ANC in disarray
While the ruling party is riven by factions, writes Peter Manson, the SACP too is deeply divided
The ANC is facing a huge crisis. We can safely say that the absolute hegemony it has enjoyed for so long has finally come to an end. Every day, the signs of fragmentation are growing. Its closest allies, in the shape of the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, are themselves deeply divided. The SACP is for the first time facing the serious possibility of a fundamental parting of the ways with the ruling party, while Cosatu continues to lose members and shed affiliates.
In the August municipal elections the ANC vote slumped to just under 54%, while the rightwing opposition Democratic Alliance won 27% and the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters 8%. Yes, that still represents an absolute majority, but since the ending of apartheid the ANC had always scored between 60% and 70% and, apart from a few pockets here and there, it ran every local authority. However, on August 3 it lost control of several municipalities, including Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Last weekend the SACP issued a statement after its central committee met, in which it noted that the August 3 results represented “a precipitous decline in both urban and rural areas”. The CC declared that, “unless serious corrective actions are undertaken, the decline will continue and likely accelerate”. It explained:
Growing numbers of South Africans are tired of being taken for granted. They believe that ANC formal structures are increasingly inward-looking, preoccupied with factional battles and money politics. They believe that the conduct of ANC politicians is often arrogant and aloof. There are tens of thousands of loyal ANC supporters and many veterans who are excluded from branch structures by gate-keepers and fraudulent abuse of membership data. The imposition of unpopular ANC candidates, in defiance of the ANC’s own guidelines, was another major weakness.1
Finally, the SACP states: “All South Africans are deeply concerned about corruption”. And, of course, corruption extends right to the very top, as scandals involving president Jacob Zuma - over the spending of state money on his Nkandla estate and his, shall we say, dubious relationship with businessmen who were said to have dictated the appointment of some ministers - have demonstrated.
These matters were very publicly aired two weeks ago at an unexpected time and place, when Sipho Pityana, an ANC veteran and former director-general of foreign affairs, gave the funeral oration for another ANC stalwart, Makhenkhesi Stofile. More than 10,000 mourners were at this August 25 event, including numerous senior ANC figures.
Pityana remarked that the ANC claims to be a “party against corruption, yet we seem to be falling over each other to steal from the poor” - only then to “look for scapegoats outside”. And, unlike someone who remained nameless in his speech, Pityana pointed out that the deceased did not build for himself “a palace worth over R200 million [£10.4 million] amongst a sea of poverty”.
Referring to the Marikana massacre of August 2012, in which 34 striking miners were shot dead by police and a further 78 were wounded, Pityana wondered how we had arrived at a situation where “our own government” could “kill in cold blood ... workers for going on strike”.
Hardly a working class partisan, the millionaire Pityana stands in sharp contrast to many in the ANC, including the SACP, who excused the massacre and actually laid the blame, at least partially, on the strikers themselves. Foremost amongst them is one Cyril Ramaphosa, the current deputy president of both South Africa and the ANC, who may well be named as Zuma’s replacement at the ANC’s December 2017 conference.
It was Ramaphosa who, the day before the massacre, sent emails to a senior manager of Lonmin, the company that employed the miners and of which Ramaphosa himself was a major shareholder, declaring that it was essential to get the minister of police to “act in a more pointed way”. The strike was “not a labour dispute”, he wrote. The mineworkers’ behaviour was “dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such”. So there must be “concomitant action to address the situation”.
Fittingly, it was also Ramaphosa who gave the oration at another solemn ceremony - the September 4 National Commemoration Day wreath-laying to honour police officers who have died on duty over the last year. Referring to them as “our fallen heroes and heroines”, he remarked that, when a police officer dies, “We also lose a valuable, skilled, trained and committed patriot.” No doubt he viewed the police at Marikana in that way.
ANC mark two?
