Interesting piece in the New Statesman


As we mourn Mandela’s death we should not forget and acknowledge the role that communists played in befriending and influencing this great man.

On the day of Nelson Mandela’s death the South African Communist Party chose to reveal a fact that it had long denied: that he was a party member. Indeed, at the time of his arrest he was on the Central Committee. The statement read: “At his arrest in August 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party, but was also a member of our Party’s Central Committee… After his release from prison in 1990, Cde Madiba became a great and close friend of the communists till his last days.”

Commenting on this revelation, the New York Times columnist, and former Johannesburg and Moscow correspondent, Bill Keller was sanguine: “Mandela’s brief membership in the South African Communist Party, and his long-term alliance with more devout Communists, say less about his ideology than about his pragmatism.”  Quite how Keller deduces that Mandela’s membership was “brief” is far from clear. The Communist Party statement does not indicate whether he remained a member to his death (although the carefully phrased statement suggest not) and if he resigned from the party why he did so and when this took place.





One thought on “Why Mandela’s Communist Party membership is important

  1. Mandela’s relationship with the party was quite strategically put in the background by the ANC leadership on Robben Island and in exile in order to foreground Mandela as the key figure in the campaign for the release of all political prisoners.

    He maintained very close relations with the party, including closely working with Joe Slovo and Chris Hani in during the CODESA period (and with Slovo in the first democratic government). See for instance: http://peoplesworld.org/mandela-schmaltzy-icon-or-revolutionary-leader/

    The mealy-mouthed notion that Mandela’s relationship with the party was merely pragmatic and not integral to his conception of the liberation movement and its orientation is given the lie by Mandela’s remarks to the ’95 SACP congress, at which he spoke. Some excerpts:

    “It is not given to a leader of one political organisation in a country to sing praises to the virtues of another. 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.

    “And we do not apologise for the fact that our alliance with the Party is also based on the warm sentiment of experience in struggle against apartheid. It is only natural that we should feel the welling of 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”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s