Winnie fills SACP vacuum

Even the most reactionary of bourgeois commentators have now become rather enamoured with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The reason is of course the fact that the TRC is no longer concentrating its fire on the oppression of the former regime, but on the darker side of one of its most courageous and intransigent opponents, Winnie Madikizela Mandela.

Last week The Daily Telegraph, admitting that it had previously damned the commission as “biased” because it appeared to be “used chiefly to expose the abuses of the white security forces under apartheid”, began to sing a different tune: “It has now redressed the balance with spectacular effect” (editorial, November 29). “There is a value in a purgative ritual that exposes brutality,” it declared.

Numerous witnesses have implicated Winnie Madikizela in the murder of Stompie Moeketsi and Dr Abu-Baker Asvat, and accused her of various acts of violence, intimidation and corruption. One man even claimed to have seen her stab Moeketsi, for whose killing she was acquitted in 1991.

Remarkably it was Madikizela herself who had insisted that the TRC hear the accusations against her in public. Those who cooperate with the proceedings and openly admit crimes committed during the apartheid years are guaranteed immunity from prosecution. But Madikizela had made no such admission. She is banking on the unlikelihood of official charges against her. Many of the witnesses lack credibility. Indeed she hopes to emerge from the hearings with her prestige boosted in the eyes of the oppressed masses, many of whom still look to her for liberation from their impoverishment.

It is with the support of this political constituency that Madikizela is contesting the deputy presidency of the ANC later this month. Having already won the leadership of the ANC’s Women’s League, sweeping away the challenge from Nkosazana Zuma, she now faces Nkosazana’s husband, Jacob Zuma. This time the ANC leadership, not least Nelson Mandela himself, is pulling out all the stops to ensure Zuma’s victory. Winnie is proving just as much a thorn in the side of the ANC government as she was a despised and feared enemy of apartheid.

Exposing the obvious failings of the government, whose dedication to the resuscitation of South Africa’s flagging capitalist economy precludes anything more than the most symbolic of gestures in the direction of the millions of poor and unemployed, the ‘mother of the nation’ slammed the ANC bureaucracy, whose “high-handed leadership failed the people”. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s vice-president and most likely successor to Nelson Mandela, retaliated by dubbing Madikizela the “self-appointed spokesperson of the poor”.

Despite Mbeki’s dismissive remarks there is no doubt that the masses’ respect and admiration for her have been well earned. However, with apartheid defeated and the absence of a clearly perceived enemy to replace it, Madikizela’s revolutionism has drifted in the direction of reactionary populism. Slamming the ANC for being “soft on crime”, she has called for the restoration of the death penalty.

Her overwhelming victory in the Women’s League election demonstrates that it is not only the alienated masses who hold her in such esteem. That is why, despite all the unsavoury revelations made at the TRC, she is unlikely to be completely humiliated by the rank and file membership in the contest for the ANC deputy presidency.

While defeat will deprive her of influence within the ANC decision-making bureaucracy, the possibility of a new mass movement under Madikizela’s leadership cannot be ruled out. Whether or not the allegations of brutality made against her are true, they will do little to diminish that possibility amongst the propertyless millions, for whom violence and death are a daily fact of life.

The truth is that there is a vacuum in South African politics. The South African Communist Party, whose revolutionary leadership of the military struggle and popular uprisings against apartheid won the adherence of whole sections of the working class, has now completed its social democratisation and abandoned the interests of the masses for the comfort of governmental office. For all its centrist illusions, the SACP’s commitment to armed revolution was real, opening up the possibility of the emergence of a Leninist leadership fighting for a genuine proletarian internationalist programme. Today, with the SACP left sidelined, a demagogue like Winnie Madikizela can fill that vacuum.

Nothing could symbolise more clearly the aborted nature of the revolutionary struggle against the South African state than the current proceedings at the TRC. A victorious people would have tried and punished the defeated perpetrators of apartheid oppression to the satisfaction of their victims. But the TRC equates the violence of the oppressor with that of the oppressed and seeks to reconcile both parties to the new imperialist-backed order.

The masses won great victories against apartheid, forcing the ruling class to negotiate it out of existence. But the ANC and SACP leaders disarmed their military forces and disbanded the embryonic organs of people’s power, leaving the class system intact and allowing imperialism to establish a new, albeit temporary, stability on which to consolidate the continuing exploitation of the masses.

The populism of Winnie Madikizela is a dead end for the masses. South African communists must unite their forces in order to reforge the SACP around an independent working class programme.

Jim Blackstock