Break with Zuma, break with ANC

The South African Communist Party refuses to promote the independent interests of the working class. Peter Manson looks at the latest twists in the battle for the ANC

The forced resignation of state president Thabo Mbeki has been hailed by the South African Communist Party as an important landmark for the “national democratic revolution”. Ironically, however, it has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of ‘communists’ in the new government.

Three SACP ministers closely associated with the neoliberal policies of privatisation and cuts under Mbeki, along with two others intimately linked to the state machine, all resigned on September 25 in solidarity with him. None of them have been re-appointed by the newly sworn in interim president, Kgalema Motlanthe.

The five departed SACP ministers are: Sydney Mufamadi (provincial and local government minister), who had been responsible for implementing cutbacks locally; Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (public service and administration), who fronted the assault on public sector workers last year by threatening to sack strikers; and Alec Erwin (public enterprises, central in driving forward privatisation), whose SACP status has recently been questioned; intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, whose responsibilities included keeping tabs on undesirable ‘destabilising’ elements of right and left; and minister in the presidency Essop Pahad, a close confidant of Mbeki.

Mind you, the post of state presidency is itself now occupied by a ‘communist’. Motlanthe was until very recently an SACP man himself (his membership is now said to have “lapsed”), and he has re-appointed two other ‘comrades’, Charles Nqakula (defence) and Jeff Radebe (transport). It was Nqakula, a former SACP national chair, who, as minister for safety and security, sent in state forces to break the huge public services strike last year, while Radebe was a former minister of privatisation - sorry, public enterprises.

The ruling African National Congress is, of course, deeply divided, with senior SACP members appearing in both camps, as witnessed by last week’s resignations. There was even talk of SACP ex-ministers being involved in discussions aimed at forming a new, pro-Mbeki rightwing split from the ANC.

Not that this division is purely and simply one of left versus right. True, on the side of Jacob Zuma, the new ANC leader and state president-in-waiting, is the SACP, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the left-led ANC Youth League, but Zuma himself - despite, like Mbeki, being a former SACP member (there are rather a lot of those in high places) - is no working class partisan.

True, like all ANC politicians he has learnt to mouth all the right phrases - addressing last weekend’s special SACP policy conference, he committed himself to “a national democratic revolution that will banish from our society all forms of discrimination, oppression and deprivation”. Nevertheless, he has made it perfectly clear in his reassurances to business (also contained in the same speech) that, for all the SACP’s talk of a left shift, things will carry on as before after next year’s general election and the subsequent expected parliamentary vote to appoint Zuma as president.

The same applies to his stop-gap, Motlanthe, who, in his September 28 ‘address to the nation’ following his election by parliament, having uttered the usual platitudes about building “a society that is united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous”, noted that this was “a task for all of us - for government, for communities, for non-governmental organisations, for workers, for business ...”

Motlanthe pledged: “In a turbulent global economy, we will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa steady, and that have ensured sustained growth.” In other words, there will be no major policy departure under either the interim president or Zuma. In fact, for someone supposedly in the Zuma camp, Motlanthe was fulsome in his praise of his predecessor: “It is difficult to reduce into mere words the contribution that president Mbeki has made to the advancement of our nation. It is to him, to his leadership and to his vision that we owe so much of our achievements of the last decade. For all that he has done for South Africa, for our continent and for the advancement of the global community, we remain forever indebted.”

The September 26-28 conference of the SACP came at a convenient time for the party’s general secretary, Blade Nzimande.

Reconfigured alliance

One of its tasks had been to determine how the SACP commitment to negotiate a “reconfigured alliance”  would impact on next year’s elections. While the possibility of standing separate SACP lists had been ruled out at last year’s congress, there had been talk of the party, together with Cosatu, insisting on a set quota of places on ANC lists - perhaps as many as a quarter shared between the two organisations.

