ANC battle hots up

The rightwing is not only playing the race card, writes Peter Manson

The left-right battle within the African National Congress has begun to polarise within recent months. On the one side is the reformist left, headed by the South African Communist Party and largely backed up by the main union centre, the Congress of South African Trade Unions. On the other is an increasingly vociferous black-nationalist right, personified by the president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema.

Malema is an out-and-out capitalist - a beneficiary of so-called ‘black economic empowerment’, whereby a new stratum of middle class and bourgeois blacks have gained from state promotion and sponsorship in the name of ‘affirmative action’ on behalf of the ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’.

Recent revelations have exposed his directorships of several companies that have won tenders from state bodies - to which Malema has responded by a combination of denials (even alleging his signature as director of an engineering company benefiting from state contracts was forged), claims that he has given up such business positions and statements to the effect that in any case there is no clash of interests, as he holds no state position.

When journalists have attempted to unravel the contradictions, Malema has wielded the race card. He furiously responded to one question by bellowing: “There is no law that says politicians can’t be businessmen. The problem with you is that when an African child is emerging and becoming successful, that is when you have a problem … You want to see us dying in poverty. That is what you are committed to.”

But it is not just representatives of the bourgeois press Malema has accused of racism. Last November, when SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, who is also deputy transport minister, mildly remarked that “Malema hasn’t always helped his case with off-the-wall sound bites”, the ANCYL president retorted that he did “not need the permission of white political messiahs to think”. He asked why Cronin had become concerned only when the Youth League wanted to “save blacks from economic imbalances”.

Malema said in an ANCYL statement: “It is sad that previously those who look like us were considered intellectually inferior by the white supremacists, and today comrade Jeremy reflects the same sentiment.” No wonder he was booed by a minority of delegates when he addressed last December’s SACP conference.

Subsequently Malema accused the SACP leadership of orchestrating this hostile reception and has since referred to the “yellow communists” who want to take over the ANC. He said the ANCYL would make sure that SACP central committee member Gwede Mantashe would not be re-elected as ANC secretary general in 2012.

As South African socialist Terry Bell notes (see Row over nationalisation, this issue), Malema and the SACP have also squared up against each other over the question of the nationalisation of mines - supported by sections of the black nationalist right, but loudly opposed by the ANC leadership. Cronin, for his part, said that the “idea of public ownership should not be reduced to an empty slogan”. The immediate question was one of “socialisation”, he said.