Max du Preez

Trevor Manuel’s SACP critique important

2015-07-14 08:36

Max du Preez

Former Cabinet minister Trevor Manuel’s sharp critique of the South African Communist Party and its leader, Blade Nzimande, in City Press on Sunday is a document that will have an important place in South Africa’s political archives.

“What does the SACP stand for? And from where does it derive its legitimacy?” asks Manuel. He calls the SACP a “faction” that exists “contrary to the spirit of the ANC constitution”.

It is a pity, but probably inevitable, that the most important questions that need to be asked of the ruling Tripartite Alliance are only asked from inside the ANC by leaders after they had retired from active politics.

I’m talking about people like struggle veterans like Jay Naidoo, Ronnie Kasrils and the late Kader Asmal, who had all sharply questioned the ANC after they had left the Cabinet. And now Manuel. Or: and now Manuel again, because this is not his first dissident utterance.

Questioning the ANC's power

It tells us two things: that there is a culture of fear in the Zuma-ANC that shuts up dissidents and smothers debate; and that there are indeed still people in the ANC that regard the national Constitution and the history of the ANC as more important than short-term politicking or sucking up to the Zuma circle of power.

I cannot see how Manuel would have written his searing piece on the SACP without consulting some of his comrades. His article certainly represents more than just his own personal views; his probing questions are being asked widely.

The SACP’s disproportionate power in the Cabinet, the ANC and provincial structures since Jacob Zuma became president is being questioned seriously (albeit quietly) by non-communists in the ANC and Cosatu. Almost the entire top structure of the SACP is in the Cabinet, while the secretary general of the ANC and the president of Cosatu are both central committee members.

Sure, Manuel does not have any formal position of power in the ANC any more, but he was a Cabinet minister for 18 years and is still widely respected inside the ANC. He was, with Cyril Ramaphosa, the driving force behind the National Development Plan (NDP).

Nzimande’s populist rhetoric

The timing is important. The SACP has just completed its national congress and has announced that its membership drive had increased its card-carrying members to 225 000. The party, Zuma’s foremost political bodyguards, has been flexing its muscle inside the alliance more and more. Nzimande’s populist rhetoric has become louder and more extreme in recent months.

Manuel refers to Nzimande’s “strident speeches” commenting on the judiciary, the media, trade unionists with whom he has disagreements and “monopoly capital”, as well as to his “marches against artists” and “loose talk about farmers”.

He then asks: “Do we understand the role of the SACP? Is one of its roles not to develop a cadre of leadership rather than a movement that protests on any issue that comes along?”

Manuel noted that Nzimande had ruled out any prospect of the SACP contesting elections on its own ticket and then wonders what the purpose of its recruitment drive was and what the benefits of membership are.

“So by claiming the legitimacy afforded it, it does so from the perch of being distinctly in government, yet claiming to be an NGO. This has to be the most profound paradox of its very existence; this is the ‘blurring of the blur’, rather than the negation of the negation”.

Manuel says it was necessary to examine the contradictions in the SACP’s political conduct. He says Nzimande “hasn’t whispered a word” about the 34 mine workers mowed down on 16 August 2012 and the impact of the attack on the working class. “So how does the SACP wish to explain which workers it represents? I have not seen a statement that sets as a precondition the need to first agree with the leadership of the SACP before it will act to represent the interest of such workers.”

'A huge mystery'

This is Manuel’s killer question: “Why then does the SACP have this special status and a boundless legitimacy to hold forth on any matter, as if it is independent?”

He calls the “very existence of the SACP in the ANC” in the current milieu “a huge mystery”.

He refers to the statement by the SACP’s first deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, that part of the NDP would be implemented and the rest be held back to be radicalised. And yet Cronin was part of a cabinet decision to implement the NDP and is thus bound by the decision.

“What is the origin of the legitimacy and authority of the SACP or its members to be part of decision making in government and to later renege on those decisions? Why should there be a special status for some people?”

Indeed.

Expect fireworks.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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Read more on:    sacp  |  cosatu  |  anc  |  trevor manuel  |  jacob zuma  |  blade nzimande
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