The South African Communist Party, which helped propel Jacob Zuma to power, regrets replacing Thabo Mbeki with a cult figure and putting too much trust in Zuma. It admits this was a political blunder.
As the tripartite alliance meets this weekend, there are deep divisions within the SACP about how it should align itself with the ANC, and whether it should contest national elections in its own name.
Some of its leaders fear life in the alliance after Zuma, and argue that the ANC is weak and has failed to lead the alliance properly.
As factions grow towards the end of Zuma’s term as the country’s president, his erstwhile allies are expressing doubts about his leadership. They include former union boss Zwelinzima Vavi, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema and now the communist party.
The SACP, which has labelled the ANC leadership and strategic vision under Mbeki as a 1996 class project, said defeating him did not end the project, and that rallying around Zuma was no solution.
Part of the problem, according to the communists, was to “excessively” project Zuma as a messiah.
The SACP’s frank admission is contained in a discussion document, titled Meeting the Challenges Facing the Trade Union Movement, released before the party’s upcoming special congress. The document has been circulated to some provincial heads.
The SACP now said the “baggage from Polokwane” had negatively affected it and the other alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu.
“Among the dangers in excessively personalising politics and developing personality cults is that undue expectations can easily be invested in individuals.
“Worse still, when these expectations are disappointed, hero worship can turn into an infantile anti-fixation.”
The SACP cited Malema and Vavi as some of those who were obsessed with Zuma but who were disappointed by his leadership and have now turned against him.
The party said the ANC was not blameless because it failed to develop an effective joint programme of action for the alliance.
“With the notable exception of election campaigns, since 1994, the ANC has failed almost entirely to lead its alliance in grassroots campaigns that mobilise its mass constituency. The recent important anti-xenophobia mobilisation is an encouraging partial exception,” it said in the document.
‘Marriage of convenience’
The SACP, with most of its leaders in the Cabinet and Parliament, said the outcome of the ANC’s Polokwane conference that elected Zuma as party president in 2007 was achieved through “a marriage of convenience between a left bloc and a right-wing populist group”.
The disappointment with the ruling party has led some of the SACP provinces to push for the party to go it alone. Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the party’s Young Communist League (YCL), have called on the communists to test their electoral might from as early as next year’s local government elections.
The party in Mpumalanga said it was tired of working to convince its members to vote for the ANC.
The relationship between the SACP and the ANC in the province has broken down, with the ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, euphemistically describing the tension as teething problems in November.
But the SACP’s provincial secretary, Bonakele Majuba, said it was much deeper than that. “We are continuously attacked by people who claim to be ANC leaders. They attack us, disrupt our rallies and we cannot campaign for such people,” he said this week.
“The party in the province will pursue other provinces … to consider contesting state power through the ballot without breaking the alliance,” Majuba said.
For years now the SACP in Mpumalanga has had a frosty relationship with the ANC provincial chairperson and premier, David Mabuza. Allegations of corruption have been levelled against him and the SACP has repeatedly called for his dismissal.
Mabuza described the SACP’s quest to contest elections as emotional and immature. “They don’t have a problem with the ANC. They have a problem with me,” he said.
KwaZulu-Natal this week backed the call by Mpumalanga.
Frustration over Zuma is increasing an SACP desire to go it alone. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
The SACP’s provincial secretary, Themba Mthembu, said party members believed the tripartite alliance benefited only the leadership elite.
“The ANC is not stable. Look at the ANC Youth League. They can’t hold a conference. The same with ANC Women’s League, and we don’t even know if they have a Veterans’ League or not,” Mthembu said.
“There is strong view on the ground from branches of [the] SACP to consider reopening the debate on whether the party should be contesting state power.”
The YCL, since its relaunch in 2003, has encouraged its mother body to contest elections independently, and has pushed the party to discuss the consequences of such a decision with the ANC and Cosatu.
Last weekend, its national secretary, Mluleki Dlelanga, told a YCL rally in Durban that the SACP should use next month’s special national congress to settle the matter.
His main unhappiness was seeing parties such as the EFF successfully getting 6% of the national vote. “We don’t say we want to leave the alliance. The question is: Is it not a right time to test our strength in local government elections?” Dlelanga said.
The SACP’s second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, said members had the right to come up with suggestions before the congress, and he admitted relations between the SACP and the ANC had deteriorated in several provinces.
“There is no doubt that the alliance has not been doing well in the majority of provinces. Some of our comrades from the ANC are [power] drunk. There has been general disregard of processes. Many of these comrades don’t even understand why the alliance is there.
“We are facing a problem of corporate capture of our movement. It happened in Limpopo during Malema’s time and it’s continuing in other provinces,” Mapaila said.
He added that the question of state power had never been off the SACP’s table.
But some in the SACP believe that reconfiguring the alliance could provide a lasting solution to the difficult relationship.
The SACP’s North West provincial secretary, Madoda Sambatha, said the province would like to see a situation where, “on the electoral platform, we assume the status of being recognised equally”.
