Brian Bunting. Moses Kotane, South African Revolutionary
1948, the year of the centenary of the Communist Manifesto, was also the year in which the Nationalist Party of Dr Malan, basing itself on its newly fashioned apartheid manifesto, came to power in South Africa. The election had cast its shadow over South Africa for many years beforehand, though General Smuts was not the only politician to whom the notion of an electoral defeat for the United Party was inconceivable.
Nevertheless, the menace of Nationalist Party policy was obvious to all in the democratic camp, and in mid-1947 the Central Committee of the Communist Party resolved “to initiate or assist in the initiation of a conference of progressive organisations at an early date to draw up a programme for the mobilisation of anti-fascist forces throughout the country which will enable them to take an effective part in the coming general election and to advance the struggle for a democratic South Africa."
The Party had in mind not only direct involvement in the election campaign by means of putting up candidates and the issuing of propaganda towards the electorate, but also and more importantly the mobilisation of the masses of the disfranchised blacks to take advantage of the heightened political atmosphere engendered by the election to promote the cause of liberation.
The cause -of unity was hampered by disagreement in the ranks of the African National Congress over the boycott issue, involving inevitably also the relationship between the Congress and the Communist Party. In a New Year message printed in the Bantu World ANC President General Dr Xuma had appealed for the return en bloc of all the existing members of the Native Representative Council. Speaking as a member of the ANC executive, which had not been consulted, J.B. Marks pointed out that Xuma’s message was “in direct conflict with the resolution passed by the Bloemfontein conference of the ANC.”
Marks also drew attention to the fact that Xuma and Selope Thema had broken the ANC pledge to boycott the royal visit, Xuma hurrying to greet the King at Eshowe, while Thema had welcomed the Royal Family over the microphone at the Maritzburg reception.There were to be other signs that certain of the Congress leaders were more interested in a policy of conciliation and compromise than in direct confrontation with the Government.
In January 1948 Dr Yusuf Dadoo issued a call for a national convention to campaign for a programme of democracy for all, convened if possible by the national organisations of the Non-European people. The only sound bulwark against fascism was the extension of the franchise to all South Africans, said Dr Dadoo. “The future lies with the struggle of the Non-European people for the franchise."
For his pains, Dr Dadoo himself, together with other Communist Patty members, became the target for accusations that the Indian Congress was controlled by Communists. Replying to this smear campaign, Dr Dadoo reiterated the Communist Party’s policy towards the national movements.
“As far as the national movement is concerned”, he said, “we work on principles and plans which are in conformity with the needs and requirements of the people. Communists come forward in this struggle because they are prepared to suffer and sacrifice in the struggle of the oppressed people. I challenge anyone to prove that we have acted contrary to the desires of the Indian people. The passive resistance struggle is the struggle of the Indian people.”
Defending Dr Dadoo, Natal Indian Congress President Dr G.M. Naicker, himself not a Communist, said any person, whether Communist or not, was accepted in Congress as long as he was not a quisling or prepared to sell his people. Of the Natal Indian Congress executive committee, only 6 out of 25 members were- Communists, while not one of the official positions was held by a Communist. Sundra Pillay, Cape Passive Resistance Council chairman, and Dr A.H. Sader, chairman of the NIC branch at Ladysmith, were amongst others who supported the right of Communists to take part in Congress affairs.
Addressing a meeting at Durban’s Red Square, Dr Dadoo said:
“I am proud to be a Communist. As a Communist I have dedicated my life to the principles of Socialism, of eventually ending the rotten system of capitalism, which brings untold misery to millions."
Moses Kotane, speaking-in the same week at a Cape Town meeting to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto said:
“The fullest freedom for the self-expression of nationalities can be found only within the framework of socialism."
Response to the call of Dr Dadoo and the CP Central Committee took the form of a People’s Assembly for Votes for All which was held in Johannesburg in May 1948. Opened by the Rev. Michael Scott, the Assembly, though confined for organisational reasons to representatives from the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, was very broad-based, with 322 delegates representing a total of 706,990 people — 53 from residents’ associations, 43 from 27 branches of the ANC, 17 Advisory Board delegates, 48 delegates from 33 trade unions, 8 from peasants’ organisations, plus four African chiefs.
The manifesto adopted by the Assembly declared:
“We state our solemn belief, strengthened by the experience of years of Government neglect, that until our people participate as equals in the governing of their own country, there will be found neither the desire nor the ability in the Government under which we live to provide all our people all the happiness and prosperity which modern society can offer. Where there is no freedom the people perish. Raising high the banner of freedom, the banner of the liberation and the salvation of our people, we pledge that we shall not rest until all adult men and women of all races in South Africa have the right to stand for, vote for and be elected to all the representative bodies which rule over the people.”
The calling of the Assembly had caused some heart-burning in Congress circles and the Transvaal ANC had refused to take part. African delegate L. Ngakane, representing the Federation of Progressive Students, said: “I feel very sore about the resolution of the Transvaal African National Congress which condemns the Assembly. It means our Congress is the stumbling block. Which will come first: our rights or our leaders?.”
With only three dissentients, the Assembly adopted a resolution asking for a national assembly of the South African peoples where the People’s’ Charter for votes for all could be democratically discussed by delegates representing the entire nation. The resolution instructed the Assembly working committee to convene a joint meeting of the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress and the African People’s Organisation at which these three bodies would “be informed that it is the desire of the representatives of the Transvaal and Orange Free State peoples here assembled that the sponsorship, direction and responsibility for the National Assembly be assumed jointly by them, and that the convening call for the National Assembly be issued under their joint signatures.”
If the Transvaal ANC had feared the Assembly would challenge its own authority, here was the answer. African delegate Gaur Radebe said he would like a clear statement from the African National Congress on whether or not it was prepared to take part in this carnpaign.
The matter was finally thrashed out at a special conference of the Transvaal African National Congress held in Johannesburg in July when, after eight hours of heated discussion, a motion of no confidence in Transvaal ANC chairman Mr C.S. Ramohanoe for issuing a statement in May supporting the holding of the People’s Assembly was withdrawn.
Speaking for the Transvaal Executive Committee, Nelson Mandela said the ANC Executive had not been in opposition to the aims of the Assembly, but felt it was being summoned in an incorrect manner, by-passing the national organisations. There were suspicions that a permanent “unity movement” was being formed. For these and other reasons, the Provincial Executive resolved that it would only participate in the Assembly if the existing Working Committee was replaced by a body representative of the three great Non-European national organisations.
Between these two conferences, the general election had taken place. In an interview with the Guardian on May 20, 1948, Kotane issued a call to all progressives to vote for the candidates of the Communist Party and back its call for equal rights and opportunities for all South Africans. In particular, he urged all Coloureds who had the vote not to listen to those amongst them who were urging a total boycott of the elections. Even where there was no Communist Party candidate standing, said Kotane, the Coloureds should vote for the United Party rather than the Nationalist Party; it was wrong to argue that there were no differences between them, even though both were supporters of white supremacy.
