SACP tensions

Vusikaya Mvuyisi is the chair of the Khayelitsha district of the South African Communist Party. Peter Manson spoke to him in the shack township outside Cape Town

Could you tell me about the living conditions in Khayelitsha?

There are about 300,000 inhabitants, although nobody knows the exact figure, as more people continue to arrive. Eighty percent of the people live in shacks, while the remainder have ‘low-cost’ council houses or self-built homes. Most of the shacks are now on officially allocated plots. This means that they have access to standpipes and toilets, and electricity is supplied by overhead cables.

These residents are charged for rates and services, but only around 25% actually pay. Only a tiny minority have work, and those who do have jobs are mostly domestic workers, earning around 800 rand [£95] a month.

What sort of conditions have these people left behind in order to come and live in a shack?

The conditions here are worse than from where we came. In the rural areas we say shacks are meant for pigs. But there is often no possibility of getting work. The government was a major employer in the countryside, but many people have lost their jobs. For example my father was a school teacher in the Eastern Cape, but he was retrenched and had to join me here. The few people in work have many others to support.

What is the SACP membership in Khayelitsha?

There are more than 700 members in 14 branches. We recently held four induction workshops for new recruits.

What is the relationship between the SACP and the ANC here?

They are two separate, independent organisations. We accept the leadership of the ANC and want to ensure it remains a strong organisation. The main SACP leaders refrain from taking up responsibility in the ANC locally, but all the ANC leaders in Khayelitsha are either SACP members or sympathisers.

What campaigns is the party involved in at present?

We are supporting the national Triple H campaign - concerning hunger, homes and health. Linked to hunger is the question of bringing down crime. We have called a crime summit and all the church leaders have got involved.

What do you think of comrade Randy Pieterse’s statement at a recent SACP rally that people should hand their children to the police if they commit a crime?

It was a very responsible statement - we can no longer take the law into our own hands.

But surely we are for the dispossession of the capitalists. We want that to take place in a politically organised manner, but how can we condemn those who commit individual acts of ‘dispossession’ against capitalist property?

I agree with the arguments for the organised dispossession of the capitalists. There is no way we can make progress while a tiny minority hold the mass of wealth.

And the police - are they neutral? Surely they are an arm of the bourgeois state. Didn’t the party once help to organise the community itself to control anti-social elements?

Yes, you are right. We have given up our role and handed it to the state. We have disarmed ourselves and it is one of the biggest mistakes we have made. The police will not do the job. They only pitch up if there is a workers’ rally. But we are campaigning for a proper community structure to give residents more say.

Perhaps the problem lies in the party’s overall view that it is necessary to defend the ‘national democratic revolution’. Doesn’t that mean supporting the capitalist state, including its police?

The talk of a two-stage revolution is giving us problems. There are very conflicting views within the party. The SACP has been infiltrated. Some forces want to see it dead. It is impossible to dent the party from the outside - you can only do that from within. We must identify the careerists within the party - the people who say they are communists, but whose analysis and actions are so contrary to what they call themselves.

Many of those who say we must “deepen the national democratic revolution” actually want to hold back the advance to socialism. On the other extreme there are those who say that the NDR is simply replacing the white bourgeoisie with a black bourgeoisie.

The party is saying, ‘Socialism is the future - build it now.’ Our members in Cosatu and other organisations are continuing to propagate the ideas of socialism. But it is high time that these tensions and differences within the party came out in the open. The ANC could become a toy of the bourgeoisie - it depends on how we act within the ANC.

It seems to me that the party has all but lost its separate identity. Its publications are infrequent and do not contain the necessary open debate.

At present the position is very problematic. We don’t have a good leader who is prepared to speak out about what we need. We are recognised at the lower levels - within the ANC and Cosatu. They would be nothing without the help of the party. But we have no national face, no national profile.

The party continues to give full support to the government despite its blatantly pro-capitalist policies - even the ‘growth, employment and redistribution’ programme (Gear).

We have called on the ANC to renegotiate Gear. Some people do say, ‘What is so stupid about what I have done that the capitalists are praising me?’ We admit that the ANC is not delivering on some issues, but workers know that life is much better now.

As for ourselves, the Communist Party has been the only one to fight. The SACP has roots. It is the only party my father knew.