Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The ANC and the Soviets

The lasting legacy: The ANC's Soviet connection

If the close relations that existed between the ANC and the Soviet Union during the decades of the struggle against apartheid are mentioned now, it mostly happens at appropriate official occasions: embassy receptions or national holidays or speeches during state visits.

It was very different back then. Garth Strachan, a communist and an MK veteran said in one his interviews: "Although it has become popular not to admit this now, at the time-at least in the circles where I moved and up to the mid or late 1980s-the reality was that in ANC... there was a kind of pro-Soviet hysteria". [1]

"Hysteria" may be too strong a word, but there is hardly any doubt that there was a lot of admiration for the Soviet Union - its achievements, its ideology and its policy - both among the ANC leadership and the rank and file cadres in exile. Songs were sung and poetry composed about the Soviet people.

Support was expressed for Soviet initiatives and policy moves. Messages of appreciation and gratitude were read at various Soviet gatherings where ANC and SACP delegations were invariably present. Lenin was a household name among the leadership of both organisations, and the experience of the CPSU was thoroughly and passionately studied and discussed.

For the ANC and SACP leadership - just as for the leadership of many other communist and national liberation organisations all over the world - the Soviet Union was the embodiment of progress and justice, the bright future of humanity.

Jeremy Cronin, the deputy general secretary of the SACP, wrote in connection with the recent celebration of the 90th anniversary of the SACP: "In the 20th century we were not alone... We had a sense of being a part of shaping world history. Individually, many of us might not survive, but, so it seemed, we were on the side of history in the struggle for a better future...". [2]

Although Cronin had some reservations about "communists in power", for many parties on the left, the SACP and the ANC among them, it was the USSR that created the feeling that they "were not alone". The USSR was at the head of the struggle for a better future, and its experience was perceived as a clear pointer to such a future and as a measure of the correctness of South Africa's liberation movement route to it.

For the older generation of the SACP and the ANC leadership and cadres the Soviet Union was a model for a future South Africa - the South Africa after the ANC's victory.

Without exception, all memoirs or books published by the ANC and SACP leaders in the last two decades stress that the Soviet Communist Party never dictated a particular political line to the ANC or to the SACP. This was, obviously, true, at least in the 1960s-1980s (the situation was different in the late 1920s and 1930s). There was no need to dictate: the CPSU, the SACP and the ANC were all led by like-minded people, and their vision of the world and of their course in it were extremely close.

The ANC's armed struggle and the USSR

But the SACP's and ANC's "uncritical" attitude to the Soviet Union [3] is not explicable solely in terms of the belief of the leadership of these organisations in the historical role and mission of the USSR. Close ties between them were hardly surprising if one takes into consideration the scale and role of Soviet assistance to both organisations in exile. Soviet support came in many forms and shapes. Perhaps the most important for the future of the ANC was the support that the Soviets gave to its armed struggle.

For three decades, from 1961 till 1991, the USSR supplied Umkhonto we Sizwe with arms, ammunition and equipment and gave military training to its cadres and leadership. No other country rendered such support to the ANC. A few other socialist countries, particularly the GDR, also contributed, but even in this case the scale was simply incomparable.

In 1969 the government of Tanzania ordered the ANC to vacate its military camp in the country. This followed the Lusaka Manifesto passed by the Organisation of African Unity which demanded that South Africa's liberation movements desist from armed struggle. In practice this would have meant the liquidation of Umkhonto. But the Soviets evacuated the whole Umkhonto contingent to the USSR and maintained and trained it there for three years.

Umkhonto cadres started to return back, to Africa, only in 1972. The USSR came to the rescue of Umkhonto again in the late 1970s when, after the Soweto uprising, many young South Africans started to leave the country in order to take up arms and fight. The ANC had simply no facilities to accommodate these new cadres, feed them and provide them even with bare necessities. First aid - equipment, food, clothes and then arms - came from the USSR, delivered by Soviet planes to Angola.

One can argue about the quality and effectiveness of Soviet military training: the opinions of veterans in this regard differ. There is hardly any doubt that the goal of defeating the apartheid regime militarily remained elusive for Umkhonto. And yet its very existence, as well as all its operations, even the failed ones, played a crucial role in the history of the ANC. This "armed propaganda" was indispensable: it helped to maintain the image of the ANC as the only South African liberation organisation that was carrying the torch of a real, serious, struggle against apartheid.

There was simply no other home for the young men and women of the Soweto generation when they left the country in order to get training and fight. And there was no other party to turn to for inspiration, direction and assistance for the next generation which led mass democratic movement in the 1980s.

Without Umkhonto the ANC in exile would have been a very different organisation, and without the USSR there would have been no Umkhonto to speak of - perhaps none at all.

Political and Other Assistance

But even more important than its support for the ANC's armed struggle was the role of the USSR in creating and maintaining the international anti-apartheid movement. Essop Pahad, minister in the presidency during Thabo Mbeki's term, rightly stressed that "the Soviet Union was also critical in building mass anti-apartheid movement... Through international organizations, such as the Afro-Asian Peace and Solidarity Committee, [4] through the World Peace Council, through the International Union of Students, through the World Federation of Democratic Youth, women's organisations. It was quite clear that the Soviet Union played a large part in keeping these organizations alive. So, whilst we recognize the military support, we must never forget the political support that we received consistently from the Soviet Union, and then the other socialist countries, which, I think, played a very big role in enabling us to develop this very broad, very powerful anti-apartheid solidarity movement throughout the world. ...Of course, there were other things... But it was these two elements that really were absolutely critical". [5]

The most important organisation that Pahad did not mention in this connection was the United Nations. The USSR did not play a large part in keeping it alive, but it played a very important role in introducing resolutions against colonialism and apartheid. Suffice it to say that every year from 1963 to 1989 the USSR proposed resolutions for sanctions against South Africa in the Security Council. Some were passed, some were not. But the process itself helped to create an atmosphere of intolerance towards the apartheid regime.

