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Mandela was ‘never’ a member of the Communist Party:

11 December 2013, 11:59

Mandela was ‘never’ a member of the Communist Party:

Floyd Shivambu

As part of their message of condolences on the 6th of December 2013, both the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC) made a claim that President Nelson Mandela was a member of the Central Committee of the SACP during his arrest in 1962 for what later became the Rivonia Trial. In its statement, the Communist Party says, “at his arrest in 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the underground SACP, but was also a member of the Party’s Central Committee. To us as South African communists, Cde Mandela shall forever symbolise the monumental contribution of the SACP in our liberation struggle”.

In its first statement to announce the passing away of Nelson Mandela, the SACP’s erstwhile Chairperson, its current Central Committee Member and ANC Secretary General repeats the same claim in the first official statement of the ANC after the passing away of Tata Nelson Mandela and say that “Madiba was also a member of the South African Communist Party, where he served in the Central Committee”. These are of course unsubstantiated claims, which got some of us who are critical students of Nelson Mandela and his politics, thinking. We got thinking because on various occasions, Mandela said he was never a member of the Communist Party, but did not see anything wrong with its political relationship to the ANC.

Now, the ANC and SACP’s statements that Mandela was a CC Member should be clarified, not because it means anything really, because it is now evident that the SACP would have done exactly what the ANC did upon seizure of political power—capitulation to white monopoly capital and retention of apartheid property relations. The need to clarify the claim that Mandela was a CC Member of the SACP is basically meant to re-affirm that Mandela was not lying when he said on various occasions that he was not a member of the SACP, because what December 6th 2013 Statements of the ANC and SACP basically claim is that Mandela lied to the people of South Africa. Some of us cannot live with the possibility that Tata Nelson Mandela could have misled the nation on basic things such as his membership of the Communist Party, particularly if he served at CC level.   

In the document he prepared for his meeting with P.W. Botha and published in July 1989, Nelson Mandela says “my political beliefs have been explained in the course of several political trials in which I was charged, in the policy documents of the ANC, and in my autobiography The Struggle is my Life which I wrote in prison in 1975. I state in these trials and publications that I did not belong to any organisation apart from the ANC”. Mandela repeats this assertion on many other occasions, including on his reflections of the debates that happened in Prison.

In the famous Rivonia Trial statement which he delivered in 1964, Mandela says, “there are many Africans who today tend to equate freedom with Communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as Communists and bans them under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although I have NEVER been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been named under that pernicious act because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign. I have also been banned and imprisoned under that Act”. All of us know that Mandela used the word ‘NEVER’ to mean exactly that, but the SACP and ANC’s 6th December statements are saying that these were all lies. How SACP CC Member from 1962 could say that “Although I have NEVER been a member of the Communist Party” escapes our imagination.

As early as 1956, or even earlier, Mandela always drew a distinct line between the Communist Party and the ANC, and also between the struggle for national liberation and the struggle for socialism towards communism. Defending the Freedom Charter against those who proclaimed it a socialist programme in the ANC, Mandela (1956) specifically said, “Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blue-print for a socialist state but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land, the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit”.

In his autobiography, Mandela explains the details of how he explained to those he held the talks before talks with behind prison walls that his mission and the struggle he was in pursuit of was not a Communist revolution. Writing about the 1988 working group meeting which begun to discuss the details of South Africa’s transition, Mandela says, “they were also concerned about the idea of nationalisation, insisting that the ANC and the Freedom Charter supported the wholesale nationalisation of the South African economy. I explained that we were for a more even distribution of the rewards of certain industries, industries that were already monopolies, and that nationalisation might occur in some of those areas. But I said the Freedom Charter was not a blueprint for socialism but for African-style capitalism. I told them I have not changed my mind since then” (Mandela, 1994: 642).

