Zuma addresses Malema-vs-SACP drama

President Jacob Zuma on Saturday read the riot act to the African National Congress-led tripartite alliance partners during his address to the South African Communist Party’s (SACP) second special congress in Polokwane. Zuma, in his capacity as ANC president, told delegates that alliance partners needed to engage each other with “dignity, honesty and respect”.

He addressed the embarrassing event of Thursday where delegates heckled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and national executive committee (NEC) member Billy Masetlha, indirectly referring to Malema as “irritating”.

The alliance was home to different people with different characters, who raised issues differently, said Zuma. “At times [people] irritate in meetings.
They just have a culture of irritating. The critical thing is how do we handle such comrades? Do you also become an irritant? You can’t.”

Malema is known for his public attacks on several alliance leaders on different issues, particularly when they express opinions different to his. “The public outbursts and acrimonious exchanges are not in the tradition of the alliance, irrespective of where they come from,” said Zuma.

After Malema’s walkout on Thursday, he told journalists he was going to complain to Zuma about his “humiliation” at the hands of communist delegates.

There were fears before Zuma’s speech that he would find it difficult to stand his ground and would probably shy away from the Malema-vs-communists drama, but he confronted it head-on, impressing SACP delegates who agreed with him on the issue of discipline within the alliance.

“If we believe that somebody among ourselves is ill-disciplined, let us deal with the matter. If we don’t deal with it, we allow this sickness to eat the alliance up like a cancer.”

Zuma slammed those who engage with fellow alliance partners in the media and on public platforms, saying the culture was “foreign” and should not be allowed to continue. “If we do so, unwittingly, we are weakening the alliance. We must be able to commit to and practise the culture of principled debate.”

He said the alliance was too deep-rooted and entrenched to be disrupted by activities or statements of a few of its members. Zuma pleaded with delegates to help build a positive image of the tripartite alliance, because if the alliance was seen to be besieged with tensions, squabbling and conflicts, it would not inspire public confidence. “We must not create the impression that the alliance is in intensive care.”

He, however, said the alliance was capable of withstanding any turbulence that stood in its way.

In his message of support to the SACP, Zuma said the party should stop seeing itself as “a pressure group” and instead play its role of providing “robust and profound intellectual and ideological debates” to the alliance. He added that the party should suggest to the ANC ways of doing things better.

He praised the SACP for always taking responsibility, reminding delegates that former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli described communists as comrades who are the “most reliable, disciplined and always ready to sacrifice”.

“If the ANC had failed, they identified with the failures and became part of the sharing of the blame. They correct the mistakes and share the successes.”

Zuma challenged the communists to do an introspection of whether the SACP had “defined its role seriously in a democratic post-apartheid society”.

Earlier, SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin said the party’s membership was the largest it had ever been in the country, at just over 96 000, almost double the size the party was four years ago. The SACP ends its special congress on Sunday with the pronouncements on declarations taken after discussions that started on Thursday.

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. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

Client Media Releases

NWU delivers PhD graduates from every corner of Africa
UKZN hosts discussion on gender-based violence
MiX Telematics reports strong fiscal 2019 results