Journal of the Communist Party of Australia
ISSUE 34JUNE 1995
Singing praises to the virtues of the South African Communist Party
The following is the text of the speech by South African President Nelson Mandela given on April 7, 1995 to the Ninth Congress of the South African Communist Party.
Comrade General-Secretary, Charles Nqcakula; Comrade Chairperson, Raymond Mhlaba; Members of the Central Committee and other leaders of the SACP; Comrades Delegates and Friends.
It is not given to a leader of one political organisation in a country to sing praises to the virtues of another. Yet that is what I intend to do today.
If anything, this signifies the unique relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.
It is a relationship that has detractors in abundance; a relationship that has its prolific obituary scribes. But it is a relationship that always disappoints these experts. Because it was tempered in struggle. It is written in the blood of many martyrs. And, today, it is reinforced by hard-won victory.
On behalf of the African National Congress, I wish to thank you most profoundly for the invitation to take part in this the 9th Congress of the SACP. I bring you the organisation’s greetings as well as my own. I should also apologise for not attending the opening of the Congress, due to unforeseen developments.
Looking at delegates gathered here in this hall, one is struck by your youthfulness – except of course for us on the podium. This is perhaps the best answer to those who have expressed doubt in the future of the Party.
Comrade Chairperson and delegates;
More often than not, the ANC’s defence of its alliance with the South African Communist Party is interpreted as sympathy with the Party’s long-term goals and an attachment to the so-called “failed ideology and system”. Individuals and groups who profess to be democrats lose all rationality when gripped by the venom of anti-communism.
We in the ANC are driven by a different logic.
Our commitment to democracy means, first and foremost, recognising the right of parties across the political spectrum to operate freely and canvass their views without hindrance.
And we do not apologise for the fact that our alliance with the Party is also based on the warm sentiment of experience in struggle against apartheid. It is only natural that we should feel the welling of emotion when we remember heroes and heroines of the calibre of Bram Fischer, Malume Kotane, Alex la Guma, JB Marks, Moses Mabhida, Yusuf Dadoo, Ruth First and others. Whatever seemingly powerful friends we might have today, the ANC cannot abandon those who shared the trials and tribulations of struggle with us.
Yet our relationship derives from much more than historical sentiment and commitment to multi-party democracy.
The African National Congress seeks to build a better life for all South Africans, especially the poor. In this endeavour, we can only benefit from alliance and critical engagement with organisations which have put this objective high on their agenda. The SACP is one such foremost champion of the interests of the working class and the poor.
The ANC seeks to build the kind of democracy that is more than just a five-yearly casting of the vote. We are striving to involve ordinary people in running their lives and implementing socio-economic transformation. In this effort, we need to work with organisations that, like ourselves, operate among classes and strata that are the motive forces of such transformation. And we know that in the blast furnaces of labour and in the unmarked, dark alleys and corrugated shacks of the ghetto, we will find the Party, also pursuing the same goals.
The ANC has to defend and deepen the democratic gains our people have secured in struggle. And we know that in this effort, the Communist Party will, like in the past, not be found wanting.
In this era of nation-building and reconstruction, the ANC and the country as a whole need creative ideas about how we achieve goals that have become a common national value. And we know that the SACP has been, and will continue to be, one of the nation’s important repositories of creative thinking about things that really matter.
Our alliance is therefore not a marriage of convenience. Neither is it a communion of similar organisations, which differ only in name.
We talk of an alliance precisely because we are two independent organisations with political platforms and long-term goals that do not necessarily converge.
But there in the theatre of practical work, we continue to learn that there is more that unites us than divides us: in brief, a people-centred and people-driven program of democratic transformation. To realise this requires unity in action.
Comrade Chairperson and delegates;
We are confident that the Party will emerge from this Congress strengthened to contribute to this exciting and yet challenging task.
There is no doubt that democratic forces have attained important elements of political power. Events since May 1994 have shown that we are capable of expanding and deepening this breakthrough.
In the process, we have ensured that the objective of Reconstruction and Development captures the imagination of the nation and becomes its common property. How we use this advance in order to broaden and deepen our leadership of the nation as a whole is not any easy task.
We are not the first liberation movement to experience such problems. And the lesson is always that a failure to keep constant touch with the people leaves a vacuum that all kinds of counter-revolutionary and opportunistic forces can exploit. Besides, real change is not possible without the active involvement of the people.
In practical terms, we are faced with the challenges of:
- ensuring a decisive victory in the Local Government elections;
- mobilising communities to take charge of their affairs, and themselves determine how they benefit as well as pay for the services rendered; and
- helping to build the leadership corps of the democratic movement as a whole, without undermining the independence of civil society.
It is a matter of proud record that the advances we have made, and the manner in which they have unfolded, have placed South Africa in a unique moral position in international affairs. There are today new possibilities for humanity to address matters of socio-economic development in a collective and vigorous manner. The aim should be to ensure that the will of ordinary people forms the basis of efforts to build a new international order.
It is only natural that our emphases in handling these issues will not always be the same. But we raise them because we believe that the South African Communist Party will, as in the past, make an important contribution to finding creative answers. All sectors of the democratic movement stand to gain from solutions that each component finds to common problems.
At the last Congress of the South African Communist Party, we were all still faced with the question of how to speed up negotiations and ensure an outcome that would be in the interest of the people.
We can today with pride acknowledge the role that the SACP played in the events that unfolded thereafter. Not least among them was the mass action campaign of 1992 as well as the negotiations that followed.
In this regard, we would like to single out both Comrades Chris Hani and Joe Slovo, who, also as leaders of the ANC in their own right, played a central role in these efforts.
Today they are departed.
But we are certain that they shall be remembered not only for their sterling contribution to the armed and underground struggles; but also as legends who made the negotiated transition possible. In death, Chris Hani bequeathed us an election date, which we are now to celebrate as South Africa Freedom Day. Joe Slovo has left us a legacy of finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems; be it as a negotiator or as cabinet minister.
In this, they were following in the footsteps of many giants of the Party, in a tradition that dates back decades.
Over the past months, we have been grappling with the strengthening of the alliance in the new circumstances. We cannot claim to have succeeded in finding all the answers. But continue to search we must, in practical work rather than merely in theory.
I am confident that this Congress will reinforce not only the Party; but also the ANC, COSATU and the rest of the democratic movement. South Africa will be the richer in ideas as well as in concrete proposals on how to build a better life for all the people.
It is in this spirit that I wish you the most dynamic and productive deliberations.