The victory of the Nationalist Party on May 26 stunned the country and the first reaction in many quarters was one of bewilderment. Some elements in the national liberatory organisations thought their best policy was to come to terms with the new regime. The Joint Passive Resistance Council took the opportunity to suspend the campaign against the Ghetto Act, pending a declaration from the Government of its intentions towards the Indian people. The secretary of the Natal Indian Congress sent a cable of congratulations to Dr Malan. At the Cape Provincial Conference of the African National Congress in July, the Rev. J.A. Calata in his opening speech, said the African people should accept the Government and find a way of co-operating with it in promoting “our welfare.” Both Natal Indian Congress Secretary A.I. Meer and Rev. Calata stressed, in the words of the latter, that “there is very little difference between the policies of the two parties as far as we are concerned.” Three prominent members of the ANC in the Eastern Cape had presented an address of loyalty to Dr Malan in October.
Calata’s views were rejected in no uncertain manner by the Congress conference, which passed a resolution opposing the policy of apartheid and demanding African representation on all governing bodies of the land. As for the Natal Indian Congress cable, this was condemned as “a stupid blunder” by Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker, both serving six-month sentences at the time for resisting the Ghetto Act. Interviewed in jail, “they said that when the most reactionary political party in the country wins control of the government, organisations fighting for democracy and freedom do not congratulate it on its success"
The Communist Party’s Central Committee reacted to the election result with a clear statement analysing the reasons for the defeat of the United Party and indicating the way forward. “The defeat of the United Party and the victory of the Nationalists flows directly from the fact that the majority of South Africans were prevented from taking any part in the struggle against reaction which “was waged at the polls last Wednesday”, said the statement. “All democratic elements must henceforth devote themselves to the task of developing a broad democratic front to resist any attempt to attack the present rights of any section of the people, and which will fight for the extension of democracy."
Within weeks of coming to power, the Malan Government had made it quite clear in which direction it was going to move. The war-time traitor Robey Leibbrandt and his colleagues were released from jail, the training of African artisans was stopped, and the Government announced its intention to curb the trade union movement, to do away with the limited franchise rights of the Indian, Coloured and African people, and to suppress the Communist Party. In a statement, Moses Kotane saw these moves as “part of the Nationalist programme to unleash in this country the same vile and retrogressive forces which Hitler let loose on the continent of Europe”, and called on all South Africans to raise their voice in protest so that fascism would find no place in South Africa.
The victory of the Malan Government gave the Nationalist theoreticians at Stellenbosch their opportunity to float the first Bantustan balloon, arguing that total physical separation was the only logical and morally defensible means of implementing the apartheid policy.
“The Stellenbosch professors are correct when they say that the Africans cannot be kept within the same economic system without extending political rights to them”, commented Kotane, “but their solution of separation must be emphatically rejected.” Past promises of granting more land to the African people had not been implemented, and the new proposals were simply a device to intensify the exploitation of the African people.
“I believe the only real solution to the problem is to regard all peoples as citizens with equal rights instead of regarding them as black and white”, he added. “I reject any suggestion to split the country on racial lines.”
However, he conceded, if “white South Africa” was not prepared to live with other sections of the population, “then the only other solution would be equitable partition." This was by way of a personal aside, as it never formed part of CP policy.
A CP statement dealing with the Nationalist Government’s threat against itself said: “The Government threatens the existence of the Communist Party, because it is the chief spokesman of the people against fascism, race oppression, poverty and war. If permitted this attack will be followed by attacks on the trade unions, the Labour Party, liberals, the non-European democratic organisations, and finally, all opponents of the Government.
“There is another road which South African can choose, the road of expanding economy and wider democracy, of greater opportunities for all races and an extension of political rights to all citizens.”
Calling for the formation of an anti-Nationalist front, the CP said it was necessary to build the will and the capacity of the people to resist the fascist onslaught.
“These are the tasks which face the democratic forces in South Africa: to build and improve the trade unions and all working class organisations; to strengthen the national liberatory movements and make them effective weapons in, the fight for equal rights and opportunities;, and to create a wide democratic front which will put an end to Nationalist tyranny, race oppression and the menace of fascism"
What. brought home to the African people the real menace of Nationalist rule — perhaps more than any other measure proposed at this time — was the publication in the Government Gazette of September 10, 1948 of a draft Proclamation No. 1890 for the “Financial Protection of Natives.” Promulgated under the Native Administration Act of 1927 and lacking only the signature of the Governor-General before becoming law, the proclamation simply stated that no organisation or individual could collect money from Africans without the written permission of a Native Commissioner or magistrate. The only exceptions would be registered businesses or state-aided schools and approved religious bodies. The Government at first pretended that the measure was simply one to protect the Africans against swindlers and racketeers, but the Secretary for Native Affairs, asked whether the proclamation would apply also to African trade unions and political and national bodies, replied “Yes.”
“And to the Communist Party?” — “Yes.”
“Was the proclamation prepared knowing it would affect these organisations too.” — “Yes."
Threatening every form of African organisation, and indeed any organisation drawing support in any way from the African people, including hundreds of separatist churches, the measure led to a national outcry. Brushing aside the Government’s explanations, Kotane said in a statement on behalf of the Central Committee: “We are convinced it has been formulated in pursuance of the policy of apartheid, a policy of humiliation and exploitation of the African people, and of preventing them from organising themselves to improve their economic, social and political conditions."After the Trades and Labour Council, among numerous other bodies, had expressed its concern, 110 delegates representing 215,278 people met in the Trades Hall, Johannesburg, towards the end of September, 1948, to demand the withdrawal of this “undemocratic, unwarranted, unjust and barbaric measure.” The Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions, which had organised the conference, was asked to seek an interview with the Minister of Native Affairs and convey to him the conference’s views, and a committee of 15 was elected to “devise ways and means of offering effective’ and determined resistance in the event of the proclamation becoming law."
The African leaden were quickly shaping up to the threat of continued Nationalist rule. After meeting in Bloemfontein, the African members of the Native Representative Council rejected the Government’s policy of apartheid. “In the light of the industrial and economic development taking place in the country”, their statement said, “the members of the Representative Council feel that the need for emphasising the urgency of adopting the policy of integration rather than one of separation is greater today than ever before."
This was followed by a meeting of 12 African leaders in Bloemfontein at the beginning of October to discuss the question of unity. The composition of the conference was arbitrary; not a single left-wing personality was invited by the convenor, Dr Xuma, but those present included three members of the All-African Convention (Professor Jabavu, the Rev. Mahabane and Dr J.S. Moroka) and six members of the NRC.
A statement issued by the 12, after strongly protesting against “the callous disregard of the fundamental rights of the African by the Government”, and singling out for special condemnation the infamous Proclamation 1890, declared: “The primary necessity in meeting the challenge is unified action on the part of the African people. “We are convinced that the preliminary step in this direction is the Unification of the main African political organisations — the African National Congress and the All African Convention into ‘THE ALL AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS’, united and inspired by common principles and a common programme of action for the achievement of the liberation of the African people."
