PART 2: A dark horse of the reds
Olebogeng Molatlhwa spoke to newly elected SA Communist Party chairman, Senzeni Zokwana, about the future of the non-governmental political party...
Q: By not contesting elections, how is the SACP able to gauge, outside of its membership, whether your ideas, values and principles are still relevant and acceptable to the electorate and whether or not you may need to adjust them to gain favour?
A: The SACP has been able to go to areas where, I can't say failures, but where provision of services has been questioned and we could find that the people still believe in our views.
The issue you are raising is quite important and the party will have to engage on it soon, but that debate cannot take place in isolation of contesting elections, without looking at the strength of the party... I'm sure the party is in a building phase in terms of membership but also ensuring that this membership remains one that brings quality debates.
Q: If the SACP were to contest elections, on its own platform, how do you think it would perform because there are people who are convinced that the SACP would be greatly embarrassed at the polls?
A: It is difficult to gauge but in my view, the alliance is stronger as an alliance than as individual components. The same question could be posed “[Should] Cosatu be building a workers party like in the neighbouring countries?”. I think lessons abound about how those formations have been undermined.
The question to ask is: Is the SACP strong in a way that we are in a better position to influence ANC policies in the alliance than we would do if we were (individuals)?
If you were contesting elections in the same ward that the ANC is contesting, things would change?
I don’t think that issue would die off, but I believe we are in better position to influence the ANC within the alliance. But those who believe the party will be embarrassed are putting up their own opinions.
Q: Isn't there an argument to be made that the SACP could interact with the ANC from a position of strength if the party demonstrated the sort of support it enjoys among the electorate?
A: It can be made but, some of the party positions that we have been able to take that were not in tandem with those of the ANC, we were better placed to engage the ANC as part of the alliance.
What places our situation better than those in other countries is that we are not an affiliate of the ANC but we are alliance with it.
There will be a debate to analyse what the party will look like if we were to contest elections.
Q: There seem to be concerns that, by piggy-backing on the ANC, the SACP is attempting to sneak communism/socialism through the back-door rather than approaching the people and saying 'this is who we are'. Do you accept that view?
A: I don't accept that. It is more of those who would like to see a weaker ANC than those who are genuinely raising the point of saying that if the ANC were to work alone, maybe it would be more weaker or stronger. That debate must take place within the party structures.
It would be easy to say the party is piggy-backing on the ANC or Cosatu. The party has been able to influence all formations through discussions and engagements.
It is not to say the party does not dream of a day when it does not contest elections. It will contest some [day].
Q: The ANC has access to impressive resources because they are the governing party. Is there a concern that SACP cadres, after having served in local or national government, will decide to ditch the SACP in favour of the ANC?
A: I cannot make that a general phenomenon within the party,.You can't rule (out) that, in any organisation, people will want to use any structure as a ladder to reach their own destination. But I don't think it is proper for us to paint each and every communist as having gone to the ANC (to enrich themselves).
Our cadres are appointed in their own right as ANC members, which is why some of them serve in government. They are not there because they are communists but because they are members of the ANC.
Q: SACP cadres continue to flood government structures and this makes some people nervous. Last week, FW de Klerk said the SACP did so with the intention to eventually create a communist state.
A: I think that is an old idea that has been thrown [about] because there is nothing De Klerk or the DA would love to see than sustaining benefits to the rich, which are predominantly white people. Like the engagement around the Second Transition, there is nothing communist about that. When there are problems, De Klerk and (Helen) Zille use the red herring that the SACP is misleading the ANC. Remember that the ANC is a broad church.
Q: Does the SACP have the desire to establish a fully Socialist state?
A: The party has made it clear that socialism is the future and let us build it now. The fact that the world is plunged into the crisis it is in, is because capitalism has its own weaknesses.
Therefore, any communist worth his salt would dream of a situation where socialism is built. It's a debate we are engaged in. By the way, Cosatu also endorses our socialist idea.
Q: There are some who fear that, with the SACP not contesting elections but going through the ANC, they would one day wake up with a communist state without having agreed on it?
A: We understand that currently we are in a capitalist state. We don't foresee a situation whereby, overnight, our situation changes into something else. Hence we continue preaching our view that only under socialism will the people be guaranteed the services they need.
We acknowledge that the ANC may not necessarily be the vehicle through which (a socialist state would be established).
Q: Please address the perception that the SACP is anti-capital and also address perceptions that, with socialism, people would not be free to create wealth as they do currently. What would be the role of capital in a socialist state and would people be free to create wealth for themselves?
A: In the same vein, the party could argue that, in a capitalist state, the government has been made a conduit and a cover for those want to accumulate capital. The bulk of people in the middle-class today rely wholly on tendering from the state for their own ends.
Why isn't the party asked about what is currently happening in the economy of China? The state is given room to participate where it must, alongside private players.
Q: 1989 is considered a watershed moment with the fall of communism and here, at home, SACP still insists on the idea. Why is communism still relevant today?
A: But why do people still believe that capitalism is relevant when, on more than three occasions, it has plunged the world into untold poverty and trauma? The great depression of the 1930s that brought many countries on their knees? The 2008 global financial crisis? But people still have faith in capitalism.
People fail to recognise successful communist parties that run countries. China will become the biggest economy in the world very soon.
Q: The final question: Will we, one day, see the SACP as a governing party in South Africa?
A: We believe that, and we are convinced that is possible. And you may not believe that now... Many people in the 1980s believed that Cuba would be gone today. Cuba is still existing. The Cuban people have one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
Many things have happened in the world which we thought were impossible but they've been proven that they are possible. I can tell you that capitalism is its own weakness.
So, watch this space. Nothing is impossible.