Disintegrating alliance

The SACP is calling for a ‘reconfigured alliance’ with the ANC in a desperate attempt to stave off the pressure from below, writes Peter Manson

The continued decay of the African National Congress-led alliance was exacerbated on October 17 when president Jacob Zuma used the opportunity of a cabinet reshuffle to dismiss Blade Nzimande from the post of minister of higher education. Nzimande also happens to be general secretary of the South African Communist Party.

Nzimande joined other SACP members in government back in 2009, and presided over the failed attempt to hike up tuition fees in 2015, but his dismissal has nothing to do with any of that. He was sacked as a symbolic reprisal for the SACP’s increasingly persistent call for Zuma himself to resign, in view of the numerous allegations of corruption and ‘state capture’ levelled against the president. I say ‘symbolic’, because other SACP ministers - including Rob Davies (trade and industry), Ebrahim Patel (economic development) and Aaron Motsoaledi (health) - remain in place. All the above were, of course, elected to parliament as part of the ANC’s own slate of candidates.

When news of Nzimande’s sacking was released, the party reacted with fury:

The South African Communist Party has learnt about the factional removal from cabinet of the minister of higher education and training, Dr Blade Nzimande, by president Jacob Zuma. We emphatically reject these manoeuvres that place the alliance on the brink of disintegration. Our view is that this is not a reshuffle, but the targeted removal of cde Blade as a direct attack on the SACP.

The continued authoritarianism by Zuma, disregarding alliance protocols and relations, has plunged the alliance into unchartered waters.

In fact, the Congress of South African Trade Unions - together with the SACP a component of the original triple alliance - conceded that the ANC’s junior partners had indeed been informed beforehand about the reshuffle. But SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila insisted nevertheless: “The manner in which the president did this - it was a point of humiliation rather than of political differences.”

Rumblings about the SACP ending its alliance with the ANC - at least in its current form - have been going on for some time. There was even talk of the party contesting elections independently, rather than as a component of ANC slates, as has been the case up to now. And there is no doubt that a very large number of discontented South Africans, completely disillusioned in the ANC, have been pulled towards the Communist Party: at its July congress the leadership announced that there are now just under 300,000 SACP members, organised in “over 7,000 branches” across the country. While, of course, the great majority of these ‘members’ have done no more than fill in an application form, it seems clear that huge numbers are indeed looking towards the SACP and its talk of putting the “national democratic revolution” (NDR) back on track.

At the congress it was clear that a good proportion of delegates wanted the leadership to turn its talk about contesting elections independently into reality, but the best they got was the following statement:

After considerable debate at congress, we have resolved that, while the SACP will certainly contest elections, the exact modality in which we do so needs to be determined by way of a concrete analysis of the concrete reality and through the process of active engagement with worker and progressive formations.1

But the congress also promoted the above-mentioned Solly Mapaila as Nzimande’s number two - and Mapaila has been the most consistent in not only demanding Zuma’s resignation, but in calling for the SACP to go it alone in elections.

And now, seizing on the opportunity created by Zuma’s dismissal of the SACP number one, Mapaila was quick to react: “Our country is going down,” he said. “It’s being stolen right in front of our eyes. If we don’t act nothing will change.”


The immediate action to be undertaken is the standing of a full slate of SACP candidates in the November 29 by-elections in the Metsimaholo local municipality in the Free State, where, according to Mapaila, the leadership has now agreed that the party should contest all 21 wards in its own name. Following the 2016 local elections, Metsimaholo was one of a number of urban centres where the ANC lost control and a coalition of just about every other party was formed - including both the rightwing Democratic Alliance and the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters!

It was little wonder that the coalition collapsed - the local administration was dissolved in July and fresh elections were called. And now, according to Mapaila, “Specific to Metsimaholo municipality, we have said our comrades must register in the name of the SACP to contest that election.” However, he was quick to point out that, “In doing so, we are not breaking away from the alliance.”