The call for unity, originally sounded by the Communist Party, was now being echoed on all sides. Viewing the prospects of the December 16 conference, Dr Moroka in a press interview said: “Unity is the only thing that can save the Mrican people ... We feel that when we have established unity among the Mricati people, we can go to the Indians, Coloureds and democratic Europeans — to all those who believe in freedom for all people in South Africa — and together with them call a national convention to decide how best to fight for the liberty of all the oppressed in South Mrica. We realise that Africans must fight side by side with the other sections of the oppressed peoples in this country."
At a 3-day conference in Johannesburg, the Transvaal African National Congress passed a resolution urging “the national executive to work out a scheme of co-operation with other Non-European national organisations to jointly oppose the apartheid policy of the government."
At its annual conference in Johannesburg, the Transvaal branch of the African People’s Organisation (APO) resolved to ask its executive to call an emergency conference in Kimberley the following month to discuss ,the relationship of the APO to other national organisations, the Indian Congress, ANC, AAC and Unity Movement. Once again, Proclamation 1890 was the main bugbear of the APO conference.
Opposition to the proposed unity conference on December 16 came from two sources. On the one hand the Western Province committee of the All-African Convention condemned the unity call, saying: “It is not a sincere move for unity of the African people but merely a manoeuvre of the members of the Native Representative Council, the liberals, and reactionaries in the leadership of the African National Congress.” The purpose of the move said the committee’s statement, is “to eliminate the Convention with its policies of boycotting the NRC and of non-collaboration with the instruments of our oppression."
But the left wing inside Congress was also unhappy. One week before the unity conference was due to take place, veteran trade unionist Gana Makabeni described the situation as one of “organised confusion.”
“No one can be against unity”, he said, “but even members of the Congress Working Committee were not aware of all the preparations for the unity moves, and were never consulted."
Once again Kotane was to play an important role both at the Unity conference on December 16 and at the separate ANC conference which was held in Bloemfontein in the same week. From the outset it was apparent that despite all the resolutions, there was no real basis for unity between the ANC and the AAC. Opening the discussions on behalf of the AAC, Mr I. Tabata laid down four conditions on which his organisation would agree to unity:
1. That the new organisation be based on the Convention’s 10-point programme.
2. That the federal structure of the AAC be retained.
3. That the Unity should be based on the principle of the unity of all the Non-Europeans.
4. That any unity should be based on the policy of “non-collaboration with the oppressor.”
Speaking for the ANC, Professor Matthews said: “To the average Congress person the proposal of the AAC seems to mean that one mouthpiece of the African people (the AAC) is wanting to swallow up the other mouthpiece (the ANC).”
Kotane said the two groups had different conceptions of unity. “We want one political organisation that will speak for the individual members of that organisation. We want to eliminate conflicting directions, interests and ideologies. A federal organisation tends to be an organisation of different interested bodies that come together to consult but have always to go back to their executives for directions.”
After hours of’ wrangling it was unanimously agreed “that the principle of unity be adopted.” But as agreement could not be reached on any other point, it was decided to leave it to the two executive committees to meet again and discuss the matter further. The joint meeting was held in Bloemfontein on April 17-18, 1949, with Communists Kotane, J.B. Marks and Lucas Phillips included in the ANC delegation of 11, but once again after hours of wrangling no agreement could be reached. A statement was issued saying that the talks had been adjourned “to a later date”, but for all practical purposes the unity bid had come to an end.
Writing to Professor Matthews, who had had to leave the talks before the end, Kotane explained what had happened and added:
“I am convinced that we cannot come to an understanding with the conventionites, especially if they still have Dr Gool, Mr Tabata and Mr Tsotsi as their leaders. Their ‘non-collaboration’ policy is in one sense a cover or pretext for not doing any practical work. While I am strongly for the boycotting of inferior institutions set up to perpetuate the oppression and exploitation of the African people, I nevertheless do not agree that the boycott should be carried out without regard to the support we have for it."
Kotane was speaking from practical experience, for in Cape Town he had participated in an attempted joint’ campaign between the Communist Party and the Goolites to oppose the Government’s introduction of apartheid on the Cape suburban trains. The Communists had proposed a campaign of defiance of train apartheid and, when it became clear that the “non-collaborators” were non-collaborating with this campaign too, had been forced to dissociate themselves from their so-called “allies."For participating in this campaign, Kotane had another of his many brushes with the law, being charged together with a number of his colleagues with incitement to public violence, incitement to break railway regulations and the promotion of hostility between Africans and Europeans, but the case came to nothing.
At the ANC conference proper held in December 1948 — the first held by Congress since Malan came to power — the delegates went strongly on record against apartheid, and debated the merits of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience and non-co-operation as weapons to fight it. A programme of action to attain freedom from “all forms of White domination” and demanding direct representation for Africans in all the governing bodies of the country was the main resolution discussed.
“In order to implement our resolve to work for the abolition of all differential political institutions”, said the resolution, “we accept the principle of boycotting these institutions, and we undertake a campaign to educate our people on this issue, and in addition to employ the weapons of the boycott, the strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation and such other means as may bring about the realisation of our aspirations.”
The programme suggested that preparations be undertaken for a national stoppage of work for one day in protest against the reactionary policy of the Government. The whole programme was referred to the national executive for further study, and to enable consultation to take place with the Congress provincial committees and branches.
The famous Programme of Action which was adopted by the ANC conference in Bloemfontein on December 17, 1949, was the fruit of the year’s consultation and effort which resulted from this 1948 conference decision. At the 1949 conference, Dr Xuma appointed a drafting committee to consider the various amendments and suggestions which had been received from the provinces and branches. Chairman of the drafting committee was Professor Matthews, who had also been chairman of the committee which drew up the “African Claims” declaration in 1943. Also appointed to the drafting committee were Selby Msimang, Oliver Tambo and Moses Kotane.Thus Kotane had a hand in the formulation of the two main policy documents drawn up by the ANC during the decade — statements of policy which remained basic planks in the ANC platform up to the day the organisation was outlawed in 1960.
The Programme of Action was not merely a declaration of principles but also a formulation of the methods which should be adopted to implement them. In both respects it broke new ground. It affirmed that the fundamental principle of the ANC was “to achieve national freedom ... from White domination and the attainment of political independence. This implies the rejection of the conception of segregation, apartheid, trusteeship, or White leadership which are all in one way or another motivated by the idea of White domination or domination of the White over the Blacks. Like all other people the African people claim the right of self-determination.”
How was this independence to be achieved? Not by any form of secession or the creation of a separate African state. The Programme simply reaffirmed the validity of the 1943 Bill of Rights, and in particular demanded the right of direct representation on all governing bodies of the country and the abolition of all differential institutions.
