Rivalries in the ANC alliance

African nationalists, communists and trade unionists are competing for the ANC parliamentary list.

THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN the South African Communist Party and Thabo Mbeki’s African nationalists is reaching a climax. Mbeki, lacking Mandela’s charisma, wants to bring the ANC organisation under his control — an objective which cannot really be achieved while the SACP-Cosatu tail continues to wag the dog. In the run-up to the ANC’s Mafikeng conference the SACP and Cosatu seemed set for a major collision over Gear. However, for the Mbeki forces it was essential to head off such a public clash, particularly since Winnie Mandela’s embarassing challenge for the leadership had to be defeated, a task for which the disciplined strength of the SACP caucus was indispensable.

A deal was reached: the SACP and Cosatu would back the leadership, suppress Winnie’s challenge, make no fuss over Gear and generally avoid the horrors of transparency. In return a number of bones were thrown to Cosatu (most particularly the complete acceptance of Cosatu’s position on the Basic Conditions of Employment Act) and no African nationalist whip would be used to kick SACP members off the national executive committee. Everything went to plan and commentators were surprised to see how many non-Africans, most of them Communists, were elected to the top ten places on the NEC.

But when the NEC came to elect the ANC’s inner cabinet, the national working party, the African nationalist caucus made itself felt. Not a single one of the non-Africans who had made it to the top ten got onto the national working party.

This put the wind up the party — for what is to stop a similar purge of SACP/Cosatu members from the ANC parliamentary lists? Already it is clear that there will be a great deal of in-fighting over these lists as ambitious ANC activists attempt to take revenge for poor government delivery by booting out sitting MPs and grabbing their places for themselves. The party and Cosatu want to be guaranteed places above that hurly-burly. In 1994, 20 seats were set aside for Cosatu while the SACP’s open members helped themselves to 80 more, with more going to those who still keep their party membership secret. But now the message from the top is that there will be no such deal this time: communist and trade union candidates will have to get the nomination of at least five ANC structures. Moreover, Peter Mokaba, always Mbeki’s pinch hitter when it comes to doing down the comrades, has added that all candidates of the ANC will have to swear a loyalty oath to party policies.

So it all comes down to bums on parliamentary seats. The SACP will demand that the ANC list be drawn up by a joint ANC-SACP-Cosatu committee (ie one with a 2:1 SACP majority). It is also considering whether to demand that certain senior cabinet positions should be formally reserved for the SACP, in which case the party’s separate identity would have to come out into the open and there could be no more secret or low-profile party members running under ANC colours.