South Africa: Governmental communists turn to witch-hunting
Outsiders are used to explain away the class struggle, writes Peter Manson
Jacob Zuma presided over a carefully stage-managed ‘united South African welcome’ for Barack Obama last week. However, besides the bilateral talks, set piece speeches, photo opportunities and solemn updates on the health of an ailing Nelson Mandela, the media also carried reports of anti-US protests, usually of a few hundred people shouting anti-imperialist slogans.
Although these represented no threat whatsoever to ‘security’, the police sometimes reacted in a violent, repressive manner - following the police massacre of 34 miners at Marikana last year, this is perhaps something that protestors ought now to expect. For example, outside Johannesburg University, where the US president was awarded an honorary doctorate, rubber bullets and a stun grenade were suddenly fired at demonstrators for no apparent reason.
However, there were similar protests that passed off without incident. For example, on June 29 the South African Communist Party in Gauteng province organised a ‘picket’ addressed by central committee member and Young Communist League national secretary Buti Manamela. Gallantly he “called for the immediate release of the Cuban five comrades that are currently detained by the USA government for fighting and exposing USA-sponsored and funded acts of terrorism unleashed against the people of Cuba”. The five are “in the true spirit” of Nelson Mandela, said Manamela, who also stressed the “sacrifices made by Cubans to free our country and Namibia and for defending Angola and other African states against USA-sponsored terrorism”. What is more, “Cuba currently supports SA on many issues, such as the Cuban doctors that continue to save lives in our country’s rural areas.” The pickets called for the “immediate lifting of the unjust economic blockade” against the “peaceful and most humane working class and poor of Cuba”.
The only other anti-imperialist cause to get a mention in the provincial SACP’s brief report of this event was Palestine. In addition to expressing their solidarity with Cuba, the protestors condemned Obama’s “continued support of the Zionist Israel state of terror and tyranny unleashed against the peace-loving and innocent working class of Palestine”. The press statement - in the name of the Gauteng provincial SACP - ends by noting that the picket “ended peacefully without any serious incident”.1
So no rubber bullets and stun grenades were fired at this particular demonstration. But that was unsurprising. Indeed what was surprising to some was the fact that the SACP staged any such protest at all. After all, in South Africa the Communist Party is not part of the opposition, but a key component of the ruling African National Congress. In fact there are seven SACP government ministers, including Rob Davies (trade and industry), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (defence), Thulas Nxesi (public works), Ben Martins (transport) and Jeff Radebe (justice and constitutional development). Hardly minor portfolios. The other two government members are SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, the minister for higher education and training, and his number two, Jeremy Cronin, who is deputy minister for public works.
In other words, here was the SACP trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, its leading members are part of the state apparatus which went all out to extend the warmest of official welcomes to the leading figurehead of global imperialism, while the party centre remained silent; on the other, the SACP mounts, for the benefit of its rank and file, and in the name of the local party organisation, a (totally safe and officially approved) pro-Cuba protest.
In reality, such duplicity is typical. For instance, while SACP union leaders frequently head militant strikes, SACP ministers are responsible for ensuring such strikes are not victorious - the result is usually a compromise in the interests of the “national democratic revolution” (ie, the social status quo), which both sides are pledged to uphold.
So when such crises as Marikana occur the party is shown at its worst. SACP leaders did no more than extend the party’s condolences to the families of those slaughtered and echo Zuma’s noises about the need not to pass judgement before a full enquiry could be held.
Of course, that did not stop it condemning the “counterrevolutionaries” of the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) for all the violence (including, thanks to Amcu “provocations”, the deaths of its own members, gunned down by police automatic weapons). Unlike the National Union of Mineworkers, you see, Amcu is not affiliated to the SACP-dominated Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which, together with the ANC and SACP, form the hegemonic tripartite alliance. Amcu’s real crime was to remove thousands of workers from the influence of the SACP, whose comrades dominate the NUM leadership.
More recently, however, as part of its efforts to lower temperatures in the platinum belt, the ANC has changed tack, stating that it regards both the NUM and Amcu as equally legitimate. Someone would have to come up with a different scapegoat for the continuing unrest among miners other than virtually the entire Amcu-affiliated workforce.
Step forward ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. Addressing a business forum on June 11, Mantashe blamed the “anarchy” in the platinum mines on foreign nationals - or rather two particular types of foreign nationals: “What is happening in Marikana ... I can give you what comes out of that information. Anarchy, anarchy, anarchy, driven by people who are from far away … Sweden, Irish. They are a force behind the anarchy that is happening in the platinum industry.”
Leaving aside the disgusting xenophobia in Mantashe’s frankly pathetic statement, surely there cannot be that many Swedes and Irish operating around Marikana? When challenged on this some days later, Mantashe was more specific: “The reality is that it is a Swedish citizen who is at the centre of anarchy in the platinum belt. I did not suck it out of my thumb.” What? One Swedish citizen fomenting all that unrest?
