There must be no retreat or surrender in the struggle against our movement’s own weaknesses!
6 October 2016
First all let me greet the leadership of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). I would also like to especially recognise Comrade George Mavrikos, the General Secretary of the WFTU, the leadership of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Special greetings to Comrade Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, the unbreakable trade unionist and communist revolutionary; we have come together in this lecture, and are gathered, in your name. “The Man of Steel”, let me firstly make a disclaimer. I do not believe that I am sufficiently qualified to talk about you, especially in a platform of this nature. But nevertheless I feel greatly honoured and privileged about the opportunity that I have been accorded to present a summary of what I know about you, Comrade Stalin, an outstanding communist revolutionary and militant combatant.
Dear comrades and friends, Comrade Eric Mtshali is a great revolutionary of the liberation movement and struggle for socialism. He was born in Clermont, Durban, in 1932.
Growing up in Clermont, Comrade Stalin was amused by the Ratepayers Association. The area was declared by the then government as the so-called “freehold”, meaning that it was one of the rare settlements where Black people were allowed buy and own a house. He attended both primary and secondary schooling in Claremont. He joined boxing at Fannin Secondary School. The last fight he engaged in, in the amateur ranks, occurred after meeting Comrade Wilson Cele, then the SACP District Secretary of Durban who asked Comrade Mtshali about the fight and his future plans.
Comrade Cele further asked Comrade Mtshali about his interests on, and then introduced him to, the Ratepayers Association. Mtshali later discovered that its meetings, that took place every Sunday, were actually African National Congress (ANC) meetings. He and four of his friends were drawn to the Ratepayers Association. They used to sing, particularly the song “Mayibuye i-Afrikha...” At that time the comrades did not even fully appreciate what that meant in broader context.
Members of the Ratepayers Association were known as Amaphekula skhuni – trouble makers in English but revolutionaries in Zulu. Cele introduced Mtshali to the ANC, in that way, as well as to the progressive trade union movement and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Mtshali was recruited by Cele, “The lion of the Midlands” Harry Gwala, Stephen Dlamini, M.P. Naicker to the SACP, which he thus joined as an underground organisation in 1957 (seven years after the Party was banned, in 1950), a year before formally joining the ANC.
As a young man, Mtshali was inspired to undertake a career that will see him make money. But Cele was not convinced. After a brief discussion he gave Mtshali a pamphlet titled ‘The Three Sources and Three Components Parts of Marxism’ by Vladimir Lenin, the historic leader of the Great October Socialist Revolution that took place in Russia in 1917. Cele convinced Mtshali not to take the road of money – thanks to a section in the pamphlet stating that people have always been victims of deceit and that will remain so until they conduct and inquiry into and become clear about the class interests that underpin social phenomena.
He also played an important role in Mtshali’s political and ideological education. By 1950-1951 he had introduced him to the Dock and Harbour Workers Union in Durban. Mtshali began organising for the union in 1951. At the docks, his work was that of loading and offloading goods from the ships. He had been engaging in the work during weekends when he was still a learner. During that time the union also organised casual workers and that was when Mtshali joined it.
At that time Mtshali was paid a mere 15 shillings per week. It was during this time that he started attending political classes and workshops organised by the union, and became active in the struggle for a living wage and improved conditions of employment.
I must confess that I was greatly impressed by the enormous contribution that Mtshali made to our liberation struggle in general and to the revolutionary working class struggles in particular. His active involvement in the civic movement, as a young comrade, played an important role in his decision to join the SACP and the ANC. His work in the trade union movement – starting with organising dock workers and later establishing trade unions, including, his participation in the formation in the 1950s and leadership of the South African Trade Union Congress (Sactu), Cosatu’s legal predecessor, throughout its years of existence and struggle, fortified his resolute determination in the struggle for socialism and his character as a vanguard cadre.
Comrade Stalin was amongst the first to join the ranks of the joint SACP-ANC military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He served in a crucial unit that started the sabotage missions against the apartheid regime.
All of these and other tasks Comrade Stalin handled with extreme care and dedication. He sacrificed a lot in building the trade union movement in this country. At one point, with no pay he survived on bananas as a daily lunch whilst organising workers.
After receiving training further training in Tanzania, together with Comrade Lambert Moloi, Comrade Stalin was send to Egypt for a specialised training laying the basis for future work.
