A route to wealth

2015-07-29 12:33
William Gumede

William Gumede

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THE South African Communist Party is increasingly becoming a vehicle to get into politics, government and secure tenders for those unable to secure them through the ANC structures.

The SACP at its special general meeting last week revealed its membership has grown from 150 000 to 230 000 members, making it the second largest membership-based party after the ANC.

The rise in SACP membership is likely based on the fact that joining it is increasingly seen by many as a way to secure lucrative political and government jobs and tenders.

Many people who are losing out in the competition over positions in the ANC join the SACP to find a new foothold on the greasy pole.

In fact, the attraction for new members to the SACP is not likely to be its ideas, ideology or commitment to the poor, but more its policy of securing access to government and political jobs and business.

Given South Africa’s high unemployment levels, politics has increasingly become a route to wealth. Not surprisingly, ANC branches and provincial leadership elections are becoming deadlier, as winning or losing may mean fabulous new opportunities or none.

In exchange for supporting Jacob Zuma as president at the ANC’s 2007 and 2012 national elective conferences, the SACP has increasingly seen its members’ “deployment” to government. At last week’s SACP special national conference in Soweto, the party formally adopted the policy of actively “deploying” its members to all levels of government.

The SACP championed non-racism during the apartheid years. Sadly, it has now become embedded in the narrow ethnicism, sexism and patriarchy associated with Zuma, rather than offering a new, more inclusive, democratic and forward-looking vision of South Africanness. The SACP is also entrapped in Zuma’s personal, state and factional patronage network. New SACP recruits who are genuinely looking for a progressive political home in the mainstream left are likely to be bitterly disappointed.

Contesting the elections independently as a party in its own right would test the grass-roots appeal and relevance of the SACP. If the SACP secured significant votes in an election, it can always afterwards strike alliances with the ANC at local, provincial or national level.

Young Communist League (YCL) national secretary Mluleki Dlelanga was right when he asked recently: “Is it not the right time to test our [SACP] strength in local government elections?”

The country is in desperate need of a mainstream left political party, with pragmatic policies and a democratic and non-racial orientation.

If the SACP does not contest elections independently, it is likely that the party, lulled by the trappings of power, through the indirect ANC route, rather than testing its own strength directly, will remain complacent, arrogant and dismissive of genuine critics.

Since 1994, the SACP’s strategy has been to recruit senior Cosatu leaders into its leadership structures, get them to imbibe the party ideology and become party workers and secure funding for the party’s operations from donations from Cosatu unions.

The party’s attraction for such trade unions was it being the intellectual vanguard of the left, providing direction, ideas and ideology for eager trade unionists. Trade unionists in the post-1994 era specially selected for high office in the SACP — often based on their influence in their own unions, and willingness to follow the party line — gained a badge of prestige for being a leader in the party. That badge has now worn off, as the party struggles under the weight of its attachment to Zuma, lack of direction, ideological clarity and relevant policies.

For some time now, it has been the likes of former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who have provided the direction, ideas and leadership for the ANC left from within Cosatu, not the SACP.

If Vavi, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and its eight allied trade unions turn their United Front (UF) into a workers’ party, the SACP is likely to be replaced fully as the vanguard of South Africa’s post-1994 left politics.

If the Vavi and Numsa-led United Front fails to take off, and the SACP still does not modernise and become independent, the SACP could be eclipsed by the Economic Freedom Fighters, who, unless they implode like the Congress of the People, could fill the hole that has opened on the left of SA’s politics.

• William Gumede is the chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation. He is the author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times

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