Picture: African News Agency (ANA) – New SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila. Instead of frustrating efforts by the current administration to privatise state-owned enterprises, the SACP seems more ‘concerned about protecting a president who has been caught with his pants down’, says the writer.
By Professor Sipho Seepe
Organisations, just like people, are judged by what they do, and less by what they purport to represent. This is as true about the SACP as it has been true for President Cyril Ramaphosa.
How individuals respond to the ever-changing socio-political landscape defines their character. Sadly, each week is an episode of an unfolding drama of socio-political disintegration.
Journalist Samkele Maseko’s mischievous tweet on July 11, “This weekend marks the end of an era” set minds into speculative overdrive. The tweet followed weeks of unrelenting media focus on the unfolding drama of the Phala Phala “Farmgate” scandal.
The anti-Ramaphosa brigade harboured a faint and forlorn hope that Ramaphosa would do the country a favour by stepping down. But Maseko’s gaze was somewhere else. It was on the stepping down of Blade Nzimande from his position as the longest-serving general secretary of the SACP at its elective congress.
Maseko’s end of an era amounted to nothing beyond the rearrangement of offices. Nzimande was elected to the position of the chair of the SACP. This keeps him very close to the influential position he previously held in the party. The position of the general secretary went to Solly Mapaila, who had deputised for him.
Mapaila is perhaps remembered, inter alia, for his outrageous claim that the late Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the founding president of the PAC, received preferential treatment during his incarceration on Robben Island. To be fair, Mapaila subsequently offered an “unreserved apology” to the Sobukwe family and the leadership of the PAC.
As is common practice, leaders of the alliance partners are invited to address the congress. Breaking his silence on the pressure mounted by political parties, Ramaphosa used the occasion to indicate that he would not be bullied and intimidated.
Interesting choice of words for a person who has presented himself as a champion of transparency, accountability, and clean government. Instead of mounting pressure for Ramaphosa to account for his (mis)deeds, the SACP has come out in his defence.
It has accused those calling for Ramaphosa to account of harbouring counter-revolutionary tendencies. For many, the SACP’s posture does not come as a surprise. Not so long ago, at the May Day Workers Rally, Nzimande found himself in an ignominious position of having to join Ramaphosa who was forced to flee from angry workers.
The SACP has often had to fend off claims that it had morphed into a party whose preoccupation was to lobby positions in government for its members. Bob Marley could not have said it better: “And who the cap fit, let them wear it!” Ramaphosa wants us to believe that his reluctance to account has to do with his commitment to observe “due process”.
The truth, however, is that had it not been for Arthur Fraser, the whole saga would have been hidden. We should be asking where was “due process” two years ago? South Africans aren’t easily fooled. Ramaphosa is biding his time with the hope that in time all the evidence that implicates him can be erased. He invokes all tactics to avoid having to account. This includes asking for more time to respond to questions raised by the Office of the Public Protector.
Mbhazima Shilowa, the former general secretary of Cosatu, speaks for many concerned South Africans when he asks: “What is it about the happenings at Phala Phala that the fellow needs two months to respond to a few questions that should be readily available to him including, ‘No, yes, don’t know, and can’t remember’?”
Going against the grain, the SACP has preferred to believe Ramaphosa when he argues that he has agreed to subject himself to “due process”.
“We must welcome that. It is a breath of fresh air. However, let’s not be blindsided as communists. The reason for the matter is not about fighting corruption, but a counter-revolution to dislodge the leadership of the ANC,” blurted the outgoing general secretary.
Interestingly, a few days later Mapaila turned the table. Addressing the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union’s second central committee, he argued: “The president must be accountable. He is the leading officer in our government and therefore he has to be the first one to account and to reassure us that under his leadership things will be done properly.”
There is no doubt that in moonlighting as a farmer, Ramaphosa has violated his oath of office. This is true even before one considers that he is facing serious charges, ranging from attempts to defeat the ends of justice to possible collusion in acts of kidnapping and torture. There are other charges relating to being in contravention of provisions of the SARS and Reserve Bank legislation.
Attempts to sweep these under the carpet will not work. The National Prosecution Authority has charged people for far lesser crimes. Given the role that the SACP has played in the (mis)fortunes of South African presidents, it is expected that the party will be quizzed about its previous support of former president Jacob Zuma.
Nzimande seized the opportunity to lambast the narrative of the nine wasted years that the mainstream media has propagated. He listed a number of areas in which the Zuma administration had done well. This includes investing trillions of rand on infrastructure. This had the effect of cushioning the country against the devastating consequences of the 2008 global financial meltdown.
Nzimande argues that the same can be said about the rolling out of antiretroviral drugs. This has increased life expectancy. The same can be said of the investment in education. To his credit, this is not the first time that Nzimande has sought to debunk the narrative of nine wasted years.
Delivering his budget vote for 2017/18, Nzimande listed achievements of the Zuma administration. “This includes the establishment of three new universities, including a dedicated university of health sciences. (It) developed the vision and policy of the PSET system … (and) approved massive infrastructure developments across the system. Improved access, participation, and throughput rates.”
Nzimande concluded that “despite the cynicism of our critics, more than two million students studying at South Africa’s public universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges have been funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme”.
Beyond elections, and comments on both Ramaphosa and Zuma, little found traction in the media. This has raised the perennial question of whether the party has anything to offer beyond its fascination with ANC palace politics. The SACP may well argue, and perhaps correctly so, that it can’t be held responsible for the parochial lens that the mainstream media uses.
Be that as it may, expectations were that the SACP would have been at the forefront of frustrating efforts by the current administration from privatising the state-owned enterprises. Instead of this, the party seems concerned about protecting a president who has been caught with his pants down. This is the same president who has the gall to tell the poor and the unemployed that the government is not in the business of creating jobs.
The SACP has not made enough noise about the capture of the state by big monopolies. What is certain though, is that the congress did not usher in a new era, let alone the end of an era.
Professor Seepe is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.