The South African Communist Party (SACP) is battling to contain serious internal divisions over the partyâ€™s stance on African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma, with rumours circulating that next yearâ€™s SACP congress will be used to weed out the anti-Zuma lobby in the party.
An SACP central committee member told the Mail & Guardian that “there is massive division in the SACP over the Jacob Zuma issue … particularly over how it has been managed”.
The M&G spoke to six senior leaders who wished to remain anonymous, but who confirmed that the party is facing internal challenges as a result of confusion about the SACPâ€™s official response to the corruption and rape charges against Zuma. Five of the six leaders described these challenges as “the most serious” in the partyâ€™s history.
Some members of the Young Communist League (YCL) are considering not supporting at least five senior SACP leaders for re-election at the partyâ€™s congress next year, primarily because of their stance on the Zuma saga, which has been perceived as too critical.
The individuals allegedly targeted are Yunus Carrim, central committee and politburo member; Mazibuko Jara, YCL deputy national secretary; Phillip Dexter, national treasurer; Howard Yawa, North West chairperson; and Francis Ratlag, North West provincial secretary.
Most of these leaders denied knowledge of such discussions. Dexter said he had “heard the rumours”, but didnâ€™t know if they had any substance and Yawa had not returned repeated calls from the M&G.
“Given the complexities of the issues, it is inevitable there will be differences within the SACP,” said Carrim. “But … our differences have been managed fairly responsibly. I donâ€™t think the YCL wants me out … I donâ€™t have a huge social base out there so Iâ€™m no threat to anyone.”
The SACP congress, held every five years, is an elective forum for the central executive committee. At the last congress, held in Rustenburg in 2002, government ministers and former SACP central committee members, Jeff Radebe and Essop Pahad, were booted out of the party leadership for their pro-privatisation stance.
Buti Manamela, national secretary of the YCL, said “some people are afraid they will be kicked out [at next yearâ€™s congress] for other reasons and they want to blame it on JZ … If some people think they can cover their incompetence on the basis that they are being targeted because of their anti-Zuma stance, they will not be left scot-free … People are worried that they could be kicked out because they are businessmen. You cannot be a businessman and communist at the same time.”
Some party members feel that the central executive committeeâ€™s resolution to support the rule of law, and not Zuma as an individual, is being undermined by elements in the party, particularly the young communists.
On the other side are members, predominantly the YCL, who feel that the rule of law, while important, cannot be accepted uncritically.
“The dominant issue is about presidential succession in the ANC,” said YCL chairperson David Masondo in a paper called Red is the Colour of our Flag: In Defence of the Rule of Law, published on the SACP website this year.
“Some have selectively used the state institutions to pursue this political agenda,” he wrote, “resulting in major inconsistencies in the manner in which the state conducts itself, including in its application of ‘the rule of lawâ€™, thus confirming our view that the dominant factor behind what appears to be a ‘corruption trialâ€™ is a political agenda.”
Masondoâ€™s paper was a response to Jaraâ€™s controversial paper, called What Colour Is Our Flag? Red or JZ?, which questioned the SACPâ€™s support for Zuma. Jaraâ€™s paper alienated him from the ranks of the YCL and there were failed attempts to expel him from the league.
Other SACP leaders argue that the YCLâ€™s vociferous support for Zuma during his court appearances has undermined the partyâ€™s decision not to support Zuma as an individual.
Former SACP spokesperson Kaizer Mohau, for example, also acted as spokesperson for the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust. The SACP has since removed him as spokesperson.
The YCLâ€™s webpage, linked to the SACP site, is introduced with the bold statement: “Friends of Jacob Zuma: Hands off JZ.”
“There should not be an issue of whether or not the party likes the activities the young communists engage in,” said Manamela. “We were not created to be another drum to beat to the same rhythm as the party. If the YCL was created to mimic the party, then we should close shop.”
Several SACP senior members told the M&G this week that the heart of the problem was the failure of the partyâ€™s leadership, including general secretary Blade Nzimande, to “provide strategic management” to diffuse these differences. The result was “tacit support” for the undermining of the partyâ€™s central executive committee resolutions.
“As SACP we refuse to be divided on the Zuma matter,” said Nzimande. “Let those who say I failed to provide leadership come to the party and provide concrete evidence. If they act in a faceless manner to the media, then their interest is to divide the party. There is absolutely nothing I have done outside of decisions taken by the party.
“We must remain ever vigilant on the JZ issue in the same principled way we were outspoken when Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale were accused by Steve Tshwete of plotting to topple the president. We must make sure that state institutions are never abused against individuals.”
Last year, central committee member and Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa resigned from the party, also in apparent disgruntlement over the partyâ€™s support for Zuma.