South African Communist Party celebrates 99 years, plans next stage of struggle
Delegates to the South African Communist Party's 4th Special National Congress sing at the meeting's opening session on Dec. 9, 2019. | SACP via Twitter

South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Blade Nzimande said it was critical to recall its “anti-imperialist foundations” in a televised address on Aug. 2 as the party celebrated its 99th anniversary.

He said that the end of apartheid did not mean the end of imperialism, which he said instead had become “more arrogant and more triumphalist.”

This has been made more apparent with the global COVID-19 pandemic seeing “imperialist-backed pharmaceutical companies competing for mega-profits by cornering the market on a vaccine and treatment.”

He said that imperialism had become more aggressive and more dangerous with U.S. President Donald Trump determined to “make America great again,” leading to “saber-rattling in the South China Sea,” a threat of war on Iran, troops on U.S. streets against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, and the withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

Nzimande praised the role of the SACP in the country’s national liberation struggle, pointing out that all the defendants in the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, including Nelson Mandela, had been members of the party’s executive committee.

He said that lessons must be learned from the determination and resilience shown in the movement for social emancipation.

The SACP has come a long way since its foundation in 1921, he said, and is now larger than ever before, with more than 300,000 members and continuing to grow.

“However, as we state in our program, The South African Road to Socialism, what we seek to build is a large but vanguard party capable of setting an example of discipline, commitment, and strategic capacity on all fronts of struggle,” he said.

“Today, as we celebrate the 99th anniversary of the SACP, we dip our Red Flag in honor of all of those who have fallen.

“Let us pick up their fallen spears and intensify the struggle against corruption. A luta continua [the struggle continues]!” he charged. His full address can be found below.

The text of the televised address given by Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary, on Aug. 2:

Learning from the Past, the Roots of the Communist Party

This week marked the 99th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party. We celebrate this historic occasion, the founding of the oldest Communist Party in Africa, under the theme: “Learning from the Past, Active in the Present, Building the Future, Building Socialism Now.”

99 years ago, on July 29, 1921, communist militants announced the formation of the Communist Party at a public meeting held in Cape Town. The founding Congress of the Communist Party officially opened the following day, on July 30, 1921, at 20 Plein Street in Cape Town. It was on that day that the resolution formally establishing the Communist Party was passed. The Congress was held over three days until Aug. 1, 1921.

However, the formative process of the Communist Party dated back to 1914, and the outbreak of the inter-imperialist First World War.

Opposition to the war (what Lenin at the time described as a war of thieves for control over the world) came from revolutionary wings of existing mass socialist parties in many parts of the world. Here in South Africa, revolutionary progressives in the South African Labour Party broke with that party, in opposition to its reformist, sell-out position of joining the war in defense of the British Empire. In the name of working-class internationalism against imperialism, comrades like David Ivon Jones, Bill Andrews, and S.P. Bunting established the International Socialist League, the nucleus of what would soon become the Communist Party in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, was a member of the SACP. | SACP via Twitter

In 1918 T.W. Thibedi, a member of the International Socialist League organized the first African trade union, the Industrial Workers of Africa. The history of the Communist Party since that time in building the progressive trade union movement in our country is unparalleled. During that year, 1918, the formation of the Industrial Workers of Africa led to the Johannesburg “bucket-workers” strike. 152 workers were arrested and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment under the so-called Masters and Servants Act. S.P. Bunting, five other members of the International Socialist League, and several members of the ANC (then called the South African Native National Congress) were also arrested.

The International Socialist League was the largest component when different Marxist formations and comrades came together to form the Communist Party as a united Marxist-Leninist formation in 1921. This step forward was inspired by the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution and by the Communist International, formed in 1919 following the revolution in Russia. The formation of the Communist International was an active expression of Communist Party organization and working-class unity on a worldwide scale. This required unity of Communist Party organizations in every country. The Communist International admitted only one affiliate per country that met its basic conditions of admission. This principle of unity was one ground upon which our Party was established in 1921, championing before all others the principles of anti-imperialism, working-class internationalism, and non-racialism.

Now as much as ever before it is critical to recall the anti-imperialist foundations of our Party. For much of the 1990s and early 2000s, as the SACP insistently noted at the time, the very notion of imperialism seemed to disappear from the strategic perspectives of our ally, the ANC. Perhaps confused by the global celebrity of Comrade Nelson Mandela and the apparent embrace of our democratic transition by all and sundry, there was a tendency to imagine that a new peaceful and more equal global order had emerged.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc of countries did not mean the disappearance of imperialism. Imperialism became more arrogant, more triumphalist. This aggressive arrogance is still in evidence today, in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, as imperialist-backed pharmaceutical companies are competing for mega-profits by cornering the market on a vaccine and treatment. With the deepening global capitalist economic crisis, imperialism has become more aggressive, more dangerous. In the midst of what some are calling the Greater Recession following the Great Recession of 2008, and as the U.S.’ global hegemony begins to slide, Trump is determined to “Make America Great Again.” He is saber-rattling in the South China Sea, he is threatening to unleash war on Iran, he is deploying masked federal stormtroopers onto the streets of U.S. cities against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, and he has withdrawn from the World Health Organization.

This is the context in which our own National Treasury and Reserve Bank have made the grievous mistake of taking on a dollar-denominated IMF loan, exposing our economy to further suffocation by imperialist interests. In the midst of important discussions within the ANC-led Alliance on an economic response to our many challenges, it is hard not to see the behavior of the National Treasury and the Reserve Bank as an attempt to achieve through IMF conditionalities what they cannot achieve through a democratic discussion here at home. In confronting this situation, we need to draw courage and learn lessons from our past determination and resilience in our struggle for liberation and social emancipation. We come a long way.

The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was re-named the SACP in 1953, when we reconstituted it in underground, following the apartheid regime’s Suppression of Communism Act of 1950.

The resoluteness and resilience of the Communist Party

Throughout our 99 years, Party cadres have made a major contribution to the struggle for national liberation, national sovereignty, and democracy. To name but a few areas of contribution:

The Communist Party consistently exposed the connection between class exploitation of workers by capitalists, racist oppression, and patriarchy.

The Communist Party was the first political formation in South Africa to organize based on the principle of, and to advance, non-racialism.

The Communist Party built progressive trade unions and our national liberation movement, also forming part of it, to bring to an end all the facets of oppression and exploitation of one person or social group by another.

It was the Communist Party that was the first political organization to be banned in South Africa, as a reaction by the apartheid regime to the aims, objectives, program, and activism of the Communist Party.

It was the Communist Party before all others in South Africa that first advanced the struggle for one-person, one-vote.

It was Communist Party activists, like Dora Tamana, who ran co-operatives in informal settlements in the 1940s and 1950s, and Ruth First, who advanced progressive journalism and freedom of the press.

Ruth First was martyred. She was killed by the apartheid regime through a parcel bomb. She numbers among many, many martyrs of our struggle for liberation and social emancipation: Johannes Nkosi, Vuyisile Mini, Alpheus Maliba, Basil February, Ahmed Timol, Matthew Goniwe, Chris Hani, and many others.

The Communist Party continues to be a target of the exploiters and the corrupt. In recent years, decades after the end of white minority rule, there have still been assassinations and attempted hits on SACP activists. Most recently, the SACP lost members who were killed for being vocal against the looters of the VBS Mutual Bank in Limpopo Province. Their sin was to be in the forefront of our campaign against those involved in the “Great Bank Heist.” The SACP has also lost anti-corruption fighters killed in Mpumalanga, KZN, and other provinces. The SACP and our loyal activists on the ground will not be deterred. The looters of public resources must be rooted out and sent to jail to wear orange overalls.

Today, as we celebrate the 99th anniversary of the SACP, we dip our Red Flag in honor of all of those who have fallen. Let us pick up their fallen spears and intensify the struggle against corruption. A luta continua!