Returning to Pityana’s speech, however, what he said created a furore. The ANC Youth League issued a statement headed “Funerals should never be used for cheap politicking”, in which it branded Pityana “unruly” and “disrespectful”. He was merely seeking to “please his fellow counterrevolutionaries”.2
And, according to the Morning Star, these “counterrevolutionaries” were so emboldened that they tried to launch a “coup” against the ruling party on September 5:
An attempted palace coup by a faction of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party fell flat yesterday, as struggle veterans turned out to defend the party’s HQ. The Occupy Luthuli House stunt - intended to force ANC and national president Jacob Zuma and the entire national executive committee to resign - drew less than 100 supporters.3
Just to show that the Star is capable of even greater stupidities than describing a small demonstration in this way, its headline read: “Veterans protect government HQ from attempted coup”. No, Luthuli House is indeed the ANC headquarters and is not connected to the government. In fact, despite the loyalist counter-demonstrators who tried to block their way, the ANC oppositionists succeeded in handing over a memorandum demanding the resignations.
But it is not as though those demands are so out of touch with the sentiments felt by a large section of the ANC membership. How about the SACP itself? Its August 28 statement quoted above also urged the ANC to “convene a non-elective consultative conference”. In the party’s view, “Agreement should be reached, if possible, on the transition to a new leadership, and, at the very least on mechanisms to ensure that the December 2017 conference will not be characterised by a shoot-out between winner-takes-all, mutually exclusive slates.”
The CC stated that “the democratic transition from white minority rule to a united, non-racial, non-sexist and fundamentally more egalitarian society is now at a decisive crossroads moment”. Indeed it may be that the ANC is no longer fit for purpose. In which case, “If the ANC’s national leadership proves incapable of leading a national democratic struggle, it does not mean that it is a struggle that does not still need to be waged across a broad, multi-class, patriotic front.”4
So, if the ANC is no longer deemed capable of “leading a national democratic struggle”, presumably the SACP would be looking for a replacement organisation - an ANC mark two. And no doubt, despite the Star’s spin, the Occupy Luthuli House supporters of Sipho Pityana would be among the party’s new allies in such a project.
But this whole trajectory did not go down too well with a section of the SACP itself. Astonishingly, Dominic Tweedie, the party’s main internet hack, who runs several pro-SACP email lists, issued a statement headed “Down with the consultative conference idea! It is a diversion towards disaster”. Tweedie condemned the CC’s “weak, diversionary call”, declaring that the demand for a consultative conference was “just an expedient to avoid exercising the democracy of the movement, pre-empting it and second-guessing it”.5
(Readers might be interested to know, by the way, that the author of the Morning Star article quoted above is Dominic Tweedie’s son, James, who is now based in London.)
Meanwhile there are continuing rumours that SACP members of Zuma’s government are soon to be sacked. These are, of course, senior members of the ANC too and include SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande (minister for higher education), first deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin (deputy minister of public works), Rob Davies (trade and industry minister), Senzeni Zokwana (agriculture) and Thulas Nxesi (public works).
But, according to the South African Sunday Times, “Leaders of the SACP say they are ready to be removed from president Jacob Zuma’s cabinet rather than remain silent about the scandals plaguing his government” (August 28).6 It quoted deputy general secretary Cronin as saying it was a “positive mark” that SACP leaders were being mentioned as targets in Zuma’s imminent cabinet reshuffle. He added: “We would not be doing our jobs as honest and disciplined communists if we didn’t step on the toes of some forces that are bent on looting the state and intent on covering their activities.”
Cronin concluded: “It’s certainly time for the ANC officials and the national executive committee to think about the challenges they are facing and how to move forward, because the ANC seems to be paralysed at a national leadership level.”
This is not quite a call for Zuma and the entire executive to resign àla Occupy Luthuli House protestors, but it is coming pretty close to it. And the SACP has also called for Zuma’s power to hire and fire ministers to be “reviewed” if he continues to use it for “factional reasons”. Such decisions should be made by the ANC itself and not be left to Zuma, who has been using it to “marginalise other sections within the movement”, the party states.7
Second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila told the City Press newspaper that the president had “factionalised that right” and if Nzimande, for instance, were to be removed just “because he doesn’t like the positions of the ANC”, that would be “a clear declaration of war against the communists”.
