A South African flag flies in front of a portrait of Mao. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
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Why is the ANC following the example of the Chinese Communist Party?

South Africa’s ruling party appears to be forging ever-closer ties with the Chinese government.

On the banks of the Vaal River, in the small former mining town of Venterskroon, South Africa’s ruling party is planning how to shape the country’s future. The ANC is planning to site a Political School and Policy Institute there, complete with a swimming pool, fitness centre and lecture theatres. It will be the first such institution the ANC has run since it ended its exile in Tanzania, leaving the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College behind it.

The decision to build the school was taken back in 2007 at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference. This called for a Political School which would “focus on cadre development, facilitating continuous accumulation of knowledge, and contributing to the battle of ideas and the ideological renewal of the movement”.

To realise this ambition the ANC bought a farm at Venterskroon in 2010. The school will be modelled on the Chinese Communist Party’s own cadre training organisation. This is the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP). Here Communist leaders are given a grounding in everything from Marxism-Leninism to the manipulation of the media. Now the ANC is following in the Chinese party’s footsteps.

Relations between the ANC and the Chinese Communist Party go back a very long way. As the historian Stephen Ellis revealed in his path-breaking study: External Mission: the ANC in Exile the armed struggle against apartheid was only launched after it had received the blessing from Mao Zedong on 3 November 1960. The Sino-Soviet split set back these links, but they were never totally lost.

With the ban on the ANC lifted in 1991, these ties began to be renewed. Since then there have been a steadily growing number of senior ANC leaders making their way to Beijing. As Zhong Weiyun, vice director for African Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, revealed in August 2012, 56 senior ANC leaders had attended the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in four batches.

The number has steadily risen and today hardly a senior ANC leader has not made the journey. The Chinese Communists have worked hard to make this come about. As Zhong Weiyun says, the growth of democracy in 1990s across the continent was something of a setback in their relations with Africa. “In the early 1990s, a wave of multi-party democracy swept the African continent and posed certain negative impact on Sino-African inter-party exchange. After years of sustained communications, many of the long-reigning parties with which China had invested much time and energy developing relationships were replaced.”

President Zuma has led the way in forging these links. It was during his visit to China in June 2008 that he proposed that the Communists should provide leadership training for the ANC.

Speaking during that visit Zuma made plain why he believed this was necessary. When liberation movements came to power they gradually lost touch with the people, he observed. “Once the power and authority of the people is replaced with that of the state, the leadership and the movement disconnects from the people. At times the leadership disconnects from their movements, parties or organisations. The plight of the people becomes just a theory, and leaders lose touch.”

Worse still, in Zuma’s view, was that “former colonisers in the past took advantage of the disconnection between the masses and their leaders, or leaders from their organisations or parties”. Discontent was “encouraged” coups were staged against leaders “whose power bases had been deliberately eroded”.

With the ANC’s power base gradually waning, and Zuma’s own popularity in almost terminal decline, it is not hard to see why the president is therefore keen to look to the Chinese Communists for guidance and support.  Since the ANC came to power in 1994 it has repeatedly claimed it is the victim of foreign orchestrated plots. The most recent was “revealed” when the National Union of Metalworkers was anonymously accused of a secret attempt at “regime change”. None of these plots have ever had a firm basis in reality, but they are just the kind of “threat” that the ANC Political School will teach its cadre how to contend with.

The ANC already controls large sections of the South African media. The state broadcaster, the SABC, is under tight party control. Its executives banned footage of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters chanting “pay back the money” to President Zuma, over his refusal to fund the renovations at his villa at Nkandla.

An increasing number of newspapers also toe the party line, including the New Age, which is openly pro-ANC. Chinese money was involved in the return of the Independent News and Media Group to South African hands. In November there were complaints that the government is using its advertising budgets in an attempt to control the media. A political school would be perfectly placed to inculcate these subtle and not so subtle techniques.

Jacob Zuma promised that the ANC will rule until the second coming of Christ. If that means learning the authoritarian measures used by the Chinese Communists against the Tibetans, or the democracy protesters in Hong Kong, then so be it.

Editor’s note, 7 January: this story was amended to correct the name of the media group purchase that involved Chinese money

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories