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South African Communist Party

South African Communist Party
General Secretary Blade Nzimande
First Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin
Second Deputy General Secretary Solly Afrika Mapaila
Founded 1921
Headquarters 3rd Floor, Cosatu House
1 Leyds Street, cnr Biccard
Johannesburg, 2000
Newspaper Umsebenzi
Youth wing Young Communist League of South Africa
Membership (2015) Increase 220,000 [1]
Ideology Communism
National affiliation Tripartite Alliance
International affiliation Africa Left Networking Forum
International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties (IMCWP)
Colours Red, Black, Yellow
Party flag
Flag of the South African Communist Party.svg

The South African Communist Party (SACP) is a communist party in South Africa. It was founded in 1921, was declared illegal in 1950 by the governing National Party, and participated in the struggle to end the apartheid system. It is a partner of the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and through this it influences the South African government.


The Communist Party of South Africa was founded in 1921 by the joining together of the International Socialist League and others under the leadership of Willam H. Andrews. It first came to prominence during the Rand Revolt (A strike) by white miners in 1922. The large mining concerns, facing labour shortages and wage pressures, had announced their intention of engaging blacks in semi-skilled and some higher level jobs at low wage rates, compared to their white counterparts who enjoyed the monopoly of higher and well-paying occupations. The CPSA supported the strike as the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class but it distanced itself from racist slogans associated with the strike (See the Public Statement on the strike, as a primary authority, issued by the CPSA on the accasion of the strike in 1922. The statement is accessible in the book South African Communists Speak - containing original - Documents from the History of the South African Communist Party, 1915-1980, published by Inkululeko, 1981). The Party said in the statement a white South Africa was impossible, and that workers had to organise and unite regardless of their race to fight for a non-racial South Africa and better conditions for all workers. In 1928, the Communist International adopted a resolution for the CPSA to adopt the "Native Republic" thesis which stipulated that South Africa was a country belonging to the Natives, that is, the Blacks. The resolution was influenced by a delegation from South Africa. James la Guma, the Party Chairperson from Cape Town, had met with the leadership of the Communist International (Dr Raymond van Diemel, "I have seen the new Jerusalem": Revisiting and re-conceptualising Josiah T. Gumede and Jimmy La Guma’s USSR visit of 1927 (2001)). The Party thus reoriented itself at its 1924 Party Congress towards organising black workers and "Africanising" the party. By 1928, 1,600 of the party's 1,750 members were Black. During this period, the party has been accused of dismissing competing attempts at multiracial revolutionary organisations, especially multiracial union organising by the syndicalists, and using revisionist history to claim that the party and its Native Republic policy was the only viable route to African liberation.[3] Despite this, in 1929: the party adopted a "strategic line" which held that, "The most direct line of advance to socialism runs through the mass struggle for majority rule". By 1948, the Communist Party had officially abandoned the Native Republic policy.

In 1946, the CPSA along with the African National Congress participated in the general strike that was started by the African Mine Workers' Strike in 1946. Many party members, such as Bram Fischer were arrested.


Aware that the National Party, elected to government in 1948, was about to ban the Communist Party, the CPSA decided by a majority to dissolve itself. A minority felt that the party should organise underground, but the majority apparently argued that this would be unnecessary; that support should be given to the African National Congress (ANC) in the drive to majority rule. After its voluntary dissolution, the CPSA was declared illegal in 1950. In 1953, a group of former CPSA members launched the South African Communist Party that remained — as had been the CPSA — aligned with the Soviet Union. The ban on the party was lifted in 1990 when the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations and individuals were also unbanned, and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

The CPSA/SACP was a particular target of the governing National Party. The Suppression of Communism Act was used against all those dedicated to ending apartheid, but was obviously particularly targeted at the communists.

Following the dissolution and subsequent banning of the CPSA, former party members and, after 1953, members of the SACP, adopted a policy of primarily working within the ANC in order to reorient that organisation's programme from a nationalist policy akin to the CPSA's former Native Republic policy towards a non-racial programme which declared that all ethnic groups residing in South Africa had equal rights to the country. While black members of the SACP were encouraged to join the ANC and seek leadership positions within that organisation, many of its white leading members formed the Congress of Democrats which in turn allied itself with the African National Congress and other "non-racial" congresses in the Congress Alliance on the basis of multi-racialism. The Congress Alliance committed itself to a democratic, non-racial South Africa where the "people shall govern" through the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter, having been developed by leading members of the Congress of Democrats, was adopted by the ANC leadership and has since remained the cornerstone of the ANC's programme throughout the years of repression.