To achieve these objectives, the Programme of’ Action. called for a boycott of all differential institutions, strikes, civil disobedience, non-co-operation “and such other means as may bring about the accomplishment and realisation of our aspirations.” In particular, the Programme urged preparations and making of plans for a national stoppage of work for one day as a mark of protest against the reactionary policy of the Government”
The Programme has been widely acclaimed as a triumph for the ANC Youth League, which had been campaigning against the old methods and the old leadership as outdated and inadequate to meet the challenge presented by the Nationalist Government. Writing on “Congress at the Crossroads” in Inkundla Ya Bantu the previous June, Youth League President A.P. Mda had made a slashing attack on the ANC leadership as dilly-dallying, opportunist and half-hearted and called for the election of new officials and the adoption of new policies to give expression to the nationalism of the African people. “We have arrived at the parting of the ways”, he wrote. “We demand discipline in Congress ranks. Down with opportunism and double-dealing."
The Youth League’s initiative met with a response from other elements in Congress who were dissatisfied with the old leadership. It was the pooling of the efforts of all the progressive and forward-looking elements in Congress that led to the routing of the conservatives and the adoption of the Programme of Action, thus clearing the way for the upsurge in Congress activity during the next decade.
In July 1949 a statement by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, calling on the African, Indian and Coloured people to unite in resisting Nationalist aggression and to make a stand for their inherent rights of citizenship and democracy, had also attacked some of the leaders of the Non-European national organisations for “showing signs of either withdrawing from the battle or becoming the dupes of the segregationist oppressors."
In a press interview a few days before the ANC conference opened, D.W. Bopape, the Transvaal Provincial Secretary of the ANC, criticised the national executive for not giving the people leadership in the campaign against apartheid.
At the conference itself, Dr Xuma jibbed at the total boycott demanded by the Programme of Action and urged participation in Advisory Board and NRC elections to practise non-collaboration from within. As this was unacceptable to the conference, he was replaced as President General by Dr J.S. Moroka, who was prepared to go along with the boycott. Calata, proving likewise unacceptable as general secretary, was replaced by Walter Sisulu, former gold miner and factory worker and one of the founders of the Youth League; while Dr Molema became the new treasurer-general in place of Baloyi. Xuma, Calata and Baloyi were re-elected to the executive. Kotane, by no means regarded as a “collaborator”, was also re-elected. (Xuma later resigned, saying: “I do not want to be a stumbling block to the new executive.”)
The 1949 ANC conference also gave formal recognition to the new Congress salute, resolving “that in future during the singing of the National Anthem the sign of the clenched right hand with the thumb pointing to the right shoulder should be used as a symbol which stands for Africa and is a sign of Unity, Determination and Resolution."
The Communist Party had watched the attempts of the ANC to formulate an effective boycott policy with some scepticism. In the beginning, it had loyally followed the ANC lead, as has already been indicated, but after the advent of the Nationalist Government to power felt that the new situation called for more forceful tactics. For one thing, the Government had already announced its intention to abolish the NRC. A communication from the Secretary for Native Affairs Mr W.G.A. Mears, in January 1949 informed the Council that the Government was “not prepared to accede to the Council’s demands for the abolition of discriminatory legislation” and that therefore, because of the inflexible stand of the members, “the Council can serve no useful purpose." The Party had also noted the compromising tactics of some ANC leaders, and the tendency on the part of others both inside and outside the ranks of Congress to use the slogans of “boycott” and “non-collaboration” as a cover for their own reluctance to take effective action which might lead them into a position of direct confrontation’ with the authorities.
A few weeks after the ANC had adopted its Programme of Action, the national conference of the Communist Party in January, 1950, noted “that the African National Congress and the All African Convention have decided to use the weapon of ‘non-collaboration’. If this means nothing more than the resignation of individuals from public bodies it will in fact be a retreat and a screen for inactivity. It will play into the hands of the Government.
“Like all other political tactics, ‘non-collaboration’ is a weapon to be used at appropriate times and in favourable circumstances. Backed by organised mass action ‘non-collaboration’ as a weapon will be a means of arousing the people. to a more intensive and higher form of struggle. But the emphasis must be placed, at all times, on mass struggle.”
The Party stated again that it recognised the struggle for national liberation of the oppressed peoples of South Africa was bound up with the struggle for socialism and that it would continue, as it had done in the past, to resist all forms of racial and national oppression. “The national liberation organisations qf the Non-European people in South Africa as well as the CP and the whole working class have a vital part to play in the struggle for equality and justice. We pledge ourselves to support them and join with them in this struggle."
The Party’s position in the South African political spectrum had changed dramatically during the five years since the end of the war. Then the Party had felt itself a valued part of the grand alliance whose herculean efforts had brought about the defeat of the Axis powers. It had recruited members from all sections of the population, secured direct representation on some of the governing bodies of the land, built the circulation of the Guardian to a record 50,000 weekly. Prospects for further advance in the post-war period seemed good, but the whole mood changed after the war had ended. Within a short while the withering blasts of the cold war launched by Churchill’s notorious Fulton speech in March 1946 were being felt by the movement in South Africa. The trauma of the African miners’ strike and the sedition trial, followed by the victory of the Nationalist Party in the 1948 election, the intensification of apartheid and the launching of a direct threat against the CP itself caused the Party to re-examine the theoretical and practical bases of its position in South African politics.
Once again, attention was concentrated on the national question. In its report to the Party’s January 1949 conference — the first since the Nationalist Party’s advent to power — the Central Committee said: “South Africa’s is not a ‘typical’ class society. Here racial divisions cut across class divisions; economic questions are presented as racial questions; class alignments and divisions appear as combinations and hostilities between nationalities. The parallel to South Africa’s social system must be looked for in the multi-national states of Central and South-Eastern Europe, or in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, where the indigenous population is governed and exploited by an alien imperialism. South Africa has the characteristics of a multi-national capitalist society, in which exploitation is carried on in a form prevalent in all colonies.
“It is therefore necessary for the party, as a Marxist party, to examine and define the economic realities behind colour oppression and to demonstrate by accurate and detailed analysis that the major division is not between racial groups but between the capitalist class and the working class. Only by a continuous analysis of this kind can the party carry out its task of exposing the class purposes of race oppression, creating a working-class consciousness, breaking down national prejudices and providing leadership in the struggle for socialism.”
The Central Committee report did not ignore the role of the national organisations of the Non-Europeans. “Never before have the non-European people been confronted with such an open attack against their rights”, said the report. “But the question of united action by the non-European people as a whole still remains unsolved.”
Noting the development of a “civil disobedience” movement as a result of the Government’s policy of repression, the report said: “The political significance of a movement of this kind must not be underestimated. Our party, which has always stood in the forefront of the non-European’s struggle for democracy, will be expected to play an even more important role in the future; party members must play their part as members of the national movements in helping to strengthen the struggle against apartheid and all forms of colour discrimination."