The CPSU also supported the ANC and the SACP financially. Compared to the donations that the ANC received from Scandinavian counties, the Soviet contributions were small. They were also smaller than donations that the Soviet Union allocated to some West European and Asian communist parties, though South Africa was important enough for the combined donation to the ANC and SACP to put it, in some years, in 7th and 9th place among about 70 to 80 recipients.

But irrespective of the scale of this support, Soviet financial assistance was very important in two respects. First, it began in 1960, when no other country or international organisation was willing to render such support. In the early 1960s Soviet financial assistance was a make-or-break matter for both the SACP and the ANC in exile.

Second, according to Vladimir Shubin, for many years a key contact of the ANC and the SACP at the Central Committee of the CPSU and a specialist in the history of Soviet ties with these organisations, "as a matter of mutual trust the SACP and other friendly parties have never been asked to account for these donations". [6] This meant that they could be used in whichever way the leadership saw fit. The purposes of Western financial assistance, on the other hand, were usually strictly defined, leaving very little room for manoeuvre. And no Western country gave any support to the SACP, or to Umkhonto.

The USSR supplied the ANC with food, and with non-military equipment and goods. It provided air tickets for leaders or representatives of the ANC and SACP to enable them to attend various international events. It invited them to its hospitals and sanatoriums "for rest and treatment" and provided venues for some of the parties' meetings. It gave scholarships to ANC students - as did many other countries, though Soviet aid came earlier. Uniquely, the Soviets provided the ANC with huge numbers of false documents and in some cases helped to change the appearance of Umkhonto operatives.

Taken together, all this meant that for three decades the Soviet Union provided the ANC and the SACP with a safety net which could not, of course, protect their cadres from the hardship and dangers of exile and struggle, but helped both organisations to survive and triumph. In the late 1980s and early 1990s this safety net started to sag, but military assistance continued unabated.

And, despite a perception which was (and still is) widely spread among ANC cadres that Mikhail Gorbachev was a "sell-out", his perestroika played a huge role in the "unblocking" of the Angolan conflict, and in Namibia's achievement of independence. There is hardly any doubt that changes in the Soviet Union also played a large role in bringing the South African negotiated settlement closer too.

Soviet influence?

The collapse of the Soviet Union was an enormous blow for South Africa's liberation movement. Cronin wrote: "At the very moment when we were poised, locally, to make the democratic break through for which generations had sacrificed, the Soviet legacy which had inspired us seemed to be lying beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall. History wasn't necessarily on our side after all." [7]

It was only at that stage that the flow of arms, advice and assistance from Moscow finally stopped. By then South Africa's negotiated settlement was well under way. The ANC was getting support from every corner and quarter of the world and, most importantly, it had huge leverage during the negotiations due to the mass following it had gained at home. It could easily do without the Soviet safety network then. But even so it had to be careful about how it played its hand in the new political situation.

For a long time South Africa's relations with the new Russia remained cool. Even now, when both countries are members of the BRICS club and often share common positions in the international arena, these relations are just a pale shadow of what the ties between the ANC and the USSR used to be. But such long friendships do not disappear without a trace.

Shubin, who was, in 2006, awarded the order of Grand Companions of O.R. Tambo by the South African Government for his "excellent contribution to the struggle against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa", wrote: "the relationship between the USSR and South Africa, especially with the ANC and its allies, had a profound though contradictory influence on developments in South Africa... One has to admit that certain aspects of Soviet society such as leader-worship, dogmatism, lack of broad discussions before taking crucial decisions, limitations in inner-party democracy were not the best features to emulate. But even if some borrowing of these characteristics did take place, the influence was negligible and was undoubtedly outweighed by the positive effects of co-operation with Moscow". Shubin is convinced that the greatest Soviet contribution "to the elimination of apartheid was not the material assistance... but the encouragement of non-racialism in the ANC". [8]

One could think of other "Soviet" traits in the ANC's political behaviour today - its distaste for an independent media and judiciary, its idea that it is destined to rule until the end of time ("until Jesus comes back"), its intolerance of opposition, its instinctive attraction to centralization and its urge to control, its patronage system and the resulting endemic corruption. But there is no way to prove or disprove whether the ANC's long attachment to the USSR had anything to do with such tendencies.

Many governments around the world developed such traits quite independently of any Soviet connection and went much further along this route - Zimbabwe, to name just one. But decades of admiration for the Soviet system could not but play a role in entrenching these trends.

As for non-racialism, true, during the struggle the ANC often stressed that it was fighting against the apartheid system, not against white South Africans, and Julius Malema would probably have shared the fate of the "gang of eight" expelled from the ANC in 1975, purportedly for their "Africanist" views. But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

However, one key aspect of South Africa's political dispensation today is without doubt a part of the Soviet legacy: the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and the way this ideology has been interpreted and implemented by the ANC and its allies.

The early roots of the NDR

The origins of the NDR date back to Lenin's theory of the national liberation movement, which was first formulated in his Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) [9] in 1920. The main idea of the Theses was that Soviet Russia and anti-colonial movements were natural allies against imperialism, despite the fact that such movements could only be bourgeois ("bourgeois-democratic") by nature.

At the Congress itself the term "national-revolutionary movements" was substituted for "bourgeois-democratic" to stress that only those national movements that were "truly revolutionary", i.e. prepared to allow "us" (communists) "to educate and organize the peasantry and the broad exploited masses in the spirit of revolution", could be the allies of Soviet Russia. Led by the international Communist movement, even the most "backward" colonial peoples, i.e. those that had not reached the capitalist stage of development, could move straight to building socialism, avoiding the evils of capitalist exploitation.

The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the predecessor of the SACP, joined the Comintern in 1921, but it was only in 1927 that this international organisation got directly involved in South African affairs. After several meetings with the CPSA's representative, the Comintern adopted a new line for the party. The CPSA had to work towards "an independent native South African Republic as a stage towards a workers' and peasants' republic with full rights for all races, black, coloured and white." [10]

This formula was far from clear (for example, it did not explain the class nature of the "independent native republic"), but the Comintern imposed it on the party, despite fierce opposition within its ranks. In 1935 the Comintern cancelled the slogan of the "independent native republic" as abruptly and as harshly as it had introduced it, but the idea of a link between national liberation and socialism through a two-stage revolution remained intact both in its documents and in the minds of its followers in South Africa.

It was to have a lasting effect on the nature of the ideological debate within the party and the ANC. Its historical importance is fully realised by South African communists today. Dominic Tweedie, the host of the SACP's "Communist University" blog, writes: "It is possible to make out a clear list of texts from the 1920s, approximately one per decade, and to demonstrate that the argument built up through these texts has determined South Africa's history... This list could start with the Comintern's "Black Republic Resolution of 1928". [11]

The Soviet theory of the NDR

After the Second World War, when one colony after another gained independence, the Soviet leadership came to the conclusion that the anti-colonial movement as a whole, irrespective of its character in each country, could become an important ally of the Soviet Union in its struggle against imperialism, particularly in the context of the unfolding Cold War. It was against this background that Lenin's ideas were developed into the theory of the National Democratic Revolution.

The NDR first appeared in the Soviet political vocabulary in the late 1950s. According to Karen N. Brutents, one of its authors and, in the 1970-1980s, a deputy head of the Central Committee's Foreign Department, it was put forward by the CPSU and "widely accepted" by the international Communist movement. [12]

Brutents explained that: "the introduction by the Communist parties... of the category of "national democratic revolution" into their militant political vocabulary, and... the use of its socio-economic and political content... for elaborating strategy and tactics resulted from... the new features of national liberation revolutions in our day... These revolutions which lead to the elimination of colonial and semi-colonial oppression are also latent with anti-capitalist tendency... When [their] leadership comes from political forces representing the interests of the proletariat, these revolutions... grow directly into socialist revolutions. When leadership comes from non-proletarian democratic forces... these revolutions produce, alongside important anti-imperialist and anti-feudal changes, anti-capitalist transformations, paving the way for transition to socialist reconstruction... The national democratic tendency of development in the revolution can gain the upper hand either at the first or at the second phase of the revolution". [13]

So, according to the theory, the NDR, if correctly implemented, could only have one outcome, socialism, which could either emerge directly from a radical anti-colonial revolution, or develop after it through a radical transformation during a transitional period.

Soviet theoreticians worked out scores of measures to be undertaken during such a transitional period. The nationalisation of "imperialist monopolies and trans-national corporations", as well as the property of "internal reaction", the "strengthening of the state sector - the economic basis of socialist orientation", the implementation of "progressive agricultural reforms", nationalisation of "feudal" landed property, encouraging of "co-operative movements in the rural areas", using both public and private sectors of the economy "in the interests of the development of the productive forces", the introduction of "state planning and other institutions of a socialist economy" were all high on the list of priorities. [14]

All these Soviet theoretical works and official documents stressed the importance of the "leading role of the proletariat" and of the cooperation with socialist countries during the transitional period. [15] None mentioned any need for checks and balances, any role for the Opposition (except hampering progressive reforms), or any restraint at all on the power of the central government.

All attempts to follow these recipes in the Third World context ended in disaster. Each time there was a different reason for failure: a war, an imperialist aggression, a drought, an internal reaction, a military coup, an ethnic conflict, this or that reform was not followed through, etc. But despite this entire lack of success, enthusiasm for what seemed to be a short cut to happiness and prosperity persisted until the collapse of the Soviet Union. For many in the Third World the USSR's achievements were a testimony to the fact that miracles were within reach, and each new convert to the project was greeted with new hopes: this time the conditions were right; this time the recipe would work. It never did.

The authors of a book on relations between the ANC and the GDR wrote: "Of all national liberation movements the political leadership of the GDR had always considered the South African one particularly important. From the viewpoint of Marxist-Leninist ideology and revolutionary theory they perceived South Africa as the country in sub-Saharan Africa which, because of its level of development, offered the greatest potential for fundamental changes in the direction of socialism.

The ongoing process of social differentiation, in particular the emergence of a comparatively strong industrial proletariat, was seen, in the light of Marxist-Leninist theory, to provide the conditions for a national democratic revolution and for a subsequent revolutionary transition to socialism". [16]

And, indeed, the concept of the NDR became the basis of ideological elaborations by the SACP and then the ANC from the early 1960s right up until the present day.

The NDR's road to South Africa

The NDR first made its official appearance in South Africa in the 1962 Programme of the South African Communist Party. The programme declared that South Africa was a colony, although of a "special kind" and proclaimed that the national democratic revolution was the party's "immediate and foremost task".

Its main content was the national liberation of the African people". Achieving it would be "the essential condition and the key for future advance to the supreme aim of the Communist Party: the establishment of a socialist South Africa, laying the foundations of a classless, communist society." [17]

The document stated that the ANC was a national-liberation organisation and pledged the SACP's "unqualified support for the Freedom Charter" which it considered to be "suitable as a general statement of the aims of a state of national democracy". The Charter, the document ran, "necessarily and realistically calls for profound economic changes: drastic agrarian reform to restore the land to the people; widespread nationalisation of key industries... which will answer the pressing and immediate needs of the people and lay the indispensable basis for the advance of our country along non-capitalist lines to a communist and socialist future". [18]

The 1962 programme was a stark departure from SACP's previous documents. To begin with, no previous programme had treated South Africa as a colony, but rather as a common society in need of political equality and social justice. Many statements and the general analysis in the 1962 programme were either direct quotes or verbatim renditions of the documents of the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers' Parties which took place in Moscow in 1960 and which entrenched new Soviet approaches to the national liberation movement.