The rank and file pressure on the SACP leadership to stress more forcefully the party’s own identity rather than simply that of the ANC has built up as a reaction to the growing discontent, often seething anger, of the South African masses at the failure of the ANC to deliver them from grinding poverty. In reality inequality has risen sharply since the end of apartheid. What is more, SACP MPs have, with the blessing of their party, accepted government posts, but often ended up not just supporting the ANC’s neoliberal, anti-working class drive, but actually fronting it.

However, in the context of current talk about a rightwing split from the ANC - rebelling against the supposed increased influence of the left following the ousting of Mbeki as ANC leader in December 2007 - Nzimande could point to the folly of rocking the ANC boat. In the end the conference agreed to a vague call for “increased visibility of communists on the final lists”. It also demanded that “in all legislatures there should be a delegated contingent of elected representatives who, on appropriate occasions, speak directly for the SACP, so that the ANC in legislatures presents itself as an alliance, and so that working class interests are given an undiluted articulation”.

Nevertheless, although this goes nowhere near as far as the SACP left had wanted, it still represents a loosening of the ANC-led alliance. If the call for a “delegated contingent of elected representatives” is accepted, for the first time SACP MPs would not be bound exclusively by the ANC whip.

However limited this change is, it represents a welcome first step in the process that will hopefully end, sooner rather than later, in an SACP break with the ANC cross-class popular front. Only in this way can the independent interests of the working class be promoted.

Of course, for genuine communists, participation in a capitalist government is totally unprincipled. Our representatives must not only give an “undiluted articulation” of working class interests - they must consistently uphold them and, as a corollary, consistently oppose those of capital. That can only mean steadfast opposition to an ANC government led by a Zuma, Motlanthe or Mbeki. It means communist elected representatives fully answerable to and recallable by the Communist Party.

But such a class-based position is totally alien to the leadership. Sure, the SACP is against the “the discredited and disgruntled elements in the SACP” who now openly identify with the right. But Nzimande also stresses “continuity” - building on the “important advances” since 1994, which have been achieved partly through SACP members beavering away inside state structures. For example the “last few years” (under Mbeki, of course) have seen the “halting of wholesale privatisation and the launching of a major state-led infrastructural programme”.

While the SACP had been the most important force backing Zuma against Mbeki, it stops short of openly accusing the ex-president of upholding an anti-working class agenda. The most Nzimande was prepared to say in his conference speech was that Mbeki’s “personality flaws” (his alleged aloofness) were “precisely the attributes that monopoly capital was calling for, and sought to cultivate for its own ends”.

Zuma ‘exonerated’

One of the most disquieting aspects of the SACP trajectory has been its wholehearted support for Jacob Zuma, despite the latter’s close connection with Shabir Shaik, his financial advisor, who was convicted on corruption charges directly linked to Zuma.

Zuma himself was charged with corruption in 2005, but the case was struck off on a technicality in 2006. He was charged again in December 2007 - this time, in addition to two counts of corruption, with money-laundering and 12 counts of fraud related to an infamous government arms deal. But three weeks ago, on September 12, a judge ruled that the decision to charge him had been unlawful because, firstly, the director of public prosecutions had not sought representations from Zuma beforehand and, secondly, a prima facie case could be established for direct political interference in the judicial process, involving Mbeki and other cabinet members.

Typically, the SACP trumpets this and slates those who say that Zuma has not been exonerated - for the second time he has had the case against him dropped on a technicality. While it may be true that Zuma could no longer have a fair trial, that is totally different from implying, as the SACP does, that all the charges were trumped up in the first place. This conveniently ignores the fact that the same judge had described as “bizarre” the original decision of the director of public prosecutions, later overturned, not to charge Zuma, despite the admitted existence of a prima facie case of corruption against him.

The Zuma saga is not over yet, of course, Both the national prosecuting authority and Mbeki have appealed against the judge’s ruling - Mbeki on the grounds that the interference allegations against him, which cost him the presidency, were made without hearing his side of the story.

Whatever the truth about Zuma, communists must ask what on earth the SACP is doing in associating with a man who has clearly engaged in dubious business deals, irrespective of whether they are judged to be unlawful. More importantly, why does the SACP give uncritical support to a man who is tied body and soul to the system of capital?

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