Mapaila even raised the possibility of the party standing candidates under its own name in future elections - a demand that has continuously been raised by elements of the rank and file, but previously dismissed by the leadership: “If they choose at the [SACP 2017] congress to say, let’s go it alone, then that is what we must do.”
As we have seen, however, in the hands of the SACP leadership a split from the ANC would not be any kind of move to the left. It would, though, appeal to those elements who believe that the ANC has ‘betrayed’ the social democratic Freedom Charter and has now abandoned the “national democratic revolution”, which the SACP insists is South Africa’s “most direct route to socialism”.
Many of these elements can be found amongst the previously SACP-loyal trade unions who have ditched both the ANC and SACP and are now looking to establish a new federation to rival Cosatu. They correctly state that Cosatu is so devoted to the bourgeois-led triple alliance (ANC-SACP-Cosatu) that it no longer defends working class interests.
To give you an idea of the politics dominating the ‘steering committee to form a new trade union federation’, which met on August 30, its statement noted that, despite the fact that “the balance of forces continues to favour the ruling class” globally, there have been “a number of positive developments”, not least the “election victories of Syriza in Greece and radical forces gaining ground in Spain and other countries, including support for Jeremy Corbyn, the first unambiguous socialist Labour Party leader in a long while”.8
The steering committee was set up on the initiative of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the country’s largest trade union, which in November 2014 was expelled from Cosatu for withdrawing support from the ANC and SACP. It was backed by the “9-plus” Cosatu-affiliated unions, which earlier this year made the call for a new federation, and have been joined in that endeavour by many non-Cosatu affiliates - 31 unions were represented at the August 30 steering committee meeting.
Only last week the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) decided at its August congress to withdraw from the ANC-led alliance as well as Cosatu, becoming the latest to sign up to the steering committee. Other Cosatu affiliates are in turmoil, sometimes paralysed by factional battles. For example, the leadership of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu) has been prevented from meeting as a result of legal action taken by suspended oppositionists, while the Communication Workers Union is now at war with the SACP.
In the middle of a bitter dispute with the semi-privatised Telkom SA, the general secretary of the Cosatu-affiliated CWU, Aubrey Tshabalala, on August 29 launched a scathing attack on the party. According to Tshabalala, “The SACP has failed in its revolutionary duty as a vanguard of a working class.” It has not given any leadership during industrial disputes, sometimes not even issuing statements of support. He claims that the SACP in one particular province has in effect been attempting to liquidate the CWU: “We have read with shock and disbelief the SACP Gauteng press statement calling for a workplace forum in companies where we are organising.” Allegedly the SACP decided to “ignore a call by CWU for workers to join the trade union, but encouraged them to form a ‘company forum’” instead.
Tshabalala concluded: “We categorically state that the current paralyses in the SACP is the main reason why our worker politics and Cosatu as the federation is in such a compromising state ...” And, of course, the ANC itself is “facing a crisis of monumental proportion”.9
The Gauteng SACP responded the next day, saying that “this venomous and slanderous attack seems to bear great resemblance and to fit neatly into the current and existing scheme of factional gangs and networks in our movement”. It alleged that such “gangs” have “links to the accumulation regime at state-owned enterprises” - in other words, unions like the CWU were led by corrupt self-seekers.10
This exchange prompted the Cosatu leadership to intervene, declaring it was “extremely perturbed” by the public exchanges “between our affiliate, the Communication Workers Union, and our ally, the South African Communist Party”. On the one hand, “We take exception to any suggestion or intimation that seeks to portray the leadership of CWU as dishonest or unprincipled, and we view that as an unmerited attack that can potentially weaken the union in the face of its members.” On the other hand, “We shall also ceaselessly work to prove wrong the prevailing false narrative that the ANC has lost its leadership of the nation.”11
Obviously, Cosatu’s “ally”, the SACP itself, is partially responsible for disseminating that “prevailing false narrative”. Another sign of the disarray infecting the triple alliance.
