The prospect of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa becoming president of the ANC in 2017 was among several unsettling factors that caused some members of the SA Communist Party (SACP) to push for the SACP to consider contesting elections on its own.
Ordinary members of the SACP this week lobbied strongly for the party to end its reliance on the ANC to govern.
But the final resolution announced by party leaders was a mild one – they only committed to establishing a committee to assess the party’s power and electoral options.
SACP deputy secretary Jeremy Cronin said the move to establish the committee was part of how the party constantly evaluated its power and influence.
“We have resolved that the SACP stance towards electoral politics will be evaluated in an ongoing manner in the context of our wider, medium-term vision to build a working class hegemony,” he said.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said much emphasis was being placed on getting the alliance to function properly.
At least three senior leaders who spoke to City Press said the election issue had become a raging debate at the party’s special national congress, which ended yesterday.
It was a source of great discomfort to SACP leaders, who believed it was not the right time to lock horns with its ally, the governing ANC.
Members who wanted to contest elections said Ramaphosa was not to be trusted and needed to be viewed as a “capitalist”.
There was also concern that, if he took over, the SACP could be sidelined and relations would be strained, as had been the case when former president Thabo Mbeki was in power.
“The idea of 2019 is premised on the fact that we need to check exactly how Cyril intends to deal with the SACP. Will we enjoy cordial relations, as is the case under [President Jacob] Zuma?” asked a provincial leader.
“Zuma has been very good to the SACP. Our members have been deployed in government.
“Will he retain our members? Even if we don’t win the debate now, we must still scrutinise him leading up to 2019 and take drastic decisions if needs be.”
The five-day SACP special congress was held at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto and ended yesterday.
Nzimande and chairperson Senzeni Zokwana warned at the start of the congress that individual irritations with the ANC should not lead to the radical step of the SACP contesting elections on its own.
Since President Zuma took over in 2009, many SACP members have taken up prominent positions in government.
This is seen as his way of appeasing his allies to maintain the unity of the alliance.
The SACP senior leadership in government consists of Nzimande as higher education minister, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi and his deputy Cronin, Zokwana as minister of agriculture and former Young Communist League (YCL) national secretary Buti Manamela, who is now deputy minister in the presidency.
The two provinces that led the debate on the need for the SACP to contest state power were Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, supported by the YCL.
KwaZulu-Natal is the biggest provincial structure, with 60 000 members.
The provincial leadership of Mpumalanga said it carried a mandate from delegates who had resolved at their recent congress not to campaign for the ANC.
Since the start of this year, it has boycotted all ANC meetings and activities because of ongoing tensions.
They have escalated to a point where ANC members attacked SACP members earlier this year.
Others opposed to the idea argued that contesting elections would split the ANC vote and could easily see the opposition taking power.
The growth in SACP membership is said to have also boosted the confidence of some members, who said that if the ANC could grow from 60 000 members in 1994 to more than 1 million now, so could the SACP.
The party this week reported that it had at least 225 000 members.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said the debate was a result of a number of frustrations on the ground, but it was also about how the party influenced the state.
“Whatever approach you take, you have to move with the majority of the population.
“The ANC is still capable of amassing the majority of our people,” he said.
“How many people will vote for you if you wake up and declare that South Africa is a socialist state?” asked Dlamini.
“The ANC will still remain dominant. South Africans with their problems will still vote for the ANC.”