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ANC gets tough on Reds in its bed

Published Dec 20, 2002

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By John Battersby and Andre Koopman

President Thabo Mbeki, in triumphant mood after an incoming national executive committee (NEC) strengthened his leadership of the ruling party, declared war on the ultra-left within ANC ranks, threatening them with "stern action" for undermining the organisation at its 51st conference in Stellenbosch this week.

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Mbeki waited for the outcome of the national executive elections, which put finance minister Trevor Manuel and business leader Cyril Ramaphosa in the the top two slots, before laying into the left, while also proclaiming that the ANC was as united as ever before.

Manuel said afterwards that his election to the top position on the list was a vote of confidence in government's tough economic policies that were beginning to bear results.

Closing a conference which Mbeki said "marked the conclusion of the transitional period of recovery from 30 years of illegality", the ANC president appeared to have outmanoeuvred the left tactically while embracing them rhetorically.

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Mbeki said that people posing as communists "and advocating positions at odds with the 'correct' positions of the South African Communist Party" (SACP) had once again abused their ANC membership by distributing lists of people they wanted to place on the ANC's national executive committee.

"The constitution of the ANC prohibits factional activity within our ranks," Mbeki warned in his closing speech to the ANC's marathon five-day conference in Stellenbosch.

"Our movement will have to take stern action against those who thus acted to divide our movement even as they sat among us wearing ANC T-shirts," Mbeki said, in an ominous warning which many trade unionists saw as a clear sign that tensions within the tripartite alliance would continue despite the ANC leadership's commitment to the continuation of the alliance.

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SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, voted 25th on the NEC, distanced the SACP from the distribution of special lists but added that he hoped the latest move would not lead to a witchhunt.

"We hope that whatever happens, this doesn't become a witchhunt against communists," Nzimande said.

"Then it's going to become a very unhealthy situation," he said. "Communists are not stepchildren or half-cousins of the ANC. They are full members in their own right."

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Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who with Cosatu president Willie Madisha did not make himself available for election to the ANC executive, played down tensions after Mbeki's speech. Earlier Vavi welcomed the main thrust of Mbeki's opening speech on Monday.

Alliance insiders pointed to the fact that National Union of Mineworkers president Gwede Mantashe, the trade union movement's best hope for a position among the 60 elected members of the ANC executive, failed to make it.

In his closing speech to the conference, which immediately preceded Mbeki's, ANC policy unit head Jeff Radebe identified "neo-liberalism and ultra-leftism" as the immediate threats facing the ANC but insisted on portraying the ANC as "left".

"As a disciplined force of the left, the ANC's policies are rooted in the needs and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of South Africans, many of whom are poor," he said.

"Their interests are at the heart of the ANC agenda," Radebe added, in a clear bid to place the ANC as the authentic representative of the poor.

As Manuel's name was read as the person who topped the ANC executive elections with 2 800 votes on Friday, the Western Cape delegation erupted into applause that grew as Manuel walked up to the podium.

It was reassurance from the people and the ANC delegates, and support for the tough policy decisions government had had to make, Manuel said, interpreting his election as a vote of confidence for government's macro-economic policies.

The former United Democratic Front (UDF) activist said that on a personal level he was pleased with the outcome of the election. "It was a surprise because I hadn't lobbied anybody."

Cyril Ramaphosa ran a close second to Manuel, polling 2 778 votes. Ramaphosa was placed first at the last NEC election in 1997 and Manuel seventh.

Asked if he intended to become more active in the ANC, Ramaphosa, who had been groomed by former ANC president Nelson Mandela to succeed him, said: "I will continue to play my role in the ANC from where I am in business".

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