Editorial: Reds lie uneasy in ANC's bed

The SACP flag. (Gallo)

The SACP flag. (Gallo)

Aficionados of palace politics, as well as those with a sense of irony, will probably chuckle at the news that the communists in government and high up in the ANC, their longtime alliance partner, believe they are being targeted by nationalists who want them out.

These two strands in the liberation struggle, the black and the red, as they used to be dubbed, have been entwined for a very long time: the South African Communist Party made a huge contribution to the struggle, especially after the ANC and other movements were banned in the early 1960s; it kept the ANC alive by means of Moscow’s funding, and it turned the struggle into one against racism rather than one between black and white.

It also managed to dominate the ANC intellectually, at least from the 1960s to the 1990s, and its vision of a socialist revolution still seizes the minds of many, including the new labour left that has otherwise repudiated the “vanguard” leadership of the SACP.

Yet there was always a tension between the black and the red in the alliance and, for decades, pundits prophesied a split. That didn’t happen. Rather, during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, the communists felt sidelined, then grabbed the opportunity to mobilise against him when Jacob Zuma began his campaign for the presidency.
Zuma let them believe that if he came to power he would support their programme, as opposed to Mbeki’s “neoliberalism”.

Now the ANC’s nationalists, very much like the old white National Party, see communists as a Trojan horse smuggling their evil influence into government. How ironic! The communist party today, under Blade Nzimande, has abandoned any truly socialist policy in favour of blind support for Zuma. And the latest spat isn’t about ideology, or even about the governance success or failure of communist ministers: it’s just another internal ANC struggle for power, and it will contribute only to greater ideological confusion.

It’s a pity, really, that the SACP gave up any independent thought as its leaders were co-opted into government. With a little ideological coherence and principled leadership, it would have made a great official opposition.

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