’ve known Trevor Manuel since the early 1980s. Although we’ve long since disagreed on many things, I still regard him as a friend. It was with unsurprised interest, therefore, that I read his anti-SA Communist Party (SACP) tirade, “Blurring of the blur” (City Press, July 12 2015). How to respond? Let me make an assumption with which many of my SACP comrades will disagree. I assume Manuel’s intervention was out of concern for the wellbeing of the SACP rather than an attempt to rubbish us.
If I’m right, then Trevor (if not Manuel) will be relieved to learn that the specific concerns he raises are groundless.
He writes that the SACP failed to applaud the previous week’s judgment in the Western Cape High Court ruling that emolument attachment orders against farm workers were illegal. In fact, the SACP immediately issued an extensive statement saluting the ruling.
Since 2000, the SACP has been actively campaigning against attachment-order irregularities, loan sharks and corrupt clerks of the court.
However, Manuel uses this misinformed allegation as a platform for a broader point. The SACP’s supposed failure to applaud Judge Siraj Desai’s ruling is, he writes sarcastically, “perhaps because it was a court decision (aren’t all judges ‘class enemies’?)”.
Concern about judicial overreach certainly shouldn’t become a cover for an anti-judiciary stance that has little to do with defending the Constitution and everything to do with seeking to subvert the rule of law.
This is why the SACP has warmly saluted several recent judgments from, for instance, the Constitutional Court, among them the important judgment in the Mark Shuttleworth case that government was legally entitled to deduct R240 million from Shuttleworth’s expatriation of billions to an overseas tax haven, and the more recent judgment that liquor retail licences are not corporate “private property”.
Both judgments were delivered, as it happens, by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
I cite these specific and important judgments because the SACP and its alliance partners have also expressed concern that some of what Moseneke has advocated in academic lectures represents, in our view, a problematic blurring of the separation-of-powers doctrine. We should, and do, commend excellent judgments and critique poor ones whenever they occur, regardless of who makes them.
A second specific allegation made against the SACP by Manuel is that we’ve failed to say anything about the Marikana Commission of Inquiry’s report. Again, he is misinformed. After the public release of the report, the SACP issued a brief welcoming statement. Contrary to Manuel’s claim that we’ve “become an organisation that just protests on any issue that comes along”, we chose to reserve fuller comment pending a study of the report.
We waited for the SACP national congress to provide a relatively extensive perspective on the commission’s findings. Delivering the central committee report to congress, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande noted that the Farlam commission singled out for harsh criticism the conduct of senior police both for the tragically incompetent tactical handling of the situation on the ground, and the subsequent cover-up.
“The SACP supports the recommendation that steps be taken,” Nzimande said, “to inquire into the fitness of the national commissioner and the now retired North West provincial commissioner to hold office.”
He went on: “We also welcome the recommendation that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate establishes whether any of the SA Police Service shooters exceeded the bounds of self-defence and whether criminal proceedings should be introduced.”
Nzimande commended those from the media (not simply by definition, Trevor, our “class enemies”) who exposed evidence of a second scene of police shooting at Marikana. In these respects, the SACP was agreeing with what had been well-rehearsed publicity. However, we noted the commercial media had been exceedingly poor in its coverage of other critical aspects of the Farlam report that contradicted prevailing narratives on the tragedy.
In particular, we noted a pseudo-left narrative that sought to portray the strikers as virtuous proletarians taking on the combined might of the state, Lonmin and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). NUM members and shop stewards became joint perpetrators of the massacre that was designed, we were told, “to protect mine property”.
The Farlam commission presents a different and more accurate perspective in this regard. It found that the strike, which commenced on August 9 2012, was from the outset characterised by high levels of intimidation and quickly descended into a complete disregard for the lives of nonstrikers. It finds most of these attacks were perpetrated by a core group among the strikers, and continued relentlessly both during and after the strike.
The commission further found that, on August 11 2012, the strikers who marched on the NUM office at Western Platinum Mine did so with violent intent, armed with dangerous weapons. Accordingly, NUM members in that office who acted to protect themselves were exonerated.
This finding is absolutely central to debunking the narrative that gunshot injuries to two strikers among those surrounding the NUM office on that day were the “gamechanger” that introduced violence into an otherwise “normal” labour strike.
Another specific issue Manuel raises in his attack on the SACP relates to the National Development Plan (NDP) and to me personally. I quote: “The SACP’s first deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, spoke about a commitment by the party to implement part of the NDP and then to hold out to radicalise the rest. As deputy minister of public works, he was present when Cabinet agreed to implement the NDP. My sense is that even if he had a slightly different view, he is bound by the decision of the executive.”
Back in 1996 Manuel presented his shock-therapy Growth,
COMRADES AT ARMS SACP first deputy secretary and deputy minister of public works Jeremy Cronin (left) and then minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel (right) host a press conference in Cape Town in this 2011 file photo