Why the ANC may have tolerated the SACP out of pity

JOHANNESBURG — The SACP’s recent decision to possibly contest elections on its own didn’t really come as a surprise. After all, the SACP has distanced itself from President Jacob Zuma by not inviting him to its events. The SACP, understandably, is upset with the Zupta state capture. But to be fair, Blade Nzimande knew of the allegations facing Zuma in 2005-2007 and he still backed the compromised leader. It’s funny that Blade is now singing a different tune. Ironically, Blade has quite possibly killed off the SACP completely by backing the wrong horse. The SACP will never win a lot of votes at the polls and it would almost certainly disappear. That would be a good thing for the ANC and South Africa. Socialism and communism are dead in other parts of the world for a reason. – Gareth van Zyl

By Errol Horwitz* 

It is difficult to understand the love affair between the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC), especially after 1994. Prior thereto, the relationship probably had all the characteristics of a starry-eyed love affair culminating in the coupling of the strangest of bedfellows.  

The nuptial vows spoke directly to the relationship: The “groom” – the ANC would call the shots, and the “bride” (SACP) would be seen, but not heard. In return for its obsequiousness the SACP would be generously rewarded following the demise of white-minority rule.

For decades the SACP willingly accepted its subordinated role, in return for ever-increasing perks of government. Whatever the SACP ideologically intended promoting by reason of the relationship, it’s Hegelian Dialectical Materialism was reduced to greedy materialism when it tied the knot with the ANC. But, as so often happens in a subordinated relationship, obsequiousness eventually transforms into discontent and separation anxiety, for which material benefits cannot assuage. So it is with the SACP . . .

General Secretary of the South African Communist Party Blade Nzimande.

In a historical context it did made sense for both the ANC and SACP to act in concert, in that it brought about the first modern national liberation movement in Africa aimed at ending white-minority rule. They were comrade-in-arms – their leaders were revolutionaries committed to liberating South Africa’s disenfranchised and oppressed people. Their members were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the white-minority government. Two antithetical ideologies born out of political necessity rather than principal, not dissimilar to striking a Faustian bargain.

Joining together to defeat a common enemy was one thing, but the SACP’s decision to form a political alliance with the ANC must have caused Marx and Engels to roll in their graves. Ideologically they were not cut from the same cloth. One, a capitalist movement, aimed at redressing socio-economic equalities from the colonial and apartheid era, while the other the promotion of socialism bent on overthrowing capitalism. Clearly not ideological ingredients capable of homogenizing two antithetical ideologies. What made the alliance even more unfathomable was the ANC’s commitment to constitutionally protected individual freedoms, whereas the cornerstone of communist doctrine rested on authoritarianism, a source of tyranny and destruction of individual freedoms.

Read also: The SACP conundrum – do we stay or do we go?

Although the ANC and the SACP were the strangest of bedfellows, South Africa’s communists in the 1950’s and beyond considered themselves not beholden to Moscow. They were comrades with those in the struggle for freedom, both committed to a government for the people based on the Freedom Charter.

Whatever the SACP expected from its alliance with the ANC, following the birth of the new South Africa, must have been far less than it expected. The SACP was overshadowed by the ANC’s dominance. For decades it has been unwilling to disassociate itself from the alliance, despite what must be, to this day, an undercurrent of resentment for its lack of prominence in government – an axiomatic truth in that out of a total of 35 ministerial portfolios in Zuma’s cabinet, only five SACP members are included in the cabinet. Their portfolios are trifling in the scheme of significant cabinet positions. It leads to one inescapable conclusion: The ANC has tolerated the SACP either out of of pity or a feeling of duty.

Read also: SACP backs Gordhan, slams ANC’s whitewash of “State Capture” investigation

What then possessed the SACP to maintain ties with the ANC? It boiled down to parasitic self-interest, and nothing more. A seat at the ANC table served the appearance or optics of the SACP being meaningfully engaged with the ANC in governing the country. An optical illusion indeed! Decisions were taken by the ANC which the SACP would routinely affirm without objection. It certainly kept the party faithful blissfully ignorant when attending party conferences, decked out in their ubiquitous sickle and hammer fiery red shirts and caps.

Although the SACP’s role in policy formulation was historically minimalist, the party cannot escape its role in the making of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa. The likes of Jeremy Cronin and Blade Nzimande enthusiastically supported Zuma in Polokwane 10 years ago. They knew Zuma was corrupt to the core, but nevertheless gave him their party’s blessing consistent with preserving selfish political interests. Now 10 years down the road these Johnny-come-latelies have expressed remorse, seeking absolution for thrusting Zuma upon South Africa. A day late and a dollar short, or in the South African context, many years too late and billions of rand short. The damage has been done, and no amount of contriteness, or Hail Mary’s (some communists do hedge their bets and believe in G-d) will absolve them from their sins.

South Africa’s President and ANC president Jacob Zuma attends the party’s three-day National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Pretoria, in this March 18, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The SACP’s alliance separation anxiety was apparent at its recent 14th Congress when it announced that it would contest future elections on its own. A qualified pronouncement as it left the door open if the alliance agreed to “reconfigure” power sharing equally amongst the alliance members. Whatever goodwill the SACP retains will not result in equal power sharing. If the party means what it says, and goes it alone it likely signals the end of the SACP as we know it. It would be a welcome development because the ANC will be rid of the SACP’s leftist, anachronistic, disastrous economic policies that have laid waste to the country’s economic terrain. In such event, opportunities should present itself for enacting pragmatic and free market economic policies.

So, to put all that has been said in perspective: The SACP’s secession would be a blessed event – its swan song in recognition of its one and only accomplishment since the birth of the new South Africa.

  • Errol Horwitz was a political activist in the 60’s, and returned to South Africa a few years ago, after residing abroad for more than three decades.
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