A 'political dwarf' with clout
Yet another member of the ANC-led tripartite alliance holds a national congress this week.
But do not expect events at the University of Zululand, in Empangeni, to hog the headlines in much the same way as the recent ANC national policy conference.
The SA Communist Party is generally treated as a poorer cousin of the governing ANC and its other partner in the alliance, trade unions federation Cosatu.
Compared to Cosatu's 2.1million membership (how the federation has managed to keep this figure constant in the face of massive job losses beats me) and the ANC's 1million members, the SACP's membership figure of just over 160000 makes the party a political dwarf - to borrow from the Congress Movement's lexicon.
But to judge the SACP's influence over the country's political landscape purely on membership figures would be a major mistake.
Since its inception in 1921 as the Communist Party of SA, the organisation has relied less on numbers and more on controlling mass-based organisations such as trade unions and the national liberation movement to exert influence over the political direction of the country.
More often than not, it worked. For instance, the 1960s SACP characterisation of South Africa as a "colony of a special type" had a fundamental effect on how it approached the struggle against apartheid.
Even as early as the mid-1950s, party members such as Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein and Ben Turok played important roles in the drafting of the Freedom Charter, a document that became the ANC's blueprint for post-apartheid South Africa.
The party's influence within the ANC was to become even bigger during the exile days - its close ties with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries meant that it could better mobilise resources for the ANC-led revolutionary struggle.
As a result, very few of the ANC's most powerful leaders have never been members or ideological trainees of the Marxist-Leninist organisation.
As communist governments across eastern Europe were crumbling and their ideology was being discredited during the 1990s, the SACP seemed to be growing in strength and in influence.
Today most of its senior leaders occupy positions of power in the government, Cosatu and even at Luthuli House, the ANC head office in Johannesburg.
SACP-driven campaigns and initiatives over the years have led to the adoption of National Health Insurance and the New Growth Path - among others - as government policy.
Lest we forget, it was the SACP's financial-sector campaign of the early 2000s that led to the enactment of the National Credit Act.
So, despite its negligible membership figures, and the fact that it does not directly contest elections, the SACP cannot be ignored as a political player.
More so under the current administration, in which SACP leader and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande appears to enjoy a very close relationship with President Jacob Zuma.
Though Nzimande's critics, especially in Cosatu, argue that his decision to join Zuma's cabinet has left the SACP weakened and its political independence compromised, the party boasts that it has never wielded as much power as it does now.
In an interview with the Sunday Times this week, SACP secretary for organising Solly Mapaila, as evidence of this power, pointed to cabinet ministers going to party headquarters to present their government programmes.
"I can tell you that more ministers have been to our central committee than to the ANC national executive committee to present [their programmes]," he told the newspaper.
Mapaila will most likely be elected one of Nzimande's two deputies at the congress this week.
A sign of power, yes. But at what cost to the SACP's independence?
The SACP's political fortunes are now too linked to Zuma for its own good. What if delegates to the ANC's national conference in December reject Zuma's bid for a second term?
Would that not be a major political blow to the SACP that would reduce it to being the noisy but powerless organisation it nearly became during Thabo Mbeki's tenure as president?
These are the questions SACP delegates will have to ask themselves as they meet at the University of Zululand this week.
Though the SACP insists that it will not meddle in the ANC leadership race ahead of Mangaung, it is not difficult to see that it would more than prefer to have Zuma retained.
Nzimande, Mapaila and other party leaders have said on different platforms that they are "very happy" with Zuma's leadership of the ANC.
But perhaps the most important question for the delegates to the party's national congress should be whether it is advisable to hang on to Nzimande, who has been SACP general secretary for the past 14 years.
He has held the post for so long that it is now impossible to distinguish between his and the SACP's interests.