by Mphutlane wa Bofelo

Aug 28, 2023 – In his examination of why despite their meagre results at the polls, nine non-ruling communist parties in Europe continue to have sporadic participation in multi-party coalitions in government, Sidney Tarrow indicates that communist parties enter governments during perceived socioeconomic or political crises or as a left-wing of a multi-party coalition in which the communist parties occupy a central position within the left coalition while the centrist parties and republicans holds a centre stage within the opposite conservative pole. (Tarrow, 1982).

Tarrow (1982) delineates the motivation for the participation of communist parties in such coalition governments or alliance politics as the perception of the communist parties that a crisis situation prevails and a fear of being absent during a critical period. He concludes that the need not to be isolated or marginalised within the political arena cause communist parties to actively or passively support moderate policies and to form alliances with normally anti-communist elements. This implies the belief that communist parties have the theoretical and practical acumen that can take the country out of a crisis but either lack the courage, will and capacity to take the reins of political power or believe that the balance of forces don’t allow them to do so on their own.

The observations of Tarrow (1982) correlates with the proposition that though the political cooperation between the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the South African National Civics Organization (SANCO) has historical and ideological roots, their alliance in the post-1990 dispensation is a product of coincidence of political interests. (O’ Malley, 2000). On the eve of the first national democratic elections in 1994, the ANC sought organizational skills, material support, membership and votes or electoral support from COSATU, SACP and SANCO. On other hand, COSATU and SANCO needed a political organization that can win elections, hold political power, and advance a progressive agenda and safe-guards labour and civil society interests in parliament.

At the same time, the ANC had the need to enlist seasoned strategists, tacticians, organizers and campaigners from its alliance partners. Its electoral prospects depend highly on the numbers that the constituencies of its alliance partners added to its membership and support base. Furthermore, the reputable political militancy, organizational skills and ideological insights of the SACP gave it a powerful base within the constituency of both the ANC and COSATU. However, the SACP did not have enough popular support to be a political force on its own in parliamentary politics where numbers are important. Therefore, the SACP had to remain a partner of ANC to try to get the ANC to incorporate its social objectives and agendas. (O’Malley, 2000).

The SACP did foresee that once the ANC is in political office ,it would be tall order to mediate and harmonise the latter’s multi-class and centrist politics with the former’s professed working-class and leftist politics. In lieu of this eventuality, the SACP opted to use as its key tactical device the notion of its members and that of COSATU and SANCO swelling the ranks of the ANC with the aim of populating ANC spaces and platforms with communist ideas and the party-line.

The other tactical devices it utilised are (1) intensifying efforts to influence the political perspective of COSATU unions and education and research labour service organizations such as Ditsela and the Workers College of South Africa, (2) deploying some of its seasoned cadres to take up leadership and influential positions within COSATU and the labour service organization, (3) lobbying and campaigning for the leading activists of SACP, Cosatu and SANCO to have fair representation in the parliamentary and ministerial list of the ANC, and (4) pushing for extensive consultation and engagement of alliance partners on significant policy and programmatic issues relating to both the ANC and the government.

The unintended and negative consequences of this strategy was a brain drain within the leftist component of the alliance (i.e COSATU, SACP and COSATU) as the result of an exodus of its seasoned leaders and activists to government. This also created the problematic situation where these members found themselves bound by both the oath of office and ANC processes. This compelled them to implement policies and programmes of the ANC even when they were at odds with their own personal values and the principles of COSATU, SACP and SANCO. The other challenge that this arrangement created is the political careerism tendency whereby individuals perceive and use their positions of leadership and influence within COSATU, SACP and SANCO as a social currency and stepping ladder to access deployment into government or business with the government.

This opened the allies of the ANC prone to being enmeshed in internal factional divisions of the ANC as they had to be in the good books of whatever faction of the ANC that would become victorious in the contest for control of the government. This is reflected by how the SACP and COSATU threatened to pull out of the alliance in 2006 but backtracked after former President Jacob Zuma emerged victorious at the Polokwane conference, and religiously defended Jacob Zuma throughout the so-called nine wasted years until the dying hours of the second term of Zuma in office.

As for the ANC, its enlistment of leading and experienced activists of its alliance partners in its election list and subsequently the legislature and the executive, and various provincial and local government structures meant that it hit three birds with one stone: ( 1) acquire the votes of constituencies of its alliance partners, (2) acquire the political and technical skills of the leadership and activists of these alliance partners, and (3) put them in a situation where they are obliged to implement co-opt them to neoliberal -capitalist policies and programmes. The ANC has realised that the fact that it is the de facto leader of the alliance and that leaders and activists of its partners are deployed in government or to the business sector on its ticket , reduces their capacity to deviate from ANC policies or to shape its social policy and political economy trajectory.

As soon as serious differences on policy occurred, the ANC flexed its muscles and openly told the alliance partners that if they want to pursue a socialist, communist or social democratic agenda , they must do so on their own and not expect the ANC to do so on their behalf. A telling example is when the late President Mandela read the riot act to COSATU at its own congress, telling them that they can’t dictate ANC policies. Mandela rebuffed COSATU’s opposition to GEAR with a resonant declaration that GEAR is and shall remain ANC policy. Another example is the statement of the former President Thabo Mbeki when he ejected SACP leading activist, Madlala- Routledge from his executive for daring to challenge government policies. Mbeki remarked that as member of the executive Madlala-Routledge was bound to the policies and programmes of the ruling party and that she cannot serve in the executive whilst criticising government policies. Read More

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