SACP played a dynamic role in the development of the liberation movement in South Africa. The "Africanists" of the Pan Africanist Congress broke from the ANC in opposition to the creation of a five-member Congress Alliance executive that reduced the 100,000 member ANC to the same status as the 500 strong (white) Congress of Democrats and three other small organisations. The PAC founder, Robert Magaliso Sobukwe, also supported a concept of non-racialism as opposed to multi-racialism. The PAC's policy of Africanism and acceptance of Maoism informed the black student uprisings of the 1970s which were led by the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko.

As the National Party increased repression in response to increased black pressure and radicalism throughout the 1950s, the ANC, previously committed to non-violence, turned towards the question of force. A new generation of leaders, led by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu recognised that the Nationalists were certain to ban the ANC and so make peaceful protest all but impossible.

They allied themselves with the Communists to form Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation') which began a campaign of economic bombing or 'armed propaganda'. However the leaders of Umkhonto were soon arrested and jailed and the liberation movement was left weak and with an exiled leadership. Communist Joe Slovo was Chief of Staff of Umkhonto, his wife and fellow SACP cadre Ruth First was perhaps the leading theoretician of the revolutionary struggle the ANC were engaged in. The ANC itself, though, remained broadly social democratic in outlook.

In exile, communist nations provided the ANC with funding and firearms. Gradual work by the ANC slowly rebuilt the organisation inside South Africa, and the ANC was able to capitalise on the wave of anger amongst young South Africans during and after the Soweto uprising of 1976.

Eventually external pressures and internal ferment made even many strong supporters of apartheid recognise that change had to come and a long process of negotiations began which resulted, in 1994, in the defeat of the National Party after forty-six years of rule.


With victory a number of Communists occupied prominent positions on the ANC benches in parliament. Most prominently, Nelson Mandela appointed Joe Slovo as Minister for Housing. This period also brought new strains in the ANC-SACP alliance when the ANC's programme did not threaten the existence of capitalism in South Africa and was heavily reliant on foreign investment and tourism. However, the Freedom Charter had been considered only as a blueprint for a future democratic and free South Africa. Joe Slovo recognised that Stalinism had failed in Eastern Europe and could not be regarded as a model for the SACP. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela famously remarked:

"There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"

After Mandela's death in 2013, the ANC confirmed that he had been a member of the SACP and served on its central committee.[4]

Through the Tripartite Alliance and the sitting of many SACP members on the ANC's NEC, the SACP has wielded influence from within the ANC, often serving as an ideological opposition against the presidency and socio-economic policies of Thabo Mbeki (1999–2008); this became most apparent with the ouster of Mbeki from the presidencies of both the party (2007, by vote) and the government (2008, by ANC party recall) and his eventual replacement in both offices with Jacob Zuma, who is widely seen as being more conciliatory to the ideological demands of both the SACP and COSATU.

General Secretaries

1921: William H. Andrews
1925: Jimmy Shields
1929: Douglas Wolton[5]
1929: Albert Nzula[6]
1932: John B. Marks[6]
1933: Moses Kotane[6]
1936: Edwin Thabo Mofutsanyana[6]
1938: Moses Kotane[6]
1978: Moses Mabhida
1984: Joe Slovo
1991: Chris Hani
1993: Charles Nqakula
1998: Blade Nzimande


1921: William H. Andrews[6]
1925: Sydney Bunting[6]
1931: Douglas Wolton[6]
1933: Lazar Bach[6]
1935: Issie Wolfson[6]
1939: William H. Andrews[6]

Prominent members of the Central Committee of the SACP

See also


  • Raising the Red Flag The International Socialist League & the Communist Party of South Africa 1914 - 1932 by Sheridan Johns. Mayibuye History and Literature Series No. 49. Mayibuye Books. University of the Western Cape, Bellville. 1995. ISBN 1-86808-211-3.
  • Time Longer Than Rope by Edward Roux. The University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wisconsin. 1964. ISBN 978-0-299-03204-3.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Kotze, Dirk. "Why communism appears to be gaining favour in South Africa". The Conversation. Retrieved 2017-12-19. 
  2. ^ []
  3. ^ Cole, Peter; van der Walt, Lucien (January 2011). "Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925" (PDF). Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies. 12 (1): 69–96. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 
  4. ^ THE PASSING OF CDE NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA Archived 2013-12-11 at the Wayback Machine., ANC, 5 December 2013.
  5. ^ Les Switzer, South Africa's Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880-1960, pp.334
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mia Roth, The Communist Party in South Africa: Racism, Eurocentricity and Moscow

External links