There are many other references which keep Mandela at arms’ length of anything to do with Communism, including the 1994 May Day interview he did with the Sunday Times and said, “In our economic policies … there is not a single reference to things like nationalisation, and this is not accidental. There is not a single slogan that will connect us with and Marxist ideology”. Now, with all these empirical evidence and arguments, the ANC and SACP say to the people of South Africa, less than 24 hours after the Liberation struggle hero passed on, that he was a member of the Central Committee of the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ South African Communist Party. Mandela was evidently never a member of the SACP, despite the admission he makes that he makes in the letter to P.W. Botha that “It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact”.   

This is despite the fact that Mandela recurrently asserted that Nationalisation should constitute a central pillar of South Africa’s economic transformation. This is cogently expressed in the view he expressed in 1956, wherein he said, “The Charter does not advocate the abolition of private enterprise, nor is it suggested that all industries be nationalised or that all trade be controlled by the state…All people shall have the right to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions', says the Charter. The right to do these things would remain a dead letter without the restoration of the basic wealth of the country to the people, and without that the building of a democratic state is inconceivable”. Mandela’s call was for Nationalisation (restoration of basic wealth) of Mines, banks and monopoly industry had to happen as a basis for economic transformation.

This view Mandela expressed in his first address after being released from prison, where he said “nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is ANC policy, and any change to this policy is inconceivable”. For what appeared to be tactical retreat, not principle shift, nationalisation was shelved for the transition period, also due to the neo-liberal triumphalism which defined the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neo-liberalism is currently in a world crisis and the programme for Nationalisation of Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy should be pursued with that such should happen in order to diversify the South African economy, break the Minerals-energy complex dependence through diversified beneficiation and industrialisation of the South African economy.


Why then would the SACP, and the 101 years old ANC make such a hilarious claim and fabrication that Mandela was a member of the Communist Party, less than 24 hours after he passed away? There are possibly two reasons, and the first is best explained by what the proponent of this claim, Gwede Mantashe always uses as examples. Mantashe recounts the story of underweight Mineworkers who would put stones in their pockets in order to weigh heavier in the scale which determined which Mineworkers could be employed in South Africa’s Mines. The stones obviously made them heavier, and secured them jobs they would otherwise have not acquired due to their underweight. The SACP, with no relevance in South African society today is using the name of Mandela to gain additional weight, with the hope that they will gain acceptance in society. Unfortunately such will not be so, because the hollowness of the ideals and practice has been exposed for all to see.

The second reason could be a string of swaart-gevaar propaganda initiated by the apartheid regime, and strangely found its way into critically acclaimed books, such as the once recently published by Stephen Ellis titled External Missions: the ANC in Exile. This propaganda purports that the struggle for national liberation was exclusively a mission of Communists who wanted to capture South Africa for a misguided Communist project, and that the armed struggle was an idea and project of the SACP decided in a secret meeting in Emmerentia, Johannesburg in 1960. Perhaps such false propaganda has had some impact in the political history of South Africa, because F.W. De Klerk cites the collapse of communism as prime amongst the reasons he announced the release of Nelson Mandela on the 2nd of February 1990.

A sad reality though is that after the passing away of Nelson Mandela on the 5th of December 2013, his organisation the ANC and its ally, the SACP said, less than 24 hours later, that Mandela was lying when he said he was NEVER a member of the SACP. If not so, these organisations lied to the nation and world that Mandela was a member of the Central Committee of the SACP. In a recently published interview, Andrew Mlangeni, who is Nelson Mandela fellow Rivonia Trialist and a Robben Island Prisoner (with Mandela) for 26 years said, “Those who say Madiba was a member of the party (SACP) must tell us where”. Between the current leadership of the ANC/SACP and struggle stalwarts, Mandela/Mlangeni, it is safe to believe Mlangeni/Mandela because they stayed true to course for national liberation. We don’t agree with the current neo-liberal ideological posture of the ANC/SACP and some of the economic policies pursued by Tata Nelson Mandela’s government, but how many more lies will we endure from the SACP/ANC?

Floyd Shivambu: EFF Commissar—Political Education, Research and Policy. 

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