Fissures in South African Communist Party

By GORAN KARRMAN

On Oct. 1, tens of thousands of protesters marched in Johannesburg, demanding an end to the African National Congress-led government’s program to privatize state resources, which has resulted in job losses.

The demonstration was part of a two-day nationwide general strike, which was supported by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Communist Party-staunch political allies of the ANC until recently.

The following background article has been translated from the Aug. 8 issue of Internationalen, the weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party, Swedish section of the Fourth International.

In South Africa, the ANC-led government is conducting a Thatcher-like neoliberal policy. The government is pushing hard for selling off the state enterprises, privatizing electricity, water, and other utilities.

Six of the government’s ministers are members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), including the ministers of trade and industry, the minister of the police, and the minister of social service. The SACP ministers have not only gone along with the neoliberal policy but they have been its most loyal advocates.

South Africa’s largest trade union confederation, COSATU, has waged a harder and harder campaign against the ANC government’s policy. Among other things, it has held a number of strikes. And COSATU’s leadership is totally dominated by Communist Party members.

This sort of contradiction in the party had to come to the surface, and that is exactly what happened when the Communist Party held its Eleventh Congress in the last week of July.

The country’s president, Thabo Mbeki, fearing that he would be shouted down, withdrew from giving the ANC’s traditional greetings to the gathering. He handed over that thankless task to Minister of Defense Mosiuoa Lekota, who could barely make himself heard among the jeering and shouting of slogans.

Even though it worked hard to cover up the contradictions, the SACP leadership could not prevent the ejection of two of the government ministers from the party’s highest body and their replacement by people from the trade-union left. Essop Pahad and Jeff Radebe were not reelected, and the very unpopular minister for public service, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi did not run again for the party leadership position.

Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi came under the spotlight because she had direct responsibility in the wage-cutting policy pushed in the public sector. Recently, COSTATU fought an extensive strike to assure wage increases for public workers. The strike was assailed vociferously both by the government and ANC leaders, who, among other things, called for strike breaking. A striker was shot down by a strike breaker, and this incident further enflamed the criticism of Fraser-Moleketi.

Trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and water and forestries minister Ronnie Kasrils were reelected to the party leadership, along with police minister Charles Nqakula, who is also SACP chairman.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the contradictions in the party have come out into the open, and the fight is far from over. The SACP, which is one of the few “old” Stalinist parties that has grown stronger since the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, is heading into a period of sharp internal struggle.