The alliance is currently structured in such a way that its partners support the ANC on the ruling party’s ticket and nominate members to be ANC MPs. That requires them to hold ANC membership in addition to the SACP or Cosatu membership.
Sambatha said it was of concern that the ANC was the only alliance partner that could draw up a list of candidates for legislatures, while others had to negotiate their representation.
“Our position as the North West is that we must have an alliance list and alliance election guidelines,” he said.
It was important because “we are always reminded, when we talk about elections, that this is an ANC process – it’s not an alliance process.”
Ministers, MECs, MPLs and MPs should have to account to the alliance secretariat and not only to the ANC, Sambatha said.
Against going it alone
But other SACP provincial leaders are against going it alone. The Free State SACP’s first deputy secretary, Ntandazo Siqwala, said those who suggested it were power mongers.
“We are not immune to issues of corruption as a party. There are people who might be pushing for this because they know they are the ones who will continue to occupy positions of power.
“How easy will it be to keep the alliance intact when each one says ‘I contested elections in my own right?’?” he asked.
Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma at the ANC conference in Polokwane. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)
Calling for an alliance election list also might not work because “the ANC is a registered party; there is no party called the Alliance”.?
But Siqwala said the growing hostility towards the ANC was affecting the SACP badly.
“When we campaign for the ANC, we always come across people who ask us why we are not contesting elections as the SACP. We explain to them that we are in an alliance with the ANC and sell the ANC to them. And then you go back sometime later and they say ‘but you were here and nothing changed’.”
Fight with ANC
The SACP’s Gauteng provincial secretary, Jacob Mamabolo, said the only region in Gauteng that supported Mpumalanga’s position was Tshwane because of its fight with the ANC regional leadership.
“There is nothing in the alliance that changed that requires us to change our electoral option. There has been no change in political or ideological posture of the ANC,” said Mamabolo, who is also Gauteng’s MEC for human settlements and co-operative governance.
The Western Cape SACP’s provincial secretary, Khaya Magaxa, said the province believed that contesting elections was just one of many options available for the party to attain state power, but the province was not entertaining that debate.
The Eastern Cape was waiting for next month’s special national congress, at which the matter would be discussed, its provincial spokesperson, Siyabonga Mdodi, said.
There are some within the SACP who feel that the real reason behind the idea of contesting elections is fear of life after Zuma. Sources in the party said there were concerns that the so-called ANC nationalists might drive out the communists if Zuma decided not to stand for the third term as party president in 2017.
As a result, some wanted to ready themselves for life in the SACP as a parliamentary party.
Most SACP leaders, including Blade Nzimande, felt marginalised under Mbeki and almost the entire leadership joined the Zuma administration or became ANC MPs after 2009.
Nzimande is the higher education minister; his SACP deputy, Jeremy Cronin, is public works deputy minister; the SACP national chairperson, Senzeni Zokwana, is agriculture minister; his SACP deputy, Thulas Nxesi, is public works minister; former YCL leader Buti Manamela is deputy minister in Zuma’s office; Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies is a central committee member of the SACP; and the SACP treasurer, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, heads parliament’s portfolio committee on communication.
Nzimande was harshly criticised for the brain drain, and Mbeki once warned him against liquidating the SACP.
When the SACP’s relationship with the ANC was at its lowest ebb, the party amended its constitution for Nzimande to be full-time general secretary. In 2009, the party again amended the constitution for Nzimande to serve part-time.
Some SACP leaders fret about whether Zuma’s successor as the country president – with the frontrunners including Cyril Ramaphosa and the African Union Commission chairperson, Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma – will be so accommodating
“We know that JZ is not coming back and we seriously need to have this discussion,” Siqwala said. “We need to do our own analysis and say what do we see beyond 2017 as the SACP?”
SACP sources said the situation was compounded by the continuing fallout between Nzimande and Zuma, which was mainly triggered by the disagreement on the running of the SABC.
Zuma is seen as close to and as having ensured the appointment of the controversial SABC chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The SACP has repeatedly opposed him, supporting public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on him.
The SACP was one of the organisations that pushed hard for the dismissal of the former SABC board chairperson, Ellen Tshabalala, a friend of Zuma, for faking her qualifications.
Given these frosty relations, this weekend’s alliance summit is likely to be fractious, and the ANC’s dominant position – a long-standing thorny issue – is likely to be high on the agenda.
An SACP leader, who asked not to be named, said the party would also push for the alliance to be given powers to enforce discipline among ministers and officials.
The SACP seems to have lost faith in another ally, Cosatu, which has splintered and fired its leader Vavi.
The SACP cites the Cosatu unions’ multibillion-rand investment and retirement funds as tearing the federation apart. “Much of the recent turmoil within Cosatu affiliates is to be located in competing factions seeking to control these resources.”
The SACP, which relies on Cosatu and its members financially, wants to review this arrangement.
“The fact that we are in an alliance with Cosatu must not mean that the SACP can only access organised workers through Cosatu or its affiliates. The party must have its own independent presence amongst workers, both organised and unorganised.”