The Struggle of Memory against Forgetting: How the SACP Has Become a Vanguard of ANC Power Factionalism

By Dale T. McKinley · 10 Sep 2012

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If ever we needed to be reminded of Milan Kundera’s famous axiom that, "the struggle … against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting", then it is in respect of the post-apartheid history of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Why? Because it is a history that shows us, in so many different ways, how and why the SACP has gradually but systematically become a vanguard of ANC factionalist politics as opposed to its self-proclaimed role as an independent, progressive force representing and leading the ‘national democratic, anti-capitalist struggle’ of the working class.

Have we forgotten how after Chris Hani’s assassination in 1993, much of the SACP leadership rushed to embrace the very politics and perks of new governmental power that Hani had so clearly warned against and then vigorously helped implement the anti-working class policies that the SACP purported to oppose? Or what about the SACP’s 1998 Congress, when the newly elected leadership (which included the still incumbent Blade Nzimande as General Secretary and Jeremy Cronin as Deputy General Secretary) cut insider deals with ANC leaders that killed off any stated desire that the majority of the SACP membership had for a clear political and organisational independence from the ANC?

Have we forgotten how over the last decade or so, the SACP has gotten rid of and/or marginalised all of its critically-minded intellectuals and leader-activists who dared stand up for a working class politics independent of the ANC’s deracialised capitalism and speak out against the increasing centralisation of power by the party’s national leadership as well as the budding cult of personality around its General Secretary? And, how this ‘radical and progressive’ party whose constitutional ‘guiding principals’ include combatting ‘tribalism, sex discrimination, regionalism, chauvinism and all forms of narrow nationalism’ gave its full political and organisational backing to and then joyously celebrated (as a ‘victory for the working class and all progressive forces’), the rise to power of an ANC leader – Jacob Zuma – who has consistently embraced homophobic, misogynist, chauvinistic national-regional, ethnically-oriented and anti-worker ideas and practices?

Have we forgotten how a few years back, in direct violation of the party’s own Constitution which stated that the General Secretary must be a full-time employee of the SACP, Nzimande accepted his appointment as a Minister in Zuma’s Cabinet and then, over time, managed to out-manoeuvre any opposition such that the SACP’s Constitution was changed accordingly at the recently held 13th National Congress?  And how, no sooner had Nzimande settled into his Ministerial position with a salary package in excess of R2million per annum (now also enjoyed by the six other SACP leaders who occupy Ministerial positions) than he authorised the use of over R1million of public money to purchase a luxury vehicle for himself whilst simultaneously berating others in the ANC, in the corporate sector and South African society as a whole for being “out of touch with the workers and poor” as well as engaging in ‘excessive, conspicuous consumption’?

Have we forgotten the increasingly close organisational, ideological and ‘business’ ties that the SACP has developed over the last several years with the Communist Party of China, a party which provides ‘world class’ examples of political authoritarianism, corrupt bureaucratism and commandist capitalism masquerading as socialism, whilst the SACP simultaneously preaches on about anti-capitalism, workers’ rights, freedom of expression and the contemporary building of socialism in South Africa? Or, how the SACP always has a lot to say about tenderpreneurs and the need for accountability and transparency of public representatives/institutions as well as non-governmental organisations but consistently refuses to entertain any discussion of the extent to which its own members - who are ANC politicians and government officials - are caught up in corruption and mismanagement or to divulge the party’s own sources of funding and support, domestic and foreign?

Have we forgotten how earlier this year the SACP launched a scathing public attack on the ‘independence, impartiality and dignity’ of the Public Protector for (horror of all horrors) attending a Women’s Day event organised by an opposition political party while it has remained completely silent in the face of countless examples of Chapter Nine institutions and officials unabashed toenadering with and political support of, the ANC and more specifically with the Zuma faction? And, what about the SACP’s labelling of all those opposing the Zuma-securocrat backed Protection of State Information Bill (aka the ‘Secrecy Bill’) as ‘anti-majoritarian liberals’ controlled by ‘foreigners’ in a domestic and global context in which the anti-whistleblower and securitised cover-up measures contained in the Bill flow from the very (foreign-based) elitist, neo-liberal and imperialist sources that the SACP purports to oppose in the name of the working class?