This was confirmed by the statement put out by the SACP leadership in Mpumalanga province, where Metsimaholo is situated. It described Zuma as “the worst leader the ANC has ever had”, but stopped well short of calling on the party to break with the alliance altogether.2 In fact, the SACP’s provincial leaders want the national leadership to make its support for a certain Cyril Ramaphosa specific, when Zuma steps down as ANC leader in December. So far only the SACP-led Cosatu and the Young Communist League have called specifically for Ramaphosa to take over as ANC leader - and the ANC leader has up to now always been named by MPs as South Africa’s president following the subsequent general election. Zuma will complete his second term in 2019, when the new parliament will nominate his replacement.

The above-named Ramaphosa is one of South Africa’s richest capitalists - it was he who on the eve of the Marikana massacre in 2012 sent several emails urging “concomitant action” to be taken against miners who were striking against the UK-owned Lonmin company, of which Ramaphosa was a major shareholder. The very next day, police shot dead 34 of them in cold blood. But because Ramaphosa, who is deputy president of both the ANC and South Africa, was once a union militant - he was the National Union of Mineworkers’ first general secretary - the SACP would have you believe that he is just the man to take over the presidency and help put the NDR back on course as “South Africa’s most direct route to socialism”.

Apparently Ramaphosa is to be supported because he has made the right noises in opposition to government corruption - his own direct role in Marikana has no bearing on the matter, it seems. The party leadership would have you believe that the alliance can be ‘reconfigured’ under such a despicable leader - although recently it has also intimated that a break with the ANC has not been ruled out.

A bilateral meeting between the SACP and Cosatu in September issued the following statement:

The SACP and Cosatu will be making every attempt to sensitise about the urgent, inescapable necessity for the alliance to function optimally. The absence of democratic, consensus-seeking consultation on the direction of our shared national democratic revolution has created a gulf of leadership, affecting both the alliance and society as whole. This has plunged the revolution into unchartered waters - an unacceptable situation of uncertainty and all manner of factional, including rightwing, opportunism seeking to fill the void.

If this situation continues, the SACP and Cosatu will consult with Sanco (the South African National Civic Organisation) to convene the alliance with or without the ANC!3

Earlier that month Nzimande himself had declared:

The most important organisational task we are facing right now is that of reconfiguring our alliance. The alliance’s modus operandi is outdated.

We need to build, within a reconfigured alliance and our society at large, the broadest possible patriotic front to fight corruption, state capture, defend our constitution and deepen the development of our democracy to the fullest.

Part of our efforts to reconfigure our alliance, and build momentum towards a revolutionary reconstitution of our movement as a whole, is to build a popular front of progressive, worker and left forces, united behind the historical mission of propelling the national democratic revolution to its logical conclusion.4

And, of course, following Nzimande’s dismissal, the ANC leading faction around Zuma was keen to go through the motions. Last week it called an urgent meeting of the alliance political council (consisting of the ANC itself, the SACP, Cosatu and Sanco). Afterwards a statement was issued, which reported: “The meeting agreed that the alliance secretariat will develop a paper on the modalities of a reconfigured alliance.”5 Well, that’s a relief!

So the tug-of-war continues: the SACP leadership is being pulled simultaneously in two directions: to the left by the pressure of its mass membership; and to the right by the requirements and careers of its government ministers and local state bureaucrats.

On the surface, it seems that the pressure from below has for the moment gained the advantage with the elevation of Mapaila to SACP deputy general secretary, and a good result for the party’s candidates in Metsimaholo would add to that momentum. But the leadership has not given up on the ANC-led “popular front” just yet.



1. ‘Declaration of the 14th Party Congress’, July 15.

2. SACP Mpumalanga statement, October 28.

3. Statement, September 18: www.cosatu.org.za/docs/pr/2017/pr0918b.html (my emphasis).

4. Umsebenzi Online September 11.

5. Alliance political council statement, October 27.