He was the first editor of ‘The Dawn’, our military magazine. He worked closely with his close comrade and friend plus brother, Comrade Chris Hani to make ‘The Dawn’ a successful project.
Mtshali’s involvement political education, using the magazine, provided a clear direction on various strands of thought amongst the soldiers who were trained in the Soviet Union and China especially during the Sino-Soviet split.
He worked with outstanding loyalty when he was deployed by the WFTU to establish trade unions in the African continent. He worked in Ethiopia, Sudan and Morocco pioneering the development of the progressive trade union movement. Comrade Stalin’s outstanding work in the WFTU is so immense that we will forever be proud of his achievements on behalf of the working class.
Comrade Stalin formed the first open trade unions in Ethiopia, deployed by the WFTU during the time of Mengistu Haile Mariam as President. Previously, trade unions were suppressed in Ethiopia despite the emperor Haile Selassie claiming to a communist.Mtshali was deployed by the WFTU to revive the trade union movement in Sudan after that country’s regime massacred communists, including the Communist Party’s General Secretary. He went to the country to carry out the work despite the danger that this involved. Again, the Communist Party in Sudan did not evaporate. It resiliently soldiered on and helped Comrade Stalin to revive the trade union movement in that country. He was deployed to Morocco by the WFTU to build the trade union movement. All of these tasks Comrade Stalin fulfilled with distinction.
It is in this regard, in your esteemed honour and that of your comrades like Moses Kotane, your favorite South African communist J.B. Marks, Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, Gwala, Rusty Bernstein and all those who shaped your political and ideological training, that Cosatu dedicated this lecture in recognition of your sterling contribution as a full-time professional revolutionary!
Let me take this opportunity to thank the federation and to express our sincere gratitude as the SACP to you, Comrade Stalin. By the way you are one of the long serving members of our Party’s Central Committee.
Mtshali served as the ANC’s representative in East Africa. He was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after coming back from eight years in Prague in the now Czech Republic where he was previously based advancing the struggle for liberation in our country and for the universal social emancipation of the working class of the world as a whole.
Mabhida tasked Mtshali whilst in Dar es Salaam to open the passage of ships coming from and going to South Africa via Tanzania. Again he obliged with distinction and served our struggle. Comrade Stalin carried out the work, reviving his days in the “James Bond” unit that he was part of. He organised the unit in the troubled waters and created stow ways back home. Later they managed to smuggle firearms and carried out fully-fledged operations to South Africa. The unit went on to serve the movement and two of its members later retired as military colonels.
Mtshali was assigned to focus on the launch of the Communist Party of Lesotho (CPL), together with the late Joe Matthews, by the SACP, signifying the critical role that played in the work of the Party.
A number of years ago post-1994 he cautioned us against the unbecoming behaviour of some of our former comrades, like Zwelinzima Vavi and others in the ANC who pretended to be friends of the SACP and its struggles towards a communist society. He actually advised that we need rather those hostile associates inside the movement so that we could keep our vigilance at all times and never lower our guards like we did during the height of the “1996 class project”.
Mtshali also cautioned us about the rapid growth in the membership of the SACP. He especially expressed reservations about exponential quantity in the leading edge with quality in the lagging edge and almost left behind too far away with respect to some of the new members. He is of the view that we should still tighten up Party organisation and make sure that quantity and quality go together in order to defend working class interests by creating no space for rearguard tendencies within the Party. We have heard you very well, Comrade Stalin. We will strengthen measures to curtail and eliminate space for rearguard and entryist tendencies from finding their way into the SACP.
In particular, we will intensify political education and ideological training, buttressed by campaigning activism to combine theory and practice. Let us now turn to this question and reflect on some of the weaknesses facing our movement. Let us first recall the wise words from ‘The weapon of theory’ by Amilcar Cabral, an African revolutionary and progressive writer, about the importance of the principles of constructive criticism and self-criticism, the need to be constantly in search of, to be aware about and to rectify our own weaknesses as revolutionaries:
“Our agenda includes subjects whose meaning and importance are beyond question and which show a fundamental preoccupation with struggle. We note, however, that one form of struggle which we consider to be fundamental has not been explicitly mentioned in this programme, although we are certain that it was present in the minds of those who drew up the programme. We refer here to the struggle against our own weaknesses. Obviously, other cases differ from that of Guinea; but our experience has shown us that in the general framework of daily struggle this battle against ourselves — no matter what difficulties the enemy may create — is the most difficult of all, whether for the present or the future of our peoples. This battle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality of each of our countries. We are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not based on knowledge of this fundamental reality runs grave risk of being condemned to failure.”
