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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 9, No. 5, 17 March 2010

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Let`s close ranks against factionalism. Let`s close ranks against corruption

Jeremy Cronin

Over the past several months there has been a strange paradox within the ANC-led tripartite alliance. Two very contradictory political realities have been at play. On the one hand, the commercial media has had a field-day portraying "deepening" crises within the Alliance, and reporting on a steady stream of personalised attacks on SACP, COSATU and ANC leaders emanating from within our movement. These personalised attacks suggest that Alliance partners are at war with each other. On the other hand, it is an Alliance that over the last two-and-a-half years has actually begun to consolidate a considerable policy and programmatic convergence for the first time in over a decade.

So what`s going on?

That is exactly the question that we posed to ourselves in our ANC/SACP leadership bilateral on March 11th. In the following two days the ANC NEC also had a similar internal discussion and reached important conclusions.

Both meetings were confidential, and appropriately so. This column is certainly not the place in which to give a journalistic account of what happened, and of who said what. However, following the bilateral meeting a brief media statement was released jointly by the ANC and SACP, providing some public indication of the areas covered in the meeting. After its ANC NEC meeting, the ANC released a somewhat longer and important press statement (that I recommend should be read by all who take the well-being of the ANC and its Alliance seriously). Included in this press statement, the ANC committed to publishing in full for circulation among its membership and Alliance partners the political overview delivered by President Zuma to the NEC.

The SACP warmly welcomes all of these important initiatives from the side of the ANC, and we look forward to the publication of ANC President, cde Zuma`s political overview.

What are the key public positions that are beginning to emerge from these two important meetings? Essentially, they amount to one major, shared concern. Personalised spats across the Alliance, innuendos about factionalism in the state, hopelessly premature threats and speculations concerning the ANC`s elective conference way off in 2012 all of these serve to divide rather than unite the ANC, they compromise leadership collectives, and the Alliance the ANC leads. This factionalising divisiveness then detracts from the huge responsibilities that the ruling party and its partners bear. Brazen factionalism must come to an end, and forthwith.

As an Alliance we have long agreed that our key strategic priorities are jobs, health-care, education, rural development, and fighting the scourge of crime and corruption. This is what our mass base and South Africans in general want us to focus on. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by a continuous barrage of fractious side-shows, threats, insults and general buffoonery. This means that we all need to take responsibility for our respective formations. The ANC, the SACP, COSATU and its affiliates all have clear constitutional guide-lines setting down the rights and responsibilities of members. We all identify sexism, ethnic chauvinism, racism, and factionalist activity, for instance, as serious deviations from the codes of conduct of our formations. Isn`t it time that we all act severally and collectively on these codes, without fear or favour?

As the SACP we are certainly committed to upholding these values, and we know that the ANC and COSATU think likewise. In the past, in Alliance meetings we have sometimes talked about setting out formal protocols, "rules of engagement" and these may, indeed, be useful. But perhaps we should all just begin by simply applying what already exists in our respective constitutional codes of conduct.

At the ANC/SACP bilateral one of the issues that came up was the booing episode at our Special National Congress in December last year. The SACP delegation at the bilateral reaffirmed positions we have already publicly adopted. The booing was spontaneous from a section of the Congress delegates. It was neither planned nor orchestrated nor was it directed at the ANC in general. Nonetheless, we reaffirmed our belief that it was, indeed, a regrettable occurrence that should never be repeated. The SACP delegation, however, stopped short of apologising, not because we are insincere about regretting the occurrence, but we think that it should not be de-contexualised from the provocative anti-SACP behaviour from some quarters before, during and after our Congress.

In this regard, we welcome the ANC NEC statement`s clarifying the matter:

"The NEC welcomed the constructive meeting held between the National Working Committee and the Political Bureau of the South African Communist Party (SACP). It has also welcomed the regret expressed by the SACP on the booing incident at its special conference."

Let us put this distraction behind us, learn lessons from it, indeed, but above all let`s now focus on the bigger issues confronting our alliance and our country.

And this is, precisely, what the SACP intends to do in our ongoing bilateral engagement with the ANC leadership. When we next meet, from the SACP side we hope, amongst other things, to move beyond the important condemnation of factionalist and other forms of personal bad behaviour to ask a broader question: What subjective and, above all, objective realities underpin this behaviour? Is it just the consequence of an excess of youthful exuberance, for instance? Is it because of a lack of sufficient political maturity, in other words a passing phase? Is it the result of populist inclinations getting carried away in front of a microphone (an inclination which is certainly not exclusive to any one individual or formation)? Or are we dealing with something that is not just individual but something much more rooted in networks and systemic practices?

