The SACP: The second largest party in parliament

Dave Steward
26 January 2009

Dave Steward asks how a party which never contested an election could have more MPs than the Democratic Alliance


Last week the Independent Panel appointed to assess the performance of Parliament presented their report. They made many sensible recommendations, including proposals for electoral reform that would strengthen the accountability of members of parliament to the electorate; measures that would improve parliamentary oversight of the executive; and suggestions to make parliament more responsive to voters. They even proposed that Parliament should revisit the arms deal - including a debate on the appointment of a judicial commission of enquiry.

It is a pity that the Panel did not also investigate the political sleight of hand that has enabled the South African Communist Party to establish itself as the second largest registered political party in parliament without having to win a single vote in its own name.  A couple of years ago the SACP toyed with the idea of standing separately in national elections and even appointed a commission to examine this question. The commission noted that, "internationally, capitalist dominated societies are an extremely unfavourable electoral terrain for Communist Parties. There is not a single example of a Communist Party, on its own, winning national elections within a capitalist society - let alone using such a breakthrough as the platform to advance a socialist transformation."

Indeed. According to an Ipsos Markinor survey conducted in April 2007, only 8% of South Africans (and 5% of ANC supporters) would vote for a breakaway SACP/COSATU party if it were to stand independently in a national election. The SACP reached the conclusion that "although elections are important, there is not a pre-determined singular route for the working class (i.e. the SACP and COSATU) to hegemonise state power.'   

The SACP's prospects for parliamentary representation will, indeed, be far better if it remains in the Alliance, rather than having to fight elections on its own. There are already 80 SACP MPs in Parliament (compared with the DA's 46). They comprise a little less than a third of the ANC's parliamentary caucus - and 20% of all MPs (not bad for party with only 51 000 members!).

Prospects are good for the coming election as well. The new ANC leadership is deeply indebted to the SACP and COSATU for their support at Polokwane and might give sympathetic consideration to the Young Communists League's call for the SACP, COSATU and the ANC each to be allocated one third of the places on the ANC's electoral list.

Although SACP members will be standing under the name of the ANC, their party insists that "SACP cadres who are deployed as ANC elected representatives, or as public servants must continue to owe allegiance to the Party and cannot conduct themselves in ways that are contrary to the fundamental policies, principles and values of the SACP. The same principle applies to SACP cadres in other deployments, including within the trade union movement."

The SACP also insists that its MPs should retain their own party identity and loyalty once they have been elected to parliament under the ANC's colours. The SACP Policy Conference in September 2008 declared that "...the principle of retaining an independent SACP profile and identity, and the principle of loyalty to the aims and objectives of the SACP, remain and must be clearly affirmed and understood by Party members and Alliance partners. Elected public representatives who are Party members have responsibilities to the Party and the Party equally has responsibilities to support and effectively (if broadly) to mandate them."

The reality is that the policies of the SACP differ markedly from those of the ANC. The ANC describes itself as a "broad multi-class, mass organization, uniting the motive forces on the basis of a programme of transformation." It is a "broad church", a "hegemonic organization" that does not seek to define itself in exclusivist, or narrow ideological terms.  The ANC says that it is and necessarily remains, home to a variety of progressive ideological currents - nationalist, Africanist, socialist and of a variety of different classes and strata, all united behind a common commitment to national democratic transformation." 

The South African Communist Party, on the other hand, regards itself as the vanguard of the working class and still supports Marxism/Leninism.  Its medium term vision is "to secure working class hegemony in the State in its diversity and in all other sites of power" which, in time, would pave the way to establishment of a fully fledged ‘socialist' (i.e. communist) state.

Nor does the SACP make any secret of its intention of progressively taking control of the ANC. The Political Report of the SACP's 11th Congress Central Committee, presented to the 12th Congress in 2007, quotes with approval the 1928 resolution of the Communist International that the Communist Party in South Africa should  aim "to transform the African National Congress into a fighting nationalist revolutionary organization against the white bourgeoisie and the British imperialists, based upon the trade unions, peasant organizations, etc., developing systematically the leadership of the workers and the Communist Party in the this organization." The SACP, in July 2007, then draws specific attention to the last point: "we repeat: ‘developing systematically the leadership of the workers and the Communist Party in this organization.'"

The founding principles of the Constitution call for "...regular elections, a multiparty system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness." These principles, in turn, must surely require that

  • millions of ANC voters should have a right to know exactly where their votes are going - since, as indicated by the 2007 Markinor poll, only 5% would vote for the SACP if it stood as a separate party;
  • a political party that would have trouble winning 5% of the vote under its own name should not emerge in Parliament with 20% of the seats;
  • a registered party that wins seats under the banner of another registered party should have no claim to maintain a separate political identity once it is in parliament.

The principle is clear: Political parties should either fight elections under their own names - or they should do so as part of a coalition that openly presents itself to the voters as a coalition, using the insignia of all the participating parties, with a clear indication of who on the coalition electoral lists belongs to which coalition member.

