The recent spat between ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and Deputy General Secretary of the South African Communist Party Jeremy Cronin, or rather the ANC's reaction to it, has been telling.
The SACP's recent hostility towards Malema - one of the ANC's own - has been met with little more than an attempt to placate the Communists. How is it, then, that a political party with fewer than 100,000 registered members finds itself in the position of being the proverbial mouse bullying the elephant of the ANC?
Despite being small in representation, the SACP has managed to get its members into many of the highest positions of public office. Examples include Reserve Bank president Gill Marcus, former Minister for Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils, and, of course, President Jacob Zuma.
Despite this, the SACP directly represents a negligible voter contingent. This fact, combined with the communist influence within parliament, has encouraged some to ask: why not boot the SACP out of the Tripartite Alliance?
The fact is that the recent ANC schism, and the resulting formation of the Congress of the People, was one of the best things that could have happened for the Communists. Another significant internal struggle is likely to leave the ANC weak enough to stand a good chance of losing the next election, and a significant struggle is exactly what a hostile course of action against the Communists would lead to.
In such a hypothetical scenario, COSATU will find themselves realising that the ANC is not in search of "allies" so much as "lap dogs." They will either have to make peace with playing by the ANC's rules, or the knowledge that they will likely also be expelled and the alliance dissolved as soon as they cease to represent a tactical advantage to the ruling party. In the face of this dilemma, they will refuse to show weakness and an acrimonious split would result. Communist sympathizers and COSATU elements within the ANC would revolt against the party, leaving the door open for another party - perhaps COPE or even a new party born out of the schism - to join in an advantageous alliance with the Trade Unions.
In any event, none of the remaining political factions would have a significant majority support, and the ANC would be dead. For this reason, the ANC needs the Communist Party a great deal more than the Party needs them, and despite numbering comparatively few registered members - though SACP membership has doubled over the last four years due to Alliance supporters' frustration with the ANC's infighting, corruption and general impotence - the Communist Party is and will remain a strong influence and important player in the South African political landscape.