/ 2 May 2023

Has the tripartite alliance become an anachronism?

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Durable: The tripartite alliance of trade union federation Cosatu, the South African Communist Party and the ANC was forged in 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela. Its future is now up for discussion. (Rajesh Jantilal/Getty Images)

The South African Communist Party’s (SACP) Chris Hani argued that his major concern about post-colonial Africa was that leaders of the liberation movement are prone to becoming aristocratic and elitist, driving Mercedes Benzes in the face of abject poverty and hunger. The flaunting of opulence and crass materialism has indeed become a permanent feature in the lives of the ruling class post-colonialism, post-apartheid and post-independence.

The SACP has recently demanded the reconfiguration of the tripartite alliance, threatening to go if the ANC ignores it. The alliance post-apartheid failed to achieve any ideological commonalities among its partners. The SACP has also contributed to the factional battles that continue to bedevil the ANC dating back to former president Thabo Mbeki and his administration’s Gear policies. 

The ANC is on record as saying that it is the disciplined force of the left, but it is not a socialist organisation. This declaration has caused serious difficulties affecting the effectiveness of the alliance. The ideological differences resulted in further schisms including the expulsion and breakaway of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the establishment of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

One of the fundamental objectives of the SACP is to abolish capitalism and all its manifestations and replace it with socialism. Is the SACP still a relevant political force or has it become exposed as an irrelevant political player that has always operated under the shadow of the ANC? Does the SACP have political balls to terminate its rocky relationship with the ANC and go it alone in the local government, provincial and national elections or they are just bluffing to regain political leverage?

These are the questions that SACP members should ask themselves as it grapples with the matter of contesting elections independently of the ANC. 

Does the SACP have enough numbers to make any meaningful difference? The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 posed an existential contradiction for all communist and socialist governments and their communist parties around the world. The SACP was not exempt.

The SACP has operated under the political shadow of the ANC ever since it became part of the alliance — a political marriage that includes the Congress of the South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). 

SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila recently delivered an impassioned speech during the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Hani in which he lamented the sorry state of the alliance. He went on to say that their support for the ANC hinges on the alliance but not in the current form. 

He openly castigated the ANC for neoliberalism, which has caused serious problems for the working class.

Political writers have argued that the ANC has treated the SACP like a stepchild in this political marriage and not as an equal partner. So what is the purpose of the alliance post-apartheid in a democratic dispensation? Their ideological differences are playing themselves out in the public domain exposing the fragility of the alliance.

Almost 30 years of the ANC government has brought about changes through the introduction of transformational legislation aimed at empowering historically disadvantaged people. But more still needs to be done to change the socioeconomic power relations that are still skewed in favour of one section of the society.

This state of affairs means that the vanguard of the working class, the SACP, has failed to change the political ecosystem, let alone influence the implementation of pro-poor policies as contained in its constitution and its policy documents.

It came as a big surprise when former revolutionary leaders of the liberation movement renounced their beliefs in socialism in favour of market-driven capitalist policies.

It was virtually unthinkable during the 1980s and early 1990s that the struggle-made political commissar of the workers, Sam Mbhazima Shilowa, would support the government’s economic policy Gear, which has led to job losses of frightening proportions.

Would we have believed that known and self-declared communists would renounce it as Utopian and therefore impracticable and unimplementable? Would we know that Alec Erwin, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and many others committed the cardinal sin of political apostasy? And did we know that at some point Mbeki was once a communist?

What happened that led to these former leaders of the liberation struggle becoming political sinners? Some, if not most of them, have massively benefited from the ANC democratisation project. It is they who now claim that progressive policies such as black economic empowerment and affirmative action should be abolished.

Surely these millionaires should be investigated to verify the sources of their riches. Yet the majority of our people still find it difficult to eke out a decent living in the dusty and muddy streets in the informal settlements of black South Africa. The majority of our people deserve better.

These former leaders of the liberation struggle have betrayed the ancestors and forebears of the South African people’s revolution.

They have betrayed John Mafukuzela Dube, Albert Luthuli, Alfred Xuma, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, JB Moroka, AP Mda, Sol Plaatje, Bram Fischer, Gert Sibande, OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Moses Mabhida, Moses Kotane, Chris Hani, Yusuf Dadoo, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge, Charlotte Maxeke and all other revolutionaries of the congress movement, the real congress of the people.

Benzi Ka-Soko is an independent political analyst and writer.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.