Are you a nationalist or a communist?

That’s what ANC members will need to decide before the 2012 national conference, the battle lines of which are being drawn with much public kicking and screaming.

Supporting Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula for the post of party secretary general will show you’re a nationalist. A vote for the present incumbent, Gwede Mantashe, will mean you’re a communist.

Or will it? In the debates now raging within the alliance, ideologies don’t really feature. This is a game about playing the man — the ball is practically off the pitch.

Nowhere in the world is the line between communists and nationalists fading faster than it is in the latest skirmish between the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Mantashe is the chairperson of the SACP but at the same time the darling of the business world. So to call him simply ‘red” would be a mistake.

ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who serves as Mbalula’s proxy, supposedly fights under the nationalist banner, saying President Jacob Zuma must not ‘surrender” to communists. But Malema introduced the debate on the mines, which he believes should be nationalised. So has Malema become a communist?

Enter what Malema likes to call ‘the yellow communist” — cowardly fakes or the 21st-century version of champagne socialists. These communists say they feel the plight of the people, but they do it while living in mansions in upper-class suburbs with, to paraphrase an old struggle song, ‘garden boys and kitchen girls” all round.

Malema’s favourite ‘yellow communist” right now is SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. True, he’s no stranger to the good life and things only got better with the acquisition of a new R1.2-million BMW.

In turn, Nzimande’s favourite ‘African chauvinist” nationalist is Malema.

As for who is the pot and who is the kettle, both share a taste for the finer things in life, including their 4x4s — Nzimande loved his black Jeep Cherokee before he became higher education minister; Malema adores his grape-coloured Range Rover. Both have chauffeurs. Perhaps they would argue that they need their SUVs when visiting the rural masses who elected them in the hopes of a better life.

ANC stalwarts say the ‘real ANC” operates within a nationalist framework — nationalism implying a common identity and entrenching ideas about ‘us” (the people) and ‘them”. In theory the ANC leans towards the left in its belief in nonracialism and popular sovereignty — meaning the party believes it can derive legitimacy only from its popular support.

Yet, in effect, the nationalists find the leftwingers a nuisance, believing the communists are using the ANC as their ticket to the spoils of liberation.
Maybe SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin has the answer. He claims Malema displays communist tendencies to feed the greedy black bourgeoisie. Therefore, Malema is using communist principles to gain access to the same spoils for himself and his friends. Which is exactly the same thing the nationalists fear the c­ommunists will do.

This article was part of a two-page spread in the Mail & Guardian’s lead story for December 18 to 22 2009. Read the other stories:

Client Media Releases

Winners for 2017 GAP Innovation Competition announced
Investing in cryptocurrencies
Project ETA at Palletways