990, President FW de Klerk made clear that the collapse of communism the previous year had played a key role in his decision to hit the ban on that party. The collapse of communism, he explained a year later, had pulled the carpet from under the ANC.

Evidently, however, the NP thinks the communists have moved from under the carpet to under the bed. Section 43 of the transitional constitution provides that members of the new national assembly have to resign their seats if they cease to be members of the parties which nominated them.

The NP argued recently that this meant file ANC and the SACP were locked together and would “not be able to go their separate ways after the election”. What is not clear is why the NP apparently objects to this provision, since it presumably agreed to its inclusion in the constitution in the first place.

Although calls we made from time to time from various quarters for the ANC and the SACP to get divorced, I have never understood the rationale behind expecting happily married people to separate — least of all when the divorce calls come from a party, the NP, which played a large part in brokering the marriage to the first place, when it drove so much black opposition underground and into exile.

Their opponents might not like it, but the record shows that the alliance between the ANC and the SACP has served both organisations extremely well, the communists bringing to file negotiations a single-mindedness of purpose and strategic perspective that has handed the alliance a clear victory on points on round one (the transitional constitution) and well placed to consolidate this victory in round two (the final constitution).

Another irony is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For the last four and a half decades apartheid has kept South Africa out of step with the rest of the world. New it looks as if we will still be out of step. While so many other countries throw communists out of goverment South Africa will soon use the ballot box to put them in.

Sam Kahn has the last laugh after all.

John Kane-Berman is executive director of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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John Kane Berman
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