The new ANC leadership, and particularly its new president, Jacob Zuma, has been subjected to dramatically unfair and distorted reporting, writes SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande in the Sunday Times. Underlying this has been a class project to force Zuma to endorse pro-business policies.

SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande writes in the Sunday Times:

The ANC National Executive Committee meeting under way this weekend will discuss some of the key challenges facing our country and the ANC in the wake of the highly successful 52nd National Conference in Polokwane.

As secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has pointed out, discussions will include an assessment of the Polokwane conference, the state of our organisation, and challenges ahead.

Unfortunately, since the conclusion of our Polokwane conference, there have been concerted attempts by sections of the media and ANC detractors to try to project the new ANC leadership as a divided house.

Our president is projected as a “chameleon”, trying to be everything to everybody. His speeches are consistently distorted almost beyond recognition. It is clear that sections of the media are working with faceless sources to try to distract the ANC. Some of these sources have not accepted the outcomes of our historic conference.

The most unfortunate part is that a golden opportunity to debate key challenges facing our country is being lost.

The immediate aim of these attempts is to de-focus our organisation from the Polokwane mandate, keep us permanently on the defensive, sow distrust among the leadership, and blackmail us into abandoning key policy resolutions .

One of the key tasks and challenges of our NEC meeting this weekend is to correctly analyse and expose these manoeuvres, consolidate the work done since Polokwane and further strengthen the organisational capacity of the ANC.

This political and ideological blackmail takes a variety of forms. There is a concerted effort to pressurise our president, Jacob Zuma, to pronounce on “his own” economic policies.

When he correctly insists that he has no policies of his own, but only those of the ANC, he is condemned as indecisive, or even insulted as an “opportunist”. Most of the media have adopted this attitude.

But beneath this is a class ploy to pressure president Zuma to endorse and publicly embrace policies that favour big business and other elites. Only then will he be regarded by the rich and elites as a “true leader”. Why is it “populist” for our allies to raise their own issues and expectations about Polokwane, but acceptable and “sensible” for a coalition of elites to try to blackmail us?

Our president has been wrongly labelled a “populist” and, for him to prove that he is no such “populist” nor a “prisoner of the left”, it seems he must simply take on the ideas of big business and its allies. This is ideological blackmail par excellence!

President Zuma is essentially being asked to operate outside and often in opposition to the ANC and the many pro- poor policies adopted at Polokwane. Polokwane was emphatic in its rejection of past practices where leaders pronounced their idiosyncratic interpretation of ANC policies. As the collective leadership of the ANC and its alliance partners, we refuse to pander to the narrow class prejudices of elites. We shall not be derailed.

Another question constantly posed is whether there is going to be any change in economic policies. The very people who ask this question behave as if they do not know what the Polokwane resolutions say.

Zuma has again said there will be no change in ANC policies as adopted at its conferences. This is different from saying there will be no change in current government policies, as Polokwane already contains many significant economic policy shifts — for example, abandonment of the “willing seller, willing buyer” practice in land reform, the establishment of a state mining company, and a more interventionist state in the economy, among others .

Another image that is being fostered about the ANC since Polokwane is that it is a hodgepodge of a whole range of forces, brought together by some grievance, with our NEC derided as an “alliance of convenience”.

The ANC is by its nature and character a liberation movement that brings together a variety of class forces and strata in South African society. Despite being a ruling party, the ANC has correctly chosen to remain a broad liberation movement, rather than a narrow parliamentary party.

It is precisely this character of the ANC that was reaffirmed and deepened at Polokwane. Of even more significance was that at Polokwane the ANC sought to rebuild the unity of its constituent components, many of whom were feeling marginalised from the ANC mainstream: the workers, communists, youth, women and former Umkhonto weSizwe combatants.

The strength of the ANC lies in its broad character, uniting all these social and class forces for the liberation and reconstruction of our country. It is indeed inevitable that movements as broad as the ANC will be characterised by internal contradictions. But not all such contradictions are necessarily unhealthy, as they are often an expression of a dynamic, living movement.

The task of the leadership is to seek to channel these energies into the overall struggle to reconstruct and transform our country. Precisely because Polokwane produced a broadly representative leadership collective, it is more than capable of effectively uniting these various strands of our movement. That is the fear of the rich and our detractors!

Most of the media and many analysts have chosen to analyse the ANC in terms of dichotomies: “Luthuli House vs Union Buildings”; “Zuma vs Mbeki”; “Polokwane resolutions vs government policies”; “ANC vs allies” . As a result, most of the debate has been imprisoned by its own dichotomous analyses of the ANC. In the process, very fundamental debates and policy issues raised by the Polokwane conference have been lost. It is as if the Polokwane conference had not happened!

When we raise these issues, some of the media complain that they are not the creators of the “divisions” in the ANC, but are simply reflecting on a “reality”.

Indeed, the free media that we struggled to bring about has a right to reflect on what they see as divisions. But this has become the only method with which to engage the ANC — thus reducing itself into prophesy ing about the ANC instead of intelligently informing broader society and becoming a platform for vibrant societal debates.

To illustrate this : an important resolution about the transformation of the criminal justice system, including the dissolution of the Scorpions, has been give narrow treatment by the media.

The focus has exclusively been on the Scorpions, and even then mainly analysed within the prism of the “Polokwane resolution vs government positions” dichotomy, thus eschewing a very important debate about the challenges facing our criminal justice system.

The ANC has been enormously emboldened and strengthened by the Polokwane resolutions and will not be derailed from the mandate of that conference. Instead, it is the South African media that require a paradigm shift, a change in mind-set, as it were, to move away from sensationalist analyses and fulfil what they have always claimed to be their mandate, that of critically informing society.

* Nzimande is an ANC NEC member and general secretary of the SACP. This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on 16 March 2008.