THERE have been longer political speeches, and here at the Mahogany Ridge the regulars are quick to point out that the five-day mumblethon by Mangosuthi Buthelezi to the then-Natal legislature in 1993 is apparently a world record.
But even so, the three-hour display of dull vapours by the SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande at the party’s special national congress in Soweto on Wednesday must represent a landmark of sorts.
South African communists, many commentators have pointed out, do not shy from jargon and obfuscatory rhetoric when it comes to what they call “constructive debate” and, typical of the half-learned, their speeches are choked with cliches regurgitated from tired polemics that were vaguely fashionable among the more lunatic fringes of the British trade union movement in the early 1970s.
As befitting a man of his position, Nzimande’s “central committee report” contained an embarrassment of mangled and garbled language. It was so tortured, all these important-sounding “big words”, that it was beyond parody. To wit, and a sentence chosen at random:
“The anti-majoritarian liberal offensive is paradoxically reinforced from the apparent opposite end of the ideological spectrum by an array of social movement, anti-state ideological currents rooted in various strands of syndicalism, workerism, and an increasingly demagogic populism.”
And so Nzimande railed away at all his pet peeves, including the Democratic Alliance, who were using the judiciary to take over the country; the courts themselves, who were not watching their step; ditto the media, who had very strange notions about the freedom of expression; and opposition political parties, who were behaving like, well, opposition political parties.
This, at least, was how the newspapers reported it, and I must take their word for it, for I am certainly not going to attempt to read Nzimande’s speech. At more than 15 000 words, it is potentially brain-damaging. And life is very short as it is.
Some commentators saw a nostalgic element in the speech as Nzimande, in the words of author and journalist Ray Hartley, “shed his celebrity personality to own the role of Comrade Blade, a sometimes tragic, sometimes comic throwback to the raw establishment radicalism of the Stalin era”.
It is easy, then, to imagine Nzimande as some doctrinaire apparatchik, a dour branch leader from a Georgian farm collective delivering, let’s say, a report of the 1953 harvest to Soviet officials. “We have triumphed in the ongoing struggle for the increasing de-commodification of this, the most basic of all social needs, adequate nutrition for the people. . .”
With that, and on a whim, I decided to search the speech to see if Comrade Blade had dwelt on agricultural matters. Thanks to the anti-majoritarian, monopoly capital interests responsible for the manufacture of my computer, I was able to type “tractor” in a search function, hit a button and there it was, a long-winded whine about Afgri, the agricultural services company.
It seems it was originally a co-op, dating back some 90 years. In other words, a racist, colonial, anti-majoritarian, apartheid construct. But, after 1994, instead of servicing “emerging and subsistence farmers”, it was “allowed” to become a JSE-listed company. Last year, it delisted and was bought out by a North American group. It still owns a huge slice of the country’s grain storage capacity and continues to service some 7 000 mainly commercial farmers.
But wait. There’s more. “[Afgri] is also the largest supplier of John Deere tractors in Africa. This means that a critical asset for national food sovereignty is now a financialised entity owned by foreign speculators.”
Said the communist leader who is chauffeur-driven, not in John Deere tractors or harvesters, but in luxury German limos. And who scares the hell out us with all his prattle of food sovereignty. Because the naïf clearly knows nowt of which he spake. . .
But even Nzimande couldn’t stomach all of his speech. So, perhaps in a bid to lighten things up, he took a departure from his prepared text to tell his bum-numbed comrades that he and SACP treasurer Joyce Moloi-Moropa’s lives were in danger because they had criticised a deal in which the SABC had been “engulfed into Multichoice and its monopoly”.
He further delighted his audience by telling them he’d rather watch Russian television for a global perspective than read local newspapers or watch news channels such as the CNN and BBC, which he described as “international propaganda”.
I don’t know about his life being in danger. But I can well believe that he doesn’t trust the news. People with tunnel vision have very strong views about such things.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.