Political Analysis

Red Trojan horse in the ANC’s policy room?

Has SACP hi-jacked the NDP?
SACP house.jpg

Against a background of mounting economic pressures on every front and with talk of “radical economic transformation” thick in the air, President Jacob Zuma last week practically disappeared ahead of his all-important state of the nation address. As the country waits for him to reveal the course ahead, the question arises whether it will indeed be Zuma talking, and if it is, how much weight it will carry?

The manner in which Zuma’s sudden “sick leave” was imposed on him by Luthuli House and some other developments may be cause for further investigation. While the possible significance of these developments has largely been missed by the media and most commentators, it did trigger some concerned speculation in certain political quarters.

First it was said Zuma had to rest in order that he could attend the all important cabinet lekgotla, where his State of the Nation address (SONA) would collectively be prepared by the cabinet under his guidance, as is usual. Then came the news that he would miss the lekgotla as well as a Youth Day function in order to prepare his address at home, which is not usual.

So just who exactly is writing that speech?

The SONA comes as South Africa teeters on the verge of a recession, with economic data showing how badly the marathon platinum strike has impacted on growth and compounding the country’s trade deficit. And two major credit rating agencies down-graded their view of South Africa’s prospects.

While government ministers continuously give assurances that the National Development Plan (NDP) will be implemented, leaders in both government and the ruling Alliance led by the ANC simultaneously stress the imminence of “radical economic transformation”. But the way these two concepts are being articulated makes them largely incompatible. So how will Zuma balance these out?

Most observers were expecting Zuma to provide clarity on the way forward in his state of the nation address, moved forward, apparently at his request. Zuma delivers his address on Tuesday. Parliament debates it during the following two days and the president will shortly thereafter “disappear” again to attend the African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea on 25 and 26 June – the reason given for moving forward the address.

The Constitution requires the deputy president to stand in for the president when he is unavailable and to assist him with his duties. And indeed Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is officially standing in for Zuma. He chaired the cabinet lekgotla and attended the 16 June function on Zuma’s behalf.

Always at his side is Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, who seems to be de facto in charge in Zuma’s absence. In fact, Radebe has become the most powerful member of the cabinet after Zuma with ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, the most powerful person in Luthuli House, ANC headquarters.

During the last two weeks Mantashe has been issuing all-important statements on behalf of government and even parliament, clearly overstepping the line that is supposed to separate political party from state, without batting an eye.

SACP prominence

Both Radebe and Mantashe happen to be central committee members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Senior members of the SACP have also been issuing most of the statements on both government and ANC economic policies since the elections.

This is significant considering to what extent SACP members – some of them also trade unionists – feature in the new Zuma-cabinet, especially in the economic cluster, and in other key positions, without the party ever having participated in a general election under its own banner.

While Radebe is in charge of the government’s implementation of the NDP, other key positions filled by prominent communists include:

Trade and 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 Deputy Minister – Jeremy Cronin,

Justice and Correctional Services Deputy Minister – Thabang Makwetla;

Mineral Resources Deputy Minister – Godfrey Oliphant; and

National Planning and Monitoring Deputy Minister in the Presidency – Buti Manamela.

Jointly they represent 11, or over 50%, of the 19 ministries that usually make up the Cabinet Committee for the Economic Sectors, Employment and Infrastructure Development, better known as “the economic cluster”.

There are also a number of ministers and deputy ministers – some also within the economic cluster – who come from a trade union background within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Many trade union leaders are also SACP members.

In addition the deputy chairman of the National Council of Provinces Papi Tau, the new chairman of parliament's standing committee on finance Yunus Carrim, and Public Works portfolio committee chairman Ben Martins, are all also leading communists. The finance committee headed by Carrim is responsible for overseeing government adherence to the national budget, the running of the Treasury and the SA Revenue Service.

With so many communists in key positions, especially in respect of the economic terrain, and lately acting as if they are dictating the economic policy direction, especially since the general election, and with communists taking overall charge of things during Zuma’s enforced leave, it inevitably raises the question: who is in charge?

Is the SACP emerging from its red Trojan horse to take control and lead a socialist revolution?

