The political dust churned up by President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle may have obscured the canny manoeuvering of a wily old campaigner.
Many commentators, and the SA Communist Party (SACP) itself, pointed instantly to the sacking of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande as one of the worst blows of the reshuffle.
There were dire predictions that the tripartite alliance between the ANC, SACP and Cosatu would collapse.
Zuma, though, appointed Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela to a deputy minister position and left other Communists untouched in government.
That move could drive a wedge between those Communists who want to leave the alliance and those who, like Manamela, now have good jobs in the administration. Zuma has effectively challenged the SACP to put up or shut up.
By doing so, he has shown he is confident enough to go it alone, but he has also challenged the Communists to think about their own survival.
Outside the tripartite alliance, the SACP is a tiny, although vocal, force. That ties in with traditional Marxism-Leninism, which says Communists should always be the “vanguard” in any revolution.
Zuma knows that and he knows, too, that the “radical economic transformation” programme of the ANC takes away the ideological high ground from the Communists and socialists.
That programme promises more than the Marxist-Leninist dream of “from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs”.
It promises, rightly or wrongly, more economic power to the impoverished as well as returning the land to its original owners.
Whether that is practical or not is another debate and only time will tell. But, for now, Zuma’s message to the SACP is clear: You belong in the dustbin of history.