He meant, of course, comrade Liv Shange, the de facto leader of the Democratic Socialist Movement. The DSM is the sister organisation of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, and so comrade Shange is also a central figure in the newly founded ‘broad’ class-struggle formation, the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), which was launched by the DSM in March. The DSM, a small group of a few dozen members, threw itself into agitation among striking mineworkers last year - agitation that met with some success, with hundreds of mineworkers turning up for DSM-arranged rallies.
The two most active DSM leaders in the platinum belt were comrades Mametlwe Sebei and Elias Juba - most definitely non-Swedes - but it was comrade Shange who attracted the attention. In the words of socialist journalist Terry Bell, Liv Shange’s “gender and complexion made her more newsworthy”.2
And the Irish link? Apparently this is a reference to another CWI comrade, Joe Higgins, a member of the Irish parliament and former MEP, who, along with Alec Thraves of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has been working with South African CWI comrades on and off, and was in the country for a short time last year.
While I am not aware of any complaints by the Irish embassy, according to the Johannesburg-based The Sunday Independent,3 Sweden has protested against the slur on its citizens levelled by Mantashe - this witch-hunter, by the way, as well as being the ANC’s top bureaucrat, is a member of the SACP central committee; in fact until a year ago he was SACP national chair, but then he decided that holding such high-profile posts in two separate parties was perhaps too much even for him.
Mantashe’s comments actually represented a narrowing down of a remark made by Zuma himself, to the effect that “shadowy international elements and movements” were to blame for the unrest in platinum mines - although it is open to question just how “shadowy” the CWI actually is.
The same Sunday Independent article reports that comrade Shange has been the subject of two separate, but linked, secret investigations - by the department of home affairs and the intelligence services. While the former is looking into her immigration status - she is married to a South African citizen and has been a resident for nine years - security agencies “have probed Shange’s role in the ‘destabilisation’ of the country and her involvement in the mining crisis”.
The paper quotes a “high-ranking official” in home affairs as saying: “We have found out that she is here illegally ... This has nothing to do with her involvement in these parties.” That is the line parroted by the SACP general secretary, as reported by radical author and journalist Patrick Bond on a South African email discussion list: “I happened to be on a panel this afternoon, in Joburg at Cosatu House, with Blade Nzimande. I asked him where he stood on the expulsion of Liv. His response - I’ve got to paraphrase - is: ‘No-one should be expelled for doing Marxist work with the workers. However, the question is whether she is in the country legally.’”4
This is what the ANC/SACP tops are all pushing - after all, The Sunday Independent quotes an unnamed “official in a security department” as alleging that Shange “entered South Africa illegally”. In fact it is indisputable that she arrived in January 2004 to study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she completed her political science degree in 2007. It is inconceivable that she did not have the correct papers at that time.
In the words of DSM general secretary Weizmann Hamilton, “Responsibility for any difficulties with comrade Liv’s immigration status lie entirely with the department of home affairs.” He explains that comrade Shange was actually issued with a spousal visa upon her marriage and this was stamped into her Swedish passport. Unfortunately, however, comrade Shange was mugged in 2010 and her passport was stolen, but when she took her replacement passport to home affairs she was told there was “no record” of her spousal visa, even though she gave them a reference number. Despite the fact that she had previously been recognised as a permanent resident by virtue of her marriage and she has two children who are South African citizens, the department stamped a temporary tourist visa into her new passport!
Comrade Shange is currently on a family visit in Sweden with her children and fears that when she flies back on July 13, just before they are due to return to school, she will be refused entry and separated from her family.
Comrade Hamilton makes some good polemical points in his response to the threat to exclude comrade Shange: “It is a disgrace that a senior leader of the ANC, a movement whose struggle against apartheid was supported by ‘foreigners’ worldwide, … should invoke xenophobia … Mantashe apparently believes that the mineworkers are incapable of apprehending their own conditions and acting to free themselves from slavery. They need to be ‘instigated’. This is what the apartheid regime used to say about the black oppressed and activists like Mantashe himself … If Mantashe was genuinely concerned about ‘foreigners’ destabilising the mining industry, he need look no further than the international investors in the platinum industry, who are exerting relentless pressure on the mining companies to cause ‘anarchy’ by retrenching tens of thousands of workers.”
He concludes: “… what has obstructed the resolution of the matter is not home affairs’ legendary incompetence, but something much more sinister - the abuse of state resources for the purposes of a political witch-hunt.”5
Challenge to ANC
So what lies behind the behaviour of Mantashe and the SACP? While in next year’s general election the ANC could face a more serious challenge that it has previously known from several sources, what really concerns these ‘official communists’ is the possibility of a left alternative emerging - one that actually stands in elections under its own name and has ‘workers’ and ‘socialist’ in its title. Worse, imagine if such a party actually had trade union links - even if the support it enjoyed was from the new, non-Cosatu unions like Amcu.
