Writing on the wall for the South African ‘national democratic revolution’ /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

In 1994 the African National Congress (ANC) was swept to power with a massive majority in the first democratic elections in post-apartheid South Africa. For imperialism, the ‘new’ South Africa was a miracle of democratic achievement, with Nelson Mandela its first patron saint. This most velvet of velvet revolutions would, they hoped, preserve capitalist production yet at the same time slowly reform the worst features of apartheid so that the state could emerge from international pariah status. On the other hand, the tripartite alliance of the ANC, COSATU (the trade union federation) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) held out the promise that the ‘national democratic revolution’ would bring about equality and freedom for the majority without destroying the capitalist infrastructure which they believed necessary to sustain wealth creation. The ‘national democratic revolution’ was, in reality, a compromise between different classes; they promised that the capitalist system would be reformed and controlled to benefit the black majority. Eighteen years later, on 16 August this year, the fault lines of this compromise became clear: 34 striking platinum miners were shot dead by police at Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, 78 were wounded and 270 arrested.

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In memoriam / FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


Solomon came to Britain from Nigeria in 1968 to study at Wor­cester College for the Blind. Thereafter he studied for an MA in African studies at SOAS in London. He would have gone on to a PhD had there been sufficient support with reading. Instead Solomon went on to teacher training and taught English in Brent. He spoke many languages, wrote prose and poetry and played chess. Solomon taught English as a foreign language as well as braille, mainly to people who had lost their sight later in life. Much of his teaching was informal and Solomon was very generous with his knowledge and time. In 1994 Solomon helped found the Anglo-Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind; he worked for the Organisation for Blind African-Caribbeans.

As an active member of City of London Anti-Apartheid Group in the 1980s, Solomon was on the picket outside the South African Embassy at all times of day and night, participating in all activities, including a memorable invasion of the pitch at Lord’s Cricket Ground to protest against the apartheid South African team. While other protesters were arrested for the duration of the match, Solomon was just dumped by the police with no white cane outside the grounds. When money was awarded for cases of wrongful arrest, despite living a frugal life and on a very tight budget, Solomon handed it all over to the campaign.

Comrades and friends of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and City of London Anti-Apartheid Group remember Solomon very fondly and extend our condolences to his family and friends.


Jamal just became part of us – the weekly Victory to the Intifada picketers outside the flagship store of Marks and Spencer. Like thousands of people over the past 13 years who have occupied the pavement for the Palestinian cause, for an end to British collusion with the Israeli Zionist state and in opposition to imperialist wars and interventions, Jamal made his protest.

We knew little about Jamal’s life, except that he was a Palestinian communist, wheel-chair bound since childhood and imprisoned by the Israeli state for many years for his fight for humanity and justice. Frail but determined he laughed that he was no linguist and his English was even weaker than his body. But he came to the picket through all the seasons of the years and became part of the picket family.

We will miss our comrade dearly. He was ever confident that the struggle for the Palestinian cause is a beacon for all the oppressed of the world and that it will be won.

Obituary: David Kitson principled communist and freedom fighter /FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

The great South African communist and fighter against apartheid David Kitson has died in Johannesburg aged 91.

A senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the 1960s, he became a commissar of the national high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, after the arrest of the ‘Rivonia Eight’ ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu, in 1963.

David Kitson was arrested in 1964 and, with four others, was charged with sabotage and being a member of the high command of MK, and jailed for 20 years. His wife Norma was detained a month later.

Norma Kitson subsequently was forced into exile in London and with the Revolutionary Communist Group formed City of London Anti-Apartheid Group, which in 1982 held a non-stop picket outside the South African Embassy over deteriorating conditions faced by David and his fellow prisoners, who were being held on Death Row in Pretoria Central Prison. After 86 days, the prisoners were moved to better conditions, and this victory was the impetus later for the four-year Non-Stop Picket against apartheid and for the release of all South African political prisoners maintained by City AA outside the South African Embassy from 1986 until Mandela’s release in 1990.

City AA, committed to opposing the racism of the British state as well as the apartheid system in South Africa, and to support for all organisations fighting for national liberation in South Africa, found itself bitterly opposed by the ANC/SACP exile establishment in London which wanted to channel all protest through the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), which it controlled.

When David was released in 1984 and joined Norma and their children Steven and Amandla in London, he found himself caught up in the vicious efforts of the ANC/SACP to politically isolate Norma, City AA and the RCG.

