Blade’ s victory was a done deal

2012-07-14 17:50

Yet some say his power derives solely from his support for Zuma, and that people fear him

It was more like a victory lap than a home game for SA Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande when he was unanimously re-elected at the University of Zululand, near Empangeni, where he started his university career in 1976.

By the time SACP delegates came to their conference this week, it was a done deal that Nzimande would extend his 14-year term by another five.

Nzimande, who left the University of Zululand after six months when the administration building was burnt down in a wave of protests he was part of, obtained a doctorate in personnel management from the then University of Natal.

He seems determined to continue as party head and higher education minister, and is even said to harbour ambitions to become ANC deputy president, despite a serious health setback last month.

He was quietly hospitalised for a heart condition and has given up his famous smoking and drinking habit.

The buffing up of the party secretariat this week to free Nzimande to continue his government work seems to support his ambition.

In 1998, he resigned as an MP to serve the party full-time, but after President Jacob Zuma appointed him to Cabinet in 2009, Nzimande called a special conference to endorse his staying on as SACP general secretary.

Some said Nzimande has served the SACP well because he’s moved the country closer to free tertiary education: students can now convert their government loans into bursaries when they graduate.

But some reckon he’s weak at implementation.

An ANC leader with knowledge of his department said: “He will make announcements of things to be done, but never actually get round to doing them.”

His leadership style – he is said to be intolerant of dissent – is rumoured to have been behind the resignation of spokesperson Ranjeni Munsamy and director-general Mary Metcalfe from his department.

But he is praised in the SACP.

Central committee member and higher education director-general Gwebs Qonde said: “Are you not aware of his intellectual capacity, his hard work, his reliability to the party and to the broad movement? He’s not there for himself. He would have been a billionaire by now, but he preferred to serve the movement.”

SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, who has been in his position for 17 years, said Nzimande “is moving all the time. He is obviously very bright” and not a “pushover, intellectually or organisationally”.

Neither is he a dictator.

“The party is much more than comrade Blade, and we don’t always agree with him. It’s not like we are always in awe of him and under his thumb,” Cronin said.

Others are more cynical, saying Nzimande exercises his power only because of his position. “If he loses that position, he loses power,” an SACP member from Gauteng said.

Another said his power derives solely from his support for Zuma – Nzimande only really came into his own after former president Thabo Mbeki, who didn’t take him seriously, had gone.

“Once you are perceived to be a son of the president, everybody fears you. But the problem is if the president goes down, you go down with him.”

An ANC leader whose SACP membership lapsed with Zuma’s in the 1990s, said the party’s aspirations to become mass-based – membership had more than trebled to 154 000 in the past five years – meant its leaders had become “populist”.

He complained that “most of these guys (in the SACP) don’t know what communism is any more”.

This week, Nzimande endorsed Zuma’s leadership ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in
December.

The country could see a lot more of him if things go his way again.

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