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The South African Communist Party joins the millions of the people of South Africa, the majority of whom are working class and poor, and the billions the world over, in expressing our condolences on the passing of what President Jacob Zuma correctly described as South Africa’s greatest son, a true revolutionary, president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Tata Madiba.
We also express our solidarity with the African National Congress, an organisation that produced him and that he served with distinction for most of his life, as well as all his colleagues and comrades in our broader liberation movement.
As Tata Madiba said, “It is not the kings and generals that make history but the masses of the people, the workers, the peasants…”
The passing of comrade Mandela marks an end to the life of one of the greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century, a hero among heroes who fought for freedom and against all forms of oppression both in their countries and globally.
As part of the masses that make history, comrade Mandela’s contribution in the struggle for freedom was steeled in the collective membership and leadership of our revolutionary national liberation movement led by the ANC — for he was not an island.
In him we had a brave and courageous soldier, patriot and internationalist who, to borrow from Che Guevara, was a true revolutionary, guided by great feelings of love for his people, an outstanding feature of all genuine people’s revolutionaries.
In order to properly commemorate the life and struggles of Madiba it is important that we also respect and honour the way in which he understood his own contribution to the liberation and reconstruction of our country.
Comrade Madiba always insisted that he was part of a collective and his contribution should not be placed above the collective that he was part of.
So, as we remember Madiba we also remember and honour the many leaders and comrades he worked with — Lilian Ngoyi, Dora Tamana, Walter Sisulu, Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Andrew Mlangeni, Govan Mbeki, Joe Slovo and many others.
Another important lesson to learn from Madiba is that his personal popularity did not go to his head.
He never regarded himself as being above the organisations he served.
Madiba had all the qualities and respect to turn himself into a personality cult, but he never did, and it is therefore important that as we honour him we commit ourselves to fight any traces of a personality cult in our movement.
Comrade Mandela always insisted he was no saint, but a cadre of our movement who, in the course of struggle, made mistakes. Madiba used to admit to his mistakes.
A key feature of genuine revolutionaries is not only to try to avoid mistakes, but to recognise and admit to them and seek ways to correct them.
At his arrest in August 1962, comrade Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party but also a member of our party’s central committee.
To us as South African communists, comrade Mandela will forever symbolise the monumental contribution of the SACP in our liberation struggle.
That contribution has very few parallels in the history of our country.
After his release from prison in 1990, Madiba became a great and close friend of the communists till his last days.
The story of Mandela and the SACP has both personal and organisational dimensions.
His early history with the SACP in the late 1940s into the mid-1950s was that of hostility towards the SACP, like many other nationalist leaders of the time.
But by the time of the Rivonia trial, comrade Madiba had had a different experience and relationship with the SACP, which he explained in his speech at the trial. “It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends.
“But to us the reason is obvious… For many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals — to eat with us, talk with us, live with us and work with us.
“They were the only political group prepared to work with Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society.
“Because of this, there are many Africans who today tend to equate freedom with communism…”
The relationship between the SACP and the ANC is further captured by Madiba in his message as president and on behalf of the ANC to the SACP 9th Congress in 1995.
“It is not given to a leader of one political organisation in a country to sing praises to the virtues of another,” he said.
“But that is what I intend to do today. If anything, this signifies the unique relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.
“It is a relationship that has detractors in abundance — a relationship that has its prolific obituary scribes.
“But it is a relationship that always disappoints these experts. Because it was tempered in struggle.
“It is written in the blood of many martyrs. And today it is reinforced by hard-won victory.
“Individuals and groups who profess to be democrats lose all rationality when gripped by the venom of anti-communism. We in the ANC are driven by a different logic.
“We do not apologise for the fact that our alliance with the party is based on the warm sentiment of experience in struggle against apartheid.
“It is only natural that we should feel emotion when we remember heroes and heroines of the calibre of Bram Fischer, Malume Kotane, Alex la Guma, JB Marks, Moses Mabhida, Yusuf Dadoo, Ruth First and others.
“Whatever seemingly powerful friends we might have today, the ANC cannot abandon those who shared the trials and tribulations of struggle with us.”
Comrade Mandela refused throughout his prison life and thereafter to denounce or distance himself from the relationship between the ANC and SACP, even during difficult times during the adoption of the policy of GEAR [growth, employment and redistribution] by the ANC government, a policy the SACP considered, and still does, as inappropriate for our country.
We shall forever cherish Madiba’s principled stance and commitment to the [Tripartite] Alliance, even when faced with problems.
The one major lesson we need to learn from Mandela and his generation was their commitment to principled unity within each of our alliance formations as well as the unity of our alliance as a whole and that of the entire mass democratic movement.
Their generation struggled to build and cement the unity of our alliance, and we therefore owe it to the memory of comrade Madiba to preserve its unity.
Let those who do not understand the extent to which blood was spilt in pursuance of alliance unity be reminded not to throw mud at the legacy and memory of the likes of Madiba by reckless gambling with the unity of our alliance.
The SACP respects Madiba’s commitment to our alliance because he knew, from his own practical experience that our alliance was built through struggle.
In memory of comrade Madiba and his legacy of commitment let us defend the unity of Cosatu [Congress of South African Trade Unions].
A divided Cosatu can only serve the interests of the bosses.
We call upon all Cosatu workers to defend the unity of the federation and its affiliates.
In honour of comrade Madiba let us also protect the unity of the ANC and the SACP.
Let us defend and deepen the unity of our alliance and expose those who want to divide and weaken our alliance.
Comrade Madiba always knew that a united alliance was best-placed to lead the effort of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa.
Despite the many strides we have made this task has not yet been achieved.
It is therefore important that in his memory we preserve the unity of our alliance in order to take forward the struggle of Madiba.
For Madiba, a life-long ANC cadre, let us go all out as the alliance to campaign for an overwhelming ANC electoral victory.
The ANC is the only organisation capable of addressing the needs of the overwhelming majority of our people. Its record of governance speaks for itself.
The SACP supported Madiba championing national reconciliation and nation-building.
But national reconciliation for him never meant avoiding tackling the class and other social inequalities in our society.
For Madiba, national reconciliation was a platform to pursue the objective of building a more egalitarian South African society free of the scourges of racism, patriarchy and gross inequality.
True national reconciliation will never be achieved in a society still characterised by the yawning gap of inequalities and capitalist exploitation.
In honour of this gallant fighter the SACP will intensify the struggle against all forms of inequality, including intensifying the struggle for socialism, as the only political and economic solution to the problems facing humanity.
We call upon all South Africans to emulate his example of selflessness, sacrifice, commitment and service to his people.
This is an edited article drawn from a speech by SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande in honour of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
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