In honour of Moses Mabhida
Remembering a male hero on Women’s Day
The following are excerpts of the speech delivered by South Africa Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary BLADE NZIMANDE at a memorial lecture in honour of anti-aparthied stalwart MOSES MABHIDA at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on March 8, 2013 on the 27th anniversary of his death.
Moses Mabhida was a living embodiment of our Alliance (ANC-SACP-COSATU), which in itself has been an expression of the deep interconnectedness between the struggle for national liberation and socialism.
At the time of his death, Moses Mabhida was General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, a member of the national executives of both the ANC and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). He was a communist, a revolutionary trade unionist and a true Congressman! How did all this come about and what lessons should we be learning out of his life and struggles today?
Cde Moses Mabhida, often referred to as “Stimela” by Harry Gwala, was born on October 14, 1923 at Thornville here in Pietermaritzburg.
He grew up with a deep resentment of the theft of land of his family and the African people in general by white colonists.
He started school at a late age in 1932, and his schooling was often interrupted by his having to work as a herd boy.
One of his teachers was the late Cde Harry Gwala who influenced him to join both the ANC and the progressive trade union movement. Cde Mabhida joined the Communist Party in 1942.
It is important to understand the period during which Mabhida joined the CPSA (as the Party was then known) in order to understand his political outlook.
The 1940s can be regarded as the “golden decade” and, in many ways, the coming of age of the Communist Party in South Africa as an indispensable force in the South African revolution. The 1940s marked the consolidation and taking to higher levels the many struggles that the CPSA had been engaged in since its founding in 1921.
The all-important decision taken in 1928 by the Communist Party through the Native Republic Thesis to work with the ANC, marking the foundations of our Alliance, was followed by a very difficult decade of factionalism and debilitating internal battles within the Party in the 1930s.
Part of these tensions were about the correctness of choosing to work with the ANC as a nationalist movement, with some of the Party members doubting the wisdom of this decision. Some saw this as a postponement of the struggle for socialism.
It was after the ascendancy of Moses Kotane as General Secretary of the then Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), that our party embarked upon and led many of the mass struggles in the 1940s, thus laying a very important foundation for the ANC-led mass struggles of the 1950s.
During the 1940s, communists like Dora Tamana were leading important struggle in the squatter settlements, including pioneering work in building co-operatives.
Many African communists also joined the ANC in the 1940s, including Moses Mabhida and Harry Gwala.
The Communist Party further took its early work of building the non-racial trade union movement to new heights, including the founding of the Council of Non-European Trade Unions, an early attempt at building a progressive federation of trade unions.
The high point was the great 1946 mineworkers strike, led by communists such as JB Marks, who was also the chairman of our party.
Later, Sam Kahn became a communist MP and Fred Carneson was elected onto the Cape Provincial Council. There is incidentally an exhibition about Fred Carneson at the Umsunduzi Museum until November this year. Please go and view it!
Those who tell us today that we must be in some but not other sites of struggle either do not understand the history and role of the SACP in our revolution.
It was these heroic struggles that shaped Moses Mabhida, and clearly had a lasting impact on his life and politics.
After the Defiance Campaign of 1952, a period during which 8 000 people went to jail in protest against the criminal apartheid laws, the Pietermaritzburg District Committee of the Communist Party – the SACP having been resuscitated in 1953 as an underground party – suggested that Cde Mabhida resign from his job in order to work full-time for the trade union movement.
He became an organiser for the Howick Rubber Workers' Union and the Chemical Workers in Pietermaritzburg.
Cde Mabhida was very instrumental in the building of SACTU and at its first congress at which he was a participant in 1955, he was elected one of the four vice presidents of the federation. He contributed enormously in building a strong trade union movement in this province as a whole.
Cde Mabhida also played a very important role in the ANC in the 1950s, and played a big part in the preparations for the Congress of the People in Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted.
During this period Cde Mabhida also became chairman of the ANC Working Committee in this province, as well as chair of the Durban District of the Communist Party. He was at the same time at the centre of every mass activity and campaign in the province.
Cde Moses Mabhida was elected onto the National Executive Committee of the ANC around 1956 and in 1959-1959 was acting chair of the Natal ANC.
After the declaration of the state of emergency by the apartheid regime, Cde Mabhida was instructed by both the ANC and the SACP to leave the country and organise anti-apartheid and solidarity activities with the struggle of the South African people.
Cde Mabhida's stature as an internationalist also began to grow. He worked as the SACTU representative at the World Federation of Trade Unions.
In 1963 Cde Mabhida was instructed by the ANC President, Oliver Tambo, to leave the solidarity field and to work full time for Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).
Cde Mabhida was a central component and commander in opening the Natal front for MK, and many comrades from this front still have vivid memories of the final instructions they got from Bab'Mabhida as they entered the country for underground work.
After the death of Cde Moses Kotane in 1978, Cde Mabhida was elected General Secretary of the SACP in November 1979, a position he held until his death on March 8, 1986 of a heart attack in Mozambique.
Cde Mabhida was a committed communist, who knew that all good communists must be in the ANC. Not only must a good communist be in the ANC, but he or she must be prepared to serve in whatever capacity assigned by the ANC!
In his eulogy to Cde Mabhida at the funeral – which President Samora Machel of Mozambique proclaimed a full state funeral – the ANC President Cde Oliver Tambo made what has possibly become the most quoted statement about our Tripartite Alliance:
“Ours is not merely a paper alliance, created at conference tables and formalised through the signing of documents and representing only an agreement by leaders. Our Alliance is a living organism that has grown out of struggle.”
His friend and fellow revolutionary, Samora Machel, said: “We shall be the guardians of his body. Men who die fighting, who refuse to surrender, who serve the people and the ideals to the last breath, are victors. Mabhida is a victorious combatant.”
Our task today is to tell over and over again the story of Moses Mabhida and other revolutionaries.
But it must not be for the sake of telling a story, it is so that we can continue to learn appropriate lessons from their lives and struggles, as part of learning from our own history.
It is indeed an important co-incidence that Cde Mabhida died on March 8, which is International Women's Day. So therefore, in future we must also use this day to honour our women and their important role in the liberation and reconstruction of our country.
In the true tradition of our party, we must intensify the recruitment of women.
We are not doing badly on this front as about 45% of members of the Party are women. But we must build on this, and it must be reflected inour structures.
We can be proud of the role that outstanding Communist women have played in struggle – among them Dora Tamana, Ray Alexander, Josie Mpama, Dorothy Nyembe, Betty Radford, and Ncumisa Kondlo, to mention but a few.
In 1931 we established a Women's Department to “organise women as women, to draw into active struggle the proletarian woman in the factories, the peasant woman and also the wife of the petty owner”.
During this period the party called for a Women's National Conference to unify and consolidate the struggles of women. It was therefore not an accident that communist women played an important role in women's organisations such as the ANC Women's League and the Federation of South African Women.
However, the organisation of women must not be an abstract “feel good” task, but must be rooted in the important struggles of the day.
We gather today in the midst of further exposition of the prevalence of violence against women and children in our society, including rape, mutilation and murder.
Let us use March 8 to intensify the struggles against this scourge and mobilise and educate our communities about the importance of gender equality and defence of women and children.
Long live the memory of Stimela Mabhida!