PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — A sea of red surrounded the almost 2,000-strong opening session of the South African Communist Party’s 12th Congress held here July 12. The delegates received greetings from Kgalema Motlanthe, secretary-general of the governing African National Congress, and from the Communist Party of China. SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande presented the main political report.

Motlanthe pointed to the SACP’s goal of seeking and struggling for a socialist path in South Africa. Motlanthe referred to President Thabo Mbeki’s speech at a recent ANC conference, in which Mbeki said the ANC, which he also heads, respected the SACP’s singular role in leading the fight for a socialist transformation of South Africa, adding that this was not the ANC’s purpose. (For Motlanthe’s full speech, go to www.pww.org.)

Nzimande also used Mbeki’s remarks as one of the points of departure for his remarks. Nzimande said that the press had distorted the president’s meaning when it claimed he was rebuking the SACP.

The SACP leader went on to point out a number of key struggles that the party had taken initiative on.

A most important political development, in Nzimande’s view, was that the ANC had in the recent period adjusted its policies and now favored the concept of a developmental state and a new industrial policy.

The goal of the party, he argued, is a working-class-led national democratic revolution. The SACP has recruited over 30,000 members since its last congress.

Nzimande’s address was followed by remarks from delegates, many of whom expressed frustration at the slow pace of change. The relationship between the party and the ruling ANC was a theme that ran through almost all the presentations.

The SACP congress takes place in a crucial pre-election year and is the second of three important policymaking forums of the “tripartite alliance,” which includes the ANC, the SACP, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). Cosatu’s congress took place last fall, and the ANC’s conference will take place in December. The ANC has an electoral mandate from 70 percent of South Africa’s population. The next national election takes place in 2009.

The SACP congress continued on July 13 with an address by the leaders of Cosatu and the country’s Young Communist League.

Curiously, no mention was made at the opening session of the strike of 230,000 metal workers, which was by then in its fourth day. Strike leaders reported that over 70 percent heeded the strike call, making it an overwhelming success. Large enterprises were particularly affected, with company officials reporting “between 50 percent and 90 percent absentee rates.” Rallies across the country were reported to be well attended, militant and exuberant, with metal workers dancing in the streets. The metal workers are demanding a 10 percent pay increase.

In an unrelated economic action, workers at the world famous Kruger National Park are on strike demanding union recognition.

Joe Sims (joesims @political affairs.net) is editor of Political Affairs magazine. He represented the Communist Party USA at the SACP congress.