It was in 1960 that the SACP, after a long interval, re-established its direct relations with the Soviet communist party. In that year South African communists visited Moscow twice, met representatives of the Soviet leadership and, among other things, actively participated in the Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties and even in its editing commission. Joe Matthews, one of South Africa's delegates, said that he and Michael Harmel spent months in the USSR, discussing theoretical issues with representatives of other communist parties.

In 1961 South African an SACP delegation visited Moscow again, and this time the conclusion of their theoretical discussions with the Central Committee of the CPSU was that the ideas of the 1960 Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties, including the NDR, should be applied to the South African situation. According to Shubin, the 1962 SACP's programme itself was at some stage discussed with Moscow. [19]

The NDR was officially adopted by the ANC at its Morogoro conference in 1969 - the first one in exile. The conference passed a resolution, in fact, a programme, Strategy and Tactics of the ANC, which opened with the following words: "The struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa is taking place within an international context of transition to the Socialist system, of the breakdown of the colonial system as a result of national liberation and socialist revolutions... We in South Africa are part of the zone in which national liberation is the chief content of the struggle." [20]

This document was also a departure from ANC's previous programmes. One can argue whether or not the Freedom Charter, with its call for nationalisation of the mines and land and for establishing state regulation of the rest of the economy is a socialist document. But it is indisputable that it too treated South Africa as a common society, not as a colony, and that its goal was full political equality and social justice, not colonial liberation.

The ideas and language of the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics were very close to those of the SACP's 1962 programme. But there was an important difference. The Morogoro resolution spoke of achieving "a speedy progression from formal liberation to genuine and lasting emancipation" already during the national-democratic stage, which would be guaranteed by "a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness." [21]

Those who are familiar with Marxist terminology know that "genuine and lasting emancipation" could never be achieved under capitalism. It looks like the authors of this document had decided to merge the two stages of the revolution into one. This was, indeed, what was related to their Soviet colleagues. [22]

And this was exactly how many ANC cadres, even those who were not communists, saw it. Even Oliver Tambo spoke of socialism as a goal of South Africa's national liberation in his address to the 24th CPSU's congress in 1971, when he said that the ANC was leading the masses towards revolution for the overthrow of the fascist regime, the seizure of power and the building of a "socialist society". [23]

The Soviet theory of national democratic revolution with its socialist-orientated goals was transplanted virtually whole into the ANC's ideology and mass perceptions.

The legacy

In Russia the NDR theory died even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Already in the late 1970s Brutents wrote "devastating memoranda" about it to his superiors. [24] Georgiy Mirskiy, who worked under him, wrote in his memoirs later: "...Enormous time was spent on working out subtle nuances and definitions, such as "people's-democratic" and "national democratic" forces and parties, revolutionary democracy and people's democracy, etc. Now, re-reading the surviving drafts of these materials, I am amazed at how much time and energy was wasted on compiling these at best banal, and more often simply false texts, ...which bore no relevance to what was going on in Asia, Africa and Latin America! All our prognoses proved wrong, everything happened not as we thought it would... Reading all that, very few among the local Marxists could believe that our recommendations were correct (and if they followed them, it was to the detriment of their countries)... Whole institutes with huge staffs wasted a lot of money on a completely useless cause". [25]

But the legacy of the NDR lasts - perhaps nowhere in the world more obviously than in South Africa. The ANC did not seize power and thus had to settle on a much slower process of achieving the NDR's stated goals than it had hoped for. In the process some lost their ardour about it, perhaps remembering those who tried and failed to implement it before, or realising that without the Soviet assistance the NDR's socialist-orientated goals would be even more difficult to achieve. But the majority in the ANC are as passionate about it as ever before.

The debate about the NDR in South Africa has centred not on whether this ideology is correct, or, indeed, needed for fast development and job creation - both these notions are accepted as indisputable truths by the ANC and its allies - but rather on the pace of its implementation and on its concrete contents at every stage. These aspects of the NDR may be differently understood and interpreted by different groups within the ANC and among its partners - but its ultimate goals are as alluring as ever.

And whatever the arguments about details, it is ideology, not economic reality, that dictates much of the ANC's thinking and policy. This fixation with ideology at the expense of reality was one of the most important factors that killed the Soviet economy. Yet in South Africa the core of the Soviet legacy stands.

This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The views presented in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FNF.



[2] Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 31/07/11.

[3] R. Kasrils. Armed and Dangerous. From Undercover Struggle to Freedom. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2004. P. 29-30, 150.

[4] The correct name of the organisation was the Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organisation. Its Soviet branch was called the Soviet Solidarity Committee of Asian and African Countries, or Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee.

[5] I. Filatova. Interview with E. Pahad. 08/05/2000.

[6] V. Shubin. ANC. A View from Moscow. Cape Town: Mayibuye Books -UWC, 1999. P. 37.

[7] Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 31/07/11.

[8] V. Shubin. Op. cit. P. 400-401.

[9] An international communist organisation centred in Moscow (1919-1943). Member Communist parties (that is most Communist parties throughout the world) were considered branches of the Comintern and had to implement its directives.

[10] A. Davidson, I. Filatova, V. Gorodnov, S. Johns, eds. South Africa and the Communist International: a documentary history (1919-1939). London: Frank Cass, 2003. Vol. I. Document 66.

[11] DomzaNet. Communist University:, 27/03/07.

