Isn't it time the SACP went it alone at the polls?
Patronage politics ensures beneficiaries continue to build a power base at the expense of building a better country. It is not always the work of a faction. Even under President Cyril Ramaphosa the ANC remains a party of patronage. But fundamentally this noncoercive consolidation of power is the base of the tripartite alliance, more so the alliance between the ruling party and the SACP.
The SACP under Blade Nzimande has discarded its origins of building socialism in SA. This is a result of the secure political incumbency of leader Blade Nzimande, general secretary for more than 20 years. Nzimande has enjoyed vast public benefits as a former minister of higher education and now minister of transport, while the SACP has lost legitimacy as a vanguard of the working-class movement.
The SACP abandoned its historical mission to continue the alliance at all costs even if it meant the communist role in the alliance descended to nihility. The SACP has always argued that participation in the ANC government would enable it to influence ANC policy in the interests of the working class. But this has not happened. Instead, the communists have been unable to resist the ANC's neoliberal policies that go against the principles of Marxism-Leninism.
The communists' attempts "to critique and fight neoliberalism have remained rhetorical and ineffective", said David Thompson. The SACP hoped to pull the ruling party to the left, he said, but he questioned the communist devotion to influencing the ANC.
History shows that the SACP's influence in the congress movement during the liberation struggle was enhanced by the then geopolitical influences of the Soviet Union as a counter- balancing force to Western liberalism represented by the US and its Western allies.
SA gained its political freedom at the height of the liberal dominance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The SACP found itself in a political quagmire in which its dominance had diminished and it relied on the alliance with the ANC to continue expressing its influence in parliamentary politics. The situation put the party in a position of weakness wherein its ability to influence the incumbent ANC government depended largely on who was leading the ruling party; for example, Thabo Mbeki deemed the SACP irrelevant and never allowed the party to influence his government's policies.
Today, the SACP's ability to influence the country's developmental trajectory depends on the relationship it will have with Ramaphosa. Unfortunately, even if he has an amiable relationship with the SACP, that is not going to enhance the historical role that the party is supposed to play as a party that is supposed to serve the interests of the poor and the working class. That is because the ANC has managed to position itself in that space, as a champion of the poor and the working class.
The SACP is also stagnant in terms of development within its own ranks. It is the only force within the alliance whose gender parity score is appalling. Its top six only has one woman and the central executive committee is no better. The Young Communist League has no profile.
Many have also questioned the SACP's relevance in today's political agenda. To really regain its relevance, the SACP must reorganise itself as a working-class party. The time is actually ripe given the growing disparities between the rich and the poor, and the high unemployment rate.
To remain true to its principles, is it not time that the party contested elections on its own, with policies alternative to those of the ruling party? Shouldn't they prepare themselves as possible partners in a coalition government, even with the ANC? This may enable the communists to set conditions on the kind of government they seek - which could be a government that drives a radical political programme aimed at improving the lives of the working class and the poor.
But Nzimande is unlikely to agree because he basks in the comforts of patronage. He had a turbulent relationship with students as minister of higher education. This is typical of how the ANC has managed to render the party irrelevant.
• Lebitse is a columnist