Let us advance a radical second phase of our national democratic revolution.
In recognition of the sterling contribution of Comrade Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, the struggle, including against our own weaknesses, continues and must intensify!
We must not engage in any retreat or surrender particularly in waging the struggle against our own weaknesses! Those who think we will retreat in this sphere of struggle are wasting their time. Never again shall we leave any quarter unattended in this regard, both internally in our movement and alliance and if need be also externally publicly.
Many of our veterans and finest revolutionaries of the calibre of “The Man of Still” who fought gallantly for our liberation and social emancipation, who suffered at the hands of the apartheid regime, who suffered capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination, should be disappointed about a significant number of recent developments characteristic of post-colonial new tendencies in our country and facing the national democratic revolution.
Many, if not all, of such post-colonial deviations reject or ignore the ANC’s own revolutionary perspectives and ethos. It is in this way that some individuals within the movement have lost the revolutionary moral high ground. Meanwhile, some late comers, some of who occupy important positions and others as a result of factional slate politics, have never ever come near to the high ground and have no revolutionary campus. Our movement, as led by the ANC, must look at this situation and address it holistically. The importance, in this regard, of thorough going political education cannot be over-emphasised.
The generation of Comrade Stalin and other class conscious workers read Marx, Engels and Lenin veraciously, in-depth and during a time when, especially between 1950 and 1990, it was illegal to do so. Yet today, under conditions of our ongoing democratic transition, even some of our so-called progressive academics find these revolutionary writings too difficult to understand. It is partly because of this that the revolutionary content of the science is not taught in institutions of learning especially in colleges and universities, not because it is banned.
The rest of the leadership in particular and membership in general of the movement must sufficiently be politically trained both ideologically and practically. In turn, the leadership and every activist cadre who is well-trained must be involved in the political education of the masses. However, mass political education cannot be confined to and must not be confused with some workshops.
Also, political education and ideological training cannot be limited to the Communist Party. Conversely, neither can the role of the Communist Party be narrowed or relegated to that of a political education desk for others who often treat the Party with hostility. By the way their hostile attitude to the Communist Party is not only to the party. It is precisely to the content of the historical mission of the political education and ideological training that it offers. The hostility emanates primarily from their class interests, either real or aspirant, for private accumulation of wealth based on the social relations of capitalist production.
Another danger that we must rollback is the problem of mass de-mobilisation outside of periodic election campaigns.
The post-1994 mass de-mobilisation that led to the current situation whereby the only campaign by our main mass political organisation is election campaigns has amounted to a voluntary ideological disarmament.
It is important to emphasise that the leadership of the masses is earned in the struggle.
Conceiving the people as passive recipients of “service delivery” in return for a vote every five years is a product of mass de-mobilisation. It has become dangerous to the national democratic revolution. Conceiving the masses of our people as a market of votes, thus restructuring relations and contact with them from a bourgeois point of view of investment and returns, is bound to create serious problems.
By the way, mediating service delivery through private enterprise by means of concessions designed for the bourgeoisie, privatisation, outsourcing, tenders, private contracts, sub-contracts and consultancies directly plays into the hands of such problems of a capital-labour relation type, including political patronage and social distance from the mass and membership base. Also, this does not contribute in reducing inequality. On the contrary, it is one of the major drivers behind the persistent and widening social inequality.
Such things have led to the ongoing destructive competition for positions of leadership and deployments, linked with organisational and public power as well as access to control over public resources including how and to who they are allocated. It is this sort of politics that has opened space for favours, corruption, rent-seeking and patronage. This is nothing but typical bourgeois politics, and is in direct contradiction to the revolutionary values of our movement.
What has also happened, in the process, is the alienation of the people from ownership and control of production, from meaningful involvement in the distribution of public goods and services, and from the economic benefits of social change.
The revolutionary content of the national democratic revolution has been facing the real danger of being substituted by such politics that reduce the revolution to acts administration within the confines of capitalist production.
Let us, in this context, briefly define the place and role of service delivery proper, as opposed to the administration of tenders, contracts and issuing of concessions to the bourgeoisie to serve their economic interests.
