Address by President Nelson Mandela on 75th anniversary of South African Communist Party, Cape Town

28 July 1996

General-Secretary of the SACP, Charles Nquakula;
General-Secretary of COSATU, Sam Shilowa;
Leaders of the Alliance;
Comraes and Friends

I feel really honoured to be part of this celebration of a historic day in South Africa's political calendar.

The 75th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party is a special occasion for South Africa. It is special because of the critical role the Party has played in our country's history, because of its relevance to today's politics; and because it is bound to make an impact on the future of our society.

On behalf of the African National Congress, bring you warm fraternal greetings; and we join others in proclaiming; many happy returns.

We, in the ANC, wish you all the best not merely out of sentiment. We know too well from the rich history of struggle that a party such as yours, which puts the interests of the poor and the voiceless at the top of its agenda, is indeed an asset to our society.

We know that the strand of liberation politics you expound is critical in enriching debate in our country. It is crucial in reinforcing the task of the Alliance to ensure that the powerless are not a forgotten mass, to be remembered only during election campaigns.

As such, we celebrate with you today, to acknowledge an Alliance that is more than just a matter of theory.

The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living are testimony to an unfinished job. The families who live in shacks with no running water, sanitation and electricity are a reminder that the past continues to haunt the present.

The trail of poverty, illiteracy and poor health that is the lot of millions, is their cry of anguish; and they look up to the ANC and its allies to organise and mobilise them to improve their own lives.

We should not allow South African politics to be relegated to trivialities chosen precisely because they salve the consciences of the rich and powerful, and conceal the plight of the poor and powerles.

Such is the significance of the anniversary we mark today. Such are the challenges that political freedom has put before us.

The Alliance between the ANC and the Communist Party is therefore a natural result of a reality of social life that pervades our nation to this day. It is not a product of statements in the media, no matter how well - or ill-conceived. Its future will, therefore, depend on changes to that social reality, and not on the wishes of individuals or statements in the media.

To the extent that the ANC, the Party and COSATU, as well as other democratic organisations will find one another among the poor and disadvantaged, pursuing the same objectives, to that extent shall we continue to work together to bring about a better life.

Chairperson and comrades;

For some of us on this day, memories come hushing back about our own experiences in the crucible of struggle. Events unfold in our mind's eye about suspicions allayed and views enriched in the theatre of real struggle. And names of South African greats, communists and humanists in one, pour out in a staccato of emotional remembrances.

Gaur Radebe - independent and defiant - whom I met in my truly formative political years when I first arrived in Johannesburg.

Moses Kotane, Dan Tloome, David Bopape and JB Marks - men of great intellect and confidence - who taught us through force of example that mere formal education was not the real test of political leadership.

JN Singh (who regrettably passed away three days ago), Yusuf Dadoo, MD Naidoo, Hettie du Preez and John Gomas - outstanding leaders of the Coloured and Indian communities - who understood the relationship between the interests of their communities and the national interest.

Nat Bregman, Michael Harmel, Bram Fischer, Jack Simons, Ruth First and Joe Slovo - privileged and capable of rising in white society - but men and woman who challenged racism and put aside prospective comforts to join the poor and oppressed in the tenches of struggle.

I mention these - and there are many more men and women - members of the Communist Party who were critical in shaping the national liberation movement after the Second World War; and in that way, in shaping leaders like myself who had just entered the theatre of liberation politics.

I mention them too, because of their depth of leadership which we sorely miss. They helped give us a broader view of the world; and forged the Alliance as we have it today.

These Communists influenced us. And we influenced them too. If anyone wants to argue that they used us; we shall retort back to say we used them too!

It is this mutual enrichment that has characterised our relationship. And this is not about to change - whether it be in the ANC's relations with the Party or with the trade union movement. There is no patronage in our Alliance. There is no trusteeship. There is none who constitutes the sole repository of ideas and wisdom. We are sovereign organisations, and none dictates to the other.

We therefore reject the notion that the ANC or the government is hostage to some other organisation. We reject it with disdain because it reflects racism, or contempt for the poor, or political opportunism - or indeed, a combination of all three.

