By Time of article published Jul 27, 2021

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Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi

The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was the first truly Marxist-Leninist Communist Party on the continent of Africa when it was established on July 30, 1921.

It was reconstituted as the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1953. Although its membership was open to all, in practice, there was hardly any African member with the exception of TW Thibedi.

But, the CPSA in its early years of existence remained largely white in membership. This could be attributed to the fact that the white workers who came from Europe brought to our country a tradition of revolutionary class struggle and socialist ideas.

From 1924, there was a large influx of African workers and revolutionary African intellectuals. They included Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Thabo Mofutsanyana, Johannes Nkosi, Gana Makabeni, Josie Mpama, EJ Khaile and many others. In 1928 the Party had 1750 members, of whom 1600 were Africans.

The Party had sunk its roots deep in the life of the country. It had trained many capable and steele Marxist-Leninists. It had won an enduring place in the affections of the working class of this country. It had set a standard of integrity, selflessness and devoted, energetic work for high and noble principles, which has never been surpassed. It’s leadership role in leading the working class was earned and re-earned through struggle.

Our party has earned this hatred from the enemy, and its imperialist allies, because its ideology and revolutionary practice, have always struck, and continue to strike at the very heart of capitalist exploitation.

The communist heroes whose names have come to symbolise the very spirit of resistance and defiance to all forms of oppression - men and women who dedicated and often sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom. Some fought and died in the fierce struggles waged by the working class.

In the great anti-pass campaign of 1930, the Communist Party organised masses of Africans to burn their passes at a mass meeting on December 16, 1930. Johannes Nkosi, the great African martyr and a leading Communist Activist was first shot, and then brutally thrashed to death by the police in Durban. Thabo Mofutsanyana and JB Marks narrowly escaped with their lives in Potchefstroom when police opened fire. Some were members of Umkhonto we Sizwe who fought and died in Zimbabwe in 1967.

Many of the new generation of Communists which has emerged since the Soweto upsurge in 1976, have joined Umkhonto We Sizwe, and some died on the field of battle. Some were massacred by the racists murderers at Matola in Mozambique. Many were amongst the political prisoners on Robben Island and Pretoria Central Prison. Many of those who over the years have been murdered by the security police in detention were members of the Communist Party. Others risked their lives in the Party and the liberation underground networks.

The apartheid colonial regime failed to strangle the Party at birth. It failed to wipe it out by 40 years of illegality. It was forced to unban the Party, coupled with the hope that the Eastern European events would lead to its demise.

Yet, the Party is stronger than it has ever been and remains confident that everything designed to negate its role will fail both now and in the future. When the situation demanded a turn to organised violence in the early 1960s, The SACP together with the ANC helped to bring into existence the fighting arm of the liberation movement-Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Certain positions which are today regarded as commonplace in both the working class and national movement were pioneered and fought for by the SACP.

For many decades after its founding, the Party stood alone as a non-racial political party embracing every section of our people. The very concept of majority rule was propagated first by our Party. This was in 1929 (under the slogan of Black Republic) at the time when authority regarded the mere mention of voting rights for blacks as the worst treason, and when the national movement itself had not yet reached out for this objective.

From the middle of 1920s to the late 1960s, communists stood virtually as a lone force, in the endeavour to build a trade union movement as an instrument of economic struggle and a key sector of the mass revolutionary alliance.

It is the SACP that has raised the perspectives of internationalism, linking the mass democratic struggle with movements in all parts of the world working for democracy and for national and social emancipation. The Party was the first political organisation to be driven underground in 1950, two years after the apartheid nationalist regime came to power.

The Party was able to guard against the simplification of a complicated process. In essence, it emphasised that ignoring the democratic revolution was to ignore the national framework within every class struggle necessarily occurs. This is the point which ultra-leftists never understood.

Capitalism has proven to be a crisis-ridden mode of production which has failed to address socio-economic challenges like poverty, inequality, hunger, unemployment and diseases like COVID 19 pandemic.

As we celebrate the centenary of the SACP, the struggle for socialism must be intensified. According to Cde Chris Hani, socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless.

It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about health care, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.

Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi is the SACP Free State PEC Member writing in his personal capacity.

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