Governance Watch

South Africa’s silent socialist revolution – Part 1


The apparent proliferation of communists in key government positions in the Zuma administration, their influence in other government spheres, Zuma himself and a number of recent policy and legislative developments invite the question: is the South African Communist Party (SACP) wielding excessive influence over South Africa’s political direction?

Put differently – is a socialist revolution by stealth already taking place?

Sure, one should be careful to avoid an apartheid-era Rooi Gevaar (Red danger) approach, and consider whether it really matters if senior government members and state related entities are also leading SACP members. The question is whether the SACP is a spent force, parasitically attached to the ANC, or just a kind of political social club in alliance circles without any real influence or power?

Judged by its own political programme and how it has spread its tentacles, it would suggest it is far more than just a social club of when-we Stalinists – legitimately raising questions about just how much influence the SACP has had in recent policy and legislative developments.

Historical relationship

Historically ANC and SACP political programmes were complementary in the aim to stage what was generally termed a two-stage revolution: first an ANC-led National Democratic Revolution (NDR) to be followed by SACP-led transition to full-blown socialism.

In the SACP’s 13th Congress Political Programme 2012-2017, the party reaffirms the goal of using the NDR to defeat capitalism “and the imperial forces that underpin it”. But in a deviation from previously held views, it now says that “socialism is not some second” stage after the completion of the NDR.

“As far as the SACP is concerned, advancing, deepening and defending the NDR will require an increasingly decisive advance towards socialism…” which the party says must be built right now.

The global trend towards greater state intervention in economies following the 2007-2008 financial crisis may have provided the perfect cover for the SACP to advance its objectives in South Africa. It certainly has positioned itself well enough to do this, as it claims in its current programme.

“The SACP supports current moves to construct an active developmental state that drives infrastructural development and leads a coherent and sustainable industrial policy programme (both key programmes of the Zuma administration). Since 1994 the SACP has been a ‘party of governance’ – but not a governing party as such. Tens of thousands of communists have taken up the challenges and responsibilities of governance,” it says.

Relationship with Zuma

Mr Zuma’s ascendency to the presidency boosted the SACP’s position considerably.

It played a pivotal role in the removal of Mr Thabo Mbeki and in replacing him with Zuma.

Out went what the SACP termed Mbeki’s neo-liberal economic policies of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic strategy. In came what has developed into the doctrine of Radical Economic Transformation.

While others who helped Zuma into power, like the ANC Youth League under Julius Malema and a large part of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU), have since abandoned him for a variety of reasons, the SACP remained a staunch supporter, never criticises his leadership, his alleged scandals or his government’s policies.

Both Mr Zuma and Mr Mbeki left the SACP in 1990, but for entirely different reasons. Mbeki’s biographer Mark Gevisser points out in his The Dream Deferred, that as Zuma “became estranged from Mbeki, he would make a point of courting the left in the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance – and particularly the leadership of the Party, which felt marginalised by Mbeki and his new power elite”.

Gevisser further claims that Zuma “went out of his way to distance himself from Mbeki's departure from the Party in 1990. Attending an SACP policy conference in 2000 Zuma made it clear ‘that if some had left the Party for ideological reasons, he was not one of them’. The imputation was clear: while he, Zuma, might have left the Party for strategic reasons, Mbeki did so because he had lost the faith.”

Paul Trewhela, journalist, historian and former communist activist, wrote in a piece published in 2009 that “in the eyes of the SACP, Mbeki's own reversal of ANC economic policy in 1996, through his high-handed replacement of the ANC's previous statist economic Reconstruction and Development Policy (RDP) with the free-market policy of Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), was an act of treason, by which he earned the undying hatred of the Party”.

Mbeki set out to oust the communists from the levers of power and to consolidate the moderate political middle ground, alienating the SACP even further before his eventual downfall at the ANC’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane.

Clearly Zuma has had the opposite relationship with the SACP. If not working directly with the SACP, at the least the party may view him as someone who is or could be instrumental in furthering the party’s own ideological programme.

Some may hold up the National Development Plan (NDP) as proof the communists are not succeeding. But both the NDP and the Radical Economic Transformation doctrine, are wide open to interpretation. A comparative analysis clearly shows that the interpretation of both documents by the SACP, the COSATU and ANC factions aligned to Mr Zuma differs widely from that of other commentators.