The Independent Panel would have done well if it had also considered this travesty of our parliamentary system. The Independent Electoral Commission, which has the responsibility of ensuring that elections are free and fair, should also give this blatant manipulation of the electoral system its urgent attention. 

Dave Steward is executive director of the F.W. de Klerk Foundation.

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It is a pity that the [Parliamentary Review] Panel did not also investigate the political sleight of hand that has enabled the South African Communist Party to establish itself as the second largest registered political party in parliament without having to win a single vote in its own name. "
Dave Steward


If you come across comments that are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate; contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs, please report them and they will be removed.
 responses to this article

All is revealed
Dave Steward, the well-known "Constitutionalist", loves the constitution because he thinks it is a "bulwark against Communism" just like the old apartheid regime used to be.

And if it should turn out that this is not quite exactly what the . .more

by Domza on January 27 2009, 07:15
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This is Africa - live with it. Dissent, questioning and accountability are verbs omitted from their dictionary.
They can not comprehend the meaning of it.
Keep the nation ignorant; follow the Judas Goat.

by old. female, pale face on January 27 2009, 08:06
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It is easy, vote against SACP by voting COPE!!!
Vote against corruption by voting against ZANU-SA; vote for return of Scorpions! The current ZANU-ZA leadership is all corrupt and they are battling with "Nomination List" by prioritising those least corrupt?

by Mute Fool on January 27 2009, 08:35
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Arrogance of the `enlightened'
Domza, the attitude of the SACP is always, surprisingly, close to the surface.The report that Steward references, ``The South African Road to Socialism: Build Working Class Hegemony, For a Socialist Oriented National Democratic Revolution'' is an . .more

by Gus Gosling on January 27 2009, 09:49
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SACP in the ANC Alliance - what's new?
"The SACP also insists that its MPs should retain their own party identity and loyalty once they have been elected to parliament under the ANC's colours." In exile, the SACP acted as a secret Central Committe within the ANC's NEC, i.e. it wrote, . .more

by Dr Selim Y Gool on January 27 2009, 11:19
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Idiot Communists
The ANC with all its faults does not entertain communism or socialism in its doctrines and policies.
Therefore by the reds aligning themselves withe the ANC it means that they are Bullshitters and not communists.
However, it is not them to blame . .more

by J on January 27 2009, 11:41
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Time to test the courts
In the next election every seat that is occupied by a member of SACP should be tested in court using Dave Stewarts arguement that you cannot have a person as an representing two different political parties as an MP

by Mike on January 27 2009, 14:12
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russia1917 comunist take over of the revolutian seven months later,eastern aurope the same tactics as we are seeing here,until the people see that it doesnt work, unfortunatly to reverse the problem requires great sacrifise

by dof on January 28 2009, 06:05
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I am Blade
I am Blade, sharp as a knife,
Not too good looking, lucky to have a wife,
I have a face only a mother could love,
Communist propaganda fits like a glove.
The russians brainwashed me back in the cold war,
Too stupid to realise, I . .more

by Blade on January 28 2009, 07:37
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there is no threat from these incompetents,there is just talk and not very much else

by bof on January 28 2009, 08:04
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This is Africa - Crime Corruption Machine Guns and Sex rule
Accept it.

by Realist on January 28 2009, 08:17
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Ignorance not bliss
SACP = Ruthless, greedy and cowardly opportunists.
And the ANC, their close allies, are not a hell of a lot better.
But the real tragedy is that most of their supporters have no idea that they are actually supporting the Communists.

by Richard on January 28 2009, 08:33
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Thanks to guys like Dave Stewart who take the trouble to monitor the underhand tactics of political individuals who know they will never get an honest public mandate because of the essential unpopularity, intellectual bankcruptcy, and outright historical . .more

by Grateful on January 28 2009, 08:35
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The same can be said of the DA and COPE - both hide elements of the former NP and ANC respectively. Opportunism and deception are part and parcel of politics.
African socialism, which has many characteristics of Marxism - centrist politburo control . .more

by ADP on January 28 2009, 09:19
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That was such a 'racist' poem to post! Too bad it gave me a good chuckle...

by Voltron on January 28 2009, 10:31
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Enough with the goddamn "This is Africa" comments. Please think of something more useful to say, you are giving away your lack of nuance, sophistication and , let's face it, intelligence.

by koos on January 28 2009, 10:47
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To Domza
The first 3 letters of your name is so fitting and descriptive of your intellectual abilities!!!!! Keep playing DOM!!!!

by Witblitz on January 28 2009, 11:14
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Who is using who?
"The cynical have always suggested that the Communists were using us," he adds. "But who is to say that we were not using them?"
- Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom.

I guess payback's a bitch.

Funny thing about communism is how it always . .more

by Caleb on January 28 2009, 12:07
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"For the people"
Caleb, I agree with your viewpoint (mainly). I think though that communism always claims to be for the good of workers (not only in the beginning). All sorts of oppressive actions can then be employed under the guise of advancing the workers.
It's . .more

by Dude on January 28 2009, 14:32
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