Questioning the ANC ‘alliance’

Paul Trewhela asks why the SACP feels obliged to conceal itself with the ruling party.

There is a serious and legitimate question as to whether the African National Congress should continue to permit the South African Communist Party to exist as a separate political entity within itself.

There are very strong arguments that thfis was valid and indispensable in the fight to overthrow such a tough, ruthless and well positioned regime as the old apartheid order, and during the infancy of ANC government. But this is not the same as to argue that this relationship should continue indefinitely.

Members of the ANC refer to the relationship between the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu as an Alliance”, the “Tripartite Alliance”. But this is a misnomer. An alliance, or friendship, exists between formally and actually equal partners, each acting freely and independently. In this way, the war against Nazi domination of Europe and its threat of world domination between December 1941 and the overthrow of the Hitler regime in 1945 was described as having been fought between “the Allies”, which comprised Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. This was a real alliance.

It existed for a specific, short-term, highly focused but limited purpose. The separate political and military integrity of each of the partners to this real alliance was open and transparent at every stage in the alliance, up to its dissolution. It received open expression at conferences at Tehran and Yalta attended by the most senior political leader of each party to the alliance.

The present ANC Alliance is a misnomer, because despite South Africa being a constitutional state in which government goes to the party with the largest number of members of Parliament elected in a general election, one of the political parties to this alliance hides itself at election time. The SACP has never presented itself to the electors in South Africa as itself. It lacks independent political integrity, since voters are not permitted to see clearly in what ways the programmes of the ANC and the SACP are the same and in what ways they differ.

If these programmes were the same, why then does the SACP not dissolve itself into the ANC, or the ANC dissolve itself into the SACP? Why the need for two parties, unless there are real differences? And since there clearly are real differences between these two parties, why should these not be made plain to voters in the most important democratic event in the political life of a country, a general election? If the struggle of the ANC against the apartheid regime was not for democracy, and for properly democratic elections, then what was it for?

As it is, in a general election the SACP remains concealed to the bulk of ANC voters. This lack of candour and transparency obscures real differences and serves to treat the electorate as unworthy of plain speaking and clear thinking. Voters are not permitted to know exactly who or what they are voting for. Both the ANC and the SACP present themselves to voters, instead, as parties with a double agenda.

The voters vote ANC and they get SACP. This is to treat the voters of South Africa, and especially its black voters, with almost as much contempt as the apartheid regime. It is to suggest that the century-long struggle for the vote is not yet over, and that a real problem preventing the vote from being a real vote lies in the misnomer of the ANC-SACP “Alliance”.

In its reluctance to present itself to voters as a separate Party, the SACP treats the ANC as a successful “brand” which it promotes, but in which it conceals itself, a matter with which the ANC colludes by concealing the concealment. This is not strictly a political alliance at all, and it involves a significant degree of political manipulation of the electorate. Words and deeds do not correspond. The electorate is not told the truth. Bad faith reigns, and with bad faith…political thuggery and the threat of violence.

A very significant change of terminology took place in the ANC during the course of its existence as a banned and illegal political organisation, in the three decades between 1960 and 1990. Up to the time of the banning of the ANC in 1960, the term “the Congress Alliance” referred principally to the alliance between four racially separate bodies: the ANC (representing black Africans only) as the most senior party, allied to the South African Indian Congress (formed out of the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses), the small Coloured People’s Congress and the Congress of Democrats, a small all-white organisation providing a legal means of political activity until it was banned in 1962 mainly to white members of the then illegal and banned SACP. This was a real alliance, in which the separate organisations openly represented themselves and collaborated on commmon matters, acting together on a common standpoint.

There was an implied relation of the illegal SACP to all four legal bodies, since its members – who could not legally represent themselves as members of the Party – carried on open political work as members of the four wings of the still legal Alliance, just as they did in the legal South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu, the forerunner of Cosatu).

Since between 1950 and 1960 the SACP was banned while the four wings of the Congress Alliance were not, the political relationships at that time between all parties concerned were comprehensible. It is a completely different affair when both the SACP and the ANC have been legal since 1990, but the SACP chooses not to represent itself independently before the voters during elections. We have here a relationship bearing comparison with the former Central African Federation (formed out of the former British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi), which was accurately described at the time as being like a partnership between the rider and the horse. The white-ruled state of Southern Rhodesia was clearly the master in this illegitimate and unstable relationship. As Lenin shredly asked about this kind of political relationship: who, whom? Who is driving whom?

In the same way, a Lenin could ask of the SACP and the ANC today: who, whom? Who is driving whom?

The matter becomes all the more acute at the present time because of major changes that have taken place (a) within the ANC, and (b) in the relationship between the SACP and the ANC.

First, the ANC itself. Thinking of the old Congress Alliance, and thinking still more of the Doctors’ Pact of 1947 between Dr AB Xuma (representing the ANC) and Drs Yusuf Dadoo and GM Naicker (representing the Transvaal and Natal Indifan Congresses), the ethnic support for the ANC that existed very widely in 1994 among Indians, Coloureds and even whites has now substantially fallen away. (For the Doctors’ Pact, see here).