Only a few days later the growing unity of the Non-European people was threatened by the appalling carnage of the Durban riots between the African and Indian people. The alleged assault on an African youth by an Indian stallholder in the Durban market sparked off a conflagration which resulted in an officially estimated 123 people killed, 1,300 injured, 40,000 rendered homeless and damage to the extent of £300,000. Most of the victims were Indians.
Together with other African and Indian leaders, Kotane hurried to Durban to investigate the situation on the spot and see what could be done to bring the race conflict to an end. He travelled through the African townships and spoke to the people, addressed meetings of Indians. He found that the “educated” Africans, white-collar workers, teachers, officials etc. pretended that they didn’t know why the outbreak had taken place, but that there was a lot of anti-Indian sentiment among the “Africans in the street” — some of it fostered and even some of the rioting aided and abetted by Government officials and police. Talking to one group of Africans in a township, he asked: “Why did you hit the Indians?” They replied: “Because they despise us; they make our girls pregnant.” Kotane replied: “But some whites also do that and they treat you worse than the Indians; it is the racialism of the white government which you should blame.” At gatherings of Indian activists, he urged the community leaders to help break down anti-African sentiment among Indians. In the Communist Party journal Freedom he wrote that the Communist Party’s policy was the only one which held out the prospect of ending racial discrimination and racial antagonism.
Yet though the Durban riots had estranged the Indians from the Africans and caused fear and tension on both sides, out of the evil flowed a greater determination by the peoples’ leaders that everything must be done to heal the wounds and bring the two communities together. Meeting on February 6, powerful delegations of the ANC and the SAIC, headed by their respective Presidents Dr Xuma and Dr Naicker, and with the addition of other prominent Indian and African leaders, issued a joint declaration calling on their peoples “to devise ways and means for closer co-operation and mutual understanding through their national organisations” and “to stand together in their fight for national liberation and their mutual political, economic and social advancement and security.”
Whatever may have been the immediate cause of the conflict, the declaration added, “this meeting is convinced that the fundamental and basic causes of the disturbances are traceable to the political, economic and social structure of this country, based on differential and discriminatory treatment of the various racial groups and the preaching in high places of racial hatred and intolerance.”
The meeting directed its constituent bodies, particularly the Natal branches of the African and Indian Congresses, to set up a joint council and establish local committees to “advance and promote mutual understanding and goodwill among our respective peoples.”
Among the signatories of this document were Kotane, J.B. Marks, Oliver Tambo and many others who were to be in the forefront of the political struggle of the Non-European peoples during the next two decades. There can be no doubting that the absence of inter-communal clashes during that time was due at least in part to the efforts of these leaders, and the joint struggles waged by the national liberatory organisations under their direction in the ensuing years.
The aftermath of the Durban riots — hailed by the Nationalists as proof that the different races must be separated if they were to live in peace — together with the increasing flow of racist legislation from Malan’s Parliament, caused the Communist Party Central Committee to consider the national question at greater length in its report to the next conference held in January 1950. This was to be the last conference of the Party before it dissolved itself in June in the face of the Suppression of Communism Act then being pushed through Parliament.
“South Africa is entering a period of bitter national conflict”, said the report. “An intensive racial oppression, an aggressive and virulent Afrikaner nationalism are provoking an exclusive nationalist consciousness among the Indians, Africans and Coloured, and even among the English-speaking Whites, whose former unchallenged pre-eminence is now being threatened. On all sides the national and racial divisions are being emphasised, and the realities of the class divisions are being obscured. All but a small minority of class-conscious South Africans view the clash of interests; not as one between worker and employer, but as a clash between White and Black, or between English and Afrikaner”
The statement repeated the concept adumbrated in earlier Party thinking and to be more fully developed in the “colonialism of a special type” thesis in the 1962 Party programme that South Africa displays “the characteristic of both imperialist state and a colony within a single indivisible, geographical, political and economic entity... . The Non-European population, while reduced to the status of a colonial people, has no territory of its own, no independent existence, but is almost wholly integrated in the political and economic institutions of the ruling class.”
Unlike other countries in which the national movement was the instrument of and led by a rising bourgeois class, in South Africa the Non-European bourgeoisie was “small, fragmentary, pinned down in the poorest areas, forced to use subterfuge and illegalities to evade discriminating laws, starved of capital, and exposed to constant insecurity. It is not a class that could provide effective, militant leadership.” Because of this petty-bourgeois element, the leadership of the national movements was often vague and contradictory, at times conciliatory, and with a “tremendous capacity for evasiveness and ambiguity”
Although recent events had shown “the beginnings of a Non-European racialism matching the racialism of the Europeans”, the Central Committee statement stressed that “nationalism need not be synonymous with racialism, but it can avoid being so only if it recognises the class alignments that cut across the racial divisions ... The national organisations can develop into powerful mass movements only to the extent that their content and aims are determined by the interests of the workers and peasants.
“To be sure, no clear line can be drawn between the bourgeois and working class demands: pass laws, residential segregation, prohibition of the buying of land, the exclusion from employment, the whole range of colour bars, affect every section of the Non-Europeans, and therefore constitute national issues.” Because of the weakness of the Non-European bourgeoisie, the danger of serious divergencies developing between it and the workers and peasants can be eliminated “by relating the struggle against racial discrimination to the struggle against capitalism, by showing that the colour bar is primarily a technique of exploitation for private profit, by emphasising the unity of interests that exists between the workers of all races, and by ensuring the dominant role of the class-conscious workers in the national organisations.
“The national organisations, to be effective, must be transformed into a revolutionary party of workers, peasants, intellectuals and petty-bourgeoisie, linked together in a firm organisation, subject to a strict discipline, and guided by a definite programme of struggle against all forms of racial discrimination in alliance with the class-conscious European workers and intellectuals. Such a party would be distinguished from the Communist Party in that its objective is national liberation, that is, the abolition of race discrimination, but it would co-operate closely with the Communist Party. In this party the class-conscious workers and peasants of the national group concerned would constitute the main leadership. It would be their task to develop an adequate organisational apparatus, to conduct mass struggle against race discrimination; to combat chauvinism and racialism in the national movement, to develop class consciousness in the people, and to forge unity in action between the oppressed peoples and between them and the European working class.
“Our Party must give more attention to the ideological struggle in the national movements than it has been receiving. In particular we must make a practice of using immediate and critical comment on the statements of the bourgeois leaders, draw attention to vague and inconsistent formulations, and expose those that betray a tendency to conciliate. We must no longer allow the bourgeois elements in the national movements to attack without challenge the working class movement, to slander the Party, and to adopt a negative or hostile attitude to the international working class forces. We must set the pace for the national movements, by taking positive action on concrete instances of race discrimination, such as the industrial colour bar, or the denial of the right to buy land. Above all, it is for us to develop in the workers of all races a positive class consciousness, based on the unity of the African, Indian, European and Coloured proletariat against capitalism and for socialism."
