A contest of colour

2009-11-26 00:00

SHOULD anything serious be read into the fact that the red onslaught against Trevor Manuel has failed at least to remove­ him from what is perceived to be a powerful position: chairing the National Planning Commission?

In other words, has the socialist attempt to colour the African Nat­ional Congress red been put to an end, or is this just a tactical retreat in the face of a stronger opposition? Has the South African Communist­ Party (SACP) and the Congress­ of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) prematurely overreached themselves and thus precipitated a stiffening of the collective back of the centrist ANC leadership that populate the Nat­ional Executive Committee?

In 2007, Polokwane brought victory to a myriad of forces that had coalesced around Jacob Zuma­ in the fight against Thabo Mbeki. These forces included the SACP and Cosatu, as well as a number of individuals whose allegiance­ is simply to the ANC. These individuals, such as Billy Masetlha, had problems with Mbeki’s style of leadership but were not about to migrate ideologically­ to become fanatical socialists.

The victory over Mbeki was overwhelming, and the euphoria has seen many people assuming their contribution to that victory entitles them to a number of things.

In some cases, people feel they are owed better-paying jobs. Some believe their businesses must now get all government tenders, and others feel that their ideological position should become the underpinning foundation of all ANC policies and actions.

The vitriolic attack on Manuel by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, describing him as a relic of an Mbeki past that has no place in the post-“class of Polokwane” ANC and government, was informed by this latter belief.

In so far as Cosatu was concerned, Zuma and the ANC leadership no longer had the right to determine what should happen and who should be given what responsibility­. Cosatu and the SACP not only had to be consulted, but had to agree. The proposal by Cosatu that the age-old description of the alliance as “ANC-led” should be changed was a case in point.

It was no longer enough for Cosatu­ and the SACP that Zuma (unlike Mbeki) would consult and hear their views around a number of planned government actions and appointments — they wanted to co-decide. Such is the “sea change” in relations that SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande­ spoke about when he referred to relations within the alliance­.

So Manuel, appointed by Zuma as minister in the presidency responsible for planning and co-ordination, could no longer carry such responsibility when the left’s own man, Economic Planning Minister Ebrahim Patel, was around. The left was demanding not only co-decision, but that strategic positions should be occupied by their people.

This was enough to raise alarm bells in some influential ANC members, who felt the alliance partners were no longer satisfied with being partners, but were intent on taking over the ANC. The outburst by Masetlha, who said that the ANC was never socialist, has to be seen in this light.

Intense fights have been raging within the ANC, and the attempt by the ANC Youth League to sponsor Fikile Mbalula to replace Secretary­-General Gwede Mantashe in 2012 is just another front in the war to place “pure” ANC members in control of their organisation. Mantashe’s dual roles as both ANC secretary-general and chairperson of the SACP are being questioned even more openly.

Many in the ANC say that when the secretariat of the alliance sits, it is effectively an SACP and Cosatu meeting, with Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi joining Mantashe­. This group of centrist ANC members has been sufficiently vocal within the organisation for the left wing to realise at the summit last week that this is not the time to push too hard.

And so, Manuel lives another day. But this is not the end of the story. The Communist Party, in particular, is now pushing, through its Young Communist League (YCL), for a decision by the SACP to contest future elections on their own ticket.

Buti Manamela, the YCL secretary-general, is a back-bencher in Parliament, under the guidance of the ANC. Despite the rhetoric, he is acutely aware that as long as he is in Parliament on an ANC ticket, he has to argue for ANC policies. Hence his assertion that socialism cannot be realised if the SACP does not stand its ground.

Having spent the last three years consolidating its influence within the ANC through recruitment of ANC members, Manamela at the very least feels the SACP has amassed enough strength to try taking to the open road on their own, without the ANC.

It is a two-pronged strategy that will see an attempt to turn the ANC from within, even if done more delicately than so far, as well as prepare for a 2014 general election communist manifesto.

Thus Manuel’s so-called victory is a mere short-term setback for the left, an outcome that will spur them to come back to the same point, but maybe with a bit more finesse than the sledge-hammer approach that alienated hard-core ANC members.

Those popping champagne at the outcome may still live to regret such celebratory actions.

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