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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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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