[12] K. N. Brutents. National Liberation Revolutions Today. Some Questions of Theory. Part I, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977. P. 146-147.

[13] K. N. Brutents. Op. cit.. P. 148-149.

[14] For example, Afrika. Entsiklpedicheskii spravochnik (Africa. Encyclopaedia). Moscow: Nauka, 1987, vol. 2, p. 389.

[15] For example, Mezhdunarodnoie soveshchaniie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii. Dokumenty i materialy. Moskva, 5-17 iiunia 1969 g. (The International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties. Documents and Materials. Moscow, 5-17 June, 1969). Moscow, 1969. P. 62-63.

[16] H. G. Schleicher, I. Schleicher. Special Flights: The GDR and Liberation Movements in Southern Africa. Harare: Sapes Books, 1998. P. 7.

[17] The Road to South African Freedom. Programme of the South African Communist Party. The African Communist. 1963, vol. 2, no. 2. P. 24, 26-27.

[18] The Road.., P. 62, 64.

[19] V. Shubin. Op. cit. P. 39-41; I. Filatova. Interview with Joe Matthews, 04/11/2004; I. Filatova. Conversation with V.G.Shubin, 06/09/08, Cape Town.

[20] Strategy and Tactics of the ANC, adopted by the Morogoro Conference of the ANC, Tanzaniа, 25 April - 1 May 1969. ANC official website:

[21] Strategy and Tactics of the ANC...

[22] The Soviet encyclopaedia Afrika noted that "according to African communists" "of all countries on the continent the transition to socialism directly through a socialist revolution, by-passing or shortening to the minimum the stage of the national democratic revolution and socialist orientation... is only possible in South Africa, where employed labour constitutes more than half of the economically active population.., and where the proletariat led by the SACP numbers more than 2 million. However, even here a transitional period is not excluded". Afrika. Entsiklpedicheskii spravochnik... P. 389.

[23] V. Shubin. Op. cit. P. 361.

[24] O.A. Westad. The Global Cold War. Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Time. Cambridge University Press, 2005. P. 284-285.

[25] G. I. Mirskii. Zhizn v trekh epokhakh (Life in Three Eras). Moscow, 2001. P. 179-182.

When the tick gets bigger than the dog

03 August 2011

The weekly diet of government corruption dished up by the Sunday newspapers and the Mail & Guardian nauseates. For instance, the story of Transnet's CE, Siyabonga Gama's receipt of R10m, despite having been found guilty of irregularly awarding an R18.9m tender to a security company linked to former Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, should propel South Africans into action.

The Arms Deal is growing like an octopus, while Julius Malema's alleged access to tenders for self-enrichment continues to astound. There just is no end to the stealing of taxpayers' money meanwhile our President is silent about the culture of graft that has come to characterise his presidency.

The municipal elections have come and gone and there is still no sign of President Jacob Zuma taking any action against Sicelo Shiceka, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Shiceka is said to have used his influence to ensure that a R32m tarred road was routed past a house he was building for his mother in the Eastern Cape while thousands of residents in the area do not even have dirt roads to reach their homes.

He is also alleged to have stayed at a string of luxury hotels at taxpayers' expense, like his colleague, Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa. Shiceka, whose claims to have a Master's degree have proven to be untrue, might justifiably say that both accusations should long ago have been levelled against other politicians who like him are guilty of the same misdemeanours but who get off scot free. For instance, according to a court case in the Pietermaritzburg's High Court in January 2010, the current Minister of Transport, Sbu Ndebele, had a road to his country residence in Natal tarred at a cost of R5.5m (an amount recorded in the 2004/5 budget for the province).

If newspaper reports and court documents are to be believed, the five kilometres of tarred road stopped shortly after Ndebele's property, reverting again to dirt road. The local newspaper, the Natal Witness, reported that local residents and farmers had questioned why the nearby and far busier Tugela Ferry-Keate's Drift road had not been tarred or maintained given the dangerous potholes on the road.

Corruption has become so endemic that Shiceka's profligate lifestyle seems more akin to that of a Trappist monk if his record is compared to the former ANC speaker in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature, Shaun Byneveldt, who like his colleague Ebrahim Rasool, was rewarded with an ambassadorship for his sins.

In September 2008 the Cape Argus reported that Byneveldt had travelled to 51 countries since taking up the speaker's position four years earlier and that he had taken family members on some of those trips. According to a source at the Cape Argus, "...Byneveldt was ‘forever travelling' and seemed to spend more time out of the country than at work." The newspaper asked him what benefit had accrued to the taxpayer from his many gravy-plane excursions. Byneveldt's reply, after a week, was arrogant and devoid of respect for the citizens who funded his lavish lifestyle:

"The Western Cape provincial parliament and the office of the speaker in particular hereby reserve the right to respond fully to all and/or any matter raised in your aforesaid email when adequate opportunity avails itself, save to place on record, at this juncture, that the information you rely on, in a variety of material respects, is correct."

This contemptuous abrogation of the ANC's solemn commitment in 1994 to break with our apartheid past and to govern in a transparent and accountable way is a cynical response to our constitutional right to know how our taxes are spent. Shiceka could justifiably ask: "Why pick on me when the ANC has given carte blanche to its legions of deployed parasites in the looting of the public purse?" He would have a point.

From the Land Bank, to South African Airways, to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and even Robben Island, billions of rand have gone down the drain. And with every stash of money misappropriated, some poor community is deprived of a school, a clinic, or a park.

No quote seems more apt than the comment made by Zimbabwean Economist, John Robertson: "We imagine corruption to be like a tick on a dog. There are some places in Africa where the tick is bigger than the dog."

When that happens, the dog in all probability will die!


