Analysis of the role of the SACP in formulating the development policies of the ANC: The case of the National Development Plan (NPD)


Lolonga Lincoln Tali, PhD candidate, Department of History and Political Studies, Nelson Mandela University

Gary Prevost, Research Associate and Honorary Professor, Department of History and Political Studies, Nelson Mandela University


The South African Communist Party (SACP) has always been determined to establish a socialist republic in South Africa since its formation in 1929 as the Communist Party of South Africa and its rebirth in 1953 as the present-day SACP. It has had some of its members as high-level officials in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government since the elections of 1994. One of its adopted slogans is: ‘Socialism is the future, build it now’. The lingering question, judging the performance and trajectory of the economy and the lives of the previously disadvantaged, is whether the Party has been able to influence government policy for the benefit of the working class and whether its hopes of the building of socialism ever can be realised. This paper will analyse the role of the SACP in formulating the development policies of the African National Congress (ANC) government with a particular focus on the National Development Plan (NDP), the current guiding document of the ANC for major government programs.  The key question to be asked is whether the NDP bears the marks of the SACP’s vision for a socialist South Africa.

‘NGOisation’ of the African National Congress in post-1994: Revisiting SACP traditions of revolutionary critique by Pedro Mzileni**

This paper argues that the African National Congress (ANC), during the post-1994 epoch, has negated its revolutionary path to become a minimalistic entity that is embedded in addressing sentimental issues from the major challenges that the South African society is faced with. The ‘revolutionary path’ in this instance is defined as the structural programme of reconstruction that seeks to dismantle the existing patterns of colonialism and apartheid to transform the economic livelihoods of the African majority. The South African Communist Party (SACP) traditions of revolutionary critique are utilised in this paper as a theoretical framework to make this case – where the Party is known to have historically argued that one of the key aspects to drive a decisive break with the past is to demonopolize the ownership of property relations and their subsequent socio-political correlations back to the hands of the people as a whole. Through this approach, the SACP argued, the revolutionary movement would begin a process to construct a non-racial, non-sexist, and prosperous society that is disentangled from all forms of racial, gendered, and class inequalities. The paper will focus on four key policy programmes advanced by the post-1994 ANC’s organisational machinery and its government (reconciliation, vuk’ uzenzele, ‘free’ education, and organisational renewal) to make the case of how it has shifted its revolutionary character into ‘NGOisation’ – wherein it advanced political initiatives that were not aimed at achieving structural social transformation as outlined by the SACP’s theoretical traditions. For the ANC to restore its revolutionary character and continue being a liberation movement for the future, the paper argues for a systematic break with epistemic imperialism where progressive literature and ideas would be embraced in its ranks for purposes of shifting it back to the ‘Left’.

Keywords: ‘NGOisation’, ANC, SACP, revolutionary theory, reconciliation, Covid-19, stimulus package, minimum wage, Vuk’ uzenzele, #BlackLivesMatter, #FeesMustFall

** Pedro Mzileni is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. Email: 

Proposal for South African History Online reflection on 100 years of SACP by Dr John Reynolds, Rhodes University

Short biography:

Dr John Reynolds is a Senior Researcher in the Department of Sociology and Industrial Sociology at Rhodes University. Prior to establishing the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) at Rhodes University, he accumulated over twenty years of applied research and policy experience. Dr Reynold’s book, Development Planning in South Africa: Provincial Policy and State Power in the Eastern Cape, was published by Zed Books in 2018, and an edited book for which he is the lead editor – entitled Race, Class and the Post-Apartheid Democratic State – was published by UKZN Press in 2019.

Proposed Panel:

Socialist Futures

Proposed Topic:

Negotiating a socialist future through the South African state


The South African Communist Party (SACP) has maintained a formal role in the South African state through its membership of the governing tripartite alliance since 1994. However, the effectiveness of that role for the building of socialism has been questioned, despite campaigns around particular policy issues, contributions to critiques of South African capitalism and neoliberal practice, deployment of cadres to senior positions within the South African state, and mobilisation of support for contenders in ANC leadership elections. Persistently high levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment, poor education and health outcomes, high levels of violence in all spheres of social interaction, and a “rebellion of the poor” demonstrate the need for coordinated state intervention at scale. However, collapsing state apparatuses, corruption and decreasing levels of participation in state democratic processes continue to erode the potential and scope of such intervention. Political mobilisation at a distance from the state – and outside the tripartite alliance – has had limited impact on the organisation of power within the state in pursuit of a socialist ideal. Despite flirtation with the notion of independent contestation of elections, the SACP continues to aid the reproduction of ANC institutional practices that exclude socialist alternatives from below. Even pursuit of a more independent electoral platform would have to contend with institutional practices within the SACP that inhibit the breadth and depth of democratic engagement required for the development of a socialist future by democratic means. My paper considers the scope for the effective completion of stage two of the national democratic revolution, or, put differently, the scope for effective organisation of power in the South African state to establish a society organised equitably and in harmony with the natural world, and where social and economic conditions enable active participation by its members in its political, economic, social and cultural life

