By John Haylett

Dec. 30,  2016

South Africa’s Communist Party (SACP) held its annual end-of-year augmented central committee meeting earlier this month, with attendance enhanced by regional and Young Communist League (YCL) representation. Its role is to assess the past 12 months and look ahead to priorities for the party and its allies in the coming year.

This year’s meeting held greater importance than normal in light of clear differences in government and sharp arguments within the revolutionary alliance of the SACP, African National Congress, the Cosatu trade union federation and the Sanco civic organisation.

Underlying the central committee debate in Johannesburg on December 15-16 was the future of President Jacob Zuma’s term in office and the question of his successor. The African National Congress (ANC) will hold an elective congress next December, but two front-runners have already emerged — deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a former mineworkers’ leader turned businessman, and outgoing African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was once married to President Zuma.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande noted afterwards that the succession debate had proven a destabilising experience for the ANC and its allies. “It cannot be that each time there is a talk of succession, we have this turbulence,” he complained. “There must be some protocol and policy that the ANC needs to develop. We want the ANC to find inclusive views, not factional succession debate.”

The party believes it necessary, rather than simply focusing on a list of names, to consider criteria for effective leadership, especially a capacity to avoid factionalism and to unite the ANC, alliance and the historical support base of the liberation struggle. Both the YCL and Cosatu have already shown their hand for Ramaphosa, but the SACP has deferred judgement.

The SACP will hold its 14th national congress next July where delegates will make their choice as well as debating once more the issue of whether the party should contest elections in its own right, as the YCL would like to see. “The SACP is an independent political party representing the working class of South Africa. The party must take the bold and decisive decision to contest state power as a party of power,”

YCL national chairperson Yershen Pillay told the league’s third national council on December 8. “Which Communist Party in the world today does not contest for state power? The answer is none. Why should the SACP be any different given the current senile state of the ANC?” The augmented central committee meeting confirmed that this issue would be settled in July after engaging with alliance partners and other progressive formations.

However, it pointed out that standing alone would have implications, identifying questions to be considered. “How will SACP taking part in elections on its own advance the national democratic and socialist struggles? “If the SACP takes part in elections on our own, would the SACP still be part of the alliance? “If so, how would the alliance be reconfigured? “If the SACP is not part of the ANC-led alliance, who would it ally with? “How would contesting elections relate to the broader popular front the SACP seeks to create?”

It is not simply within the communist movement that calls for separation of the ANC and the SACP have arisen. Some leading ANC voices have taken issue with the apparent contradiction of the Communist Party criticising government and developments in the ANC while SACP members remain ministers within Zuma’s government.

The SACP encourages its members to hold joint membership in the ANC and to play a full role in the mass liberation movement. While there have always been right-wing tendencies within the ANC that have opposed SACP involvement, the movement has defeated such trends decisively.

The augmented central committee meeting drew attention to recent sprouting of “regressive social phenomena” among which it identified “xenophobia, the spread of ‘happyclappy’ evangelism — including all manner of quackery and fake ‘prophets of doom,’ the resurgence of ‘identity’ politics including, in rural areas, a resurgence of ethnicity, and even renewed life being breathed into narrow Africanist and Black Consciousness discourses and so on.”

It urged the ANC-led revolutionary alliance to give leadership to unite the country to address such challenges. The party said that, until recently, “a broad national democratic consensus has underpinned the multi-class and ideologically diverse character of the ANC and of the alliance it has headed.” But this has been eroded by “factionalism linked to corruption and the looting of public resources” by a network of key parts of the state and key personalities subject to “corporate capture.”

The SACP identifies the Guptas, a wealthy family from India that has developed close links with parastatal bodies and government ministers right up to the presidency, as the key driving force in this “corporate capture” process. Nzimande told the YCL congress that the Gupta family had made its wealth through the “parasitic milking of public resources.” He said that the SACP needed to “expose the hypocrisy of the arguments” used by “Gupta-captured, conservative populism.”

The party declared that corporate capture “has resulted over the past two years in extremely worrying developments, including indications of a shadowy parallel state that operates outside of cabinet discipline and beyond answerability to parliament or even the formal structures of the ANC, let alone the broad South African public. “Elements, some of whom were associated with the apartheid-era security apparatus, are now unleashed on longstanding comrades,” the central committee charged, drawing attention to a spate of anti-communist targeted murders in the KwaZulu-Natal village of Inchanga.

It highlighted “increasing corruption of the state’s security agencies, the most recent example of which is the bogus charges against Comrade Robert McBride and his colleagues.” McBride, who distinguished himself as a fearless MK soldier during the liberation struggle, was appointed executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in 2014 but was suspended on trumpedup charges a year later before being cleared by the Constitutional Court in September.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan also suffered at the hands of the politicised Hawks investigative unit, being removed and then returned to office after a campaign led by the SACP. The “frivolous” fraud charges against Gordhan would have stuck “had we not stood up,” said SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila. Gordhan said that his pursuit by the Hawks had been “meant to intimidate and distract us from the work we had to do.”

The SACP was unequivocal in its condemnation of the misuse of the security services, stating: “It is clear that the state’s security agencies have themselves become a threat to national security. “We condemn the security agencies for taking sides in the internal divisions within the ANC, alliance and government and the increasing securitisation of the state. We are determined to combat this.”

The SACP welcomed a growing backlash against corporate capture “including from many historically associated with the liberation struggle — the progressive faith-based sector, ANC stalwarts and authentic (not counterfeit camouflaged) MK veteran combatants, the trade union movement and others who had left for business or academia.”

It also recognised progressive developments within the ANC government, following the introduction of the New Growth Path in 2010, since which two million new jobs have been created. “These SACP-influenced government initiatives, along with others such as those in the health, basic education and land and agrarian sectors, point the way forward if, as a country, we are to exit from our triple crisis of racialised poverty, inequality and unemployment,” the party declared.

This progress was cited to justify communist ministers remaining within government and giving the lie to those who allege unprincipled nestfeathering. Nzimande, who is Higher Education and Training Minister, said that he was not afraid of losing his government post because of his critical remarks, stating that he “serves the nation” not political interests. He said that the task facing the revolutionary alliance is “to give leadership and unite the country to address these challenges. “The SACP urges the ANC to play its full role in this regard.”

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa took issue with eThekwini ANC Youth League regional secretary Thinta Cibane’s hostile references to the YCL. He pointed out that the ANC had survived a number of splits from the Pan-Africanist Congress in 1959 to Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters three years ago, but “we will not survive this time around.” Mthethwa urged the ANCYL to challenge the YCL over the importance of maintaining the alliance “to make them see the bigger picture.”

Whether President Zuma sees out his mandate or steps down early, the scale of ferment within the ANC and the alliance will either engage disenchanted supporters and enhance unity or accelerate the process towards fragmentation. Discussions at July’s SACP congress could prove crucial in working out how South Africa’s future unfolds.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star, Britain