Decision time approaching
The SACP’s alliance with the ANC is in crisis. Peter Manson reports
The South African Communist Party is edging closer and closer towards a split with the ruling African National Congress - or at least the dominant faction within it around president Jacob Zuma.
The SACP is, of course, part and parcel of the ANC and its members have senior roles within both the government and ANC apparatus. But two main issues have now left the SACP leadership up in arms: first, the abrupt closure of an internal ANC enquiry into ‘state capture’ - the corrupt influence exerted over several state departments by individual capitalists; and, secondly, the allegedly equally corrupt process for the selection of ANC candidates for the August local elections in one province in particular.
The ‘state capture’ scandal erupted late last year after it became clear that three capitalist brothers - Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta - were exerting a huge amount of influence over government appointments, as a result of their commercial connections with top ANC officials, including the president himself. This was too much for the SACP, which was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the pretence that the ANC was leading South Africa’s “national democratic revolution” on a direct route to socialism.
Back in March of this year it became clear that the SACP had had enough. Second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said that it was essential for the ANC to “discuss and resolve” the Gupta question. If Zuma does nothing, he was reported as saying, “The ANC will have no choice but to ask him to step down as president.”1
The SACP called for an official commission of enquiry into the whole Gupta affair, but instead the ANC announced an internal investigation behind closed doors. Then last week ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe effectively declared that the enquiry had been abandoned, since only one person out of the eight who were said to have evidence of corruption at the top had been prepared to make a written submission.
The SACP’s Mapaila was furious - the ANC had allowed “self-seeking factions” to increase their power and now they even controlled its national executive committee, he said: “What we can’t allow is for factions to appropriate the name of the ANC. This is the people’s movement - we will have to take steps to correct it.” It is clear that “the Guptas’ corporate capture of the movement continues,” he barked. “The ANC can’t come and give us a whitewash report.” It “can’t always think it can impose its decisions on people”. It is being “poisoned by wrong elements”.
Things had got to the stage where we had now come to expect nothing more than a “factional statement from the national executive committee of the ANC”, said Mapaila. “We can’t be in an alliance with factions and corrupt syndicates in the organisation” - the SACP and other ANC members would never accept that: “I won’t - it’s impossible. The battle lines are drawn.”2
In response ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa called the SACP “irresponsible” for its claims about factions, but the party’s general secretary, Blade Nzimande, said there were “serious concerns” over the state of the alliance - the ANC was simply abusing SACP loyalty. And things had been made much worse by “attacks on communists” originating within the ANC.3
No doubt he was thinking, amongst other things, of the remark of a top police officer that an SACP comrade overheard. Mthandazo Ntlemeza, who is head of the Hawks - the special police unit that targets organised crime - allegedly stated that “communists must be harassed”.
For his part, Young Communist League national deputy secretary Isaac Luthuli claimed that the alliance as a whole had been “captured by a faction”, leading to a situation where corruption has been “legalised” - in fact “institutionalised”.
But things are not quite so simple as a straightforward ANC-SACP split. Take the aforementioned Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, who described Mapaila’s comments as “opportunistic”. Until 2012 Mantashe was not only the ANC’s top official: he was also the SACP’s national chair! At the SACP congress that year he confessed that it had been a mistake to try and occupy both positions and stepped down from his SACP post. But he was re-elected onto the SACP central committee as well as its politburo - as far as I know, he has not resigned from either body, let alone the party itself.
Then there is Sdumo Dlamini, the president of the SACP-dominated Congress of South African Trade Unions. He came down firmly, as did Cosatu itself, on the side of the ANC leadership when Mantashe made his announcement. Dlamini said of the aborted enquiry: “There was no evidence and the ANC cannot open an investigation forever.” Yes, you guessed it - like Mantashe, Dlamini is an SACP central committee member.
Of course, it is not exactly without precedent for SACP members, having accepted high-ranking state and ANC positions with the party’s full backing, to have ‘gone native’. For example, who would have thought that either Rob Davies, minister of trade and industry, or Ebrahim Patel (economic development) was a ‘communist’? Both sound - and are largely regarded as - wholly committed to the interests of South African capital. That is because they are!
However, up to now, differences between the ANC and SACP have been played down or covered up and there has been no contradiction whatsoever between their ANC or state responsibilities and their SACP membership. But today things are starting to look a little different.
So Mantashe claimed that Mapaila’s allegations about factions were not driven by alleged corruption at all, but by the August local elections. He was quoted in the New Age newspaper as saying: “The SACP has registered its own candidates to contest the elections in the Eastern Cape’s Alfred Nzo district municipality. They went against our advice and refused to cooperate.” In response to a question about whether it was time for the SACP to “go it alone”, Mantashe said that was “a matter for the party to debate”.4
This prompted an angry rebuttal from the SACP. Repeating the above quotation regarding the elections, its statement continued:
The newspaper attributes this gibberish to ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who knows where to contact the SACP, how to engage with the party, including the necessity of validating with it any information that comes to his attention concerning the SACP. The SACP outright dismisses the claim as a big lie (original emphasis).5
In other words, the party is not standing its own separate candidates in August - it is continuing to call for an ANC vote. In fact it threatened the New Age with legal action for publishing Mantashe’s claim.
