South African Communist Party leaders who back President Jacob Zuma are likely to be purged at the party’s national conference next month.
The anti-Zuma group in the SACP wants the party’s chairperson, Senzeni Zokwana (who is also the agriculture minister) removed from his post because he opposed a motion of no confidence in Zuma at the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting in November.
The motion was tabled by former tourism minister Derek Hanekom but was defeated, as was a second attempt last month.
The SACP deputy chairperson, Thulas Nxesi (the sports minister), is seen as the suitable candidate to replace Zokwana as chairperson.
The group also wants Buti Manamela (the deputy minister in the presidency) removed from the SACP’s central committee, its highest leadership structure, because of his close relationship with Zuma.
Manamela, who is also a member of the ANC’s provincial executive committee in Limpopo, repeatedly defended Zuma in Parliament when the president was criticised by opposition parties over the Nkandla scandal and, more recently, the leaked Gupta emails.
SACP insiders say there has been a serious falling-out between SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Manamela, the former Young Communist League (YCL) secretary.
The two are said to differ on several issues, including the party’s call for Zuma to step down and the party’s approach to matters related to the SABC.
Those who are pushing for Zokwana to be removed say he has been “invisible” during his term as SACP chairperson and that it is time to bring in someone with fresh ideas and energy.
“He [Zokwana] has been invisible throughout his term. Even in the [ANC] NEC, he voted differently. He surprised even [SACP] leaders who are in the NEC when he broke ranks. That’s one of the contributing factors for the dissatisfaction against him. You need a firmer leader that will bring energy into the party,” said an SACP leader, who asked to remain anonymous.
Zokwana is the former president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Other Zuma supporters who face being axed from the SACP’s central committee include KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu, Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle and Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini.
Approached for comment this week, Manamela said: “I will not engage on congress matters through the media.”
Zokwana confirmed he was among ANC NEC members who opposed the motion against Zuma, but said his position at the time did not contradict any SACP position.
“When I attend the NEC, I do so as elected by ANC. It does not mean I stop being a communist. At the time when the debate [on the motion for Zuma to step down] happened, the communist party had not taken a decision,” he said.
He added that his view at the time was informed by fact that Zuma was not only state president but also ANC president.
“As the ANC expressed its stance, I never took any contradicting view. I put my views as ANC. I am not ashamed of that. I did not breach any party [SACP] line because there was no view. Any claim [contrary to that] is misplaced.”
He would remain a committed member of the SACP even if he was removed as chairperson.
“Nobody has the right to lead the party. You lead at the behest of party members. It is the right of provinces to debate party positions,” Zokwana said.
According to SACP insiders, there is a strong lobby in the party pushing for its second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila to replace Nzimande, who has served as the party’s general secretary for 19 years.
SACP insiders say the top party leaders were working hard to ensure the Mapaila issue is handled in a way that will not divide the party.
“There’s a high-level discussion on the Blade/Mapaila issue. After having led the party for so long, he [Nzimande] will want a civil way to exit,” the SACP leader said.
Nzimande said at the weekend that the party encouraged members to reach consensus on leadership positions to avoid leaders competing against one another and for the sake of unity.
Some SACP branches are lobbying for former YCL chairperson David Masondo to be returned to the party’s central committee and as a member of its politburo.
He was dropped from the committee at the SACP’s 2012 national conference after falling out with Nzimande and his supporters. In Mangaung in 2012, he and former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema backed former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to become ANC president, though he lost to Zuma, who was backed by Nzimande and co.
“He [Masondo] is a child of the party. It was an error that he was taken out. That is the guy to watch should [second deputy general secretary] Jeremy Cronin retire,” the SACP leader said. “He will fit well into that position. He is independent, intelligent and organic. The biggest achievement for him for now will be if he is elected into the politburo.”
One of the issues that will dominate the SACP’s national conference will be whether the party should contest elections on its own. Six provinces are likely to support this proposal.