The notion of a party of national liberation may appear fanciful, but let us not be confused by semantics. The lines of struggle indicated in this Central Committee statement were to become the guidelines for the entire South African liberation movement in the following decades. The Communist Party was to be outlawed within six months, but Party members were to continue working in the national organisations, the trade unions and other bodies, and to help bring into being the Congress Alliance headed by the African National Congress which was to make such a tremendous impact on the South African political scene — to become in effect, if not in structure or in name, a movement of national liberation of the nature indicated in the Central Committee statement.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party itself was being ever more threatened by the Nationalist Government. Immediately it came to power, the Minister of Justice, Mr C.R. Swart, instigated a departmental inquiry into Communist activity in the Union. By February 1949, its report had been completed, and the Minister announced in Parliament that he proposed to take “vigorous action” to “combat the dangerous subversion ‘of our national life, democratic institutions and Western outlook” represented by the Communist Party and its various “front” organisations.
In reply to the Minister’s attack, the Central Committee of the CP said the “sensational disclosures” of the Minister’s secret inquiry amounted to no more than a statement of the aims and objects of the Communist Party which were printed in its constitution and freely available to the public. The Party’s programme and activities had been thoroughly investigated by the courts in the sedition case from 1946 to 1948, but no evidence of subversive activity had been disclosed and the trial had to be abandoned.
Nevertheless, it was clear the Government meant business. During 1949, meetings of Communist M.P. Sam Kahn in the Transvaal had been prohibited under the Riotous Assemblies Act, and restrictions were also placed on Dr Yusuf Dadoo, who was banned from speaking in the 8 main centres of the country. Passports were refused to representatives of the Indian people and of the Garment Worker’s Union, and also to African and Indian students wishing to proceed overseas to further their studies. The trade union movement was threatened by the appointment of the Industrial Legislation Commission and a separate commission into the affairs of the Garment Worker’s Union aimed at getting rid of its secretary E.S. Sachs. The ultimate establishment of an all-embracing censorship was foreshadowed by the publication in the Government Gazette of lists of publications whose importation into the Union was prohibited under the Customs Act. Following the intensified application of the pass laws, and their threatened extension to African women, there were violent clashes between Africans and the police in many centres, especially on the Witwatersrand, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries.
In 1950 the Population Registration Act established a racial register, and the Group Areas Act provided for the total physical separation of the races, while the Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, followed by the Immorality, Act of 1950 were aimed to prevent the “dilution” of white blood by black.
“Race relations in South Africa are coming to crisis”, stated a resolution adopted at the Communist Party’s national conference in Johannesburg in January 1950.
“Nationalist apartheid is being carried to a point where human dignity is outraged beyond endurance and where every semblance of democratic principle is abandoned. Let there be no mistake. The Non-European people are not going to accept apartheid. They are resisting it now and will resist it with more and more determination.
“Apartheid can lead only to more intensive conflict between the State and the people, to increasing inter-racial antagonism, and to an end to peaceful relations between the white and non-white peoples. If allowed to continue its present course, the Government’s policy must inevitably result in the persecution of any’ person, white or non-white, who defends democracy, advocates equality and fights to preserve human dignity.
“If the Government is not checked, our country will become an armed camp, in which the great majority of the population will be kept in subjection by ministerial decrees that ban opposition parties and individual opponents, by press censorship, police raids, and a civil service filled with government supporters, by incitements to race riots, by concentration camps and all the other trappings ,of the Nazi-Fascist State.”
The conference maintained: “There is an alternative ... European domination must end. Civilisation, democracy and inter-racial peace can survive only by removing the artificial barriers which colour discrimination places in the way of human progress.”
Change would not come as a gift, however. The conference stated firmly: “For the Non-European people there can be no illusion about their responsibility for defeating apartheid. It is they who must carry the main burden of the struggle through mass, disciplined organisation, a militant policy of active participation in struggle, a determined resistance to every new assault on their rights, and above all a fearless attack on the whole system of race discrimination — this is the road to the conquest of freedom."
Two streams of anti-Nationalist activity now began to converge. At his first public meeting since his election as ANC President, Dr Moroka told a Newclare, Johannesburg, audience in February 1950 that he and other African leaders were planning to meet Indian and Coloured leaders shortly to discuss common problems and action.
To the 2,000 people present he said: “I want to assure the Coloured and Indian communities they need have no fear as far as African nationalism is concerned. We fight not only for our freedom. We are fighting for the freedom of the Indian people, of the Coloured people. We shall join hands even with those Europeans who are prepared to fight with us — and there are many of them.” (Applause)
Chairman of the meeting was J.B. Marks, who said:
“We must be equal partners to share equally in the administration of this country."
The public meeting had followed a meeting of the ANC executive which appointed a Council of Action of 5 to carry out the decisions of the 1949 Programme of Action, in particular the boycott and the one-day national stoppage of work. The Council comprised Dr Moroka as chairman, Mr Gaur Radebe, Mr G.M. Pitje, Mr O. Tambo and Mr C.S. Ramohanoe.
Separate preparations were going ahead for a Defend Free Speech Convention which took place in Johannesburg on March 26, attended by 528 delegates representing over 1 million people throughout the Transvaal. Called together by the Transvaal ANC, the Indian Congress, the African People’s Organisation and the Johannesburg District of’ the Communist Party, this united gathering, presided oyer by Dr Moroka, greeted Sam Kahn and Dr Dadoo with tremendous applause when the two leaders, banned from speaking in public under the Riotous Assemblies Act, entered the Gandhi Hall for the closed afternoon session.
Earlier in the day, great triumphal processions of the people stretched across Johannesburg’s main streets, at times bringing all traffic to a halt, as enormous crowds gave Dr Moroka a stirring welcome at the station. The procession then marched through the streets led by Dr and Mrs Moroka in a flower-bedecked carriage and other leaders on horseback.
The morning session, held at Johannesburg’s Market Square and attended by over 10,000 people, cheered Moses Kotane when he was introduced by Dr Moroka.
“Many of you are not Communists”, said Kotane3 “but you all believe in the principles of justice and free speech. If the government attempts to ban any organisation which stands for equality, you will rally to its support. The people will not be misled by the government’s attempts to ban any organisation which stands for equality, you will rally to its support. The people will not be misled by the government’s attempt to further oppress the Non-European peoples under the guise of anti-Communism.”
The Convention condemned the bans on the people’s leaders, called for a National Convention to be held in July, and declared that May 1st would be observed as a holiday, when the people would demonstrate in the cities, towns and reserves against the pass laws, for the full franchise, land, decent wages and the repeal of all discriminatory laws.
Following the enormous success of the Johannesburg Convention, the joint honorary secretaries of the Convention, Messrs D.W. Bopape, Y.A. Cachalia and D. Tloome, wrote to the leaders of the ANC, SAIC, African People’s Organisation (APO) and the Coloured People’s National Union (CPNU) requesting them to convene the proposed National Convention in Johannesburg on July 1 and 2.
