At the SACP congress: Dizzying ironies‚ back-pedalling… and showing Zuma the middle finger

11 July 2017 - 16:22 By Ranjeni Munusamy
Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande.
Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande.

The opening day of 14th national South African Communist Party (SACP) congress constituted the ultimate fence-mending/back-pedalling exercise in South African politics.

Apart from the dizzying ironies and about-turns in SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande’s political report‚ there was also a deliberate effort from the party to show President Jacob Zuma the proverbial middle finger.

The SACP not only uninvited Zuma from their congress but also extended the olive branch to those they shunted to back him in the ANC’s two previous succession battles.

Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe were invited‚ although only the latter was seen at the opening session on Tuesday morning.

It is not known whether the bad blood between Nzimande and Mbeki has now dissipated – Mbeki once referred to Nzimande as being “extraordinarily arrogant”.

The SACP also extended an invitation to metalworkers union Numsa‚ the union that was expelled from Cosatu for‚ among other things‚ being critical of Zuma’s leadership. Irvin Jim and his crew seem to be as yet unwilling to smoke the peace pipe.

After being militant in their demands for Zuma to step down‚ the SACP leadership seems to have tempered its language – perhaps under the glare of the ANC’s lead delegate and deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte in the front row.

Nzimande made no mention of the party’s repeated calls for Zuma to leave office. In his opening remarks‚ SACP chairperson Senzeni Zokwana broached the issue but said they had “advised” the president to go.

Delegates‚ however‚ kept on with the message in their songs‚ which included the refrain: “Have you heard the good news? They say Zuma is leaving!”

Nzimande lashed out at the Gupta family in his report‚ but said that those “collaborating” with them should also be blamed for the capture of the state.

He said while there had initially been some progress under Zuma’s leadership‚ there was “state capture on steroids” post 2014.

Nzimande however defended his and other SACP leaders’ continued presence in the “captured state”‚ saying party leaders have served in Cabinet positions since 1994.

He also criticised the “massive overspending” on the security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla residence. Three years ago‚ however‚ he called the outrage over Nkandla “white people’s lies”.

It seems the role of SACP deputy chairperson Thulas Nxesi‚ who was Public Works Minister when the Nkandla fiasco was at its height‚ has also been expunged from memory.

Nzimande was also critical of how the ANC was attempting to shut down debate and impose particular views on others.

It is ironic that he had been accused of doing the same within the SACP – including on the issue of supporting Zuma’s bid for the presidency.

Nzimande rounded up his address calling for leadership renewal‚ saying none of the SACP’s leaders should be “permanent furniture”.

The congress is expected to elect Nzimande‚ who has been at the helm of the SACP for 19 years‚ for another five-year term as general secretary.