11 January 2010

Karima Brown on ANC 98th Anniversary Rally

No red faces, but rifts remain

Karima Brown, Business Day, 11 January 2009

EVEN crafty political play by the South African Communist Party (SACP) at the weekend’s African National Congress (ANC) anniversary celebrations could not hide the bitter rivalry within the ruling party, and divisions between the party’s youth league and the SACP.

Both parties came to the ANC’s 98th birthday celebrations in Kimberley prepared to battle it out in public amid reported plans to embarrass SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. Sources in the alliance said the bid to embarrass Nzimande, apparently led by ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema, was meant to avenge similar treatment Malema and other senior ANC leaders got at the SACP congress in Polokwane last year. 

But Nzimande left the celebrations unscathed and even got a rousing welcome when he rose to speak. This raises serious questions about the much-hyped kingmaker status of the ANCYL within the broad movement, and suggests a subtle yet significant shift in the balance of power in the ANC and the tripartite alliance.

In the lead-up to the ANC’s anniversary celebrations, talk — carefully choreographed by the spin doctors of ANC power brokers — was that plans were afoot by the ANCYL to ensure that Nzimande got his comeuppance at the rally.

But the best of plans can go awry. On Saturday, Nzimande was warmly welcomed by a 35000- strong crowd at the stadium in Galeshewe, Kimberley. The about-turn was in part because of the SACP’s visible presence among the throng who flocked to hear Zuma deliver the ANC’s statement of intent.

It put paid to plans to boo Nzimande as this would have led to an embarrassing standoff between SACP supporters and those in the crowd who had been primed to shout him down. The presence of SACP supporters, many decked out in red party caps and ANC T-shirts, turned out to be an effective insurance policy, allowing communists in the ANC to demonstrate their allegiance not only to the ruling party but also to the tripartite alliance.

While some might be tempted to dismiss the weekend’s power play as a clever stunt by the SACP, the ANCYL’s failure to make good on its promised war against “yellow communists” suggests that Malema’s much-vaunted political clout as a power broker could be overstated.

Malema has so far been unable to deliver on several key political plays despite his media image as a behind- the-scenes power.

His backing of self-confessed liar Leonard Chuene, generally accepted to be the key culprit in Athletics SA’s (ASA’s) mishandling of the Caster Semenya mess, backfired when the ANC and sporting fraternities blamed Chuene for the crisis and cut him loose.

The ANCYL’s threat to boycott Nedbank , which withdrew its ASA sponsorship amid the furore, also fizzled out.

The ANCYL’s vocal defence of former Eskom boss Jacob Maroga also came to naught.

Maroga had to quit despite Malema’s endorsement , a fate similar to that which befell former acting SABC CEO Gab Mampone, who lost the post to Solly Mokoetle despite insiders claiming that Mampone enjoyed the political patronage of Malema. The weekend’s events also showed that the SACP cannot easily be dismissed as a mere pressure group inside the ANC . Dual ANC- SACP membership adds a unique dynamic to the alliance.

It means SACP members are often also ANC members and represent the ruling party on public platforms, making nonsense of the suggestion that the tension in the alliance manifests itself as a united ANC versus the SACP.

Dual membership also means that standoffs between the ANC and the SACP break down into the internal divisions between communists and noncommunists in the ruling party.

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