Nevertheless, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal it is no exaggeration to say that relations between the ANC and SACP have degenerated into a feud - literally. Last week an SACP comrade who was due to give evidence at the murder trial of members of the ANC leading faction was himself gunned down and Solly Mapaila has alleged that those who speak out against “state capture” may be “risking their lives”.6
There is no doubt that in KZN corruption has been particularly acute, and the effects of ‘black economic empowerment’ (BEE - the awarding of government contracts to black-owned businesses, often through personal contacts with ANC officials) has seemed to merge with the manipulation of branches, including over the selection process for local elections. As a result, the SACP has been sidelined in the province - leading to increasing calls among SACP members for the party to contest elections under its own name. While the national leadership has stated that it will not endorse or campaign for ANC candidates “who were chosen fraudulently”, it continues to call for “an overwhelming ANC-led alliance electoral victory in the August 3 local government elections”.7
But in KwaZulu-Natal the SACP provincial executive committee put out a statement which read:
The PEC has reflected deeply on the escalating protests arising out of the arrogant, reckless and fraudulent decisions in the nomination processes of councillors. In many instances, imposition of unpopular names against the community-chosen names [is] a cause for protests in our townships, especially in Durban, and now the killings of comrades. The killings that are growing unabatedly [are] a function of manipulation of the election process.8
The “protests” have actually been more like riots, and have included several arson attacks. However, while the SACP, both locally and nationally, has condemned “violence”, the KZN ANC has alleged that the current unrest around Durban was being fomented by “disgruntled” individuals who did not make it onto the ballot paper. In other words, the SACP.
But both Nzimande and Zuma himself have been attempting to build bridges. While the SACP general secretary claimed that “People are buying their way into becoming candidates for the local government elections”, he also warned of “a huge campaign to drive a wedge in the alliance”. That is why “We must defend the ANC from factionalism. If we don’t do that, our revolution is gone.”
For his part, Zuma, speaking at an ANC manifesto launch rally, said:
We still need one another. For the ANC to remain in power and work hard to rebuild South Africa, it needs Cosatu and the SACP. For Cosatu to have better conditions at work, it needs this government and the SACP. For the SACP to move forward to a socialist society, it needs this government, it needs Cosatu.9
Only in South Africa, with its “national democratic revolution”, could you hear such nonsense!
Meanwhile, last weekend’s meeting of the SACP central committee agreed a statement which attempted to rein in some of the more extreme pronouncements coming from individual leaders about the extent of corruption. It declared: “We certainly agree that neither the ANC nor government are corporately captured in their entirety. But the problem is widespread, and threatens to become endemic.”
The statement claimed that there are “two broad camps within the bourgeoisie”. First there is “South African (typically trans-nationalised) monopoly capital, integrated into an imperialist agenda”, in alliance with “the now relatively established (and often compradorial) first-generation BEE stratum”. Secondly, there is a “parasitic bourgeoisie based on state capture in its most brazen forms”, which, among a number of blatantly corrupt practices (the statement names “illegal expatriation of capital”, “tax evasion” and “money laundering”), seeks to “influence appointing and dis-appointing cabinet ministers”. It does all this through “the direct corruption of government and party political officials”.
While “monopoly/imperialist cap-ital is certainly not virtuous”, declares the central committee, it has “a vested interest” in “not seeing the economy collapse”, and is actually “alarmed” by phenomena such as the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters, the 2012 Marikana massacre “and, of course, the wrecking-ball activities of the Guptas”.
Then there is this passage:
The CC noted the recent revelation that a group of military officers from Britain’s Royal College of Defence Studies visited SA last year with the assignment to “assess the political threats to continuing ANC rule in South Africa”. The military officers were required to “devise a medium-term strategy, with concrete deliverables, for the party to retain power at the next general election”.10
In other words, the SACP is fully aware of the extent of western support for the ANC in the interests of “South African (typically trans-nationalised) monopoly capital, integrated into an imperialist agenda”. This support is forthcoming despite the fact that the ANC is leading a “national democratic revolution”, which, as the likes of Nzimande never tires of repeating, is the “most direct route to socialism in South Africa”.
According to the SACP then, it has a shared interest with the international bourgeoisie in defeating “state capture” - it is just that the latter is too stupid to realise that support for the ANC will eventually lead to the end of capitalism!
The party is now seeking an urgent meeting with the ANC leadership, leading one commentator to remark: “The SACP will effectively be asking Zuma to choose between them and the Guptas. It could prove to be a costly gamble on their part.”11
What next for the SACP?
5. SACP statement, June 3.
7. SACP statement, June 5.
10. SACP statement, June 5.