The SACP conundrum – do we stay or do we go?

The Rubik Cube that is the SA Communist Party (SACP) at present gets some fascinating manipulation by veteran political journalist Donwald Pressly in an analysis pondering what their true colours really are. On the one hand, do they maintain they’re anti-Zuma, anti-State capture, economic-realist stance which would require a principled walk out should Msholozi push through with his apparent bid to replace Pravin Gordhan with former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe? Or do they keep their minority six cabinet ministers in place and try to effect change from within, should Gordhan go? Full of contradictions, Pressly finds no easy answers, but does suggest that a walk-out is highly unlikely, the politics of tactics (and privilege?) being what they are. The ironies of adhering to a rigid communist ideology when the EFF has all but taken that so-called “high” political ground abound, not least with the land question and Gordhan’s steadying hand on the economy – which is the only hope the poor have at present. Judging by the Zama-Zama Zuptoids ongoing behaviour, the tragic vulnerability of the poor is hardly a priority. Perhaps, for the SACP, it’s a case of the lesser of the two evils. The evils of capitalism versus the evils of rampant state capture capitalism, the former riding on the coattails of socialist ideology and ‘reform’. Only time will tell. – Chris Bateman

Comment: The role of the SA Communist Party in the African National Congress ruling alliance is an intriguing one. The party is currently playing ‘a hard to get’ game – threatening to pack its bags if Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is booted. Cape Messenger editor Donwald Pressly tries to make sense of what is going on in one of the few communist parties in the world which has a lever – or part of a lever – on political power. – DP

By Donwald Pressly*

The SA Communist Party is playing the role of a un-coquettish partner, not quite coming to the ANC’s political mating dance, at least not as enthusiastically as it has done in the past. But at the same time, it is lending some ballast to keeping the fiscal moderates in charge of the National Treasury.

Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.

Its new un-coquettish stance has a lot to do with the political troubles in the African National Congress, its factionalism and its internal struggle over ideological positioning. These issues in South Africa’s governing party are reaching fever pitch as the country draws closer to the elective conference to elect a new top six in the ANC, including, of course, the new president and deputy president (who would likely become the new president and deputy president of the country).

What is intriguing is that in the battle between the centrists – centred around such people like Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan – and the Zuma faction – centred, of course, around Jacob Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – the SACP has come out in support of the centrists.

It is clear that the SACP leadership is a little red-faced about this support for the centrists and Pravin Gordhan, in particular. The HuffPostSA wrote recently that deputy SACP general secretary (and transport deputy minister) Jeremy Cronin said that while his party might not agree with everything the Minister of Finance did, they live “in the real world”. EWN reported that the party resolved that if Gordhan was fired, members of the SACP – deployed in cabinet – would resign en masse. This would be to avoid being complicit with “bad decisions” of the ruling party. This followed a central executive committee meeting in Johannesburg in late February. EWN quoted Cronin as saying: “The danger is that we’ll get sucked into being complicit in seriously wrong things.” These comments by the SACP leadership were made in the context of an expected cabinet reshuffle – which were heightened with the recent swearing in of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe as an MP. It is widely speculated that he could replace Gordhan, himself a one-time member of the SACP.

SACP Deputy General-Secretary Jeremy Cronin

But even the threat of packing their bags was watered down. Cronin also said that another option would be for their members to remain in cabinet – where there are six members of the SACP – and fight state capture looting. Cronin, one of two SACP deputy ministers (the other is finance deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas), admitted the issue of executive withdrawal was a bit of a conundrum for his party.

Cronin did say that Gordhan was “holding the line” against cronyism and corruption and deserved the support of the SACP. Gordhan noted that those who refused to stand – in solidarity with Gordhan during the Budget speech – “seemingly refuse to understand what’s at stake”. Those who stood up for Gordhan, he noted, included communists, liberals, neo-liberals, he told the HuffPost SA.

But there are contradictions in the SACP too which are hard to understand. Although the central committee warned against the rhetoric about “radical economic transformation”, it warned that it meant little in practice. The party was reported by HuffPost as saying that it was clear that the Gupta family – are are allegedly to have gained significantly from their close relations with President Zuma  – “lurks” in the background. Cronin in particular expressed concern that the ANC youth league leader Collen Maine had said that “something must be done to Gordhan” and then went on to remind ANC supporters how they dealt with sell-outs and informers during the struggle. This obvious reference to necklacing – placing a tyre around the head – was described by Cronin as “juvenile and dangerous”.

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Yet the most recent article on the SACP’s online web news page, Umsebenzi, is devoted to how it was necessary to forge radical economic transformation. A quote from Solly Mapaila, the second deputy general secretary of the SACP, is: “RET (radical economic transformation) must drive a mass-based empowerment of the labour force involved in production. It must take care, through social redistributive programmes, including a comprehensive social security, of those who are yet to be directly involved in production, those who have retired, and those who have disabilities preventing them to be actively involved in productive activity. RET must, simultaneously, systematically expand national production to give effect to the Freedom Charter’s principle for everyone to have access to productive work from which they can lead a decent life. The SACP seems to want to have its cake and eat it.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan

In July the SACP is having a national conference where it will decide on the way forward and the stance it is to  adopt in regard to the alliance with the ANC and whether it will ‘go it alone’ in the 2019 national elections. You can bet the ministers won’t want to walk out of cabinet. The defiance will be stillborn. Nevertheless, the level of factionalism, back-stabbing and ideological non-coherence in the ANC alliance has reached unprecedented levels, meanwhile. Cronin called the ANC Youth League “opportunists” who now “all of a sudden” jump on to the bandwagon about banks and collusion “something we have been championing since the early 2000s”. The SACP had never had any support from the ANC Youth League in the past, he complained. This is all intriguing politics and a great window into the shambles that is the ANC alliance at present.

The SACP backs Gordhan because there is fiscal consolidation “and while we as communists might not agree with it… we also live in the real world”. So said Cronin. But the rest of government was dropping the fiscal ball – the social development department  over social grants, the SA Revenue Service over revenue collection.

That is all quite puzzling, but the SACP also seems to be ideologically at sea. Perhaps it is because the Economic Freedom Fighters have pretty much stolen their socialist ideological platform. Oddly, however, those who support prudent fiscal management – and believe that Gordhan is still ‘holding the line’ on it – have the SACP to thank for adding some ballast to the campaign to keep Gordhan in office. Politics, is indeed, a strange animal.

  • Donwald Pressly is editor of Cape Messenger
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