What communism?

2009-08-05 00:00

WHEN Thabo Mbeki criticised the wave of violence by poor people in 2004 and 2005, related to unsatisfactory service delivery in their areas, some of us ignored it as consistent with his class project that sought to empower a few black people.

However, when Blade Nzimande, the general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), condemns the current spate of strikes around the country and recent looting of shops in Durban, and blames it on a third force, this is very worrying. The concern here is not the condemnation of violence but its link to a third force by someone who leads a party that claims to represent the interests of the poor.

This begs for answers to a number of questions. Why is Nzimand­e singing a different tune? In just a short time as a cabinet minister, has the power alread­y gone to his head? Does he have a different agenda for the Communist Party? Could this exp­lain why he chose to hang on to the leadership of the party even when top members such as Jerem­y Cronin, Gwede Mantashe and others, himself included, had been roped into President Jacob Zuma’s administration? Is the futur­e of the SACP safe in this country?

The poor have already been marginalised by the recent global crisis that has deepened Africa’s woes. Sbu Zikode, the leader of the Abahlali Basemjondolo (shack dwellers) Movement, articulated these concerns and accepted the title of “third force”, saying the material existence of the poor is responsible for turning them into such a force. Until the government deals with their suffering by delivering services, these actions will remain with us for some time. It is interesting that government can find billions to spend towards meeting Soccer World Cup facility require­ments on the basis of assume­d spin-offs, yet it cannot inves­t the same kind of money in improving the lives of the masses, which has definite potenti­al to bring the poor into the mainstream economy and thus improve demand-led economic growth.

For Nzimande to link the actions of the masses to a third force is highly pejorative, assuming their lack of ability to understand their own material existence and react to it without the involvement of outside forces. It is unfortunate that the government only understands the language of violence. The apartheid state was an embod­iment of management by violence. In coming to power, the new government took over the state and has sought to monopolise that violence. Under Mbeki, the attempts at land invasions in South Africa were crushed with military displays through private security companies — the Red Ants.

In the worst of cases, third force pronouncements became excuses for declaring a state of emergency and therefore a ban on any form of protest or political activism. Ironically for Mbeki, like all the liberals of the non-violence school of thought that included Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, a new social orde­r could be achieved with minima­l social friction. One would assume that as a leader of the SACP, Nzimande would acknowledge Karl Marx’s counsel that “force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”. However, it is clear that coming into 1994, the SACP had eithe­r given up or changed its mind on harnessing the real force of a revolutionary movement with the ultimate aim of setting up new administrative organs that would replace the old regime.

The transition from apartheid under the ANC did not push for complete change. It was compromised from the beginning, and the SACP should have known better. The fissures in the SACP today are about the rift in the interpretation of what is to be done. The old guard has bec­ome comfortable in the creature comforts of life and would rather be associated with the ANC’s continuous compromise on the masses’ needs while benefiting a few. On the other side is a radical youth element that seeks to put the revolution back on its course and which has the belief that this is not only necessary but possible. Nzimande and his ilk in the party have become an abomination and hindrance to the revolution, which they do not believe in any more.

The least Nzimande could have done was to educate the masses that destroying the one clinic they have is not a clever way of getting the seven they need and have a right to. But to equate the expressions of frustration by the poor working and unemployed masses as a product of forces outside the suffering of this group, is to belittle, undermine and insult them.

In all fairness, I am in no way suggesting that violence for the sake of violence is something we should celebrate. I am just concerned that a leader of a party that identifies itself with communism fails to address the issue of the excesses of capitalism gone wrong, and attend to issues of discipline among the workers and their leaders. Instead it belittles their action.

• Blessing Karumbidza is a freelance socioeconomic res­earch consultant based in Durban.

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