Second Deputy General Secretary
Solly Afrika Mapaila
First Deputy General Secretary
3rd Floor, Cosatu House1 Leyds Street, cnr BiccardBraamfonteinJohannesburg, 2000
The South African Communist Party (SACP) is a communist party in South Africa. It was founded in 1921, was declared illegal in 1950, and participated in the struggle against apartheid. 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 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 armed Rand Rebellion by white mineworkers in 1922. The large mining concerns, facing labour shortages and wage pressures, had announced their intention of liberalising the rigid colour bar within the mines and elevate some blacks to minor supervisory positions. (The vast majority of white miners mainly held supervisory positions over the labouring black miners.) Despite having opposed racialism from its inception, the CPSA supported the white miners in the South African Industrial Federation in their call to preserve wages and the colour bar with the slogan "Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!". With the failure of the rising, in part due to black workers failing to strike, the Communist Party was forced by the Comintern to adopt the "Native Republic" thesis which stipulated that South Africa was a country belonging to the Natives, that is, the Blacks. 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 organizations, especially multiracial union organizing 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. 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 Party had officially abandoned the Native Republic policy.
In 1946, the CPSA along with the African National Congress took part 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 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 only Communist Party ever to do so), 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 ANC leader Nelson Mandela was released from incarceration.
The CPSA/SACP was a particular target of the National Party government. 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 states provided the ANC with funds and arms. Gradual work by the ANC slowly rebuilt the organisation inside South Africa, and the ANC was able to capitalize on the wave of anger among 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 by the ANC.
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.
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.