The South African Communist Party (SACP) could benefit from reading up on the signs of co-dependency — it has started to show the marks of a crisis in its own political identity and its relationship with the ANC.
This year, the SACP marked a decade since it made its 2007 resolution to contest state power. Now, 10 years after that initial decision, it again adopted the same stance.
It did so last week at its 14th national congress, which took place in Boksburg, near Johannesburg.
The difference this time was that the 2017 version was declared a “process resolution”, one that would mandate the central committee to draw up a clear timeline to ensure the decision would be implemented.
Perhaps now would be an opportune moment to list the signs of co-dependency:
- One’s happiness and identity are defined by the other party;
- Difficulty making decisions in a relationship;
- Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself; and
- Lacking trust in yourself.
- The SACP displayed these signs of codependency with the ANC at its congress when it:
- Failed to take an immediate decision on when it would contest elections.
- Affirmed its decision to stay in the alliance, despite recognising its decaying state.
- Insisted on going back to the ANC to report back on its decision to contest elections before beginning its roadmap.
- Hinted that its call to electoral action would probably be determined by which faction emerged victorious from the ANC’s December elective conference.
- During his address at the opening of the congress, general secretary Blade Nzimande said the SACP felt betrayed by President Jacob Zuma. The party had endorsed him to take over from Thabo Mbeki in 2007. Nzimande expressed a breakdown in trust caused by the SACP’s expectations of what the ANC under Zuma’s leadership would achieve, compared with the current grim state of the party.
But the alleged 2007 betrayal by Zuma was not the first the SACP endured at the hands of the ANC. The first betrayal, of an ideological kind, has been in the making since the dawn of democracy. Over 23 years, the ANC has shown itself unable or unwilling to challenge capitalism and neoliberal economic policies head-on.
In the latter part of those 23 years, the SACP has found itself battling to have its ideas on socioeconomic transformation heard. It has also failed to have its warnings on the effect of monopoly capital taken seriously. And it has reached a point of such disillusionment with the ANC that it has called for the leader of the movement to step down.
From the SACP’s own description of the situation, there is little left to be positive about in the ANC-led alliance with the SACP and labour federation Cosatu.
So why is the SACP still there? And what will its role be now that it has failed to take the leap of faith and flex its muscle as a viable political alternative?
Nelson Mandela summed up the long-standing state of ANC-SACP relations when he said: “There will always be those who say that the communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?”
For the ANC, the SACP is good for numbers and legacy — especially at a time when it faces declining support. The SACP, on the other hand, holds on to the political relevance it is afforded by its membership in the alliance. In a healthy situation, a co-dependent relationship can have a give-and-take function. But in the current ANC-SACP partnership, the latter has less and less to give.
The SACP, which was once heralded as being at the centre of thought and ideas in the alliance, left its congress with shallow resolutions on land reform, the Competition Act and gender-based violence.
At some moments during the congress, leaders would declare “socialism is the future” and members would cheer. But beyond that there appeared to be little appetite to discuss policies and ideas on how to deliver South Africa from its dire economic situation or how to practically tackle the triple problems of unemployment, inequality and poverty.
The SACP’s preoccupation, it appeared, was its future in the alliance and whether it would heed the pressing calls by members, who sang at every plenary session: “Siyas’funa istate power [we want state power]”.
In this co-dependent relationship with the ANC, the quest for state power and independence may be compromised by the political relevance some SACP leaders enjoy from their relationship with the ruling party.
Leaders have moved at a snail’s pace since 2007 to act on the original calls for power. Instead, they have continued to bloat their stomachs in feeding off the benefits of power. In February, SACP leaders threatened to resign from the Cabinet if Zuma fired then finance minister Pravin Gordhan. A month later, Zuma effected his Cabinet reshuffle, replacing Gordhan with Malusi Gigaba. No SACP minister resigned.
One of them is Nzimande, who holds the post of minister of higher education. He has served as general secretary of the SACP for 19 years. During his lengthy term of office he supported the Zuma faction in 2007, endorsed a second term for Zuma in 2012 and even shielded the president from criticism over Nkandla.
Despite clear indications at the congress that restless SACP members wanted first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila to take over as general secretary, Nzimande was re-elected unopposed. It was for the sake of stability and continuity that the party said this needed to happen, especially at a time when contesting state power was on the horizon.
Unable to move beyond its relationship with the ANC, recycling old leaders and failing to come up with worthwhile policy ideas, the SACP is at risk of being reduced to playing the role of a lobby group in the alliance.
The party has declared that it will not support any faction ahead of the ANC’s December conference. Yet its warm reception of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and its rejection of Zuma can be interpreted as an early indication that the SACP will again find itself embroiled in factional battles over power. Only this time, it will steer clear of anything linked to Zuma.
The SACP of Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Chris Hani has depleted itself by trying to maintain a co-dependent relationship with the ANC. Will it regain its senses soon enough to save itself from a crashing alliance?