Meanwhile, preparations went ahead for May 1st to be celebrated as a People’s Holiday — being a Monday this meant a one-day strike. Not all the elements in the ANC were happy about this. In a statement published in the Bantu World, the President of the Transvaal ANC and a member of the ANC Action Council, Mr Ramohanoe, alleged that the Defend Free Speech Convention had taken decisions “beyond its jurisdiction” and “instructing” all members of the ANC to stop all activity in connection with the May 1st strike. Other members of the ANC and its Youth League also opposed the May 1st plans. However, they were in a tiny minority and also an impossible position. Their President-General Dr Moroka had presided over the Defend Free Speech Convention, and Ramohanoe was repudiated by the Working Committee of the Transvaal ANC which issued a statement saying “Members of the ANC Will not hesitate in giving their unreserved support to the decisions taken by the Defend Free Speech Convention ... The struggle which is going on is not contrary to the programme of action of the ANC."
Ramohanoe had not even attended the Defend Free Speech Convention, and his opposition to it and to the May Day strike resulted in his replacement by J.B. Marks as Transvaal ANC chairman later in the year.
The May 1st demonstration was a huge success, and the Rand’s industries came to a standstill when about 80 per cent of the black workers remained at home in response to the Convention’s call. But the police resorted to brutal reprisals, breaking up every gathering of more than 12 people and towards evening the repeated provocations and terrorism of the police inevitably culminated in violence, at least 18 people being killed and an unknown number injured by police bullets.
A statement by the joint secretaries of the Convention, noting that the hours of daylight had passed without violence, said of the flare-up in the evening darkness:
“We have no hesitation in placing the full responsibility for the tragic deaths, bloodshed and injuries upon the shoulders of the Nationalist Government and its police."
A few days later the Government’s Unlawful Organisations Bill — the first draft of what eventually was passed into law as the Suppression of Communism Act — was published, proposing to give the Government powers so far-reaching that not merely the Communist Party but any organisation opposing the Government’s apartheid policies could be brought within its ambit. Though the terms of the Bill were later somewhat restricted, the Government had revealed its true intentions. “The Government is bringing in Fascism under the pretext of fighting Communism”, said a statement by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
On May 14 an emergency conference of representatives of the executive committees of the ANC (the convenor), SA Indian Congress, Communist Party, African People’s Organisation, Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions and ANC Youth League adopted a resolution declaring: “The introduction of this bill in Parliament by the present Government fully confirms our viewpoint that the Government of Dr Malan is out to establish a totalitarian regime in the country, a regime under which the freedom of organisation, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press will be totally destroyed.” The resolution pledged the national organisations to take immediate steps to mobilise the people to offer “concrete mass opposition” to the Bill.
One week later an emergency ANC executive meeting held at Thaba ‘Nchu in the Free State, the home of ANC President Dr Moroka, declared that although the Bill was ostensibly aimed at the Communist Party, “the ANC Executive is satisfied ... . that it is primarily directed against the Africans and other oppressed people, and is designed to frustrate all their attempts to work for the fulfilment of their legitimate demands and aspirations. The Bill is a further example of the determination of the white people of this country to keep the African in permanent subordination.”
The ANC executive decided to launch a campaign for a national day of protest. “It is suggested that, on this day, to mark their general dissatisfaction with the position in this country, the African people should refrain from going to work, and regard this day as a day of mourning for all those Africans who lost their lives in the struggle for liberation.” On June 11 Dr Moroka announced that the Day of Protest would be June 26, which thereafter became known as Freedom Day for all sections of the liberation movement in South Africa. The Communist Party, Indian Congress, APO and ANC Youth League all immediately pledged their support, and meetings to mobilise the people for action were held all over the country.
It was a time of frantic activity and frantic anxiety as members of all the liberatory organisations threw themselves into the campaign for June 26. The action committee in charge of the campaign had allocated to Kotane the responsibility for mobilising the Western Cape, but his duties did not end there, and he travelled to other parts of the country to address meeting after meeting.
For the Communist Party of South Africa time was running out. Introducing his amended Suppression of Communism Bill to Parliament, Justice Minister Swart in his second reading speech regaled the House of Assembly with a series of lurid and spine-chilling accusations that the Party was making preparations for a coup d'état, had placed Africans in key positions for the take-over, was planning to sabotage the country’s power stations and poison its reservoirs and water supplies. Under his Bill, not only was the Communist Party to be outlawed, but it was to become a crime, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, to propagate or further the aims of Communism, which was defined as “the doctrine of Marxian socialism as expounded by Lenin or Trotsky, the Third Communist International (the Comintern) or the Communist Information Bureau (the Cominform) or any related form of that doctrine expounded or advocated in the Union for the promotion of the fundamental principles of that doctrine”, including any doctrine or scheme “which aims at the encouragement of feelings of hostility between the European and Non-European races of the Union the consequences of which are calculated to further the achievement” of “a despotic system of government based on the dictatorship of the proletariat” or “any political, industrial, social or economic change within the Union by the promotion of disturbance or disorder.”
In addition to declaring the Communist Party illegal, the Bill gave the Governor-General the power to outlaw any other organisation which engaged in activities calculated to further the objects of Communism; to place restrictions on former members of the Communist Party, including an order to resign from any organisation including Parliament; to ban “Communist” publications; to ban any individual, whether a Communist or not, from attending gatherings; and to ban any gathering altogether.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party met in Cape Town to decide on its reaction to the Bill, knowing that it was likely to become law within a few weeks. The outcome of the meeting was announced in the House of Assembly on June 20 by Communist MP Sam Kahn, who read the following statement issued by the CP national chairman I. Horvitch and the general secretary Moses Kotane:
“Recognising that the day the Suppression of Communism Bill becomes law every one of our members, merely by virtue of their membership, may be liable to be imprisoned without the option of a fine for a maximum period of ten years, the Central Committee of the Communist Party has decided to dissolve the party as from today.
“This decision has been forced upon us in the name of ‘Democracy’ by a Government that commands a majority of only seven in the House of Assembly and one in the Senate, a Government that received a minority of the votes at the General Elections, a Gpvernment that represents at most 1,250,000 out of a total population of 11,000,000.
“We are confident that if the issue of our continued existence were submitted to a national referendum in which not just one section of the people, but all sections, were allowed to participate, an overwhelming majority would record their vote in favour of our party’s right to exist.
“Adopting the technique characteristic of all Fascists, the Government destroys what it claims to defend.
“Such vestiges of Democratic rights as have beep left in South Africa are being extinguished in the present Parliament by a clique in its efforts to impose a dictatorship, suppress all opposition, and remove every obstacle to a Fascist Republic.
“COMMUNISM AND SOCIALISM HAVE STOOD THE TEST OF TIME. FOR MORE THAN 100 YEARS, IN ONE COUNTRY AFTER ANOTHER, THE ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE HAVE RUTHLESSLY, INHUMANLY, SOUGHT TO CRUSH THE MOVEMENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ECONOMIC LIBERATION, FOR THE END OF THE CLASS WAR, FOR PEACE AND SOCIALISM.
