Blade set to escape the SACP's sickle

The South African Communist Party (SACP) looks set to retain Blade Nzimande as general secretary—despite the fact that he is higher education minister and that the party’s constitution stipulates that the position should be full time.

Some SACP regions in Gauteng have taken the position that at the party’s special national conference in two weeks’ time, Nzimande should be made to choose between the two positions. The conference will take place in Polokwane from December 10 to 13.

But, as at the last SACP congress in Port Elizabeth in 2007, when they tried to oust him, it appears Gauteng members will not be able to muster enough support to topple Nzimande.

His position, and that of about 100 SACP members deployed as legislators across the provinces and in the National Assembly, will come under the spotlight as the party again debates how to maximise its influence on the state.

The party is likely to reject any moves to have it contest elections on its own—a position still favoured by some members—in favour of a debate on the SACP’s power ‘within a reconfigured alliance”.

But the key debate will be on how Nzimande can keep his position without violating the party’s constitution. One suggestion is that the provision should be amended to take changed circumstances into account.

Gauteng sources said the province believes the SACP’s constitution should not be changed to accommodate one person.
They admitted that Nzimande commands enough support to defeat his detractors, but said Gauteng plans to raise the issue for discussion as a matter of principle.

Sources said that Nzimande’s supporters will fight to keep him as general secretary, because his SACP constituency is the source of his influence in the ANC. ‘Part of him being the minister is because of his [SACP] position. He would have no constituency to bring to the alliance,” said a provincial leader.

Gauteng sources said it has been difficult to campaign against any constitutional amendment because of ‘a monophonic and uncritical approach” to all issues relating to Nzimande.

‘We’ve got a lot of uncritical followers, which raises fears about advancing an incorrect political view. This is not the party we want to build,” said one Gauteng leader who did not want to be identified.

Another said it was possible to keep Nzimande in his party position without amending the SACP’s
constitution.

‘Our view is that the constitution should not be amended. But the constitution gives powers to the central committee to beef up the office of the general secretary through a resolution, until our conference in 2012 takes a final decision.

‘The main issue is that we need to deepen our capacity internally to survive financially so that we can retain skills,” the leader said. ‘If we could offer competitive remuneration compared with government positions, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Only two provincial secretaries have been retained full time—in the Western Cape and North West. Most have been absorbed into provincial legislatures.” Another provincial leader said the problem was that the SACP had no succession plan, forcing it to keep Nzimande. His deputy, Jeremy Cronin, is deputy minister for transport and is therefore also constrained.

SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka said he did not want to be drawn into a discussion about individuals. The party’s central committee had decided in February that ‘the political moment requires the SACP to release its general secretary to government”.

‘What we have to do is redouble our efforts to ensure that the party programme runs smoothly and that the general secretary continues to play a role. There’s no crisis. If we deploy people to government, we have to help them with support and accountability.”

SACP national organiser Solly Mapaila, considered close to Nzimande, has been running the office of the general secretary since the latter was appointed a minister.

Mapaila has been mentioned as Nzimande’s possible successor.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal.
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  • Mmanaledi Mataboge

    Mmanaledi Mataboge

    Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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