There is probably not one answer. Some or all of the above possibilities might apply. But certainly in the SACP`s analysis (and this is what we hope to share in discussion with our allies) at least some of the unacceptable behaviour has it roots in systemic deviancy that runs the risk of becoming endemic within our movement and society unless we deal very decisively with it now.

It is our considered view that there are forces within (and of course outside of) our Alliance that are threatened by the deepening policy and programmatic convergence across our movement, and indeed within government. This, in our view, is why the old "rooi-gevaar" tactic has now once more been wheeled out. We are told that the SACP is trying to "take over the ANC", for instance.

Of course, this is not the first time in the history of our movement that these diversionary accusations have been made. Back in 1976, the SACP central committee, for instance, issued a statement on the activities of the "Gang of 8", who had recently been expelled from the ANC for their factionalist activities which included playing the race card and the anti-communist card:

"The issues on which they have chosen to attack the liberation movement are as old as the struggle itself. The slander that the ANC is run by the Communist Party is not something new; it has always been spread by the racists and those who act as their agents. And it has always been designed to weaken the people`s struggle. As early as the 1920s, liberals like Ballinger helped destroy the ICU by raising the banner of anti-Communism, and spreading scare stories about `Communist take-overs`. In the late 50s, the break-away PAC group also used the white liberal parrot-cry that `the Communists were running the ANC` in an attempt to destroy it."

So what is the new context of some of the recent anti-Communist rhetoric? We believe that the answer is probably the same answer that applies to other recent variants of factionalism like the crude attempts to undermine the standing and integrity of the SA Revenue Services or a government minister recently associated with SARS.

It is hard not to avoid the conclusion that, at least in some cases, the factionalist activity is targeted at those comrades, those collectives and those institutions that have shown an inclination neither to be intimidated by bullying, nor to be seduced by offers of ill-gotten patronage. And this is why the SACP sincerely believes that the struggle against factionalist behaviour cannot be disconnected from that key strategic priority that the ANC-led alliance has identified as one of our top five priorities the struggle against the corrosive impact of corruption.

The struggle against corruption

If we are ever to have a sensible and constructive discussion around corruption it is critical to immediately remove a key impediment. We need to challenge the impression that is often wittingly constructed by the media that the ANC, or the ANC-led government, or emerging black business-people are all rotten to the core, and that they are the source of all corruption in our society. These kinds of racialised, holier-than-thou falsehoods simply produce a counter-reaction, a closing of ranks, which makes a constructive discussion and comradely introspection of this matter very difficult.

Let`s take a recent example. In the past weeks newspapers have had front-page stories replete with graphic photos of what appear to be failed road construction and maintenance projects in Limpopo. The stories allege that these service delivery failures are attributable to dodgy tenders awarded by ANC-aligned politicians to ANC-aligned power brokers and their associates with scant regard for their ability to actually perform the work required. These allegations may or may not be accurate. Certainly these and many other similar problems need to be fully investigated by the appropriate state institutions. It is possible that millions of rands of public money have been squandered through these kinds of alleged practice.

But why, talking of road construction and maintenance for instance, have the same newspapers paid scant attention so far to the truly gigantic ripping-off of the South African public through corporate collusion on the price of bitumen in our local market? At much the same time as the Limpopo road stories were surfacing, the Competition Commission announced that SASOL, seeking amnesty by jumping the gun on its partners in collusion, had blown the whistle on four other major fuel companies operating in SA Chevron, Shell, Engen and Total (along with the SA Bitumen Association). According to the Competition Commission, collusive behaviour on the pricing of bitumen had been going on since at least 2000 up till December last year. A measure of just how much this has ultimately cost the South African tax-payer can be gained from the recommendation the Commission is making to the Competition Tribunal. It has recommended that these companies should pay a massive 10 percent of their turnover in fines.

How many pot-holes have not been mended? How many rural roads have not been re-surfaced, not only, or not just because of a dodgy tender in a local municipality but also because these oil giants have colluded in making bitumen (the main ingredient for tar) simply too expensive for limited budgets?

The behaviour of the oil giants operating in our country does not remotely excuse corruption on a lesser scale. We need to deal decisively and without fear or favour with all manifestations of corruption and other anti-social behaviour. And that is why we need to unify ourselves, programmatically, as an ANC-led alliance. The people of our country have every right to expect nothing less of us.