The South African Communist Party has brought forward its special congress to September this year after many of its leaders joined government and legislatures, creating a potential leadership vacuum in the party.
Since the election an unprecedented number of communists are sitting in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. Countrwide the SACP has 99 legislators, 37 in the National Assembly.
There has been unease in the party since its general secretary, Blade Nzimande, who has been crucial in driving party programmes from Cosatu House, joined Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet as higher education minister.
Nzimande’s move goes against the SACP constitution, which explicitly provides that the post of general secretary is full time.
The party’s central committee decided to release Nzimande despite the constitutional provision, in a move that some party members feel is opportunistic.
”If the constitution can be changed to accommodate an individual then we could be at the beginning of the death of the communist party,” said one central committee member. ”What started out as a fight against individuals in the ANC who did not respect the alliance could end up being used to serve the interest of individuals,” said a disgruntled central committee member.
However, party spokesperson Malesela Maleka said discussion about what will happen to Nzimande started as early as February, after he was nominated as an MP on the ANC candidates’ list.
Maleka said the ANC also wrote to the SACP asking how it should treat the nomination.
”The party had a discussion, which included talking about the new political space that has opened up, which presents both dangers and opportunities.
”We decided it was important to develop a framework to regulate how we deploy comrades and call them to account. This is not just about the general secretary, but about all other deployees,” said Maleka.
The SACP’s provincial secretary in Limpopo, Soviet Lekganyane, and Northern Cape secretary Norman Shushu have been appointed provincial ministers.
In Gauteng chairperson Nkosiphendule Kholisile is now a member of the provincial legislature.
”The debate in the party has been that we consistently struggle for things to change, and when opportunities do open up, we don’t take them,” said Maleka.
”In this context the central committee decided that the general secretary should accept the nomination.”
Maleka said it was also decided to bring forward the special national conference to finalise the framework for deployment.
He said that the SACP decided to rope in some central committee members to take up some of the work Nzimande used to do.
The party lost its battle with the ANC to give its representatives a separate caucus and mandate distinct from that of the ruling party.
It still has to decide how to ensure that its leaders in government do not implement policies that violate SACP principles.
In the past communists in governmment — such as Jeff Radebe — had to implement privatisation, while Sydney Mufamadi oversaw cross-boundary legislation, which the SACP opposed.
He said the alliance has developed a mechanism to discuss all government policies before they are implemented.