Ours is an Alliance that recognises the leading role of the ANC; not by mere declarations, but because it is the force that brings together all the strands, the classes, strata and groups that are the dynamo of liberation and social change. All these forces have found a home in the ANC because it represents the social and political base for real freedom, for the transformation of our society into a truly democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united nation.

In giving leadership to this process of change, the ANC has to take into account primarily the interests of the poor; the employed and unemployed, the organised and the unorganised, the urban rural communities. It has to promote the interests of those previously disadvantaged by the apartheid system; professionals, business-persons, students, academics and others. It should built a better life for all.

The ANC is a national liberation movement and not a sectoral organisation,


It is in this context that debate and discussion should be understood within the ranks of the Alliance. This includes discussion on the issue of the best macro-economic approach needed, in the current period, to take our country out of this quagmire of what some have described as "jobless growth".

Such debate and discussion, however, should not cloud the fundamental agreement that exists in the Alliance about the Reconstruction and Development Programme, about the strategic objective that we all share to achieve a normal and prosperous society.

This requires rapid economic growth; it requires investments that create jobs; it requires that we spend within our means as government and spend mainly in socially productive sectors; it requires that we take measures that will prevent galloping price rises; it requires that we acknowledge the realities of the world in which we live.

And it does not need computers to establish that such measures will be in the interest of the country, and particularly the poor; that the realisation of the RDP depends on these bold steps.

The Macroeconomic Strategy adopted by government seeks to achieve these objectives, so that we can have a 6% rate of growth and create close on the half-a-million jobs, per year, by the end of the decade.

This strategy is government policy. Its fundamentals are not up for negotiation.

Yet we do know that such frameworks rely on assumptions based on an assessment of concrete conditions. As with the implementation of any other area of policy, if conditions change and assumptions are not borne out in practice, then a review may be necessary. Nor does the existence of policy mean that discussion around it should be forbidden, or that the details should not be debated.

One of the critical elements of the framework is increased investments - firstly by South Africans themselves and, secondly, by foreign companies. And I would like to use this opportunity to call on all South Africans, in particular the business community as well as workers, professionals and other sectors to work together to ensure that job-creating ventures are established.

The matter of restructuring of state assets is being thrashed out in the relevant structures; and great progress has been made in this regard. There is no disagreement in the Alliance that some of the assets should be privatised; that others should acquire strategic partners and that yet others should restructure their operations. And the detail is being, and should be, settled in negotiations on a case-by-case basis.

I refer to all these issues because an impression has been created that a major clash is looming in the Alliance. There is no such major clash on the horizon. The staying power of the Alliance is its ability to debate issues openly and frankly; and it is out of such debate that the best course is established. This is our experience from struggle, and it will continue to guide us into the future.

We must, however, be honest to say that, in government, there will be instances where urgent and bold decisions will have to be taken. And on that count, we shall not shirk our responsibility. We must acknowledge, too, that some of the decisions may not be popular with everyone; and on that count, we shall continue to engage all interested parties to persuade them to our point of view.

In such discussion, within the Alliance and in society in general, it would be the height of folly for anyone to seek merely to co-opt others. It would be erroneous for one sector of society to sue for the victory of a sectarian approach, at the expense of other social forces whose co-operation is critical for the success of a programme.

Chairperson and Comrades;

It is with pride that one is able to reflect on issues of this nature on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Communist Party. Perhaps it is also a reflection of the role of the Party in the debate within our society. And for that, we should congratulate you.

Over the years, members of the Party have played an important role in the trenches of the liberation struggle.

Some, like Ruth First, Chris Hani and "Obadi" Mokgabudi were cut down by bombs and bullets. Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Moses Mabhida, michael Harmel, James Phillips, Alex la Guma, MP Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo lie in far away lands. Dan Tloome, Harry Gwala, Joe Slovo and NJ Singh may be near by, but we can no longer tape their enormous talents and their great wisdom.

With all of them, we shall continue to draw, from memory, the best contributions that they made to bring us to where we are. We shall ensure that future generations do not forget the legion of great freedom fighters - communist and non-communist - as we build the better life they envisioned.

Today we pay tribute to all of them; the founders of our Rainbow Nation. And in their name, we shall soldier on to realise the ideals of the reconstructions and development of South African society,

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation