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By Stephen Tau


Blade simply couldn’t cut it: After 24 years under Nzimande, SACP communists in name only

If the SACP wants to regain relevance after Nzimande's departure, they must start representing the interests of the working class.

After 24 years at the helm of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Blade Nzimande has decided not to make himself available for re-election as the party’s general secretary.

The SACP is currently holding its leadership elective conference, and Nzimande announced early this week that he has nominated his deputy, Solly Mapaila to take over the reins.

Blade Nzimande slams 'capitalist greed', wants more industrialisation
SACP first deputy secretary Solly Mapaila (left) and outgoing SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande before the start of the party’s 15th national congress at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg on Wednesday, 13 July 2022. Picture: Brian Sokutu

His decision to bow out has, however, prompted discussions around the continued relevance of the SACP and their alliance with the ANC, as well Nzimande’s legacy within the party.

Betrayal of those who elected him

Speaking to The Citizen about Nzimande and the SACP’s legacy, political analyst Dr Dale McKinley said when Nzimande was first elected in 1998, the majority of those who elected him supported the idea that the SACP break away from the ANC, and stand as a party on its own.

“Blade had agreed to this in order to get the support from seven provinces. But as soon as he was elected, of course, he turned his back on that. The last 24 years has been an experiment in the futility of the SACP representing the working class, being part of the ANC, and being captured by the ANC.

ALSO READ: Blade Nzimande slams ‘capitalist greed’, wants more industrialisation

“He (Nzimande) fundamentally betrayed the promise that was given by the younger generations and the constituencies that elected him at the party congress,” he said.

Delegates at the South African Communist Party (SACP) 15th National Congress held at the Birchwood in Boksburg, 14 July 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen
Delegates at the South African Communist Party (SACP) 15th National Congress held at the Birchwood in Boksburg, 14 July 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

McKinley is of the view that the trajectory of South African politics could have been radically different had Nzimande kept to the promise and the politics he was professing at the time.

“What he did was wasn’t a sellout, I don’t think… It was simply a confirmation of his own class and ideological politics, which was to orient, as so many of the ex, more Stalinist kind of SACP leaders had done, to what I call existent political power. In other words, political power resides in the state, in capital, and in the ANC in this political organisational sense, and not in the people. Not in the working class.

“The record of the last 24 years shows that this has been an abject failure. While there have been some progressive policies that have been adopted, I would argue those are mostly not as a result of the SACP’s involvement in the alliance and SACP ministers like Blade, but as a result of working-class struggle,” he said.

McKinley argues further that the exacerbation of inequality and poverty, along with the intensification of reactionary politics, have been a hallmark of the SACP over the past two-and-a-half decades.

24 years of hits misses and misses

Nzimande’s 24 years at the head of the SACP hasn’t been without drama, and he has often been accused of champagne socialism.

His penchant for enjoying the finer things in life while preaching the virtues of socialist egalitarianism even made international headlines in 2009, when he addressed a Mandela Day event urging the audience to stick to values of “equality and selflessness”.

This despite having purchased a R1.1 million Seven Series BMW shortly before this, on the taxpayers’ dime.

The higher education ministry at the time insisted that the flashy vehicle was a vital requirement for him to execute his duties and ensure his safety, while adding:

“Minister Nzimande does not condone wasteful expenditure under any circumstances and stands firm in his condemnation of greed, corruption and selfishness in society.”

At some point, the SACP under the leadership of Nzimande also threw its full weight behind former president Jacob Zuma, despite his many trials of tribulation. As fate would have it, Zuma rewarded Nzimande with a Cabinet position for his loyalty.

However, in 2017 the SACP seemed to be singing a different tune, questioning Zuma’s relationship with the controversial Gupta family. Nzimande was subsequently fired and at that point, he started even calling for Zuma’s head.

On numerous occasions throughout the years, the SACP had threatened to leave the tripartite alliance and contest elections on their own. In 2017, they followed through, albeit only in the municipal elections in Metsimaholo in the Free State.

ALSO READ: SACP slams ANC leaders who join Fees Must Fall protests

And maybe most controversially, Nzimande as minister of higher education, despite his supposed communist credentials, was one of the most vocal voices against the Fees Must Fall protests which called for free higher education for all students, but particularly the poor.

Nzimande was adamant that free higher education was not feasible, despite free education being one of the 10 key principles of communism as put forth by Marx and Engels in the communist manifesto.

He was widely slated in 2021, when he went as far as comparing students demanding free education to soap opera actors.

ALSO READ: More calls for Blade Nzimande to quit

How can the SACP regain relevance?

If the SACP wants to remain relevant, it must transform itself, with McKinley saying this must start by representing the interests of the working class.

“The SACP has been having it both ways for a long time, they want to remain inside the house, and act as though they represent those who are outside the house that is the ANC and the state.

Delegates at the South African Communist Party (SACP) 15th National Congress held at the Birchwood in Boksburg, 14 July 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen
Delegates at the South African Communist Party (SACP) 15th National Congress held at the Birchwood in Boksburg, 14 July 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

“The SACP must orient towards its supposed constituency and begin to lead and to guide those struggles that the broad working class is undertaking and not just the unions,” he said.

ALSO READ: ‘We warned the ANC’: Cosatu’s Zingiswa Losi says workers are tired of empty promises

McKinley’s sentiments appear to be shared to a degree among those within the party, as earlier on Thursday, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi did not mince her words when she also said the SACP has been silent when it came to addressing workers’ struggles.

“The silence has been deafening. Workers need to hear the party speak when they are being paid with vouchers. Police and correctional service officers need to hear the party when government refuses to increases workers’ wages while members of Cabinet and Parliament pay themselves increases.”

Zingiswa Losi