By Tim Dauth and Robynne Murphy
JOHANNESBURG — The South African Communist Party's Ninth Congress, held here April 6-8, was the second since the unbanning of the SACP. Opened by Eastern Cape Premier Raymond Mhlaba, chairperson of the SACP, under the banner "Advance, Deepen and Defend the Democratic Breakthrough", the congress involved 532 delegates, representing 76,000 members and 13 regions. Sixty-six international observers, representing 39 different parties and organisations, and a number of other invited quests were also in attendance.
The enormous growth of the party since its unbanning was reflected in the youthful composition of the delegates. General secretary Charles Nqakula reported, "In July 1990 our party had just over 2000 members. In December 1991, at our Eighth Congress, we had grown more than tenfold with some 25,000 members. Today, we have again trebled that number, with 75,603 members ... we are definitely not a party that is about to wither away."
There was considerable discussion of the character of the SACP as both a vanguard and a mass party. This congress marked the beginning of a period of consolidation for the SACP, in which special attention will be given to the political and organisational development of the membership and branch structures.
Homage was paid to those who have fallen, with a special tribute to Chris Hani and Joe Slovo.
Mhlaba, in opening the congress, said, "It is imperative that we correctly locate the party within the context of this dynamic change, a change that is taking place in this country where today the party forms part of the Government of National Unity ... we must take into account how best we can consolidate the gains that we've made in our struggle in South Africa. How do we successfully direct the GNU to maintain it on the right path and how do we as a communist party consolidate our gains?"
COSATU's (Congress of South African Trade Unions) assistant general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, on behalf of its 1.4 million members, brought greeting to the congress, emphasising the challenges facing the SACP. "How do we build cadres and mobilise our people around the objectives of the Reconstruction and Development Program? How do we ensure that we build strong, vibrant structures in every township, village, rural area, workplace, school and university? The correct answer to these questions will make those martyrs who died feel that their sacrifices have not been in vain."
The congress reasserted the role of the party in its alliance with the ANC and COSATU. In Charles Nqakula's presentation of the Central Committee's report, he said, "The defence of our alliance is critical. It cannot be maintained at any price, or simply for old time's sake. Or rather, it needs to be a real alliance. If the price paid for its preservation is the effective liquidation of the independent class and ideological perspectives and independent organisation of the SACP, then it ceases to be an alliance, except in name. We assert this is a matter of principle, but we are also happy to report that there is not the slightest pressure on us in this regard from the leadership of our alliance partners."
On the second day of the congress, President Nelson Mandela addressed the congress, reflecting the strength of the alliance.
Congress discussed at length the location of South Africa's national democratic revolution within the current global balance of forces. Whilst admitting the major setbacks for the socialist project in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Committee report noted that "much of the shine has come Off the capitalist triumphalism of just three and four years ago".
"We might in the past have exaggerated the crisis of capitalism. We might have underestimated its ability to survive. We certainly need to learn many hard lessons, positive and negative, from the attempts this century to build a socialist alternative. But, as Communists, we were not fundamentally wrong. Over the past three or four years, this has been borne out once more. Capitalism has proved utterly incapable of turning its Cold War victory into anything resembling a stabilised, let alone just and humane, world order."
Congress elected its national officials and 25 members of the Central Committee. A resolution expanded the CC by including two members from each of the provincial executive committees. This was seen as important in enhancing communication with regional structures.
Those elected to national positions were: Charles Nqakula, general secretary; Raymond Mhlaba, chairperson; Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary; Blade Nzimande, deputy chairperson; Kay Moonsamy, treasurer.
These office bearers were elected unopposed after others stepped down, mainly due to their commitments as members of parliament for the ANC. The congress noted with some concern that no women were elected as national officials, and that only three women are serving on the newly elected Central Committee.
The question of women's oppression was highlighted throughout the congress, with a focus on those issues that most affect working-class and impoverished rural women. These included women workers in the lowest paid jobs where union organising is difficult — domestic work, cleaning, farms and clothing sweatshops — the role of women in unpaid labour, patriarchal prejudices of all kinds that deny women control over their own reproductive rights, including the right to choose an abortion.
After the congress's reports were delivered to the delegates, the congress broke up into commissions which discussed different sections of the Strategy and Tactics document as well as party building and the party's constitution. The commission discussions took up most of the second day; on the last day the commissions brought a number of amendments and resolutions back to the plenary session of congress.
Draft resolutions included:
- Resolution on the RDP stressing that "the RDP remains a terrain of class struggle and that it is the duty of the SACP to strengthen the working class bias of the RDP process".
- Resolution on gender issues, emphasising that gender issues be addressed as an integral part of the party program.
- Resolution on migration, committing the SACP to strive to promote a broader understanding of this issue and to combat xenophobic tendencies whenever they appear.
- Resolution on Southern African region, promoting a development-oriented approach to regional cooperation and integration, distinct from neo-liberal trade liberalisation integration models that currently dominate much of the discussion on this issue.
- Resolution on Cuba, which recognises the debt owed by the people of southern Africa to the Cubans for their selfless internationalist assistance; it calls for the immediate termination of the United States blockade.
- Resolution on international policy, in which the party committed itself to efforts to ensure a progressive foreign policy orientation of the GNU, and to developing its own relations with like-minded organisations throughout the world.
- Resolution on military expenditure, condemning the international arms trade and calling for the demilitarisation of South African society.
- Resolution on the constitution-making process, resolving that the party mobilise its membership around the constitution drafting process.
- Resolution on strategies and tactics, resolving that the party convene a national policy conference to discuss the development of campaigns, strengthening the alliance on the ground, participation in local government elections, perspectives on constitution making process, land policy and education.
- Resolution on Angola, pledging continuing support to the people of Angola and their democratically elected government.
- Resolution submitted by the Health Commission resolving that the SACP establish a health and welfare department.
- Resolution on HIV/AIDS calling on branches to embark on education campaigns, to mobilise their communities and to give all possible support to those who have AIDS in their communities.
- Resolution on the high costs of the private health sector, calling for the strengthening of the public health sector and for working towards a national health service.
- The party building resolution took up many issues of leadership, branch functioning, recruitment, organising, education, the establishment of party schools and finance. The congress decided to lower the minimum age of membership to 16 and look at the idea of a youth league. Delegates emphasised the need for more regular communication between the regions and higher structures.
In closing the congress, Charles Nqakula stated, "It is not going to be easy to implement the tasks we have defined for ourselves. There are many obstacles on the path to socialism. Our class enemy is cunning and will not give up easily the fight for minority privilege ... Let us go back to our bases and be activists charged with the consolidation of our cadres and structures."