Abstract for SAHO SACP centenary Panel 6 “Socialist Futures” by Jeremy Cronin,  SACP

“Socialism is the Future, Build it Now” – the SACP’s attempt to re-think the socialist struggle

Coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the 1990 unbanning of the SACP occurred in a paradoxical conjuncture for the party. For the first 70 years of the Communist Party of South Africa/South African Communist Party (CPSA/SACP’s) existence, the Soviet Union had constituted its major ideological reference point. This collapse created a major existential challenge for the party. Yet, by the late 1980s the SACP’s popularity within South Africa had never been greater, with leading personalities like Chris Hani enjoying very significant support.

Both the formal legalisation of the SACP and the collapse of the Soviet bloc produced internal ructions. Around half of the Central Committee, elected in April 1989 at the 7th Congress held in Cuba, quietly resigned in early 1990. What was the relevance of a socialist struggle and of an SACP in the 1990s?

Since the late 1920s, the CPSA/SACP had been committed to a “two-stage theory” – a national democratic revolution to be followed in “a second” socialist “stage”. After the 1994 democratic breakthrough, this two-stage-ism was aggressively turned against the SACP by a leading group within the ANC. The ongoing relevance of the SACP was questioned. The notion of an NDR was transformed, in these quarters, into “completing the bourgeois democratic revolution”, by de-racialising capitalist South Africa, with black economic empowerment a major pillar. The SACP was “irrelevant” to this task it was argued.

From 1995 the SACP endeavoured to break with “two stage-ism”, advancing the slogan “Socialism is the Future – Build It Now!” The intention was not to displace the primacy of a unifying national democratic struggle or the alliance with the ANC, but to argue for the imperative of a socialist-orientation.

The paper will develop an overview of how this approach impacted on internal ANC-led alliance debates, programmatic differences, and SACP organisational practices. The future of the Alliance, the development of popular left fronts will be referenced. Finally, some consideration will be given to lessons learnt for an ongoing socialist struggle.  


Jeremy Cronin was recruited into the SACP underground in 1968. He was arrested in July 1976 and sentenced to seven years in Pretoria Maximum Security Prison. After release he was elected to the United Democratic Front (UDF) Western Cape executive as provincial political education officer. After a brief spell in exile in Lusaka, he represented the SACP at the Codesa negotiations. He has served on the SACP central committee since 1989, and was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) in 1991 serving for 20 years. He was an MP between 1999 and 2019, and served as a deputy minister between 2009 and 2019. He has an MA from the Sorbonne and has published widely.

Industrial development from below: a decentralised, democratic, production model for the 21st Century? by Patrick Brennan

Since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, successive South African administrations implemented a range of economic transformation policies, with mixed results. When evaluated on their own terms they have focused on deracialising the existing neoliberal capitalist mode of production and at best creating a “patriotic bourgeoisie”, as opposed to building socialist alternatives. As the interconnected global crises of capitalism intensify everywhere, exacerbated by the COVID emergency, there has been a simultaneous intensification of the technological shift towards new production systems based on artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” underpinning the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, where open source information, communication and production technology becomes widely available at relatively low cost. This new environment creates the space for the emergence of alternative economic models including those that involve decentralized, democratised production systems of various kinds. The development of theories and praxis exploring possibilities for such decentralized, democratised production systems draws on a rich communist revolutionary tradition of “building socialism in the present”, from the Paris Commune to Red Vienna as well as modern worker owned co-operatives. South Africa is well positioned to engage this process partly because of the history of the National Democratic Revolution. Organs of people’s power should be re-activated and capacitated at neighbourhood level to participate in the local ownership of productive assets. This change in the mode of production, where community owned industrial assets become a feature, could be viewed as a necessary stepping-stone towards the ultimate de-commodification of the economy as originally foreseen by Marx, Engels and others, and the emergence of what has been described as “fully automated luxury communism”. The space exists for worker and community owned production systems to be built now, alongside and inside the present system. These structures can then serve as a platform for a future successful transition to a democratically controlled socialist economy, where it won’t matter if robots do all the work because the community owns the robots.

Patrick Brennan is a researcher for the Transition Township Project at Nelson Mandela University. He previously worked for over 20 years as a management consultant in research, data analysis, strategic planning, implementation, and reporting, across a wide range of industries including energy, transport, mining, manufacturing, retail, media, government, and financial services.  His current research involves local economic development and the piloting of community owned renewable energy and food production in working class townships, in and around Nelson Mandela Bay.