Because the South African Communist Party is the most powerful faction in the ANC, they are probably the moving spirit behind the South African government. Therefore it is useful to know what they are up to. They have held their 2009 conference in Polokwane, to celebrate the overthrow of President Mbeki, and this casts a lot of light on what concerns the Communists.
There is a lot, in December 2009, for a Communist to be concerned about. The most obvious is the calamitous increase in unemployment and the failure of the government to do anything about it. (The pledge to create 500 000 jobs has been broken; there is no sign that the pledge to spend money on retraining the unemployed has been kept.) Another is the government’s new privatisation plans (for electricity and roads, mainly, but others appear to be in the pipeline). Of course, one could also pursue more positive matters; calls for improving education or healthcare or social grants. These are things which Mazibuko Jara recently put forward as things which could be discussed at Polokwane, although, like all Communists, he made no concrete proposals and appeared to have no profound understanding of the issues involved.
Anyway, the matters discussed at Polokwane have been:
*how dare members of the ANC criticise the Communist Party for having excessive influence;
*how dare a member of the ANC criticise a member of the Communist Party for opposing the nationalisation of major industries as specified in the Freedom Charter;
*how dare anybody suggest that dual ANC/SACP membership might be done away with (nobody has suggested this, but it was raised anyway);
*how dare anybody suggest that the SACP’s constitution ought to apply to Secretary-General Nzimande.
In other words, irrelevant, distracting babble. (Although the criticism of the SACP in the ANC is now very widespread at rank and file level, few ANC leaders dare to voice it openly, and those who do, like Billy Masetlha, are insignificant jackasses — if Masetlha is right about this, it is the first time he has been right about anything since 1994). Orchestrated booing of officially-sanctioned enemies reminds one of Party meetings in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The difference being that the SACP is not actually in charge, however much it might like to be, so it is also a little like members of a primary-school playground gang getting together to say that a member of a much bigger primary-school playground gang is never going to be allowed to join their gang. It is certainly not adult behaviour.
There is a certain consistency to the SACP topics. They are all about defending the SACP against criticism that it is overweeningly powerful, or about securing and enhancing the position within the ANC which makes the SACP overweeningly powerful. However, all this power is not being directed in pursuit of any agenda or set of policies. Instead, it is being pursued for its own sake — and the personalisation of discussion, together with the change in the SACP Constitution to accommodate Nzimande’s personal position as Minister for Higher Education, suggests that the sake for which it is being pursued is a decidedly personal sake.
Of course, organisational matters are important for any political party. This is why it must have been heartening for the SACP Conference to hear how well their party’s membership was doing. This is in sharp contrast to virtually all other political parties, such as the ANC, whose membership is falling sharply. (COSATU’s union membership has also been falling swiftly in the past few years. However, COSATU was able to sort out that problem by manipulating numbers.) The SACP’s membership has gone up by 40%, from 56 000 to 96 000.
That is very impressive. It is even more impressive when you consider that the SACP’s Treasurer told the SACP at the 2007 Conference that its membership was not 56 000, but less than 18 000 — in short, that its active and paid-up membership was only one-third as many as the list of people who had ever joined the party in their lives. Well, the Treasurer couldn’t be allowed to get away with that, so he was purged from the Party. However, that raises the disquieting possibility that the SACP is claiming an increase of membership not of 40%, but of more than 400%.
All this is extremely unlikely. Why should people join the SACP at all? Not, obviously, because the SACP stands for socialism (not while the big issue at the Conference was a stern and unprincipled repudiation of the nationalisation which they had been clamouring for two years earlier, before they took power). Out of greed, then? Have numbers of councillors joined the SACP to secure their positions in power, or to gain positions as councillors? It’s a possibility, of course, but overwhelmingly, the SACP seems devoted to looking after its own senior people. New people at entry level in the Party do not seem to be specially favoured — which is what one would expect in a Party where the leadership is utterly corrupt.
But then why has the SACP grown more than any other political organisation in the country, and in sharp contrast to most such political organisations? Because it overthrew Mbeki? Because it has so many Cabinet positions? Or is there something else?
One striking point is that 40% of the membership are not members of the ANC, which is odd. If you are a councillor, you do not stand for your position as a member of the SACP. You stand as a member of the ANC. Ditto, although you might join the Party in order to secure lucrative contracts, in order to get those contracts you would need to have some sort of contact with the ANC, because the ANC is the controlling body in local and municipal governments, not the Party. Therefore, greedy people have no reason to join the SACP but not the ANC. As for ultra-left socialists who might be disgusted with the ANC, the vast majority of them are also disgusted with the SACP — which has, after all, betrayed its principles far more comprehensively than the ANC has. Conceivably, some might have joined the SACP in order to undermine the ANC from within. However, they would only be a tiny grouping — apart from anything else, the SACP is extremely hostile to entryism in its own ranks and the SACP leadership has absolute power over membership. (Also, it goes without saying, if you wish to undermine the ANC, you would want to be a member just as much as if you wished to profit from contacts in the ANC.)
There is, of course, another possibility. That 40% of the membership, 38 000 members, is exactly the same as the number of members who have joined since 2007. This is a curious coincidence, if it is a coincidence. If it is not a coincidence, why would nobody have joined the ANC in that time? Supposedly, late 2007 was when the SACP captured the ANC at Polokwane, and the triumph there should have encouraged growing membership of the ANC.
But what if the new members don’t actually exist? What if the SACP branches have been quietly told to send in fake membership forms bearing imaginary names? That would be not very different, in practice, from maintaining people on the membership lists who have never been to a Party meeting nor paid their subs after the first year. It would be a splendid way of boosting the image of the Party — while also justifying siphoning money out of COSATU’s piggybank. (COSATU is the main overt donor for the SACP’s administration fees, though possibly covert corporate donations are more significant.) In addition, it would create the impression that the SACP was more powerful than it actually is — more than a quarter the size of the ANC, after the ANC’s long membership decline under Motlanthe and Mantashe’s misrule. Thus it justifies having immense expensive conferences and having a finger in every ANC mud pie.
The reason for wondering about this is simple. If these imaginary people were claimed to be ANC members, they would fail to show up on the ANC’s own membership records. These are audited by external firms not under the control of either the ANC or the SACP. If the SACP were to claim to have ANC members who had never applied for actual ANC membership then the falsity of its claims would be exposed instantly. On the other hand, if it went to the trouble of applying for ANC membership on behalf of imaginary people, eventually this would be exposed and if it happened consistently it would potentially embarrass the SACP. So if the Party were making up its membership, it would be wise not to pretend that these imaginary members were in the ANC.
It makes sense, when you think about it. A party with a fraudulent platform, with principles which it does not believe in or implement, and mythical membership. It’s the perfect party for modern South African politics. There is no cause to wonder why the SACP changed its Constitution for the personal convenience of its Secretary-General — why not do that, when nothing about the SACP serves anything except its hollow and fraudulent leadership?
If (as some claim) there is to be a showdown between the SACP and the ANC’s careerists who find the SACP in the way, who will win? More to the point, who cares?