The SACP has a significant presence in Mr Zuma’s cabinet and presidency. When he left the SACP for strategic reasons in 1990, he was a member of its Politburo and is believed to still maintain close ties to the party.

He also served on the ANC's powerful Politico-Military Council in exile and headed the feared ANC intelligence department known as iMbokodo whose atrocities triggered a revolt in the ANC’s Angolan camps. Both positions would have been made possible only with the blessing of the SACP.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is not a member of the SACP, but various sources have reported that he has claimed to be a committed socialist, despite paradoxically being a successful business entrepreneur and one of the richest men in South Africa. He did cut his political teeth in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and COSATU, in both of which the SACP has always had much influence and representation.

Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Jeff Radebe, and his deputy minister, Buti Manamela, are both senior Communists. Radebe is a member of the SACP’s central committee (CC) while Manamela is a CC member and the national secretary of the Young Communist League.

The face and voice of the presidency, official spokesman Mac Maharaj, is a former SACP CC member who resigned from this position in 1990, most likely for the same strategic reasons as Zuma.

During the constitutional negotiations Maharaj commanded the underground Operation Vula, aimed at seizing power if the negotiations should fail. In this role he worked closely with Zuma while Radebe was involved in setting up so-called ANC self-defence units in KwaZulu-Natal. The SACP had a hefty hand in all these activities.

Radebe and Manamela are also part of cabinet’s economic cluster. Other ministers and deputy ministers in this key group of ministers who are senior SACP members include:

Trade & Industry Minister Rob Davies;
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel;
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson;
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana;
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande;
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane;
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba;
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi;
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Lechesa Tsenoli;
Public Works Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin;
Mineral Resources Deputy Minister Godfrey Oliphant;
Justice and Correctional Services Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla; and
Economic Development Deputy Minister Madala Masuku

Senior SACP members are also found in top positions in provincial governments, the public service, labour unions, the ANC and more. Many members of the ANC’s national executive committee are also SACP members. Below follows a sample of senior SACP leaders in other top positions (by no means the complete list).

South Africa’s national parliament:

National Council of Provinces chairman Papi Tau;
Chairman of parliament's standing committee on finance Yunus Carrim;
Public works portfolio committee chairman Ben Martins;
Joyce Moloi-Moropa, chairperson of parliament’s communications committee and SACP national treasurer;
Lindelwa Dunjwa, ANC chairman of the parliamentary health committee and SACP CC member; and
Jerry Thibedi, ANC chairperson of the portfolio committee on Rural Development and Land Reform

In the trade union movement:

Sidumo Dlamini, president of COSATU and SACP CC member;
Solly Mapaila, former general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, now fulltime second deputy general secretary of the SACP;
Frans Baleni, general secretary if the National Union of Mineworkers and SACP CC member;
Sheila Barsel, SACP CC member and senior health researcher with the National Union Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU);
Fikile Majola, former NEHAWU general secretary now and ANC MP and SACP CC member; and
Fezeka Loliwe, SADTU vice-president and SACP CC member

In the ANC:

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, SACP CC and Politburo member and former SACP national chairman
Many more members of the ANC national executive committee are SACP members; and
Many SACP members are also members of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus.

In provincial governments:

Phumulo Masualle, SACP CC member and ANC premier of the Eastern Cape;
Joyce Mashamba, SACP CC member and Limpopo MEC for cooperative governance;
George Mashamba, member of Limpopo legislature;
Willies Mchunu, KwaZulu Natal MEC for Transport and Community Safety and SACP CC member;
Nomonde Rasmeni, MEC social development in North West government;
Mandla Makupula Education and Training MEC, Eastern Cape and SACP CC member; and
Tunyiswa Bulelwa, Eastern Cape Legislature deputy speaker and SACP CC member.

In public service positions:

Gwebinkundla Felix Qonde, SACP CC member and director-general higher education and training department;
Jenny Schreiner, chief deputy commissioner Operations and Management Support at Department of Correctional Services and SACP CC member; and
Fiona Tregenna, professor in the Department of Economics and Econometrics at the University of Johannesburg.

(In Part 2 of this analysis next week we will look at recent policy and legislative developments in which the hidden hand of the SACP may have played a significant role as part of the party’s quest to implement socialist transformation in South Africa.)

by Stef Terblanche

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