PART 1: A dark horse of the reds
Olebogeng Molatlhwa speaks to newly elected SACP chairman Senzeni Zokwana about his new role, party's future.
Q: FIRSTLY, congratulations on your election as SACP chairman. But I must say, though, that it must have come as a surprise partly because people didn't see you as a communist in the same way that they would see general secretary Blade Nzimande.
A: People have the right to make their own opinions because I don't think that being communist should necessarily be one quoting (Karl) Marx and (Friedrich) Engels.
Or maybe our (NUM) debates on nationalisation of mines could have been misleading. But it was more informed by our understanding of the mining industry.
When we were propagating against nationalisation of mines, we were not saying, as a union, we are against nationalisation, but because we think that the state could not run its own operation in Northern Cape (Alexkor) in which, instead of making money, diamonds were being stolen.
It is not what people are thinking of a person, it's what the person does when they ascend to a position.
Q: What are you going to be bringing to the SACP? What unique characteristic sets you apart from other communists?
A: One challenge we need to work on is the role of the party in trade unions not seen to be, like the newspapers are saying, that the party wants to impose leadership on the unions. But we need to have communists within organisations whose role primarily is to promote unity of leadership and how to make sure we manage the growth of the party in membership while also maintaining its qualitative characteristic as a vanguard of the working class.
Q: The former chairman of the SACP Gwede Mantashe explained that he decided not to stand for re-election because he could not quite make the contribution the party needed because of his other job in the ANC. Some would argue that, with your position at NUM, the same thing could happen.
A: It may happen but it depends on how we plan our work. Gwede found that it was two-fold with him. If you had to interact with the party (SACP) as secretary-general of the ANC, the question would be "how do you distinguish between him as chairman of the party and meeting the SG of the ANC being the same person". But I'm president of the NUM. NUM has already done its work to say that Mondays are for SACP work. My diary is run in such a way that my deputy should take more, so much that when the party needs me I should be available.
But to compare Gwede to me is not right because he was stuck. He would lead a delegation of the ANC as its SG to the party in which he is chairman.
Q: But it may well happen that we could have a situation whereby NUM may have a disagreement, for instance, with the ANC. Now ANC is in alliance with the SACP, how would you ensure that you serve NUM?
A: I'm one person who believes that we need robust discussion between alliance parties.
My view is that you don't have to shout in the streets to say that the ANC is failing but to shout within the confines of the alliance formations because there are structures to deal with concerns.
The role of the party, of course, is to ensure that the ANC is put on its toes and participates in joint activities with Cosatu and the ANC.
But we can manage the situation to ensure that we are listened to because if we choose to be oppositionist in character, nobody listens to you because you have already said those things in other platforms.
Q: Do you think that the SACP has really been keeping the ANC on its toes because there is a criticism that since Nzimande was brought into government, there has been less and less criticism from the party against the ANC as opposed to when former president Thabo Mbeki was around. How do you respond to that?
A: That point has been made and has been discussed in the party. One of the main reasons we have decided to amend the constitution to elect a second deputy (general secretary) was to ensure that the party is able to do certain functions.
But I can say that there was a mischievousness in the way that was mentioned because people chose to reduce the party to an individual: Nzimande.
Q: On the issue of second deputy general secretary, if I understand your explanation, it seems that you could then have a disjuncture between the party at head office and cadres in government because those in office could decide to offer some very strong criticism, something that cadres in government may not necessarily agree with.
A: I don't foresee that happening. Yes we do have challenges in this country but it is how we deal with them that counts to me.
We don't seem to be focused on whether SACP cadres in government are implementing the policies they believe in but rather, on whether the party supports government.
Q: Traditionally, it has always been seen that Nzimande pulls the strings in the party and then comes deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin. Now there is a second deputy general secretary (Solly Mapaila), how are you going to fit into that complex situation?
A: There is no complex situation. According to the party constitution, the general secretary would be equal to a party president.
We believe in collective leadership.
If he speaks in a public forum, I'm bound to understand the angle from which he is coming from because we share those things.
I don't think the party is in that mould of leaders competing with one another. Therefore I don't see the party's decision to amend its constitution to allow Solly Mapaila, the second deputy SG, to come on board, or me being chairman, should present any problem.
Q: I asked that question with the power relations in mind. I would imagine that when you were elected as party chairman, you did not accept nomination to become a ceremonial leader but you did so wanting to make a real contribution.
A: There is a role for the chairman of the party, hence Mantashe said his position as SG of the ANC was hampering his contribution to the SACP. I agree with you that there is work for chairman to engage in.
By the way I foresee that work in the programme of action we have just endorsed going forward, because we need to improve our interaction with different Cosatu affiliates in a way that harmonises the relationship while building party structures.
Q: So is that going to be your role in the party?
A: As a collective, it is the role we are going to play.
Q: An issue that comes up with SACP is whether the party is going to contest elections on its own platform in the future. Are you going to contest elections?
A: That matter was debated strongly at the last congress in Port Elizabeth (2007) but the dominant view was that, given the situation we are in - of building - we should not contest.
We are ensuring that we influence ANC (policy) position and also working as an alliance while building the party.
We need to respect the current scenario where only the ANC nominates people to positions and if you're in Parliament, you're an ANC Parliamentarian.
But I don't think there is the view that the party will never contest elections.
Any organisation worth its existence would contemplate that but in the current phase, we believe that we're better placed to influence the ANC.
We are using SACP background to ensure that when you're deployed as a party cadre, you have more of an obligation do your best.