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SACP expels freelance journalist

SAPA, 16 August 2000

Johannesburg - Freelance journalist Dale McKinley was expelled on Wednesday from the South African Communist Party for "consistently and publicly" attacking leaders of the African National Congress-led tripartite alliance.

The decision follows a weekend disciplinary hearing.

His expulsion is apparently the first in seven years and follows the 1993 expulsion of the late KwaZulu-Natal midlands ANC leader Harry Gwala.

The SACP said in a statement on Wednesday that by expelling McKinley it was not calling into question the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

McKinley was found guilty on two charges of "publicly and consistently attacking the leadership of the ANC, and to a lesser extent the leadership of Cosatu and the SACP", the party said.

He was also found guilty of "publicly and consistently promoting positions that undermine the SACP".

The disciplinary committee found that in many of McKinley's published articles, including in the Mail and Guardian, he had acted against the spirit and letter of the SACP's constitution.

This included the duty to bring credit to the SACP and to strengthen the liberation alliance headed by the ANC.

The party's decision was about organisational discipline and about the rights and duties of an SACP member.

"We are not in any way calling into question the right of South African citizens to free speech."

The decision to expel McKinley also rested on the fact that he was no longer a new member still trying to develop an understanding of SACP policy..

It was also not the first disciplinary hearing brought against McKinley.

McKinley was not immediately available for comment, but the defence he made during his hearing was made public on Wednesday.

McKinley told the disciplinary hearing that it was with a profound sense of disappointment and justifiable anger that he found himself facing disciplinary charges.

The charges represented "a misplaced and dangerous attempt to discourage and/or silence legitimate socialist debate and critique", he said.

McKinley said he had every right, in terms of the Constitution and the SACP's constitution, to voice personal opinions "as part of engaging in the very free speech that we communists fought so long and hard to gain (and now need to protect)".

"The SACP, better than most other organisations, should appreciate the absolute need to affirm and defend these rights."

McKinley also argued that if the SACP's national leadership was really interested in seeking "transgressions" and "indiscipline" among its ranks, they had chosen the wrong target.

"There is ample evidence of the consistent violation of SACP policies and programmes by many SACP leaders who have been elected to defend, and struggle for, the socialist principles and practice contained therein."

McKinley said it could be no coincidence that a blind eye had been turned to such unacceptable and disreputable organisational and political 'behaviour' whilst serious disciplinary charges were brought against himself for trying to do the very things that any good communist would do.

"The national leadership of the SACP must decide now, whether an SACP made-up of an organisationally cowed, ideologically confused and politically unprincipled membership is what they want to nurture and lead.

"If this is what the SACP becomes, then, just like so many other communist parties, it too will gradually slip into political and practical oblivion."

McKinley said there were few principles more important than struggling to defend and extend than the basic human right to freedom of expression.

"Being a member of the SACP does not translate into giving up this right, in the name of a misplaced and erroneous application of 'organisational discipline'."

McKinley warned against ignoring the lessons of history.

"The tragic consequences of the bureaucratic and politically opportunistic stifling of open and honest critique and debate within communist parties throughout the 20th century are there for all of us to see and learn from."