Service delivery is important, but provided it is effective and delivers high quality services and products; provided it takes place through participatory democracy, ensuring that the people both govern and share in the country’s wealth and basic resources; and provided it is anchored in, and drives, radical-to-fundamental revolutionary social transformation. This requires a capable democratic developmental state with strategic discipline and strategic capacity embedded in and buttressed through the mobilisation of the working class as the main motive force of the national democratic revolution in alliance with other progressive forces.
The hollowing out of strategic state capacity by embedding the state in private sector through the procurement of public goods and services from and delivery through capital-labour exploitation as well as consultancies can only lead to the looting of mining and water licences, state owned enterprises, institutions and agencies and the government at all spheres. This can only lead to corruption, rent-seeking, patronage, factionalism, social distance from the masses and the like.
In recognition of the sterling contribution in our struggle for liberation and socialism by Comrade Stalin, a progressive trade unionist, editor, military combatant, ambassador, boxer, karateka, revolutionary super “spy”, above all, a communist, there must be no retreat in the struggle against our movement’s own weaknesses!
One of the immediate tasks is to ensure that the SABC, which has been suffering governance decay, has a new and capable board willing to free the public broadcaster from corporate capture and political manipulators!
The SABC is one of the glaring examples of public productive assets which have been distorted to serve private interests while internally bleeding billions of rands in irregular expenditure as reported last week in its financial results. The SABC has lost millions more down the drain. And there are tenders and contracts worth millions awarded to close family members, partners and associates of insiders who control related levers of power.
The decision-makers at the SABC sold-off to MultiChoice lucrative archives – public property and heritage, as well as important broadcast and programming rights including sport television rights in a collusive agreement. MultiChoice is a subsidiary of Naspers, an apartheid-era oligopoly that continues to dominate the media and communications industry in our country. It is not the state and the public who have hollowed out and are hollowing out the strategic capacity of the SABC, but its own executives and board. This is why the SACP on Friday, 30 September 2016 outright rejected the pathetic claim by the SABC executives and board blaming the state and the public for its current predicament.
The SABC board has failed to discharge its responsibilities in terms of the law and applicable pieces of public broadcasting regulations and policies. This governance decay at the SABC has persisted to the extent that it is now effectively governed by court orders and out of court settlements entered into under duress without any other option available. The SABC lost a lot of money in legal fees that could have been avoided by following the rule of law.
On Sunday, 2 October 2016 the SABC board advertised the position of CEO, after apparently parting ways with millions of rands in a “confidential” handshake with its former CEO. It is obvious that the SABC board has advertised the position under duress, and with the hope of retaining their own precarious position – having previously failed to make reasonable, informed and objective decisions when they were required to do so either in terms of the law or simple common sense based on applicable pieces of SABC policies. The move is suspicious because the probability is that the current board, which by the way has lost its legitimacy by various implications, would like to appoint someone who will service the interests that they have been advancing, whether or not they remain as board members amidst widespread calls that Parliament must institute a hearing on their failure to carry out their duties properly.
In order to avoid any further damage or irreparable harm, Parliament must urgently hold the necessary hearing into sanding and the future of the current SABC board.
Destruction of the very strategic infrastructure required to deliver education is incompatible with the need to accelerate our programme to progressively rollout free education for the working class, unemployed and lower sections of the middle class who cannot afford student fees!
To become a power in a democracy, progressive and revolutionary students must win the majority to their side by democratic means. It is very important to isolate the tiny minority of violent and destructive elements that have no regard for the rights of others, and for students to vehemently distance themselves from the conduct of those elements who destroy education infrastructure.
The SACP will, on 14 October 2016 march together with democratic students and our ally, Cosatu, to the Chamber of Mines. Mining capital side by side with finance and other sections of capital is at the centre of monopoly capitalist exploitation of the people and resources of South Africa without regard to the needs of our society.
The bourgeoisie are disproportionately the only consumers, on a capitalist private basis, of the labour of professionally qualified and skilled workers, yet their contribution in expanding access to higher education and training is almost invisible. It is the very same bourgeoisie who are opposed to corporate tax and are campaigning against any increase in corporate tax needed to finance social programmes such as expanding access quality education.
This is one of the reasons why we are supporting intensification of student mobilisation in alliance with progressive forces to the door steps of the capital. Meanwhile, the right for students to receive higher education and training in their various academic programmes without any undue interruption must be respected. It must therefore NOT BE VIOLATED by any person for any reason for that matter!
Comrade Solly Mapaila is Second Deputy General Secretary of the SACP
This article first appeared in Umsebenzi Online, the online journal of the SACP