SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande has for the first time admitted he was too trusting of his friend-turned-nemesis President Jacob Zuma and got betrayed as a result.
Nzimande, who was a vocal supporter of Zuma and paved the way for his election in the 2007 ANC Polokwane conference, watered down that particular conference as a marriage of convenience.
Speaking at the first day of the South African Communist Party’s 14th national congress at the Birchwood Hotel, East of Johannesburg, Nzimande didn’t mince his words about how disappointed he was at Zuma’s leadership, saying the trust had been broken.
“We feel battered in terms of the understanding we had in Polokwane. Our trust has been broken. Unless we root ourselves among the people, we can’t freely give trust which, when broken, things go haywire,” he said, taking a moment to reflect off the cuff.
Nzimande noted some advances made under the Zuma government, for example, the establishment of Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission to ensure the re-orientation of state-led infrastructure spending.
However he lamented the weaknesses and “parasitic activities” involving the Guptas in key state-owned entities like Eskom and Transnet and other government sectors, saying this constrained potential impact.
He referred to Nkandla, saying the vanity project phenomenon, which saw the building of stadiums for the 2010 Football World Cup, continued unabated with the massive overspending at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.
“The massive overspending at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead symbolised both the continuation as well as the personalisation of the vanity project phenomenon.”
Linked to that, he added in his criticism of Zuma’s leadership style, “a growing inclination to authoritarianism and presidentialism. Nostalgia for military-style, top-down command and control was openly expressed.”
Nzimande suggested the Zuma presidency was worse than Thabo Mbeki’s.
“If opposition to Mbeki at the 2007 Polokwane conference was centred on the struggle against over-centralisation within the presidency, we are clearly now in a much worse situation,” he said.
Nzimande said it was “as if the accusers were not themselves involved in a silent coup against a democratically elected government, and as if they were not actively betraying South Africa’s democratic national sovereignty.”
Meanwhile, Nzimande urged the government to terminate the contracts awarded to the controversial Gupta family, close friends of Zuma’s.
Those attending the gathering included an ANC delegation led by the party’s deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe also arrived while Nzimande was speaking and was warmly received by delegates.
Zuma was not invited to the gathering. The SACP adopted the position not to have him at their gatherings since they, together with Cosatu, called on him to step down.
SACP delegates will discuss whether to leave the ANC alliance and contest elections in 2019. They are also set to chose their new leaders.
Nzimande was expected to retain his position for another five-year term. He has held this position since 1998.
His deputy, Jeremy Cronin, has said he would not avail himself, and second deputy general secretary Solly Mapila told City Press he wouldn’t contest a man he considered his mentor. He said the time was simply not right.
Earlier in the morning, some delegates from the Eastern Cape and Western Cape were heard singing songs calling for Mapila to take over Nzimande.