Ministerial communism and ANC corruption

On June 14, president Thabo Mbeki dismissed his deputy, Jacob Zuma, amidst allegations of corruption. Zuma had been one of the front-runners to succeed him and had enjoyed the backing of the left wing of the ruling African National Congress, including its junior alliance partner, the South African Communist Party. Investigations into a controversial arms procurement deal had uncovered a close link between Zuma, who remains deputy president of the ANC, and businessman Shabir Shaik, who the previous week was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined R4.4 million (£400,000) for fraud. In passing sentence, the judge declared that he had been engaged in a "corrupt relationship" with Zuma, who had been paid around R1.2 million (£100,000). Shaik was Zuma's personal financial adviser. Of course, Zuma has not been found guilty of anything and claims to look forward to clearing his name in court - his initial hearing is on June 29. In this he has been backed by the SACP, which issued a statement calling for Zuma to be "accorded the full dignity and respect he deserves". The SACP claimed that "comrade Zuma's rights had been violated", in that he had been tried by the media before he had faced a "credible judicial process". It "salutes the role he has played within our movement and in government, both within our country and internationally" (June 15). Jacob Zuma: corruption allegations Earlier this year, however, before the Zuma affair blew up, the SACP was stressing a different aspect of its attitude to government. General secretary Blade Nzimande, in an article for the party's journal outlining the issues to be debated at the April 8-10 special congress, wrote: "One of the key challenges we face as a country is to fight corruption at all levels "¦ In condemning corruption, we believe that much of it is related to the contradictory class realities of our situation" (Umsebenzi March 16). Nzimande continued: "Ours is a revolution with political but without economic power. This sets up vulnerabilities to the machinations of the established (and emerging) capitalist class and the accumulation regime underway in our country." The "revolution" he is referring to is what SACP terms the "national democratic revolution" (NDR) - by which it means the transition (managed from the top and fully endorsed by South African and international capital) from apartheid to a non-racial bourgeois democracy. It is the new, mainly black elite that has "political power" - and increasingly it is becoming more and more intertwined with the "economic power" of the "established (and emerging) capitalist class", not to mention its "accumulation regime". ANC leaders like Zuma and Mbeki - both former SACP members - have numerous personal and business connections which can easily cross that thin dividing line between what passes for 'normal' and corrupt capitalist practices. In his report to the SACP special congress (the party's 11th Congress, held in July 2002, agreed that a special congress would be held mid-term between regular five-yearly congresses from now on) Nzimande attempted to draw up a balance sheet for the decade-long NDR: "The first five or even 10 years of our democracy correctly placed emphasis on national reconciliation and the stabilisation of our young democracy. However, these overriding political considerations, which as the SACP we have always supported, were used by global and domestic forces, including elements in our liberation movement, as a shield behind which to advance and consolidate their class interests and agenda at the direct expense of the working class. This involved both attempts at major restructuring of the economy, including the labour market - mass retrenchments, casualisation, privatisation - and the fragmentation of the public and parastatal sector." Well, what a surprise. Who would have thought that cross-class "national reconciliation" under capitalism would have seen the bourgeoisie trying to intensify their exploitation of the working class? In the words of Jeremy Cronin, SACP deputy general secretary and an ANC MP, ""¦ it is white South African capital that has been the principal beneficiary of the past decade of democracy. To be sure, there have been impressive resource transfers to the poor (grants, housing, electricity, water), but racialised and gendered class inequality remains entrenched. More than a million formal-sector workers have lost their jobs. Others have been casualised, as capital dodges worker rights. Profits have soared, worker productivity has increased, but labour's share of gross domestic product has been in decline" (Mail and Guardian April 8). Jeremy Cronin: soaring profits Perhaps Nzimande himself sums it all up best: "In "¦ the first 10 years advances have been made, but on the economic front the working class has been battered" (my emphasis) - despite those "impressive resource transfers". Therefore, the SACP proposes that "the second decade of freedom" should be "a decade for the workers and the poor", and that means a new "economic trajectory". Nzimande then goes on to argue for "¦ exactly what the SACP has been arguing for up to now: "a strong, large public sector" and the ability to "discipline the market". Not that the ANC leadership has ever paid much attention to SACP pleas. As the Weekend Argus points out, "The economic and fiscal policies of the Mbeki administration could not be less socialist, while every attempt by the SACP to put its imprimatur on the ANC's legislative programme has been rudely rebuffed" (April 23). Indeed the six SACP ministers - not least Alec Erwin (public enterprises), Jeff Radebe (formerly public enterprises, now transport) and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (public service) - have been at the forefront of the government-led drive for "mass retrenchments, casualisation [and] privatisation". The other two SACP ministers are Ronnie Kasrils, who heads the intelligence services and was commended by the Cape Argus for "reducing the salary bill" and "good espionage" (December 21 2004); and SACP national chair Charles Nqakula, who has just been appointed leader of government business in the national assembly, one of the roles previously held by dismissed deputy-president Zuma. Formerly Nqakula was minister of safety and security, responsible for sending the police into the sprawling shack townships outside Cape Town earlier this month to put down the mass protests against the stinking conditions and lack of basic facilities that township residents are forced to endure - protests that had turned into full-blown riots. Truly a proud legacy. But the Cape Town riots illustrate the pressure on the SACP coming from the grassroots. It is in the poverty-stricken townships like Khayelitsha, home to a million people, where the SACP, which claims 30,000 members, has its main base. In Khayelitsha the SACP is the ANC. Blade Nzimande: reconciliation But after 10 years enough is enough. Increasingly, disillusioned township residents are turning against the ANC - and the SACP is caught in the middle. That is why, at long last, the SACP is under pressure to break