SACP history

The SACP is one of the oldest Communist parties in the world. It once also was one of the most slavishly Stalinist parties, remnants of which are sometimes arguably still discernable in its activities. Ironically it was formed in 1921 to help protect white job reservation on the mines before being forced to ‘Africanise’ by the Comintern in 1924.

Its basic ideological tenet revolves around the two-phased revolution, namely first the achievement of the national democratic revolution (NDR), followed by a socialist revolution. It has fashioned itself the “vanguard party of the workers” electing to piggyback on the much larger and popular ANC. Had it functioned on its own and fought elections, it would probably have disappeared for lack of support.

In this parasitical fashion it has always functioned as a somewhat invisible intellectual core in the ANC. Its doctrine determines that it should play this role within the ANC until the latter has achieved the NDR, after which the SACP will lead the transition to socialism.

The ANC has always endorsed the NDR in its Strategy & Tactics document, the party’s guiding document, reviewed and sometimes adjusted at each national conference.

In an ANC discussion document titled Tasks of the NDR and the Mobilisation of the Motive Forces, drafted at the ANC General Council in 2000, it calls the 1994 transition to democracy “a historic  breakthrough” that accomplished a “qualitative element of the National Democratic Revolution” but marked only a “strategic shift”. Citing the 1997 ANC Strategy & Tactics, it then listed a number of further tasks, the most pertinent of which was economic transformation.

In a recent article in Rapportthe CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), Frans Cronjé, wrote that the “red danger” is in charge and that it looked as if “the SACP won the elections”. He quoted research by an SAIRR intern, Yolanda Andrag, showing “more than 40% of the cabinet posts were given to current or former SACP members”.

The SACP members “sit quietly behind the throne with immense influence on the direction of thinking in the ANC”. The communists have long been the “engine of ideas” in the ANC, Cronjé wrote.

Status of the NDP

Commenting on last week’s credit ratings announcements BNP Paribas economist Jeffrey Schultz said: “We are increasingly nervous about the reviews, in light of the deterioration in domestic labour relations, the worsening real economic outlook and the composition of the new Cabinet” (our italics).

Against this background the fate of the NDP, which has been widely hailed as a blueprint for lifting South Africa onto a higher growth path, hangs in the balance.

Responding to the credit ratings announcements last week, the National Treasury – now headed by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, a non-communist – in a statementsaid “government is alive to the growth challenges South Africa faces” and that it “has therefore, prioritised the accelerated implementation of the National Development Plan, with reforms that are aimed at unlocking South Africa’s growth potential”.

But to ascertain where this and other economic policy documents and statements of the ANC and government stand at this point in time, it is necessary to go back somewhat and trace their recent history, as well to who was, and is, saying what.

In February 2012, after amendments made by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), Version 7 of of the ANC discussion document ‘The Second Transition - Building a national democratic society’ drafted for the ANC’s policy and national conferences in 2012, the ANC proposed as “key strategic terrains of struggle and transformation” the building of a democratic developmental state, transforming the economy, ideological work and the battle of ideas, social transformation, international work and mass mobilisation and organisation.

However, naming this process the “second transition”, soon elicited much debate and opposition from especially the left wing of the governing alliande – the SACP and COSATU.

At the ANC’s national conference in December 2012 it was consequently formally adopted as the “second phase” of the transition or NDR, placing it more securely in line with the dictates of Strategy & Tactics 2012 (and previous versions) and the SACP’s doctrine of a two-staged revolution.

Although demands for radical economic transformation have long been part of the SACP/COSATU lexicon, the phrase made a strong appearance during 2012, now also articulated increasingly by alliance leaders wearing their ANC hats.

As the FW de Klerk Foundation pointed out in an articleafter Zuma’s inauguration last month, the “second phase” of the transition involving the implementation of radical socio-economic transformation policies and programmes again surfaced in March 2012 when Radebe, the long time ANC Head of Policy, presented the party’s policy proposals in the run-up to the 2012 Policy Conference.

Among others, in December 2012 it was again articulated as part of the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics document and in resolutions that were adopted. And in his second inaugural speech last month President Zuma stated that “today marks the beginning of the second phase of our transition from apartheid to a national democratic society” and that it “will involve the implementation of radical socio-economic transformation policies and programmes over the next five years”.