Wed 17 Aug 2011
By Shane
Why is it that the ANC government has a different set of rules for blacks and whites?
I have a large back garden, so why is that I cant go and collect all these destitute whites and let them build some sort of shelters in my back yard? I will happily share my water and electricity with them? At least if they are squatting in my back yard I can make sure they are warm and fed and safe from the criminals that would prey on them? Make sure that their children remain healthy?? Because that would be illegal and in very short order I would get a demand from the government to brake down said shacks or find myself being arrested? And if I don't break them down fast enough they will come and do it for me! If I were to question these actions I would be informed of zoning laws and all sorts of municipal by laws that prevent me from doing this sort of thing!
So where are all these zoning laws and municipal by laws when the destitute black people decide to put up shacks in the same area and just live where they please?? Do the laws not apply to them because they are black? It seems that way does it not? If I collect all the white people who are having a hard time keeping up with the petrol price in my combi and take them to work - will I be allowed to pay less at the toll gates or will I still have to pay full price unlike the black owned mini bus taxi's? If I bring you a young man who needs work will you take into consideration that he grew up in the new South Africa and never benefited from apartheid in any way at all and should therefore be exempt from affirmative action, will you employ him or will you punish him simply because he is white?
Do you even realize that the older white generation is rapidly heading for retirement age and those are the people who's tax money supports this country, and the younger white generation are packing up and leaving because they are tired of their hard earned education being taken for granted! And the world at large are only to happy to offer them good money and careers because they know these are hard working tax paying people.
If you take the rate of decline in this country into consideration in fields like health care and education then it is plain to see what is going to happen to this country when the white taxes start to get less and less? Banana republic springs to mind? Can you imagine if we started a union for white people and decided to strike because of the unfair conditions we are working under? There wont be rubbish in the streets, we wont damage other people's property? The economy will however collapse! But then that is not how we were raised - we believe in hard work and that nothing in life is free. Yet another reason why we are so attractive to other countries.
So nobody is asking you to hand the country over to the whites, all we ask is that you govern it fairly, because the future at this point looks bleak - just ask your friend Mugabe how well his people are doing without the whites?

So what exactly is your problem with Communism?

By Mike Smith
15th of August 2011

At the heart of our claim to exist are what scholars of philosophy or ethics call “The right to life”.

This right constitutes the basis of just about every government constitution of just about every nation on earth. It is the basis of all law systems whether it be Roman Dutch, African tribal law or the the law between two men stranded on an island. Everyone claims himself this right to life as the most basic right of which all other rights are corollaries.

But who or what gave us this right? Was it our mothers who gave birth to us? Was it the doctors or midwives who smacked us on our bottoms to allow us to draw our first breath of air? Or was it God or Mother Nature…who gave us this “right to life”?

Wherever this right to life comes from, it causes a cognitive dissonance, because the same entity that granted this life also takes it away, which means the right to life did not exist in the first place.

Let me use an example. The same entity (God, Mother Nature, evolution, etc) that gives a lion the right to live, takes the right to life of the impala, his prey away. Does the Impala not have any right to life?

You cannot give one being the right to life, without denying another that same right. The moment you give the fish in the sea a right to life you take away the right to life away from the dolphin or the shark. The moment you give the impala the right to life, you take away the right to life from the lion.

Besides, when you give a human being the right to life and he goes and swims in the sea where sharks are, the shark will not care or not even be aware of the human’s right to life, let alone honour it.

Therefore I have to conclude that the “right to life” is a myth. It does not exist. Man and all beings, plant or animal has only one right and that is “The right to fight”.

Whoever one believes is in control, God, nature, evolution, doesn’t matter, one only has the right to fight…Fight for your own existence, fight for your right to life.

In nature the antelope has the right to resist the lion through running speed. The plants have thorns or secrete poison to resist, but so every being has developed his own right to fight for life.

Human beings do not automatically have any right to life. Nobody or nothing has given us any rights to life, least of all a piece of paper with ink on it called a constitution.

Compared to other animals, we are weak and slow. Our hearing, sight and sense of smell are pathetic compared to animals. Our weapons, our thorns, our poison, our speed, lies in our minds. Man survives by reason only. By using his brain.

When one speaks to Communists and one is weak of mind, weak of reason, one can easily be convinced about the goodness of Communism.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a former high ranking officer from a former Communist country. It came down to “What exactly is your gripe with Socialism/Communism?”…as he asked me.

On the surface Socialism/Communism sounds wonderful. All living in peace and sharing all property. All working towards the common good of society, etc.

When one points out the fruits of Socialism that more than a 100 million people have died in the last century due to it, then the Communist will tell you that, “Yes, there were despotic, sick leaders, that did evil things, but with the teachings of communism there is nothing wrong. You cannot say Communism is wrong just because a few leaders or people lost the way and now use it to prove that the teachings of Communism are wrong. Communism cares about humanity. It cares about about the downtrodden and exploited workers; It stands for the equal treatment of all and the sharing of wealth, etc”.

My answer to my communist friend was, “Communism takes away the right to own property”.

Immediately he was on his hind legs, his answer was, “Look,…in the end, the dear Lord gave us one earth and we all live on this one piece of land. What gives you or any person the right to claim one section of land for yourself. God gave it to all of us. Ultimately it belongs to Him. We should share it.”

Notice how he (an atheist) uses “God” to soften up his opponent.

So I said to him, “OK…let us leave God out for a moment, because many people are atheists or have other Gods with other values and belief systems, let us concentrate on reason.”

What exactly does this saying mean, “The right to own property?”, and why is it so important in our struggle for survival or this “Right to life” that most people subscribe to?

When you are born, you have nothing except your body. But almost immediately the body starts to fight parasites that want to kill it. Life is a struggle between parasites and hosts.