Despite the fact that David was the most senior MK leader and longest-serving political prisoner at the time to be released from South Africa, at the AAM AGM in 1984, a few months after his release, a significant proportion of the movement’s leadership refused to join in a standing ovation when he stood to speak, or even applaud him, and he was denied a seat on the AAM National Committee. Having fought against the apartheid state, David now found himself having to struggle against the opportunism of the movement in Britain. When he refused, as he put it, to ‘jump through hoops’, he and Norma were suspended from the ANC. With the collusion of erstwhile communist Ken Gill, leader of David’s union TASS, David was told he would be reinstated as an ANC member and get funding to take up a promised emeritus post at Ruskin College, Oxford, only if he publicly denounced his wife and City AA. Always one to take a principled stand, David rejected this poisonous blackmail and, as a result, found himself without a job or source of income.

In an obituary in the South African Sunday Times, Chris Barron writes of the attempts to isolate David politically:

‘One view is that his return to London after his imprisonment constituted an embarrassment and a reproach to members of the SACP, including Joe Slovo, who had fled SA in 1963 in defiance of a central committee directive that they should stay. Kitson obeyed the directive and paid heavily for it. He and Slovo had ideological differences, and it has been argued that Slovo had much to lose if Kitson was restored to his old seniority in the movement.’

As David said at his trial: ‘There came a point where I could choose to run or I could choose to stand. And so I stood.’

Significantly, the head of the ANC in London, who informed David, by post, of his suspension and who was a key player in the political attacks on City AA, was Solly Smith, later unmasked as a South African police spy along with other prominent London members.

While in London, David maintained comradely relations with the RCG and spoke at a number of our public meetings. After returning to live in Harare in the 1990s, he wrote regularly for FRFI on the situation in Zimbabwe. He moved back to South Africa after Norma’s death in 2002. Steven Kitson died in 1997.

FRFI salutes David’s unwavering courage and communist principles and we extend our sympathy to his comrades and family.

South Africa: Liberation betrayed / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

Next year, on 11 February 2010, will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa and the start of negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid regime which culminated, in 1994, in the first democratic elections that brought the ANC to power and made Mandela President. BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Reunion, a programme to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. The main participants in secret talks between the ANC and the apartheid regime prior to Mandela’s release were invited to reminisce. This broadcast raised many issues about the role of the ANC. It is time to look back at the aspirations the black majority in South Africa had for freedom 20 years ago and measure how successful they have been.

Their struggle was a long one, spanning most of the 20th century. Thousands of people were killed in a bitter bloody battle to win liberation, not least at Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976. Throughout the 1980s the black working class escalated their opposition to apartheid in the mines, factories and townships, built new representative organisations like the United Democratic Front (UDF) to lead their struggle on the ground, with the aim of making South Africa ungovernable. In 1986 in Alexandra township near Johannesburg the residents defended their community against attempts to demolish it: the local councillors were sacked, street committees and people’s courts were formed. The regime trembled as the uprisings spread across the country.

In response the regime declared a State of Emergency, unleashing new waves of barbarity and oppression, detaining thousands without trial and bankrolling gangs of vigilantes to undermine the integrity of the struggle. At the same time, international pressure against the apartheid regime was mounting (with the memorable exception of the British government led by Margaret Thatcher). International capital was feeling the pressure: reform of the apartheid system would be preferable to an intensification of repression and resistance. Apartheid had become an obstacle to the business of profit-making.

This was a watershed. Like at all critical turning points in history, movements and people reveal their real class interests and intentions. In the history of working class struggle there are many examples, good and bad – on the one hand, the capitulation of the Second International to the interests of their national bourgeoisies at the outbreak of the First World War; the failure of the Labour Party and trade union movement to block Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003; on the other hand, the determination of unarmed Soweto school students to march through the streets against the armed might of the apartheid state in 1976. Most of the participants in the struggle against apartheid had no idea of the secret talks taking place behind their backs. In 1985 at the height of the township battles, senior members of the South African government began secret talks with Nelson Mandela in prison. It is not clear what they hoped to achieve, and it is by no means certain that they knew themselves. What is clear is that, over the next five years, Mandela was moved to progressively better prison conditions, ending up in the deputy governor’s cottage at Victor Verster prison, with its own swimming pool and gym. This is not, however, a simple question of buying collaboration.

