Johannesburg - The South African Communist Party’s membership continues to grow and has reached nearly a quarter of a million, the party’s first deputy secretary Jeremy Cronin said at its special congress on Tuesday.

“Our membership is presently at 230 000 members, and these are active members. The SACP is growing in leaps and bounds,” Cronin told journalists in Soweto where the congress will continue until Saturday.

Almost half of the membership was female and majority of them were young, he said.

“This makes us the largest party in membership within the tripartite alliance, after the ANC. It emerged from the alliance summit that the SACP was the most stable within the tripartite alliance and has grown significantly.”

The party’s second deputy president, Solly Mapaila, said the SACP was the biggest campaigner within the alliance.

“Our growth can attributed to our campaigns through out the years, that is what makes the SACP. It is the organisers on the ground that work hard and reach out to our people,” he said.

Cronin added that although the party was growing, its members were mostly unemployed, indicating the extent of joblessness among young South Africans. He said the progress made from 1994 was being eroded by poverty and unemployment.

The SACP, which considers itself the vanguard of the working class, is holding its third special congress since 2005.

Among the central issues that would be discussed by delegates were its position within the alliance and calls that the party break away to contest elections alone.

Cronin said the party expected congress to call for the SACP to go it alone, but believed that it was better to remain within the alliance fold.

“We think the ANC should remain at the forefront of our movement, we want to remain members of the ANC… but this is not necessarily a timeless arrangement. This topic is not a taboo within the party and our view is that it should be engaged going forward..”

Mpumalanga has been the most vocal of all provinces in calling for the SACP to break away, added Cronin.

Mapaila outlined the programme for the four-day congress, and added that delegates from seven provinces had arrived at the venue by 2pm.