The steering committee, in its August 31 statement, declared:
We remain extremely concerned about the continuing fragmentisation of unions in our country. Today there are 186 registered and a total of about 500 unions exist. Ironically, the more our unions multiply through fragmentation, the more the numbers of workers who do not belong to any union seems to grow.
However, “Cosatu cannot unite workers following its purging of hundreds of thousands of its members for political reasons.” Furthermore, “There will be no realisation of the dream of ‘one country, one federation’ by unions that insist on sleeping with workers’ class enemies.”
It is, of course, true that, while we are for ‘one industry, one union’ and ‘one country, one federation’, if the existing federation insists on expelling affiliates simply for declaring support for the principle of working class independence, then unions will have no alternative but to organise separately. But the steering committee is in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it states: “… despite our differences [we] have agreed that being independent means that we will not affiliate to any political party”.
So is that a temporary position or a universal statement of principle? Surely the aim must be not only ‘one country, one federation’, but a federation that accepts the leadership of a principled working class party.
Talking of which, when Numsa split from the ANC/SACP in 2013, it declared that workers needed not a new union federation, but a new party. The aim was to establish such a party - or at least its organisational precursor - within a short time, with a target of contesting the 2016 municipal elections. Well, those elections have come and gone, but there is still no sign of the new party. The United Front, set up by Numsa to facilitate its formation, has effectively been discarded, its website abandoned.12
Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, seems to have ceded leadership of the post-Cosatu movement to Zwelinzima Vavi, the federation’s former general secretary, who was sacked by Cosatu in 2015 following a drawn-out dispute. And it has to be said that Vavi, despite his opposition to the triple alliance and declared support for workers’ independence, is rather cavalier in his choice of allies. He seems to regard the black-nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters as some kind of progressive force, for example. During his address to the Fawu congress on August 22, he remarked, in relation to the August 3 elections: “A small section of the working class voters registered their anger at the levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality and corruption by voting for the EFF and some, unfortunately, for their class enemies in the DA.” Note that the word “unfortunately” applies only to the Democratic Alliance. In the same speech he lamented the “government’s abandonment of the Freedom Charter”.
The steering committee’s September 1 statement - issued in the name of “Zwelinzima Vavi (convenor)” and “Stephen Faulkner (operations centre)” - was strong on the dire state of the working class movement in South Africa. For example,
In a staggering indictment of union powerlessness, the employers now set 54% of all wages without any negotiations with workers ... A whopping 10% of workers do not receive regular increase …
The share of wages in the national income (GDP) has continued to plummet well below 50% from 57% in 1991 …
Unemployment is at record levels, with 8.9 million unable to find job opportunities. This is 36.4% - more than one out of every three adults of working age nationally. But this catastrophe is much higher in the townships and rural towns ...
According to StatsSA, a staggering 54% of our population lives in poverty ... What poverty means is that 13 million people in this country go to bed every day without food, and another 14 million face hunger at some point in the month.13
However, its response falls far short of what is required. True, “We are in the process of receiving feedback from unions and their members on a new democratic trade union federation constitution.” And “Within the next three weeks, a special meeting of the steering committee will take place to decide on the date of the launch of the new federation.”
But, however militant and combative, a new federation cannot hope to do more than slightly ameliorate such conditions, which are suffered by such a huge section of the South African population. Without a principled party of the working class to guide its struggles, in alliance with an international movement based on the proletariat, there can be no emancipation for the majority.
1. SACP statement, August 28: www.sacp.org.za/docs/pr/2016/pr0828.html.
2. ANCYL statement, August 26: www.ancyl.org.za/show.php?id=8772.
3. Morning Star September 6.
4. SACP statement, August 28: www.sacp.org.za/docs/pr/2016/pr0828.html.
12. See https://unitedfrontsa.wordpress.com.