Snail's pace split

The July 11-15 12th Congress of the South African Communist Party saw the long drawn out process of an SACP split from the African National Congress continue at a snail's pace. Peter Manson comments

The July 11-15 12th Congress of the South African Communist Party saw the long drawn out process of an SACP split from the African National Congress continue at a snail's pace. General secretary Blade Nzimande was no doubt well pleased that he is still able to contain the simmering anti-ANC revolt within the party's rank and file so easily.

Nzimande and the leadership know full well that the SACP cannot continue indefinitely excusing the government's neoliberalism, while at the same time claiming that the ANC has at last seen sense. "There has been a marked leftward shift in the ANC - there's no doubt about that," Nzimande said before the congress. He made full use of the fact that the ANC at its policy conference in June had officially adopted a "developmental state" macro-economic model, as opposed to a market-driven one. But no-one is seriously suggesting that this will mark the embrace of the SACP's Keynesianism and the ditching of the privatising attack on the working class. Shortly before the ANC conference the government mobilised the forces of the state to see off the huge public sector strike against the effects of that policy.

So the party finally agreed that it would contest elections under its own name - but not until the 2011 local elections at the earliest! A move for the SACP to stand independently in the 2009 general election was defeated when the leadership stressed the need to await the outcome of the ANC leadership contest in December before 'rushing' into a decision.

And when the party does eventually stand separate SACP candidates, it will be as part of a "reconfigured alliance", in the words of the successful motion. Either there will be an electoral pact, with the ANC conceding a quota of separate SACP candidates on all its lists (the leadership's preference), or, if the rank and file gets its way, independent SACP lists in opposition to the ANC. But the leadership managed to insert the proviso, "with the possible objective of constituting a coalition alliance agreement after elections".

Even the most leftwing SACP provinces - Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng - were not for breaking the tripartite alliance altogether (the third member is the Congress of South African Trade Unions), however much they hate the government's anti-working class agenda - and the party's role in not only apologising for it, but helping to implement it through SACP ministers. Zico Tamela, Gauteng provincial secretary, ridiculed the notion that the party "cannot afford" to contest elections in view of the huge increase in membership. Amazingly it has shot up to 51,874, compared to 19,385 at the time of the 11th Congress in 2002. However, according to comrade Tamela, standing separate candidates "won't mean denouncing the ANC, but propagating socialist ideas".

Gauteng nominated Tamela for general secretary in opposition to Nzimande, who was accused of dragging his feet over elections, but Tamela did not receive sufficient nominations to get on the ballot paper and Nzimande was returned unopposed - despite the fact that he can hardly be regarded as a workers' representative on a worker's wage. His salary is said to be the equivalent of a deputy minister's - around R750,000 (£54,000) a year.

This is, of course, modest by western standards, but astronomical compared even to the official average wage of R94,000 (£6,700) - most workers take home a fraction of that, while for the 40%-plus of the adult population that is unemployed the average wage itself is an unreachable dream.

Nzimande lives in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Emmarentia, where he has up to four luxury vehicles in his garage at any one time. He is usually driven to work in his black Grand Jeep Cherokee, but he flew to Port Elizabeth for the congress and so was forced to hire a modest Mercedes Benz for his chauffeur to drive - while the rank and file trudged to the venue every day from the station wearing their red overalls, emblazoned with the slogan, "Socialism means access to basic services".

Nzimande himself may have survived, but what has now become the five-yearly ritual of turning against SACP government ministers continued with a vengeance.

 Safety and security minister Charles Nqakula, who sent in the police against public service strikers last month, was replaced as national chair by former National Union of Mineworkers boss Gwede Mantashe. Nqakula was booed and heckled, but somehow managed to retain his seat on the central committee.

He is now the only cabinet minister on the CC. Provincial and local government minister Sydney Mufamadi thought it wise not to stand again, while intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils was unceremoniously booted out to nobody's surprise but his own. Transport minister Jeff Radebe, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (the public service and administration minister who notoriously led the assault against public sector workers in last month's strike) and Essop Pahad (minister in the presidency) had already been deposed in 2002.

By contrast candidates backed by the centrist-inclined Young Communist League did well - YCL chair David Masondo, who had been in the forefront of those calling for separate SACP electoral lists, received 990 out of 1,298 votes in elections to the CC.

Nevertheless, the pro-government right is still in control, but it is gradually being forced to distance itself from the ANC leaders by the pressure of the rank and file. And the strains are beginning to tell. Earlier this year national treasurer Phillip Dexter was suspended from the party for 12 months for writing a document in which he criticised "a rigid, doctrinaire, dogmatic, quasi-Stalinist tendency that apparently seeks to centralise all power in the SACP in the hands of the general secretary and a few individuals around him".