Have we forgotten that in its 2012 May Day message, the SACP (as it has for years on end now) called for a ‘focus on the organisation of vulnerable workers’ as part of ‘strengthening’ trade unions ‘in the workplace’’ and yet when it finally came out with more than a cursory public response to the Marikana Massacre last month, it was predominately aimed at delegitimising those union and community ‘actors’ (not associated with the Alliance and/or government) who had actually organised and assisted vulnerable workers?  And, if that wasn’t hypocritical enough in the context of the factional, blame-pointing post Massacre environment, then how about the SACP’s parallel call for ‘a united and effective trade union movement linked to local progressive civic structures’?

Have we forgotten that even though the SACP bases its entire political programme on ‘leading a defence of the national democratic revolution’ through ‘being at the centre of state power’ and thus providing the best possible means for ‘advancing the interests of the poor and working class’, the practical results of its more recent co-governance of the state with Zuma’s ANC faction has seen worsening inequality, intensified social conflict, seriously compromised public educational and health systems, a militarised police service and a crisis-ridden local government? Or what of the oceanic gap between the SACP’s professed embrace and pursuit of ‘unity’ amongst the ‘forces of liberation’ (read: the tri-partite Alliance) and the ever-widening reality of utter disunity and open factional conflict, increasingly waged with the weapons of state power, patronage and positionality, all of which the SACP ‘possesses’ more of than ever before? 

While Nzimande, Cronin and the rest of the SACP will no doubt be apoplectic at this exercise in memory ‘recovery’ they would do well not to forget one thing in particular: that those with/in power in our contemporary capitalist-dominated world, no matter how long their history of struggle or how politically and organisationally mature they think they are, can never hope to speak for and represent the poor and working class, let alone lead an anti-capitalist revolution, as long as that power continues to reside predominately with a self-proclaimed vanguard and not with the majority to whom it belongs.

Dr. McKinley is an independent writer, researcher and lecturer as well as political activist.

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Sizwe Verified user
10 Sep

Anti-Communism is Counterproductive

Dear Dr McKinley,

Never in the course of history has anti-communism made any positive or productive contributions towards the enhancement of progressive movements.

Communists are human beings. As such, they make mistakes, they may even follow faulty political roads at times. History is full of examples. It is and always has been the manner of progressive activists to criticise their communist co-travellers in a comradely way, without giving out free ammunition to the other side, the political and class opponents.

The tenor of your article, with all due respect, is welcome wind in the sails that drive the ship of the rightwing neo-liberal opposition in this country. Your words go with the same tune sung by those who use leftist language but have their own little agendas and try to build their own little kingdoms.

I'm for critical observartions of communist policies, but I'm against anti-communist base lines, be they clad in right or left wing language.
Anti-communism, said the great German novelist Thomas Mann, was the "biggest folly of the twentieth century". The traumatic experience of fascism and war made him say this truth. And Thomas Mann was by no means a communist or socialist. He was a democratic citizen with decency.


Respond to this comment

11 Sep

Anti-SACP Does Not Equal Anti-Communism

No genuine communist could hold the SACP in anything other than absolute contempt.

Sizwe Verified user
11 Sep


A genuine communist? Who decides who is a genuine communist and who is not? This reminds me of the times when certain party functionaries labelled comrades in a similar way. Sad, sad state of affairs.

12 Sep

Marikana Was the End of the SACP's Credibility on the International Left

Sizwe seems to be rather out of touch with contemporary realities. The response of the SACP to the Marikana massacre has made it a pariah on the internation left. Sectarianism is one thing. Appeasment is another. Pretending that a party that justifies the massacre of striking workers is 'communist' is appeasement.