Is this the end of the line?

2009-12-22 00:00

ARE Gwede Mantashe’s days as secretary-general of the African National Congress numbered?

That’s the question following the fallout over the booing of an ANC delegation at last week’s South African Communist Party congress in Polokwane. Mantashe, who is also chairman of the SACP, was chairing the session when the booing started.

At face value, the argument that followed is a function of two points of tension: anger around the treatment of the ANC delegation, and the dual role that Mantashe plays in the two organisations. But the issue goes much deeper.

There are elements in the ANC who feel Mantashe’s dual role is tantamount to an outsider running their movement.

This came to a head at the recent alliance (ANC, SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions) summit when a document was produced calling for a change in the ANC’s leadership of the alliance. Many of the ANC delegates only saw the document for the first time at the summit, even though they are represented in the secretariat. It’s not incidental that their representative is Mantashe.

In addition to Mantashe, the alliance secretariat is led by

other staunch communists — SACP general-secretary Blade Nzimande and Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi.

Even President Jacob Zuma was allegedly surprised by the document and asked who had authored it.

A story is told that before Polokwane (2007), where Mantashe was elected to the position in the ANC, he was approached by Fikile Mbalula and tasked with putting together the list of candidates for the coalition against Thabo Mbeki. Apparently Mantashe’s candidacy was

endorsed only after he indicated he would resign from his SACP position. This hasn’t happened.

Instead, the group that has issues with his dual role sees him as the person being used by Nzimande to ensure SACP policies are endorsed within the ANC.

These concerns were muted until the issue of the election of new leaders in 2012 became public a few months ago, with Mbalula named as the man destined to replace Mantashe.

It is said that Mbalula is angry that Mantashe has failed to honour his word. But there was a problem: how to attack Mantashe without being seen to be taking the man on unfairly. The group needed an issue; a hook on which a serious campaign to unseat him would be hitched. Enter the SACP delegates in Polokwane who booed ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and two other National Executive Committee (NEC) members, Billy Masethla and Tony Yengeni.

Those delegates, who may have been infuriated by Malema’s attack on both Nzimande, when he called him a false communist who drank red wine, and Jeremy Cronin, who was called a white messiah, gave the anti-communist grouping who were gunning for Mantashe in particular, the opening they needed.

Malema walked through the crack opened by these delegates and unleashed a torrent of insults and voiced his indignation at the manner in which he had been treated and how, importantly, Mantashe had failed to protect them before denying them a right to speak.

What followed was a week in which the partnership of the SACP and the ANC has been tested to the limit. Nzimande even failed to attend an NEC meeting called to discuss the issue. Mantashe was removed from addressing the media after the NEC conference, and his duties were assumed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The SACP seems to have realised its mistake and has toned down its rhetoric. And indeed, it needs to. What is at stake is much more than just a spat, it is about how far the SACP is going to be allowed by non-communists within the ANC to continue to influence the direction of ANC economic policy.

With some 96 000 members, and seemingly unwilling to enter electoral politics on its own, the SACP has relegated itself to a lobby group within the ANC. It cannot afford to lose that strategic position.

The question is whether the Malema and Mbalula entente, having found its opening, will reconcile, or if it will keep the enmity going to ensure Mantashe’s departure?

The first public engagement that will give an indication of this will be the ANC statement and birthday celebration in Kimberley on January 8.

It might be here where Nzimande meets his match in the booing stakes, or the place where the hatchet is buried — for now. Whatever happens there will determine Mantashe’s future role too. —

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