Tellingly, both Radebe and Zuma asserted that compromises made during constitutional negotiations in the early 1990s to facilitate the political transition to democracy could now be done away with.

They claimed the balance of forces had changed sufficiently to allow the ANC to proceed with the second part of the transition – the economic phase – without those compromises.

This also confirmed the view in various earlier ANC documents that the 1994 transition to democracy was only a partial victory for the ANC that accomplished a “qualitative element of the National Democratic Revolution” but marked only a “strategic shift”, and that further transformation of particularly the economy had yet to be achieved.

At the same time President Zuma again stated that the NDP provided government’s strategic vision, or “our road map which outlines the type of society we envisage by the year 2030”.

The NDP was produced by the National Planning Commission (NPC), an advisory body appointed by President Zuma in May 2010 and consisting of 26 people drawn largely from outside government.

The NPC’s chairman was the respected National Planning Minister and former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel. The NPC released its Diagnostic Report in June 2011, and in November 2011 released its draft NDP.

After further inputs, discussions and changes, the ANC adopted the NDP at its national conference in December 2012 and it officially became part of the government’s economic policy repertoire.

While the far left elements in the governing alliance, like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), immediately rejected the NDP in its totality, the SACP and COSATU more cautiously only rejected or questioned most of the clauses of the NDP dealing with economic issues. They wanted more deliberation and clarification.

In May 2013 the SACP published a discussion document on the plan, while COSATU also released its views. At an alliance summit at the end of August 2013 the three alliance partners agreed there were substantial differences among them about the NDP and appointed a joint task team to address these issues.

That process is supposedly continuing although no further statements about its work have been forthcoming.

In a surprise move, however, and despite their earlier objections to the NDP, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini both stated their support for the NDP when the ANC launched its election manifesto in January this year.

Nonetheless, a joint statement issued in April by COSATU and the SACP said they would press for a new income or wage policy. This may include a national minimum wage; a comprehensive social security system; aligning the mandate of Treasury and the Reserve Bank to the agenda of a “radical economic transformation; state intervention including strategic nationalisation to attend to the property question; measures to ensure beneficiation including tax measures on mineral exports; channelling of retirement funds towards productive investment; comprehensive land reform; and further engage the NDP to support radical economic transformation” (our italics).

Back in 2007 already, when the SACP adopted its programme "The South African Road to Socialism" it advocated a “working-class led programme of radical political and socio-economic transformation inspired by the Freedom Charter” that also included much of the above. Much of this is also included in recent legislative moves introduced by the government.

Nonetheless, for his part Zuma promised prior to the elections that the second-phase “radical economic transformation” would be implemented after the elections, while the ANC seemed to be downplaying the NDP in its election campaign.

However, immediately after the elections Zuma and others started emphasising both the imminent implementation of the NDP and radical economic transformation without any clarification of what exactly was meant.

At the same time that the government has adopted and propagated the implementation of the NDP, it has gone directly against its tone and aims by introducing laws that the Financial Mail has called government’s biggest assault on business to date.

Among these and other controversial laws and measures have been government attempts to strengthen race-based affirmative action; stronger black economic empowerment measures; the cancellation of investment treaties with a number of Western countries; draft legislation that will allow the state to effectively expropriate property without compensation or with state-determined compensation; measures to extend and accelerate land redistribution including no compensation and forcing farmers to hand over ownership of 50% of their land to workers; and draft legislation that effectively will lead to direct state intervention in the security and oil and gas industries, among others.

Since the general election the ANC’s alliance partners have again become more openly critical of the NDP as a vehicle for radical economic transformation. On 2 June the reinstated COSATU secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi told the SABC in an interview that the envisioned radical transformation of the economy cannot be realised through the NDP as it was flawed. Admittedly Vavi may represent a far left and anti-Zuma view in COSATU.

SACP effectively claim victory

However, ten days later, on 11 June, it was claimed that leaders from the ANC’s alliance partners had criticised and rejected the NDP at an ANC NEC lekgotla. SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo was reported as saying, despite having declined to comment on the lekgotla’s discussions, that the “NDP’s economic chapter lacks strategies for a radical socio-economic transformation”.

