The Mail & Guardian spoke to the South African Communist Party’s organising secretary, Solly Mapaila, ahead of the start of its conference on July 10. He talked about the party’s role in the government and the role of its national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, who is quitting. Mantashe may be replaced by Senzeni Zokwana, president of the National Union ofMineworkers.
What do you see as the priority for the conference?
The main challenges are, first, the adoption of a five-year socialist programme called the South African Road to Socialism, which maps out the strategy for the next five years. The strategy is anchored in advancing and deepening working-class power and hegemony in all sites of struggle, the key one being the state. The state represents the greatest concentration of social power under capitalism, so the working class must contest and use that power. Second, the challenge is to deal with the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Third, to build working-class power in the workplace and change the workplace.
I hear that chairperson Gwede Mantashe is not coming back to the position. Was it because of concern about the dual hats he wears as ANC secretary general?
He has made it clear that he is not available for the position of national chair. He does not want to be in any of the official positions. We have taken a decision about the active role of officials and feel they should meet more often. Mantashe was actually the one who sponsored that motion. He learned from his experience as an ANC official and he is now putting the party before his own interests.
There has been criticism from some trade unions that the SACP has abandoned the leadership of the working class in exchange for government positions.
That is just a political attack on the party and it has no basis. We have continued the working-class struggle. We fought, for example, for national health insurance, which we now see coming to light. We fought massively against corruption. We were the first to launch anti-corruption campaigns and we paid dearly for it. Some of the people leading that campaign were killed, such as Bomber Ntshangase in Mpumalanga. This conference will give him an award posthumously. We led the campaign against willing seller, willing buyer [in terms of land reform].
The criticism that you refer to was mainly aimed at our general secretary, Blade Nzimande, and it started during the wage negotiations when people said he did not lead the march. But he made crucial interventions on resolving that strike. And our membership has more than doubled from 50000 to more than 150000. We are now the second-biggest political party after the ANC.
What did the SACP achieve at the ANC’s policy conference?
We contribute unity to the alliance movement. We have just held all our nine provincial conferences at which there was not a single contest for the top five positions. Even our conference, as you can see, will be held without any squabbling. We want to contribute that unity to the ANC and to Cosatu.
Cosatu would say, for example, that it won the debate over the youth wage subsidy at the conference. What can the SACP say?
This was an ANC policy conference and we want the ANC to take the lead. We cannot take party-political positions in the ANC; they are ANC positions.
ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe recently commented that the SACP was no longer training its members politically as thoroughly as it used to in the past. What is your response to the issue of quantity versus quality membership?
We are glad Comrade Kgalema is engaging us and he will also address the dinner at the conference, where we hope to talk some more. We are taking his criticism constructively.
We have had a sudden swell in numbers and we are also concerned by it as some may be joining with nefarious intentions.
Our political training programme is the most concrete in the alliance, but of course it is not like it was in the past. But our members go through an intensive one-year induction programme. We have good political schools and we train members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and members of the National Union of Mineworkers. We also want the Chris Hani Institute to play a bigger role. We want to do more.
I hear there is a proposal for a SACP constitutional amendment to create three full-time secretarial positions, all meant to replace one person [Nzimande].
We have been discussing party organisation and we have gone overseas to Cuba, China, India and other places to learn how other parties are structured internationally.
The system of party organisation is not based on the position of the general secretary. What is being proposed is to build a dynamic and flexible organisation that is socialist in character. We have to make the SACP compatible with its needs.
We have party members who are playing an important role in the state and it would be foolhardy to withdraw them just to satisfy ourselves.