No amount of champagne, cakes or booze-fuelled parties can mask the reality of the what the ANC has become.
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At its congress in July, the South African Communist Party will once again confront the perennial question it has failed to resolve in the last two decades: to contest elections or not?
Continued dilly-dallying could frustrate prospects to revive what was once genuinely regarded as a genuine Left project led by a genuine communist party in South Africa.
But come July, there is a real risk SACP leaders will resolve to do the usual: procrastinate and provide flimsy reasons why they can’t face voters directly. There is no doubt that this kind of procrastination will be given a politically acceptable phrase. (An area of expertise the SACP is exceedingly good at is coining phrases).
So far, SACP leaders have preferred to play the role of a benevolent parasite that survives on the ANC’s electoral fortunes while helping to keep the governing party in power.
The SACP worries more about the ANC that it does its own state of health. Its concerns about trade unions relative to the ANC can at best be described as negligible if you disregard the working-class rhetoric that its leaders recite almost as if they are in kindergarten.
As a benevolent parasite, the SACP recognises that the thriving of the host is far more important. While the host can survive on its own, albeit strained and showing signs of tremendous and unprecedented weakness under and because of Jacob Zuma’s leadership, the benevolent parasite probably can’t. It is yet to demonstrate at the polls that it can.
But the benevolent parasite has imposed on itself the duty to support the ANC largely because of historical and sentimental reasons than the need to achieve its stated goal of socialism.
Given the fact that the SACP is unlikely to achieve socialism through the ANC – which is not a socialist party – it is difficult not to conclude that the current unconditional alliance with the governing party is linked to material gain by communist leaders. The genesis of the alliance was the need to fight the architecture of apartheid colonialism. Now that the democratic dispensation allows for a free contest of ideas – whether liberal, socialist or nationalist within the parameters of constitutional democracy – the SACP needs to free itself from the apartheid-era bondage so that it can find solutions to among other things, the legacy of apartheid itself.
It needs freedom to explore and, should it be elected, to implement its alternative policies. So far, the failure of the SACP to contest elections has robbed voters of policy and leadership options on the ballot paper. In a democratic system, the more policy and leadership options there are, the better.
Being a benevolent parasite to the governing party is not in line with the SACP’s socialist vision. It constraints the party from creative thinking while tempting its leaders with the material gains derived from state power obtained by another political party.
While serving in government, SACP leaders should be under no illusion that they are pursuing interests other than those of the ANC. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous to say the least. At its Augmented Central Committee meeting in December, the SACP raised concerns about the emergence of a parallel state demonstrated by high-level government decisions taken outside the formal Cabinet. It should be applauded for raising its concerns about this and the corporate capture of political personalities and state-owned enterprises by the Guptas.
But until the SACP seeks a mandate from voters and actually governs or sits on the opposition benches in Parliament to articulate its alternative policies and provide leadership options, it would be difficult for its views to gain the necessary traction in society.
SACP leaders in Cabinet are accountable to Zuma regardless of what the party says in public about his leadership. Evidently, he’s no longer the hero, the peasant-cum-working class underdog, who would dismantle the supposed neoliberal legacy of former President Thabo Mbeki. Instead, he himself complains of being a victim of so-called white monopoly capital!
During Mbeki’s presidency, the SACP used to accused its leaders who served under his administration of committing ideological suicide because they participated in the implementation of neoliberal policies such as privatisation. But the SACP could do nothing about those leaders, except to express outrage.
SACP leaders and ordinary members are often dragged to factional battles of the governing party. The SACP itself has on many occasions raised concerns about this. But it lacks the courage to stand on its own.
There can be no better time to explore new avenues. The tough economic difficulties we and other parts of the world face, the rise of right-wing movements, the election of the likes of Donald Trump in the United States and the dramatic metamorphosis of the likes of Zuma to something at odds with his anti-apartheid struggle credentials, are an indication of the desperate need for well thought out alternatives that could include Left-leaning solutions. Can the SACP rise to the occasion?
Alternative solutions don’t necessarily have to be textbook-type socialism or unrefined Marxist solutions that is often recited by some alleged communists and ideologues. The debilitating rise of inequality, stagnant economic growth, ever-rising poverty rates and the increasingly restless underclass call for practical and evidence-based solutions that can inspire the electorates to rediscover their confidence in democracy.
To be fair the SACP is not the only Left organisation battling to establish and popularise a new thinking, although we will never know of its true potential until it enlists itself on the ballot paper.
The economist Dani Rodrik, who wrote about the failure of the Left globally to mount a counter challenge against the rise of nationalist demagogues around the world, should have included the SACP in his observations. Writing for Project Syndicate, Rodrik stated: “From Greece’s Syriza to Brazil’s Workers’ Party, the Left has failed to come up with ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond ameliorative policies such as income transfers.”
Can the Reds in South Africa master the courage to rise?
- Follow Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Twitter.
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