A place in the sun

2012-07-11 00:00

WHEN a key ANC document is couched in leftist rhetoric, when several of your leaders are government ministers, and when your membership has grown to over 150 000, it is time to look at how you can entrench your position on the political stage.


This will drive the debate at the South African Communist Party’s (SACP) four-day congress starting today at the University of Zululand.

The SACP has come a long way since being out in the cold during former President Thabo Mbeki’s reign. Hence it being among the more ardent of President Jacob Zuma’s broad church of supporters.

The party has enjoyed a greater place in the sun under Zuma, even if, so far, it has been the party’s personalities that have risen to prominence rather than its policies. Intent on retaining what power it has, and keeping that place in the sun, is why the SACP’s 13th congress will be worth watching.

On the leadership front it is known that the party’s national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe — who is also secretary-general of the ANC — is to step down. The move is seen as an indication of Mantashe clearing his decks to make himself available for re-election at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung. The SACP’s new chairperson is expected to be National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana.

The vocal SACP general­secretary Blade Nzimande, who is also Minister of Higher Education, seems set to retain the position he has held for the past 14 years, as the lead up to the congress has seen no other contenders enter the ring. It was Zuma who gave the SACP more prominence, and in the face of any challenge to his leadership at the forthcoming ANC elective conference, it would be advantageous for the SACP to stand united behind a bombastic Nzimande to back Zuma.

The party is expected to change its constitution at the congress to make way for two additional deputy general secretaries. This is to free Nzimande from organisational work. There has been criticism that the party has been organisationally weakened as a result of having Nzimande and deputy general-secretary Jeremy Cronin in government. The two deputies will see to the day-to-day running of the SACP as well as deal with the demands of managing a growing membership.

The SACP has been scathing of what it calls the media’s preoccupation with leadership battles and “interpreting its critical conferences through a lens of elections”.

So what of the policies that come up for debate?

The draft policy document up for discussion is titled “The South African Road to Socialism: Advance and Deepen Working Class Power and Hegemony in all key sites of struggle”.

Far from advocating an uprising of the working class, the document is quite conservative and is calling for what the SACP has long advocated — more state control of the economy.

It wants state intervention in the mining sector with the establishment of a State Mining House, and an amendment of the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Development Act. The granting of licensing for prospecting and mining rights is to be used to leverage industrial policy and job creation objectives. It wants a super-profits tax and a sovereign wealth fund. It sounds remarkably like the recommendations that came out of the ANC policy conference.

Similarly, the party proposes an effective state-led industrial policy.

On the banking front, there is a proposal to build a cooperative banking sector. The SACP wants popular pressure to be sustained to impact upon “private banking oligopolies and financial institutions” — particularly through community re-investment requirements.

“In this respect, we need to use the state’s very significant purchasing power…”

The Party wants a major and critical review of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), saying that the policy has done nothing more than add a black bourgeois layer to an exisiting white bourgeois class. It calls the new grouping “capitalists without capital”, who were allocated shares on loan, on the assumption that dividend and share prices would rise and their debts would be repaid. This did not happen because of the global economic crisis, so a number of BEE beneficiaries remain burdened by debt.

The SACP proposes limiting of outsourcing to the private sector and strengthening of capacity within municipalities and the Department of Public Works, to build houses and other social infrastructure.

Similarly, the South African Road to Socialism proposes an analysis of the state bureaucracy and parastatals to understand how they can work better. It wants a new public management, one that is more caring and more vocationally driven.

The document certainly offers plenty of fuel for debate. But will all of this matter? The South African political journey so far has shown that in the end it is about power and personalities. Policies still take a back seat.

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