“All those attempts have failed. Communism lives on, gaining in strength and stature. Rooted in the history of the working class, expressing their deepest aspirations and needs, Communism cannot be destroyed as long as society is divided into two worlds: rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed.
“Fascism cannot kill the will of the people for the good life. Nothing can stop the people of South Africa in their struggle for full Democracy, for the removal of colour bars, for justice and for Socialism.”
After he had read the statement, Sam Kahn said: “Communism will outlive the Nationalist Party. Democracy will still be triumphant when members of this Government will be manuring the fields of history. Millions in South Africa will echo my final words: ‘Long Live Communism’."
The dissolution of the Communist Party took everyone outside the ranks of the Central Committee and the Party officials by surprise. Police special branch men hurried round to the Communist Party offices in all centres and found them empty, all the files and papers removed, the desks and other office furniture sold off. Not that the police had much to discover about the Party which they did not already know, including lists of the Party membership which they had captured in raids at the time of the sedition trial after the 1946 miners’ strike.
In fact, this was one of the strongest arguments used by those members of the Central Committee who voted for the dissolution of the Party. The membership had been recruited during a period when the Party was completely legal and able to function openly; many of them indeed had come in during the war years when the Party cause enjoyed widespread popularity outside its own ranks, as was testified by its electoral successes amongst both blacks and whites. Quite apart from the legal considerations mentioned in the statement of dissolution, the Central Committee felt that it could not go underground with the sort of membership it had, many of whom were totally unequipped both ideologically and practically for illegal struggle and all of whom were known to the police. A totally different kind of Party was required to face the sort of challenge which would be presented after the Suppression of Communism Bill became law.
Commenting on the situation in its programme The Road to South African Freedom, adopted in 1962 at its Fifth National Conference, the reconstituted South African Communist Party said: “Despite its great achievements and struggles, the Communist Party of South Africa proved incapable of surviving under illegal conditions. Legalistic illusions had penetrated into the ranks of the Party, including its leading personnel. The Party was unprepared and unable to work underground. These errors culminated in the dissolution ...”
Only two members of the Central Committee voted against dissolution — Andrews and Harmel. Kotane, like many others, didn’t like the idea of dissolution, but went along with the majority. He felt there was little alternative at that late stage. The Central Committee had discussed the possibility of illegality, but had made no preparations to meet the new conditions, concentrating all its energies instead on defending its legal right to exist. Right up to the end Communist Party activists were organising flat-out for the June 26 stay-at-home; hardly a thought was given to what would happen afterwards.
Some amateurish attempts had been made in the Johannesburg district, following the 1946 miners’ strike, to set up a second-string District Party Committee to function in case the elected DPC was incarcerated. But the second string was, after all, like the spare wheel on a car — an insurance against disaster seldom put to use. When they met they had nothing to discuss except the unknown future. They lacked the capacity to organise and inspire either the Party membership or the masses in general because they had no real authority or experience in leadership.
Nor was it possible on the spur of the moment to build up a secret Party membership, because cadres are only steeled in political action, and the Party did not know how to operate a legal Party side by side with an illegal Party. Nobody had had any experience of underground work, or how to combine legal and illegal activities.
Kotane did not favour dissolution; but neither did he think it possible to have organised an illegal party before the Suppression Act became law.
“It is very easy to say we should”, he said later. “But no person can react to non-existent conditions. Many romantic people say we could have made preparations, but I dispute this. You don’t walk looking over your shoulder when there is nothing to look back at. Theoretically you can train people to be pilots when there are no aeroplanes. But the realities have to be there."
Again Kotane, together with the majority of the Central Committee members, automatically assumed that after the formal act of dissolution, the Central Committee would begin to reconstitute the Party on new lines suited to the illegal conditions. But to his dismay he and the others who started to build a new Party found that some amongst both the leadership and the membership were not prepared to join the illegal organisation. While not disavowing any of their former ideals, they felt either that they as individuals could not meet the requirements of underground work, or that the Communist Party itself could not survive in the face of the expected Government attack. Later, inevitably, some of them were to rationalise their own weakness and develop “ideological differences” with the Party and its leadership. It remains only to stress that both blacks and whites were to be found in the ranks of the drop-outs.
The majority of the Party, however, of all races both on the CC and amongst the rank and file, remained loyal and determined to carry on the fight. The 1962 programme declared:
“The Nationalists boasted that they had destroyed Communism in South Africa. It was an idle boast. Defying the Nazi laws of the Nationalists, the most steeled and determined Communists of South Africa came together in 1953 to form the South African Communist Party, to carry forward and raise still higher the banner of the Communist movement under the new and testing conditions of illegality. Combining legal mass work with the illegal work of building the Marxist-Leninist Party as the disciplined vanguard of the fight for freedom, democracy, peace and socialism, the South African Communist Party is the heir to the tradition created by the Communist Party of South Africa. It is a tradition of unflinching struggle against oppression and exploitation, for unity of the workers and freedom-loving people of our country, irrespective of race and colour.”
There was no time to call a Party conference to ratify the Central Committee’s decision to dissolve. But Kotane as general secretary toured the country to explain the CC decision to hastily summoned district conferences of the Party. He performed his task with a heavy heart, but met with no opposition in any centre. The majority of Party members were convinced the dissolution was merely a ruse.
With the dissolution of the Communist Party, the June 26 demonstration took place under the sponsorship of the ANC and the SA Indian Congress, but Communists were everywhere active in the preparations for the great day. It turned out to be an enormous success.
“Never before did the country witness such a demonstration of fraternal solidarity and unity of purpose by all ‘sections of the Non-European people in the struggle to secure economic and political emancipation”, said a statement issued by the National Day of Protest Co-ordinating Committee the following day. “In many cases such as Port Elizabeth, Durban and most of the Natal areas a complete stoppage occurred. In Johannesburg and the Reef towns the majority of the Non-European people stayed at home.”
In Cape Town there was a 50 per cent response from the African community, and most Indian and Malay shops were closed. Work at the docks was also disrupted by the strike.
Congratulating all who took part “in the historic event which is the first step towards our liberation”, the national committee called on all South Africans to maintain a spirit of vigilance and resistance until all fascist laws were abolished.
A report on the June 26 National Day of Protest issued by the Secretary-General of the ANC (Walter Sisulu) and initialled by Nelson Mandela also stated: “Having regard to the fact that the Committee had only two weeks to prepare, and in the face of intensive and relentless police intimidation, and after studying the reports from various parts of the country, I am perfectly satisfied that, as a political strike, Monday June 26 was an outstanding success.”
The report of the National Executive Committee to the annual ANC conference in December added: “It must be taken into account that this was the first attempt at a political strike on a national scale by the Non-European people of this country. We must therefore compliment our people for their solidarity and loyalty in the cause of the struggle for liberation."