In a 25 May statement congratulating President Zuma on his choice of cabinet ministers, the SACP said: “The fifth democratic administration must drive policies for a radical second phase of our transition. In particular the administration must drive radical socio-economic transformation and development. This is incompatible with neoliberalism. The SACP therefore says, one of the critical conditions for our second radical phase of democratic transition to succeed is to do away with all the remnants of neoliberalism in our state”.

This could be interpreted as a reference to the NDP and the person the SACP considers to be its main author, Trevor Manuel, whom the SACP and others on the left have long criticised along with former President Thabo Mbeki as being the architects of neoliberal policies for South Africa in what they have dubbed the “class project of 1996”.

On 6 June at a trade union congress in Boksburg, SACP secretary general, Nzimande, followed this up with: “The bottom line is that the ANC-led alliance has won the fifth general election with an overwhelming vote of confidence and majority. This victory is a decisive popular mandate to advance boldly with a second, more radical phase of the democratic transformation of our country.”

Displaying a hard-core communist ideological approach, Nzimande went on to say: “For the SACP, the content of the second, more radical phase of our transition must be understood in the context of the dialectical relationship between the national democratic revolution and socialism.

“This means advancing, deepening, defending and taking responsibility for the national democratic revolution as a foundation for and as the most direct route to building socialism in the concrete conditions of our country. Conversely, this means intensifying the struggle, building momentum towards, capacity for and elements of socialism as the most consistent means for advancing, deepening, defending and taking responsibility for the national democratic revolution. These two dimensions of our Party`s long-standing strategic perspective, the national democratic and the socialist revolution, are not contradictory but mutually reinforcing.

“In the period preceding the ANC's 52nd National Conference there was an intensive and extensive debate about the national democratic revolution. In combat with revisionism, which sought to disconnect the perspective of the national democratic revolution from its roots in the struggle for socialism, it was the SACP and Cosatu that correctly argued that the national democratic revolution had to be radical, radicalised and radicalising. Today this correct perspective is shared by our entire alliance. This perspective is now at the centre of the programme of our government, the fifth democratically elected administration (our italics).”

He also claimed that President Zuma “unambiguously announced a radical new turn as the key priority of his second presidential term”, and that “... structural features that must be transformed include the fact that our economy is still semi-colonial, relying more on mining rather than manufacturing and other services.”

Not once since the general election has this view and such statements – in this instance by a senior member of Zuma’s cabinet – been refuted or contradicted by President Zuma or the ANC.

There are numerous other examples of left wing alliance leaders – and communist members of Zuma’s government – pronouncing on South Africa’s envisaged future economic transformation. In contrast more centrist moderates as well as Zuma himself have been very quiet.

Confusion on government’s intensions

There are two more government documents that supposedly must underpin “radical economic transformation” and further confuse the issue of what exactly government sees as its economic mandate.

These are the New Growth Path (NGP) produced by the Department of Economic Development under its communist minister, Ebrahim Patel, and the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) produced by the Department of Trade and Industry under its communist minister Rob Davies.

Both contain similar language to what is being articulated by the left wing proponents of “radical economic transformation” – far more so than the NDP which they seem to contradict to some extent. After Zuma’s recent inauguration the left wing argued for the NDP to be “aligned” with these two documents and the envisaged radical transformation.

In a recent opinion piece Ray Hartley, editor-at-large for Times Media, asserted that “all of this means that Zuma's ‘radical phase of socioeconomic transformation’ is likely to mean a growing role for the state in the economy and more regulation of business. The NDP will be stripped of its demand for entrepreneurship and an end to cronyism in favour of those parts of it that can be made to conform with this statist agenda”.

Of course there are a number of other theories and possible explanations for the current puzzling developments in and around Zuma and the ANC.

One is that Zuma simply was tired and possibly in poor health after the elections and was forced to rest before bouncing back today with a speech that will not only shed light on the many hitherto unanswered questions, but will clearly plot the economic course going forward.

Another holds that we are soon to see the emergence of Ramaphosa as “the next leader” in terms of a compact agreed upon within the alliance around 1994.

A long-standing source, with sound insight into the inner workings of the ANC and the alliance, recalls how a compact was reached within the “alliance collective’ at the time when Nelson Mandela’s wish to appoint Ramaphosa as his deputy was overruled.

