What is the source of the tension between the SACP and Cosatu?
LAST week, as the Boeremag accused stood in court, the South African Communist Party celebrated its 91 anniversary.
In a tiny office at the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ plush Braamfontein office, the top brass of the party and its allies gathered with a handful of journalists and office staff for a cake-cutting ceremony — careful not to eat cake and down champagne before the masses.
Long-serving general secretary Blade Nzimande took centre stage, flanked by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and newly appointed SACP chairman, along with National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana.
It got me thinking: what is the source of the tension between the SACP and Cosatu? Dlamini gushed over the communist party, praising it as “our closest ally” at one point, I imagined him turning to Nzimande on his right and kissing his hand. It was the stuff of romantic fiction. “The party has indeed matured.”
And then he dropped a bombshell that even I did not expect. “We are happy with the restructuring in terms of leadership deployment, it is not an issue any more,” he said.
Now, the “deployment”, in comrade-speak, of the general secretary to the cabinet — Nzimande is also the country's higher education minister — had weakened the SACP, Cosatu felt. It was adamant about its desire to see the general secretary of its vanguard party serve the SACP on a full-time basis.
I began asking myself: is this a Cosatu decision? The federation's stance on a full-time general secretary had miraculously morphed before my eyes — I had missed something. Had a meeting of Cosatu's highest decision-making body between congresses, the central executive committee, taken a decision to back down and accept the party amending its constitution to suit Nzimande for the umpteenth time?
No. Last I checked, the official Cosatu position was for the general secretary to fulfil the role on a full-time basis, so Dlamini had taken it upon himself to endorse the SACP's decision to appoint an ... er ... third general secretary to “strengthen” the party.
And this, dear reader, is how Cosatu's strength and standing in the alliance is being diluted. Dlamini sits on the central committee of the SACP, as do senior leaders of the heavyweight Cosatu affiliates. Insiders say these comrades try to water down resolutions taken at Cosatu central executive committee meetings, leading to constant running battles between those who are torn between loyalty to the two organisations and those who view an independent Cosatu as a strong one.
But wait. Is it really wrong for Cosatu to be influenced by the SACP, the “vanguard of the working class”, the only party able to lead South Africa to socialism, the light amid the onslaught and darkness thrust upon the world, the continent and the country by the global capitalist crisis? No, ideologically it’s not a sin.
However, is this really the ideological position the SACP is actively pursuing? ANC secretary Gwede Mantashe inadvertently answered that very question as he spoke before joining the party in jointly thrusting a knife into a massive sponge cake, decked in red icing and bad spelling.
Mantashe is fascinating to listen to at the best of times; some even find his gravelly monotone soothing. In the midst of a tirade on the failure of academics to grasp the complexity of 2012 South African society, he alluded to a comment by Barney Pityana, who charged that the SACP was no more than a lobby group. He then went on to detail the great leaders of the party who emerged as great leaders of the ANC and therefore urged the SACP never to be ashamed of being a lobby group.
This is what the SACP is today, a lobby group, at least in relation to Cosatu. Now the SACP-aligned group of unionists are seeking to influence one of their own to take on federation general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. This is obviously an attempt to win Cosatu over to support President Jacob Zuma for a second term.
Nzimande is sometimes jokingly described as Zuma's chief lobbyist. He makes no apology or secret of his affection for the president and is influencing Cosatu leaders in his leadership collective to effect change and deliver a more pliant Cosatu to the ANC and Zuma. This is by no means new, but it is a confirmation of both Pityana and Mantashe's assessment that the party is nothing more than a lobby group.
And its reward? Well, Nzimande is a Cabinet minister and reportedly has his sights set on joining Zuma in the Presidency as his deputy. But what of Cosatu — which in recent years has cemented its role as the conscience of the ANC? I shudder to contemplate.
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