The trouble with JZ

According to the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Jacob Zuma (JZ) is subject to a political agenda that seeks to marginalise left and working-class forces to promote the interests of a small elite capitalist faction within the African National Congress.

However, it is questionable whether a political defence of JZ represents the best strategy through which to conduct a political and class struggle against such a project. That today JZ may quote communist texts must not stop the communist party from a proper class analysis of the class project he represents.

Can JZ really be regarded as part of left and working-class forces in the ANC? JZ’s role in the isolation and marginalisation of a working-class programme in the ANC requires scrutiny.
Can JZ really provide breathing space for a left project, as it is sometimes argued and implied? Indeed, individuals play an important role in revolutions. But then, what was JZ’s role in the rightwards shift of the ANC? The case for the political defence of JZ must still be made from a coherent and strategic standpoint. Up to now, such as case has not been made. Even when such as case is made it must be linked to a political programme. What political programme does JZ stand for? What political programme are we seeking to push and win by supporting JZ?

As a public figure, JZ has taken what can be described as controversial and conservative standpoints on gender equality (polygamy, virginity testing and sexuality), economic policy, ethnicity and pandering to the interests of the traditional and undemocratic elite in rural areas. It is not clear what role he has played in the government and as an ANC leader during key moments of working-class struggle on economic policy. He may have called for alliance forums to discuss differences, but is this representative of a principled and consistent political champion of a left working-class agenda? His lifestyle also raises largely forgotten and ignored questions about the lifestyle of leaders and the subsequent social distance from our mass base. Is he indeed linked politically, commercially and personally to businessman Schabir Shaik and other problematic business interests? If these links exist, what should poor and working people make of such links? What is his understanding of the role of theory and intellectuals in the struggle, given his reported attacks on intellectuals?

This may be read to mean that JZ has pandered to backward tendencies and institutions. The controversial nature of the formulations opens this whole paper to an attack and possible dismissal. Such a response is typical of the dominant siege mentality in the pro-JZ movement.

For the party, the most important characteristic of JZ is that he is a former communist who lost confidence in socialism. He left the party at a time of ideological crisis as part of an ANC leadership that questioned the relevance of socialist strategy, analysis and organisation. This is an important fact of history, which may or may not define his own political trajectory. This [dominant] political project has exposed the ANC to capitalist fractions so that it is no longer a joke to talk about a Brett Kebble left, an Imvume caucus, a Safika tendency, and so on. These factions finance and promote succession scenarios and leadership collectives across the alliance and the state. Active match-fixing is taking place in broad daylight! It is not clear what position JZ takes in relation to this. The usual argument is that the political forces attacking JZ are the capitalists referred to here. Thus JZ is anti-capitalist and pro-working class. This paper does not agree with this formulation. We need a deeper and more strategic analysis of the ANC, the state, the role and interests of the capitalist class in the ANC, and the JZ project itself.

Some comrades are beginning to argue that working-class anger over JZ has deepened the crisis of the neo-liberal project in the ANC and government. Grassroots anger has found expression in the 100% JZ slogans and campaign. There is genuine popular support for JZ. Structurally, in JZ poor and working people are finding an outlet for their feelings of economic alienation and marginalisation. But the proletarian anger has also been fuelled by our role in the mobilisation around JZ, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. This has resulted in denial of the possibility that JZ may be found guilty. Hopefully, he is not. Some party and Young Communist League comrades are even providing 100% uncritical support by saying “I will be with JZ till the end”, thus betraying the need for critical analysis.

But this proletarian anger and support for JZ has not been critical of JZ’s class position and interests. It has also shown the dangers of appeals to ethnic identity, mass blindness and a cult of personality. We are not providing strategic and ideological leadership and harnessing this anger into a strategic offensive against capitalist interests, forces and policies.

If our objective is to transform and democratise the ANC then we must not fudge issues through the JZ matter.

For a significant period, the communist party had begun to provide a moral reference point for workers, poor people, sections of the intelligentsia, the middle class and even some sections of capital uncertain about the future. This organisational renewal has led to increased activism, a positive public profile and the moderately successful campaigns on land, banks and access to basic services, which have not yet mounted a serious challenge to South African capitalism. These developments still have their own problems and weaknesses but overall they have been positive.

But now our conduct on the JZ saga has already reversed the potential of all these achievements. What signals are we sending to the public about our positions on corruption, the rule of law and public confidence in state institutions? What is the level of strategic confusion in our activist and mass base on all these issues?

There is also something wrong when the left in the alliance finds itself uncritically on the same side as emerging capitalist Don Mkhwanazi, corrupt businessman Schabir Shaik, and an ANC Youth League suckled on the largesse of the late Brett Kebble. What can possibly unite us with these elements? Some are also known for pushing the line that fighting corruption requires a political process: a euphemism for diffusing and deflecting a principled struggle against corruption, which is far from what a communist approach should be.

What is to be done?

Firstly, serious and objective introspection must take place on the whole JZ saga. Secondly party introspection also requires serious consideration of whether there is a case for the political defence of JZ.

Finally, the communist party has an opportunity to use its political and organisational preparations for its 12th congress in 2007 to revisit all key issues of strategy, programme and tactics including the debate on what must be done to increase the voice, power, resources and influences of poor and working people over all aspects of South African society including the contestation of elections by a working-class socialist party, hopefully the SACP.

This is an edited version of a paper by Young Communist League deputy national secretary Mazibuko Jara, obtained confidentially by the M&G. It is still an internal paper of the Young Communist League titled “What colour is our flag? Red or JZ?”

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