The regime may have thought it could recruit Mandela to play a role similar to ‘tribal’ leaders like Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but Mandela was made of sterner stuff. What did happen was that, over time, the aims of the ANC were revised and moderated in secret. The goal of liberation, expressed at its simplest in the 1956 Freedom Charter, was watered down to the achievement of majority rule – bourgeois democracy.

The task of assuring the regime that Mandela was not a red-blooded revolutionary committed to communism was not pursued by him alone. A network of communications was established so that at least some of the ANC leadership in exile in Lusaka, Zambia, were aware of what was happening. Most of Mandela’s fellow prisoners, like Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, from whom he was now separated, and certainly the local leadership in the UDF, were kept in the dark. On the government’s side, the chief negotiators were Kobie Coetsee, Minister of Justice, and Niel Barnard, director of the National Intelligence Service (formerly BOSS).

The BBC Radio 4 programme, The Reunion. brought together the chief players in another set of secret talks being held in Britain from November 1987 to May 1990, hosted by the multinational company Consolidated Goldfields in a stately home near Bath. The main participants on the South African side were Willie Esterhuyse, an Afrikaner academic who reported back to Niel Barnard, and various other members of the Afrikaner Broederbond, including the brother of FW de Klerk (elected South African President in 1989). For the ANC the main participants were Aziz Pahad, Thabo Mbeki (South African President 1999-2008) and Jacob Zuma (current South African President).

Readers who would like to sample the flavour of treachery, should listen to the Reunion programme (available on IPlayer). Pahad and Mbeki swap stories with Esterhuyse and Barnard, reminiscing about long evenings round the fire, basking in the warm glow of whisky and their blooming friendships. Mbeki and Pahad were, they said, very keen to keep these events a secret as there were sections of the ANC who would wreck the talks if they knew about them.

Reporting back to his brothers in the Broederbond, Wimpie de Klerk wrote: ‘The essence of my message was “Look boys, everything is OK. We can do business with the ANC. They are not that radical.”’ Allister Sparks, journalist and another participant in the Reunion programme, recollects in his book of 1994,* ‘one afternoon in January 1990, as the participants gathered in the bar for a sundowner, the conversation turned to the international sports boycott against South Africa and specifically to a series of demonstrations then disrupting a boycott breaking tour of South Africa by an English cricket team led by the England Test captain, Mike Gatting. One of the Afrikaners asked Mbeki, “Why don’t you chaps stop all that nonsense? All we want to do is watch cricket.” This triggered a discussion of the boycott, during which it was suggested... that they should negotiate an agreement – to stop the demonstrations in exchange for abandoning the second leg of the Gatting tour, following which the ANC undertook that if a political solution to the South African conflict were reached it would give its full support to South Africa’s re-entry into international cricket.’

The small treachery against anti-apartheid demonstrators internationally – among whom the Revolutionary Communist Group is proud to have featured – is insignifant compared to the bigger picture. The future of an entire nation has been sold out. Bourgeois democracy over the last 16 years in South Africa has created a small black bourgeoisie and a black political elite, entrenched in the corruption that accompanies treachery like the stench that follows a corpse. South Africa has the second highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world thanks to the backward leadership of Thabo Mbeki. Johannesburg is the crime capital of the world. Despite being the richest country in Africa, unemployment stands at about 25% and has barely changed since the apartheid era. The black majority still lives in shanty townships in dire poverty with no hope of change. The majority of the land is still owned by white people. What the ANC negotiated away was liberation: a socialist future for the South African people. That is still their only hope for change.

Carol Brickley

*Allister Sparks, Tomorrow is another country, Hill and Wang, New York, 1994.

South Africa: Black working class fights back

FRFI 162 August / September 2001

ESKOM, the government-owned company which supplies 98% of South Africa’s electricity, is busy cutting off electricity to Soweto residents. Soweto is the biggest township in South Africa, where more than a million black working class people live. According to ESKOM, it is disconnecting 20,000 per month in a bid to recover more than a billion rand (US$120 million) that it claims residents owe.

This is happening under the government of the ANC. In December 2000 the party campaigned and won the local government elections on a ticket of providing free water and free electricity to all South African citizens to meet their basic needs. The government felt compelled to introduce this policy because more than 35% of South Africans are unemployed and about the same number do not have access to clean water and electricity.
The residents of Soweto are not taking the cut-offs lying down. Last year activists formed the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) to fight the cut-offs. This organisation has embarked on increasingly militant action which has attracted youth and militants who are sick and tired of living in darkness because they are poor.

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