Unanimity on leadership at SACP congress doesn't mean unity
Although the SACP celebrated an uncontested leadership outcome, there was a lot of tension behind the scenes that led to first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila withdrawing his candidacy for any leadership position.
The drama unfolded during a plenary session on Wednesday after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had delivered the ANC's message of support. Insiders say some delegates burst into song pledging their support for Mapaila to replace longtime general secretary Blade Nzimande.
It is understood that Mapaila, fearing being fingered as the mastermind behind the singing, stood up and distanced himself from the singing delegates.
He then revealed he would not be available for election.
The Sunday Times understands that an urgent politburo meeting was called to convince Mapaila to make himself available for the first deputy general secretary position.
The incident reveals that although the SACP has displayed a united front in public, deep divisions exist in party structures and between its leaders.
The tension is largely due to differences on the direction the party should take. Those who pushed for Mapaila were said to be behind the move for the SACP to pull out of the tripartite alliance with the ANC.
Nzimande's supporters are said to be more cautious of taking such a bold decision and believe in fighting within the alliance, with the intention of taking over the governing party.
Mapaila's speech took many by surprise because he had, leading up to the congress, pledged his support for Nzimande to extend his 19-year stay as general secretary."Solly told plenary comrades they should not use his name for factional reasons. He said he has worked with Blade since 1999 and had learnt a lot from him. He said he will never contest Blade," said a party leader who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter.
"He then dropped a bombshell, saying he was not available for any position."
SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo said he was only permitted to comment on the outcomes of the congress, and not discussions that took place behind closed doors.
"What happened at closed session of plenary I could neither confirm nor deny. What I can confirm is that Mapaila accepted nomination for first deputy general secretary position," said Mashilo.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said developments at the SACP congress mirrored the decline of the ANC.
"The irony for me is that the ghosts of Polokwane are haunting both Zuma and his supporters and his opponents. I could feel the ghost of Polokwane roaming around the SACP congress ... the extent the ANC has declined has become a benchmark for the SACP."
He said the "generational tension" within the SACP was not new and not surprising.
"Such a tension is unavoidable. The young tend to take a more radical stance on the future, while the old tend to hold on to the past. The young communists are not so married to what the alliance was. They are looking at what it should be."
It is believed that last year Nzimande informed Mapaila of his intention to step down and expressed his wish for Mapaila to step into his shoes. But things changed when Mapaila intensified his attacks against President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family. Senior party leaders, according to insiders, convinced Nzimande to stay on as Mapaila was seen as "reckless".
"When Nzimande changed his mind he did not consult Solly," said another party leader.
Insiders said the revolt against Nzimande started on Tuesday when a group inside the plenary hall heckled the general secretary when he spoke against a split from the ANC.
Nzimande's backer, KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Themba Mthembu, was also subjected to heckling.
Mapaila eventually accepted nomination for the position of first deputy general secretary and Chris Matlhako became second deputy general secretary.
Ministers Senzeni Zokwana and Thulas Nxesi retained their positions as national chairman and deputy national chairman respectively.