South African Communist Party

Elizabeth Mailhot

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Formation and Two Influential Events

The SACP, originally called the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), was formed in 1921 in Cape Town. The Bolshevik Revolution, which occurred in Russia in 1917, influenced the CPSA because it inspired revolutionaries to form Marxist parties. The development of the South African labour movement after World War I also influenced the CPSA. At this time, White workers were in conflict with the mining houses because mining magnates considered lowering wages of White workers and hiring Blacks in higher positions. These actions were considered in order to cut costs due to the low price of gold. White workers were angry about this and went on strikes. This event was significant to the CPSA because the party decided to support the White protesters. This was ironic because the communist party was working with a labor movement that was openly racist and only wanted White workers to have high positions. White workers even attacked innocent Blacks in protest. In March 1922, the Rand Rebellion, also called the Rand Revolt, occurred. The revolt was a climax during this time because 22,000 White workers rose up with weapons against the state, and Smuts forcibly and bloodily ended the revolt.

Rising of the Labor Party

Smuts' response to the White protests during the Rand Rebellion caused him to lose power during the election of 1924. In this election, the Pact Government, which was made up of Hertzog's nationalists and the South African Labor Party, took power. The racist Labor Party was a rival of the CPSA. In response to the Labor Party's obtention of power, the CPSA turned its attention to African workers rather than White workers. Although most people in the CPSA were Black at the end of 1925, the party was also made up of White intellectuals, Jews, and Indians. Some leaders in the CPSA were Solly Sachs, Bram Fischer, JB Marks, Johannes Nkosi, and Moses Kotane.

Working with the ANC

The first time the CPSA worked closely with the ANC was in the 1920s, when the ANC took a left-wing political stance due to Josiah Gumede's radical leadership. The two groups separated in the 1930s because a conservative leader, Pixley Seme, influenced the ANC. During this time, the CPSA struggled because it lost numerous members and some of its leaders tried to Stalinize the CPSA. In the late 1930s, the CPSA's time of trouble ended and it was able to influence workers again. Although the CPSA focussed on African workers, the party worked with people of many races. The CPSA's nonracial view is exemplified through its decision to form of a group of different unions, including Afrikaner unions, called the South African Trades and Labor Council. The CPSA also helped form the African Mine Workers Union.

Government Opposition towards Communism

The NP thought the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) was a threat because the CPSU successfully influenced workers of multiple races. The NP argued that communists were trying to break the unity between Afrikaners. Intense anti-communist feelings grew during this time. As a result, DF Malan won the election of 1948, and the NP obtained power in South Africa. After this occurred, the NP worked against the CPSU by shutting down Soviet consular offices. The government also passed the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950, which they used to target the CPSA. This act made the CPSA illegal, and they were forced the work in secrecy. Many leaders received banning orders, and they went to jail because they ignored these orders. The ANC and SAIC worked with some of the leaders of the CPSA, such as JB Marks, Moses Kotane, and Solly Sachs, to start the Defiance Campaign.

Changes in the CPSA

The CPSA changed its name to the South African Communist Party (SACP). Yusuf Dadoo became the chairman of the SACP, and Moses Kotane became the party secretary. The name change showed that the SACP would focus on ending apartheid in South Africa rather than helping people in the working class throughout the world. Although the SACP experienced changes, there were aspects of the party that stayed the same. For example, it continued to try to end capitalist influence over the economy, and it stood firm in its belief that capitalism led to apartheid. The SACP believed they had to attack the capitalist economy in order to end apartheid. Even after the SACP changed its name and leadership, it remained a secretive party that was led by a few professional revolutionaries.

Involvement with other Groups

The SACP developed a deeper relationship with the ANC as the groups continued to fight against apartheid. The SACP also connected anti-apartheid groups through the Congress of the People. The Congress of Democrats was a White organization that was deeply involved in the Congress Alliance, and they were a front for the SACP.

Freedom Charter

Due to the SACP's influence on the Freedom Charter, socialist principles were included in this document. One example is the statement that all people who work the land should own some of it. Ruth First was an activist in the SACP, and she helped draft the Freedom Charter.
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Treason Trial

In the Treason Trial, which lasted from 1956 to 1961, the government claimed that the SACP was treasonous, and that they had infiltrated the ANC. Bram Fischer was a member of the SACP, and he presented the case of the accused during this trial. At the end of this lengthy trial, all of the accused were cleared of their charges because the state could not prove its case against them.

Influence on the MK

The SACP affected the creation of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961. Some of the leaders of the SACP were also part of the ANC, and they influenced the formation of the MK. In December 1960, a secret Communism Conference was held, and this was where the decision to form the MK was made. Despite the fact that the SACP helped cause the creation of the MK, the secretary-general of the the SACP, Moses Kotane, was the person who spoke the most against the formation of the MK at the conference. The SACP also impacted the MK after it was created. In 1962, members of the SACP went to Moscow to get support for the MK. The SACP also paid for Liliesleaf Farm, which was a place where the MK met in secret. Joe Slovo, a leader of the SACP, was one of the members of the MK High Command.

Rivonia Trial

Eleven men were put on trial for disobeying the Sabotage Act during the Rivonia Trial. Bram Fischer, a communist lawyer and member of the SACP, represented the defendants. All of the defendants were found guilty except for one, and these men were imprisoned. In 1965-1966 Fischer was tried for treason, and he had to go to jail for life. He died in 1975 from a physical sickness. Through the Rivonia Trial, the government had imprisoned all of the ANC leaders, and this significantly weakened the ANC. The SACP was extremely important because it helped the ANC during this hard time.

More Recent History

The SACP stopped being banned in 1990, and the party was restarted in South Africa. In the 1990s, the ANC gained power, and the SACP became a less socialist party. In the election in 1994, the SACP supported the ANC. The SACP continues to fight against imperialism and racist domination today. The Tripartite Alliance is made of the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Union, and the SACP is a partner of this alliance. The Young Communist League is the Youth Wing of the SACP.

URL of the SACP's Current Website: http://www.sacp.org.za/index.php

Significance to the Anti-Apartheid Movement

The SACP was extremely important to the anti-apartheid movement through its influence on the creation of the MK, relationship with the ANC, organization of strikes, and impact on the Defiance Campaign. The SACP caused the ANC to become less racist and more militant, and this eventually caused the ANC to support the armed struggle. The SACP influenced the decision to create the MK, and the SACP also supported the MK after it was created. The MK was important because this was the armed wing of the ANC, and its formation marked the beginning of the armed struggle against apartheid. The SACP was also important because it was able to help organize strikes due to its connection to unions. The SACP was involved in the organization of the miners' strike of 1946, and according to some historians, this event started the fight to abolish apartheid and segregation. The SACP was also significant to the anti-apartheid movement because some of its leaders helped organize the Defiance Campaign. Anti-apartheid protests were coordinated through this campaign. The Defiance Campaign also caused more people became aware of the ANC's fight against apartheid. The SACP influenced and strengthened the anti-apartheid movement in numerous ways.

Works Cited

"About the SACP." South African Communist Party. N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.


O’Malley, Padraig. "Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA)/South African Communist Party (SACP)." O’Malley The Heart of Hope. Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.


Rogers, M. and Peter Clinton. Oxford IB Diploma Programme: Rights and Protest. Oxford: Oxford. 2015.


"The Freedom Charter." African National Congress. N.p., 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.


The Freedom Charter. Digital image. Cries Against Apartheid. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.


Williams, Graeme. Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo at South African

Communist Party rally. Digital image. Africa Media Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.