The SACP is no longer an underground organization and cannot be stuck in the past methods of organization. The SACP must move with the times and be innovative. Today, the SACP is larger than ever before. It has surpassed a membership of 311,000. It is continuing to grow. However, as we state in our program, The South African Road to Socialism, what we seek to build is a large but vanguard party capable of setting an example of discipline, commitment and strategic capacity on all fronts of struggle. There is a big difference between such a sizeable vanguard party and a mass party.

The SACP has grown because it has been active and attractive to an increasing number of activists.

Developing, continuing, and deepening vanguard role of the Communist Party

We have grown because we have been prepared to speak up in defense of workers and poor:

When our government introduced its misguided GEAR macroeconomic policy in 1996, the SACP said we need a state-led industrial policy. We said macroeconomic policy must be subordinated to and support national production development.

When our government launched a misconceived privatization drive in the late 1990s, the SACP said “Down with Privatization,” and mobilized against it. We said we need a strong, democratic developmental state instead.

It was the SACP that started the vitally important land and agrarian transformation campaign, post-1994, in the 2000s, challenging, among others, the so-called willing-seller, willing-buyer, and pushing land redistribution.

Again, it was the SACP that started the campaign for the transformation of the financial sector, resulting in important advances for the working class and poor.

It was the SACP that first exposed the existence of corporate state capture (state capture) in our country. Back then, implicated elements, their factional networks, and hangers-on reacted by dismissing the existence of state capture.

The SACP persisted. Again, it became the first to call for a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. This call was rejected by the same networks and in addition by almost all parliamentary parties. The former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela reached the same conclusion as the SACP, prescribing the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture following an incomplete investigation, and as part of the remedial action the Chief Justice had to identify the judge to head the commission for the President to appoint. It was at this stage that the SACP saw, and also welcomed, the change of attitude from many quarters that opposed its call for the establishment of the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.

The struggle is not over.

Internal threat to the revolution and the liberation movement

Tenderization of the state [corrupt handing out of government contracts] and the corruption that it breeds make up a great threat to the same national liberation movement that brought about democracy in our country. Our national liberation movement waged decades-long, gallant struggles against the apartheid regime. The movement enjoyed revolutionary moral high ground. With the overwhelming support of the people, the liberation movement finally dislodged the apartheid regime in 1994.

Today, we cannot say the movement has the same level of support. The rise of corruption has eroded and continues to corrode the support that the movement enjoyed. The material basis of corruption lies in the tenderization of the state, which is used as an instrument to empower a few. This is done in the name of the masses that remain economically exploited and continue to be impoverished in many respects with no empowerment.

Rising inequality, unemployment, poverty, and unequal development are indicators of the conditions of the masses, while a few have been “empowered” through state power, including state policy and tenders—even where tenders are unnecessary. The SACP is warning against this self-destructive trajectory and calls on our movement to reset to its revolutionary historical mission. The movement cannot be held hostage by the interests of a few, by greedy interests and their associated factionalism. A failure to reset to the revolutionary historical mission will see a continuing decline until all power is gone. The movement has to act in the interests of the masses, not in the private wealth accumulation interests of a few in the name of the masses.

Active in the present, building the future, advancing to socialism in the here and now

Many of the post-apartheid achievements experienced by millions of the working class and poor are indeed under threat. We need to learn from the past, intensify our activism in the present, and build the future—socialism—in the here and now. The key priorities we must advance must include the following:

We must strive to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that we do not return to the chronic crisis before the crisis but we advance through a developmental path—the SACP appreciates the work done by the frontline workers in the fight against the pandemic. This requires building a democratic developmental state with an internal capacity to serve the people.

We must intensify the struggle to end the tenderization of the state, the corruption it breeds, and tackle its associated tendencies, tenderpreneurs and their COVID-19 manifestation, the covidpreneurs. Every cent in the government’s COVID-19 expenditure must be accounted for. Those involved in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, corruption, and looting, must be taken to task and held to account. This must include successful prosecution and severe sentences, asset forfeiture, and other forms of lawful punishment.