from the neoliberal government and the ANC-led tripartite alliance (the third partner is Cosatu, the main trade union centre). Bowing to this pressure, the SACP leadership has attempted to reduce the anti-ANC mood to simply a question of contesting elections. Up to now, SACP members have stood as candidates on ANC lists and are subject to ANC mandates and discipline. But at the April special congress there was a strong push from a "significant minority", according to Nzimande, for the party to stand its own independent candidates. In order to ensure that the current policy will remain in place for the local elections, due at the end of the year, the executive proposed the setting up of a commission to investigate the possibility of standing separately from the ANC at the next general election. The main force within the SACP campaigning for this change has been elements around the Young Communist League leadership and its general secretary, Buti Manamela. It seems that some within the SACP leadership have responded by attempting to bureaucratically reduce the influence of the YCL and by 'reorganising' party branches in areas like the Eastern Cape, where there is support for the change. After the leadership's proposal for a party commission was agreed by delegates, comrade Manamela said: "The congress was united about the need for an independent SACP voice in parliament. As to when and how that happens, those are modalities the commission will have to deal with." But the YCL leader was clearly putting an optimistic gloss on the decision. The next general elections will not take place until 2009 and the commission will only report back to the party's 12th Congress, in 2007. And, of course, there is no guarantee that the commission will recommend anything that results in "an independent SACP voice in parliament", let alone an election campaign based on working class independence. After all, contesting elections is "an extremely expensive business" which the party could not afford (central committee pre-congress discussion document) . Contradicting Manamela's claims, an unnamed "senior leader" of the SACP told South Africa's Mail and Guardian that the establishment of the commission "does not pre-empt a decision about the party's electoral future" (April 15). And, according to Cronin, "As far as we know, none of those advocating a separate SACP electoral list and manifesto are calling for a breaking of the alliance." The commission would study a range of proposals, including the SACP contesting some municipal wards by agreement with the ANC and an SACP quota on ANC lists, as well as "entirely separate but alliance-friendly" SACP lists. The thinking of SACP tops like Cronin in proposing the commission was revealed in the Mail and Guardian in the run-up to the special congress: "A senior SACP and ANC leader said that the ANC, instead of fearing SACP independence, was encouraging communists to debate the issue and to close space that could be occupied by 'other forces'. This will allow the ANC to cover its left flank. The worry is that if the issue is not debated now, it could explode in future, with damaging consequences. You could have a situation where some SACP elements could move to break the alliance itself" (March 18). You could indeed. The party left points to the findings of a number of surveys that have been conducted recently, claiming to show that a "leftwing workers' party" could win up to 17% of the national vote - and that would be enough to make it the official opposition! So the leadership-initiated move comes in response to pressure from below and is aimed at pre-empting or limiting change. According to expelled SACP member Dale McKinley, a leading Anti-Privatisation Forum activist, "The ANC needs the SACP to cover its left flank. The SACP provides the ideological sustenance to the ANC - key policy documents are written by SACP ghost writers" (Sunday Argus April 17). Comrade McKinley adds: "The SACP is a party of government, not of the poor. It seeks to occupy positions of influence in the ANC and government. The recent struggles in communities have not benefited from the presence of the SACP. They are not rooted on the ground, where people struggle against electricity and water cut-offs. They are to be found in government." The truth is more complex than comrade McKinley believes, in my opinion. Certainly the SACP is to be found in government, but it is also to be found at all levels of the trade unions and in the townships. It is a living contradiction - a party whose mass support was nurtured in the great revolutionary struggles against apartheid of the 1980s. A party that fronts neoliberalism on the one hand and talks the language of revolution on the other. You ignore the SACP's internal struggles at your peril - the ruling class is well aware of this, even if the party's left critics are not. That is why the establishment has been paying particular attention to those struggles. Indeed, according to the SACP online publication, elements in the media have been "running a flattering but hypocritical campaign directed at the SACP "¦ The Business Day, among others, has been telling us that we 'would make a very handsome opposition'" (Umse"“benzi April 20). The SACP leadership goes so far as to claim that such elements were 'disappointed' that the congress resolution did not go beyond a do-nothing commission: "They have been trying to cajole us into breaking from the ANC, not because they give a damn about South African workers and the poor, but because they fear that our alliance's two-thirds majority is showing signs of an increasing leftwards shift, abandoning privatisation and market fundamentalism." This last statement is a particularly bad joke - just what are these "signs" of an ANC swing to the left? Nevertheless, it is true that sections of the bourgeoisie would like to see the ANC break with its working class component - not just the SACP, but Cosatu too. From their point of view the militant trade union wing of the ruling party, in tandem with an SACP that still spouts class struggle, provides an unnecessarily disruptive pole of attraction. Much better if they could come up with an external safety valve. The ANC-led cross-class alliance cannot last forever - sooner or later it will shatter and revolutionaries must strive to ensure that what results is not some social democratic rump, but a genuine party of the working class. The key is programme. The left in the SACP seems to want a party that will not fall prey so easily to the temptations of high office and the approaches of capital. In the words of YCL leader Buti Manamela: "The one thing about state power is that you either transform it or it transforms you - there is no middle ground." But for Marxists the choice is not about avoiding individual corruption and how the uncorrupt use the capitalist state. That amounts to little more than left moralising. Our perspective is based on the idea of breaking apart the existing state and replacing it with the self-organisation of the working class and a semi-state. Take hold of parliament, yes. But the solution lies in the working class becoming the powerl Peter Manson