WITHIN THE SPACE of two weeks in April, the liberation movement here lost two towering figures, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo, one by an assassin's bullet and the other in the after-effects of that bullet The elderly Tambo stayed up all night in the cold air of the Haiti funeral, and passed away a few days later. Two men, who represented in their different ways the synthesis of what is best in the revolutionary tradition of the ANC, were taken at the most trying time in the movement's history.
If it was under Tambo's wings that the ANC-SACP alliance flourished, then it was certainly under Haiti's lead that the dynamic project of socialist renewal was developing within the SACP. The question that is now foremost in the broad liberation movement and in its socialist camp is what Chris Haiti's death means for the left What, in particular, does this loss mean for the South African Communist Party (SACP) in its current phase of ideological soul searching?
When the SACP re-emerged after forty years of clandestine existence and thirty years of exile and war, it had a heroic image among the broadest section of the working class and the youth. But the SACP was not purely heroic and certainly not always angelic There were episodes and moments which were indefensible, leading to charges of stalinism and involvement in some excesses that occurred during the mutiny [by some dissident ANC fighters in 1984—ed.] in the Umkhonto we Sizwe camps in Angola, when a number of soldiers were killed.
Yet if there was anyone who appeared to stand above all such shortcomings it was Chris Haiti He was among only a few from exile who had the courage to deal with controversies with full honesty and candor. Not only was he honest at a difficult time, he continued to be unsurpassed in his bravery.
His story is synonymous with that of Umkhonto [the ANC's military winged.]. Haiti was one of its first recruits and one of the first combatants to fight in early skirmishes in then-Rhodesia in the 1960s. He was also the leader chosen to deal with the mutiny (unarmed) and to prevail on ANC leaders to spare the lives of those found guilty.
While in exile the SACP was inhospitable to some sincere sections of the left, and it was Haiti's example that helped to heal the wounds and bring left nonconformists into the SACP after its 1990 unbanning He was a soldier but also a man of ideas, an "erudite scholar" in the words of Nelson Mandela. This scholarship made him accessible to a reappraisal of the challenges that faced the left. And it was his versatility that saw him not only healing, but firmly reconstructing the strongest roots for the SACP in the union and community (civic) movements, whose potency is yet to be fully realized.
Chris Hani was also an ANC leader of great importance, having registered the highest number of delegate votes in a 1991 conference and achieved the status of second most popular man in black South Africa (behind Mandela) in a December1992 poll. He was a living and able reflection of the dialectic of national and class struggle.
In his death, South African socialists have lost one of the most able communicators of the case for fundamental human liberation. There is no speaker presently in South Africa who can connect with the people as did Haiti. He never shied from explaining the basic Marxist principles to congregations of peasants and workers.
Indeed, it seems to me that his prime attribute, which will be missed not only in the ANC but by society as a whole, was his trustworthiness. With Hani present, audiences could understand the nature of the compromises that were being made, and why they were necessary. Without him caution, doubt and hesitation are understandable.
It is still too early to tell what Hani's death means for socialist politics here. Already in the branches of the SACP new members are joining, some drawn by his example, others by way of paying their tribute to him. In a recent independent survey the 60,000-member SACP was identified as the fastest growing party among urban Africans.
Most of this membership is uninitiated to the essence of socialist politics. With very limited resources, the SACP is now faced with the responsibility of keeping the membership intact and with a purpose. Will the SACP have the capacity to discharge its growing membership to purposeful activity?
Take one example The COSATU labor federation is driving toward a Reconstruction Accord with the ANC which will underpin the 1994 election platform. [COSATU, the ANC and SACP have formed a political and electoral Revolutionary Alliance--ed.] The SACP role was to broaden the contours of the debate about whom the Accord will serve: just employed workers, or also the unemployed and rural poor? At a time when conditions are ripe for stalinist paranoia on the one hand or social democratic wavering on the other, the SACP's attempts to speak for ordinary South AM-cans means taking socialism into new, uncharted territories.
How much will the vibrancy of forthcoming conflicts (within the liberation movement) tax SACP traditions of cohesion and loyalty? Presently debates in the branches appear to be strong, and the ability to campaign in the streets is not in question in the wake of the enormous turnouts that Hand's death inspired.
There is an underlying awareness now that things are different and require a more vigorous response. Under Hani's leadership, the SACP had a sense of presence in the political fabric; this sometimes clouded the SAC? from its own organizational weaknesses, but the presence and stature of Hard could compensate for these. There is now a growing realization that real organization has to be the answer. In Hani's death the real Communist Party with an organizational muscle and unwavering socialist politics will have to emerge.
July-August 1993, ATC 45
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