The body is essentially only a life support system for your brain. So to narrow it down, you basically own nothing, but your mind. Your mind is your ability to reason. Your mind is your weapon in your fight for survival.

Your mind and body is yours. You can do with it what you want in order to ensure your life and your survival and your pursuit of happiness. Nobody else owns it or can claim ownership of your body or mind.

When a primitive man takes some mud or sticks and builds himself a shelter, he takes up his “right to fight”. He uses his reason and his labour to fight the elements and to ensure his survival. It is then his property. If you take that modest abode away from him, you endanger his life or his “Right to life”.

When that same primitive man takes a stick and makes himself a spear to hunt with and takes a rock to make an axe with, it is his property and his tools to fight for his survival and his “right to life”. If you take away those tools, his property, you take away his right to life.

But he is still left with his mind and his ability to reason. So he takes a piece of land and through using his reason and his sweat he cultivates it, grows maize, domesticate animals and builds furrows to irrigate his land and provide the animals with water. This becomes his property and if you take that away from him, you endanger his right to life.

Not only do you endanger his right to life, but also that of his family and his pursuit of happiness. You then take away his right to produce offspring and survive.

If that man uses his reason to become an artisan, a spear maker, a bowyer and fletcher a shoemaker or a tailor and you take his little business away, you take away his right to life.

If you take away a person’s horse or carriage or car you take away his ability to go to work and in so doing threaten his life.

If a person is small of stature, old or female, he/she easily becomes prey to those who want to take his life or his pursuit of happiness away from him/her. Such a person will then again use his mind, his ability to reason to fight for his /her survival.

Such a person will invent a multiplier of force such as a sword or a firearm or whatever he thinks is appropriate to defend himself. Self defence is not a right in itself, the same way as the right to life is no right in itself. The only right an individual has is “The right to fight”.

If you take away his right to own a multiplier if he thinks it is what will ensure his survival, you take away his ability to reason and his right to life or his right to fight for his life.

But it goes deeper than that and it becomes worse…

Socialism aims to take away the rights to all those properties and make it the property of “The People” or society as if society is some anthropomorphic entity with its own reason and character called culture.

Communism aims to take away those same rights and make it the property of the State.

In both cases the individual is left with his body and mind that he owns, but he is not free to use it. Society or the state owns it and decides about his survival and what makes him happy, so he can use neither body nor mind to decide over his own destiny.

Both systems through taking his property away and letting others decide about his right to life and his pursuit of happiness then take away his ability to reason. This is called enslavement…not only of body , but also of mind.

When a person looses the right to reason, to think, to use his mind to fight for his survival, he becomes a slave to others and he ultimately loses his soul.

Such a person then has no incentive to use his mind or reason to exist. He has no incentive to produce. The only way to get him then to produce is through terror and threats to his life. The results are predictable…starvation, poverty and the slaughter of millions.

That is why Socialism and or Communism are evil. At the heart of it lies “The right to fight”, whether it be against the elements, parasites or an oppressive government.

Man can only ensure his right to life if he can use his reason and has the right to own property. If man is refused the right to own a spear, a bow or a piece of land, he will perish.

The only prevention of his death is for the individual to rebel against the ones who wants to take his right to own property away from him. The only way he can ensure his survival is to exercise his God given, “Right to fight”.

That fight might take many forms. It might be by the pen, the internet, the sword, politics or whatever…at the end it comes down to the right to reason, the right to think freely and express one freely. That is also why freedom of speech is so important in our fight for survival.

Freedom of speech does no physical harm to anybody. If freedom of speech and expression through art and music is taken away, then one’s freedom to express oneself through reason is taken away, and it leaves no other alternative than to express oneself through physical force.

In the end, if you take the right to property away, you take the right to everything else away. You take away the right to ownership of the mind of the individual…ultimately you take the right to fight for life away.

My friend listened and looked at me in astonishment without blinking an eye. I waited for his answer after an uncomfortable moment of silence.

Then he said: “Well I did not mean property as in owning spears and mud huts. I was talking about those big capitalist owning banks and big business exploiting the poor workers like us…”

Mandela's Secret History

Rian Malan

16 August 2011

Rian Malan on the significance of the great statesman's covert Communist party membership

This is a story about Nelson Mandela, the world-famous "freedom fighter" and "democrat." You'll have to pardon those slightly sardonic quotes, because I'm afraid this is that kind of story: a bit iconoclastic, and likely to provoke howls of outrage from Western liberals who see Mandela as a benign black moderate who led an army of hymn-singing Uncle Toms to the promised land.

The technical term for those liberals is "useful idiot," but even I must concede that their intervention was actually quite intelligent, back in the 1950s, when this all started. In those days, good men were weak, and their apartheid adversaries invincible on all but one score: propaganda. The war of perceptions thus became the most critical of all battlefields, with the African National Congress constantly seeking to exaggerate apartheid's evils while portraying itself as "good" in a way that was universally appealing.

In the early sixties, Special Branch detectives came upon a piece of evidence that made this a bit tricky in Mandela's case - a handwritten essay titled, "How To Be A Good Communist," in which the leader of the ANC's newly-formed military wing opined that South Africa would become "a land of milk and honey" under Communist rule. We were told that Mandela was innocently toying with Marxist ideas, trying to understand their appeal, but this made little sense. Almost all his co-conspirators were Communists, wedded to a Sovietist doctrine that envisaged a two-phase ending to the SA struggle - a "national democratic revolution," followed by second revolution in which the Marxist-Leninist vanguard took power.

If Mandela wasn't in on this plot, it would have been exceptionally stupid of him to participate in it, and Mandela was not stupid. On the other hand, he had to be very careful what he said on this score. The ANC needed the support of Western liberals, and by l964, those folks had come to realize that Communist revolutions inevitably led to the outcome satirized in George Orwell's Animal Farm - a dictatorship of pigs who hogged the best things for themselves, impoverished the proletariat and murdered or imprisoned dissenters by the million.