According to our source it was agreed that Mandela would head the first administration representing the Robben Island political prisoners generation; next would be Thabo Mbeki representing the exiles; then Zuma, representing the underground and Umkhonto we Sizwe; and finally Ramaphosa’s representing the United Democratic Front and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) of the 1980s and 1990s.

He expects that Zuma will increasingly have “health problems” until his early retirement due “to poor health” is announced, and Ramaphosa installed.

Some of it makes sense as Ramaphosa was credited with leading the biggest labour unrest in South Africa in the late 1980s that helped bring down the apartheid system; he was also frequently re-elected to the ANC NEC as one of the most popular candidates; he was a senior leader in the MDM; he was the man in charge of receiving Mandela upon his release from prison; he was Mandela’s first choice as successor; and when Mbeki became president instead of Ramaphosa, the latter said the ANC had redeployed him to the world of business, where he quickly amassed a fortune. Then he was recalled to the political centre stage in 2012 to counter an attempt by then deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to oppose Zuma for a second term as ANC president.

Clearly this compact thus far has not played exactly as foreseen. First Zuma dislodged Mbeki before he completed his term and then there was the attempt to replace Zuma with Motlanthe.

Ramaphosa might also be challenged by the fact that he no longer has a power base in the ANC or the Alliance. After his alleged role in the Marikana tragedy, sections of labour is suspicious of him and he is viewed as one of the small elite group of black economic empowerment beneficiaries.

Ramaphosa does not seem to have the support of the SACP or COSATU and is not a member of the SACP, although he has in the past claimed to be a committed socialist.

For now it seems at best Ramaphosa may become a transitional 'interim' president if Zuma should depart prematurely, similar to what happened with Mothlanthe’s role after Mbeki’s departure.

There is very little doubt that at present the two most powerful political figures in South Africa – aside from Zuma – are Mantashe and Radebe. There is also little doubt that the Communist Party finds itself entrenched in government in the strongest position it has ever been.

It is against this background that Zuma’s SONA should be scrutinised and analysed for some indications of who is really in charge, and what economic direction South Africa will most likely be taking. 

by Stef Terblanche

(Stef Terblanche is an independent political analyst and journalist based in Cape Town. He specialises in Southern African politics, labour relations, business en economic issues, but has also written extensively about many other topics. He writes for various media and provides services to corporate and institutional clients. He is a regular contributor to The Intelligence Bulletin)

Reference Sources:

Interviews & various own research.

The Intelligence Bulletin - June 8 & May 30, 2014

ANC Strategy & Tactics 1997.

ANC Strategy & Tactics 2012.

ANC General Council Discussion Document, July 2000.

ANC policy discussion document "The Second Transition - Building a national democratic society and the balance of forces in 2012" – February 2012.

SACP discussion document – "Let's Not Monumentalise The National Development Plan" – May 2013.

The SACP`s Programme of action to advance the goals of "The South African Road to Socialism" – July 2007.

“South African Road to Socialism” - adopted at SACP 13th National Congress, July 2012.

TimesLIVE 13 June 2014 – “Rejects land in the butter”.

Rapport – “Die rooi gevaar is terug (of was hy ooit weg?)” – 31 May 2014.

South African Communist Party (SACP), O'Malley archives, Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly – “Govt committed to maintaining fiscal sustainability – Treasury” – 13 June 2014.

Media releases – National Treasury – 11 & 13 June 2014.

FW de Klerk Foundation – Article: President Zuma’s Second Inaugural Address – May 2014.

Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of his inauguration as fifth president of the Republic of South Africa – Issued by The Presidency, 24 May 2014.

Executive Summary & National Development Plan – November 2011.

Business Day - National plan falls foul of ANC’s partners – 12 June 2013.

ANC/SACP/COSATU Alliance Summit Declaration – 1 September 2013.

The Intelligence Bulletin - South African election year promises a rough ride – 13 January 2014.

Joint SACP-COSATU Bilateral statement: "A call on the working class to close ranks" – 16 April 2014.

SACP Statement on President Zuma’s cabinet announcement – 25 May 2014.

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