Of course, no-one expects Wasp to challenge for power in 2014, but, under South Africa’s ‘party list’ form of proportional representation, where there is no artificial minimum threshold required for election, only 0.25% of the national vote is required for a party to win one of the 400 seats in the national assembly. Virtually any group that stands across the board and attracts national publicity could get someone elected. Which makes you wonder whether all this scapegoating and the consequent press and TV coverage might not actually be counterproductive: a sympathy vote for comrade Shange from a relatively tiny minority of electors might be enough for a Wasp comrade to win a seat. Of course, whether Wasp can raise the cash to stand in every province (a punitive deposit is required) is another question.
However, two new parties that will have no difficulty in that respect are Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters and Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang (‘Build’). Malema is the left-speaking, black nationalist former president of the ANC Youth League, who was expelled from the ANC in 2011 for “sowing divisions” (ie, speaking out too forcefully against Zuma, the SACP and the national leadership). Launched just last month, the EFF describes the ANC as a party “committed to a rightwing, neoliberal and capitalist agenda, which has kept [the] majority of our people on the margins of South Africa’s economy”.
Its “base principles” include: “expropriation of land without compensation”; the “nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy”; “free, quality education, healthcare, houses and sanitation”; “massive, protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs”; and “open, accountable government and society without fear of victimisation by state police”.
Despite his pro-worker, pro-poor rhetoric, Malema is amongst many who have made themselves hugely rich thanks to business contacts developed through political influence - not to mention the ‘affirmative action’ euphemistically known as ‘black economic empowerment’. But that does not stop him, with some success, appealing to the workers by attacking “white monopoly capital” and white privilege in general.
Agang, which was launched in February, is something else completely. Mamphela Ramphele was not only the long-time partner and comrade of Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness movement murdered in police detention in 1977, but much more recently a managing director at the World Bank! Since her return to South Africa and decision to enter politics (as the poor girl who made something of her life), she has come out with a series of totally vacuous platitudes, such as: “Our country has lost the moral authority and international respect it enjoyed when it became a democracy.”
While Agang will pick up some seats, it will not cause Zuma to lose sleep. Malema and his EFF, on the other hand, is a different matter. I would not be surprised to see the EFF making inroads into the ANC’s overall majority. However, both Malema’s left populism and the impact that a tiny group like the DSM is able to make demonstrate in their different ways the potential that exists for a mass, revolutionary workers’ party.
The SACP also demonstrates that potential in its own, negative way. As can be seen from the extensive quotes with which I started this article, the party attempts to cover up its shameless class-collaboration and subservience to the ANC with workerist, anti-imperialist and even Marxist jargon. The role of the SACP, which claims a membership of well over 150,000, is to keep the working class tied to the ANC and thus to capitalism.
But does that mean we should give up on the SACP as a site for struggle and simply call on those tens of thousands of workers to abandon it? Should we behave in the same way in regard to the Cosatu unions and urge workers to form rivals like Amcu?
In my view, to do either of those things represents a serious error. We need a twin-track approach. That means, on the one hand, fighting inside existing working class bodies, no matter how corrupt and tightly controlled by the right they may be. On the other hand, where new breakaway unions win the majority in certain areas, it would be foolhardy to cut oneself off from the mass of workers. However, we must stand firmly for a single union in every industry - which means opposing divisive splits and working for the unification (or reunification) of rivals.
When it comes to the fight for the mass revolutionary party our class so desperately needs, that must be waged both within and outside the SACP. (It seems that, because Cosatu formally acknowledges the SACP as “the workers’ party”, for groups like the DSM the official unions are beyond hope too.) We need the unity of all Marxists, including members of the SACP prepared to think, as well as the non-SACP grouplets. One thing is certain: a mass workers’ party cannot be built unless the SACP bureaucratic leadership is taken on and defeated.
There are, of course, big differences among senior SACP figures. For example, this week the general secretary of the huge National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, Fikile Majola, laid into Cosatu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, for not being sufficiently loyal to and uncritical of the ANC leadership. It goes without saying that both men are SACP members - in fact Majola is on the party’s central committee, as well as the ANC national executive. It is also known that there are big differences at the very top of the SACP - Nzimande and Mantashe themselves do not exactly see eye to eye, for instance.
The existence of these fissures ought to provide genuine Marxists with opportunities. Rather than opting out of the battle, let us bring the underlying differences out into the open and use them to put forward the principled alternative.
The electoral challenge promised by Wasp should be supported - as part of the overall strategy to split the SACP and break it from its pro-ANC class-collaboration. And right now comrades in Britain should support the campaign to prevent the exclusion of comrade Liv Shange and stop witch-hunter Mantashe separating her from her family. Sign the petition on the Wasp website6.
2. Business Report June 28: www.iol.co.za/business/opinion/mantashe-s-swedes-and-irish-jibe-stirs-up-history-1.1538795#.UdMoTG0kzHg.
3. The Sunday Independent June 23: www.iol.co.za/news/politics/gwede-s-swedish-diplomatic-row-1.1536159#.UdM0O20kzHg.
4. Debate-List June 25.