This is the meaning in the Western Cape of the loss of Cape Town to the ANC. It signifies that there has been very substantial loss of support for the ANC in the so-called “Coloured” community. In KwaZulu-Natal, this is the meaning also of the very general sense within the so-called “Indian” community that it too has been “marginalised”. (See here). As with the so-called “Coloured” community of the Western Cape, there has been a very substantial fall-off in this community in this crucial element of the former Congress Alliance, the original source – from the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s work in South Africa – of the word “Congress” itself in the name of the ANC.

There is a further matter that is at least as serious for the ANC as this loss of the supporters of its former true Alliance partners. It is the threatened loss of the original purpose of the ANC itself. In the first place, the ANC compromised its own founding tradition when it set in place an electoral law in the Constitution of 1994 which made accountability of MPs to constituents impossible. This permitted the grotesque farce in which the new President of the country was not elected to Parliament as an MP in any election of the people, as I argued on Politicsweb in my Open Letter to Ben Turok MP (see here) and in a letter to The Star published on 30 September.

The second point is at least as serious. The ANC remains the indispensable political forum in South Africa in which the interests of different tribal ethnic groupings among black Africans can be peacefully mediated. The ANC has carried out this function successfully for almost a century, since its foundation as the Native National Congress in 1912. As things stand, and has things have stood for the past century, no other political organisation in the country is or has been able to carry out this prime essential task as successfully as the ANC.

True, there have often been ethnic tensions within the ANC, but these have never before reached the point of an open breach between members of different ethnic groupings within the ANC, or of leading to anything approaching substantial ethnic rioting or, still worse, a low intensity civil war. In the light of events in other African countries even as close as Zimbabwe, this has been no mean achievement.

This heritage of a century is now severely under threat, presenting a tremendous danger. It is obvious that differences between the ruling Zuma grouping and the displaced Mbeki grouping within the ANC rest very largely though not completely on different ethnic home bases of support.

This emerges starkly in the recent article by Mapeete Mohale on Politicsweb (see here), in which figures are given for the relatively bases of support for the Zuma grouping among isiZulu-speakers in KwaZulu-Natal and for the Mbeki grouping among isiXhosa-speakers in the Eastern Cape.

These differing ethnic constituencies are at the base of current discussions about the creation of a secessionist ANC. If fully realised, a split between a mainly Zulu-based ANC and a separate mainly Xhosa-based ANC would invalidate the entire political history of the ANC, and present a crisis to South Africa of previously unheard of dimensions.

A major cause of this crisis involves the relationship between the ANC and the SACP. The SACP was the principal organiser of the democratic “coup” within the ANC at its national conference at Polokwane last December, and has been its prime beneficiary.

In the grim and bloody spirit of the late Harry Gwala as warlord-in-chief of SACP/ANC forces in the low-intensity civil war among isiZulu-speakers in KwaZulu-Natal in the Eighties and early Nineties, the mindset and rhetoric of Stalinist militarism has returned to South Africa at the head of the present SACP-driven ANC.

This is the meaning of the statement issuing from a recent SACP meeting, which has threatened “mass action” to “sabotage” the formation of any new ANC party resting on the general political and ethnic support base of the very substantial Mbeki grouping.

In true Stalinist totalitarian form, the SACP refuses the constitutional right of South African citizens to form the parties of their own choice, while hiding its own political platform inside the clothes of the ANC. The meaning of “mass action” within the lexicon of the SACP and Cosatu is more than clear.

The secretary of the SACP in Limpopo gave an indication of the kind of “mass action” envisaged by the Party when he boasted of the ANC’s success in denying the United Democratic Movement and Pan Africanist Congress any political space in the province. Blade Nzimande, the secretary general of the SACP, then labelled the prospective party as a “right wing splinter group”, the classic method used by the ANC and the SACP in exile in eviscerating the SACP’s rivals for black support. (See here).

The place of the SACP within the ANC under the principle of “dual membership” (discussed in my article on the murder of Tennyson Makiwane, see here) now threatens the undoing of the entire legacy of the ANC in South Africa. There is no way that mass thuggery against the Mbeki grouping within the ANC will not unleash extreme violence, leading potentially to a low intensity civil war focused especially on Zulu- and Xhosa-speakers but destabilising the whole society.

The urgent need is for clarification of South Africa’s constitutional and political relationships. A new electoral law is needed that will permit the accountability of individual MPs to voters, through the setting in place of a constituency-based electoral system for a majority of seats.

Simultaneously with this, the SACP should be required by the ANC to conduct itself as a normal political party seeking political support from the electorate in an open and not in a hidden, covert manner. Any alliance taking place between the ANC and the SACP on this basis would be a true alliance and not a fraud practised by both on the electorate.

The moment of truth for the ANC, and for South Africa, has arrived.


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