We must advance rapidly to building a National Health Insurance that serves all our people on an equal footing.

We must push for the expansion of the publicly-owned economic sector in the interest of the people, especially the overwhelming majority—the working class and poor. This requires state-owned enterprises to be turned around to thrive. In order for this national imperative to succeed, the SACP has to intensify its campaign against privatization in all its disguises, including neoliberal structural reforms. Such reforms directly contradict the aim of building a capable democratic developmental state and are bent against the working class.

Going to the root, we need to advance structural transformation to build, diversify, and raise the levels of national production. This requires a decisive drive to achieve industrialization, transformation of the mining sector to support high-value-added manufacturing, localization, accelerated land redistribution, agrarian transformation, and transformation of the financial sector, to name but a few programs needed to radically reduce inequality, unemployment, poverty, and unequal development. In order for this strategic aim to be realized, the SACP has to intensify the campaign against state capture and its networks.

The rising high levels of inequality, unemployment, poverty, and the associated crisis of social reproduction make up the real and single biggest crisis in South Africa. In contradiction, according to the neoliberal recidivism of the National Treasury, the crisis is the debt-to-GDP ratio. To solve what it sees as a crisis, the debt-to-GDP ratio, the National Treasury has embarked on the dangerous path of increasing the accumulation of foreign currency-denominated debt as a solution! To defend our country’s democratic national sovereignty, our fundamental right to self-determination, our hard-won democracy, the SACP rejects domestication of foreign economic agendas, including the neoliberal structural reforms pushed by the IMF and its ilk.

Let us also combat with equal determination gender-based violence, criminality, and drug and substance abuse. These scourges are destroying our society.

A key task facing the SACP with respect to all these programmatic areas is to help to unite the working class and build both a popular Left front against austerity and an even wider patriotic front in defense of our democracy, and our national sovereignty.

The Jobs bloodbath

The SACP is seriously concerned about the rising tide of the jobs bloodbath. Retrenchment [layoff] notices in the private sector have been increasing at an alarming rate. The private sector overwhelmingly controls our economy. It commands dominance and, in many sectors of the economy, also absolute monopoly. In the retail sector, workers at Edcon (Edgars) and Dion Wired, for example, are facing neoliberal restructuring, branch closures and job cuts. In the metal sector, retrenchment notices have been rising. This is the case in other sectors of the economy that wholly controlled by the private sector. It is very clear, also, that there are mismanagement and bad governance in the private sector. This is highlighted by the rising number of insolvencies [bankruptcies] and liquidations. The recent statistics released by Statistics South Africa on insolvencies and liquidations are shocking. It is also very clear that capital is forcing the working class to absorb the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


We strongly denounce the private sector for the jobs bloodbath. We strongly caution the state and public entities against taking their cue from the private sector. We are equally concerned about retrenchments in the public sector. The state has the duty to create employment and not to increase unemployment.

There is no other way forward for the working class but to unite from all walks of trade union affiliation. The SACP is calling upon organized workers to work together to advance the common interests of all workers against economic exploitation. … We are calling on unorganized workers to realize that they share common problems and a common destiny with organized workers and to join unions and fight against economic exploitation. The SACP will continue working with trade unions to unionize un-unionized workers.

International solidarity

The SACP expresses its unwavering solidarity with.

  • The people of Swaziland struggling for democratization;
  • the people of Western Sahara struggling for an end to occupation by Morocco;
  • The people of Palestine struggling for an end to oppression and theft and occupation of their land by the apartheid regime of Israel;
  • The people of Cuba in defense of their right to the fundamental right to self-determination and against US imperialist aggression;
  • The people of Venezuela against imperialist machination by the U.S. and its puppets;
  • The people of Bolivia and President Evo Morales; and
  • All the oppressed and exploited across the world.

This article features material from Morning Star newspaper and content from the South African Communist Party.