In such a climate, one didn't want to focus attention on that hand-written "milk and honey" essay. On the contrary: one wanted the world to see Mandela as a democrat, willing to die for values that Westerners held sacred. Toward this end, Mandela and his lawyers (with a bit of help from British journalist Anthony Sampson) crafted a masterful speech for Mandela to deliver from the dock during the Rivonia trial.

"The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African nationalism," he said. "It is true that there has been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But cooperation in this case is merely proof of a common goal - the removal of white supremacy."

Mandela went to describe himself as a democrat in the classic Western sense, and a fervent admirer of the British and American systems of governance. "Africans just want a share in the whole of South Africa," he said. "Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent...It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

These words rang out around the world, and still echo today. Type Mandela's name into Google, and you come upon millions of essays, articles and book-length hagiographies depicting Madiba in exactly the way he presented himself in that speech: a black liberal, driven to take up arms by a white supremacist state that seemed utterly impermeable to calls for dialogue.

The Rivonia statement has become the foundational text of a semi-religious movement that seeks to canonize Mandela as the 20th century's greatest proponent of freedom and democracy. Or perhaps I should say, "bourgeois democracy," in order to distinguish between democracy of the sort practiced in Britain and America and the diseased parody encountered in Marxist-Leninist police states. Nelson Mandela never stood for that sort of democracy.

Or did he?

It takes a brave man to address that question, and lo, one such has emerged. Professor Stephen Ellis heads the African Studies Centre at the University of Leiden, and holds the Desmond Tutu chair of social sciences at the Vrije University of Amsterdam. He is also one of the great authorities on the ANC, author of Comrades Against Apartheid and a former editor of Africa Confidential, a magazine valued for its authoritative gossip about what was really going inside the anti-apartheid movement in the l980s.

Now Ellis has published a study that sheds startling new light on Mandela's early political career and the circumstances under which he launched his armed struggle against apartheid. The study contains at least one revelation that can only be described as a bombshell -- Mandela was, at least for a time, secretly a member of South Africa's Communist Party.

The strange thing about Ellis's bombshell is that South Africans appear to be deaf to its detonation. I know this because I started hyping it to fellow journalists the instant it appeared in print. To a man (or woman) they all shrugged and said, "So what? It's not really a story." This tells us something interesting about South Africans: we are at once riven with ideological obsessions and hopelessly ideologically naïve.

The blame for this rests largely on our charming and literate Communists, who go to great pains in their memoirs to disguise the true nature of their beliefs. They tell us that they stood for fairness, justice, and racial equality, and against all forms of exploitation and oppression. They'd also like us to believe that their party was outlawed in l950 because they treated blacks as friends and wanted them to enjoy the franchise. Well, yes. I suppose this was a factor, but the overriding consideration that led to the SACP's banning was something else entirely.

At the Yalta Conference of l945, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin assured the Western powers that all the countries his forces occupied at the end of World War 2 would be allowed to determine their own destinies via free elections. With his international image in mind, Stalin instructed commissars in the occupied territories to observe the outward forms of "bourgeois democracy." Towards this end, liberals and social democrats were lured into broad fronts in which all key decisions were secretly made by tiny Communist minorities, with the backing of the Soviet's secret police apparatus.

These Communist conspirators then staged spurious elections that brought Soviet puppet regimes to power throughout Eastern Europe, usually with majorities implausibly close to 100 percent. Historians concede that Tito of Yugoslavia was genuinely popular, but elsewhere, the rule of Soviet proxies was imposed by deceit and enforced by tyranny. Tens of thousands of class enemies were executed, millions imprisoned, all vestiges of freedom eradicated.

The problem with Communist parties, including the South African one, is that they blindly supported this Soviet outrage, and seemed intent on pulling similar moves everywhere. If Joe Slovo and Rusty Bernstein were still alive, they'd stoutly deny such charges, but they'd be lying. We know this because Rusty's wife Hilda lived long enough to acquire a shrewd understanding of herself and the Communist movement of which she was a life-long part. "Joe and Rusty were hardline Stalinists," she said in a 2004 interview. "Anything the Soviets did was right. They were very, very pro-Soviet."

It is important to note that Mrs. Bernstein was by no means suggesting that her husband or Joe were evil men. On the contrary: they were religious zealots who genuinely believed that the Soviets had discovered the cure for all human misery.

"I've often thought about this," she said. "They wanted something bigger than themselves, something to believe in. People are always seeking for the meaning of life and if you're not religious, what is it? To us, working together in a movement that had rules and attitudes and comradeship gave important meaning to our lives."

In short, being a Communist was much like being a Christian. One studied the sacred texts of Marx and Engels, engaged in polemics as a form of prayer and ruthlessly suppressed all doubts, including one's own. Mrs. Bernstein says she was adept at this until l956, when Kruschev revealed the appalling extent of his predecessor Stalin's atrocities (he murdered around 16 million people, either by having them shot for thought crimes or starving them to death with mad policies). Her husband dismissed these reports as "lies and capitalist propaganda," but Hilda's bones told her it was all true.

"We had a fight," she said, "a battle that went on into the small hours of the morning. I wanted to leave, but we had three dependent children, and there wasn't any possible way in which we could have separated economically and so on. So we stayed together, and I accommodated myself by refusing to talk about it any more."

And so it came to pass that Hilda Bernstein, the secret doubter, had a ringside seat for the epochal events of the late fifties and early sixties, a time when her husband Rusty was one of South Africa's most senior Communists, and one of Mandela's closest allies moreover.

It was in this capacity that she learned of Madiba's secret membership in the Communist sect. "Mandela denies that he was ever a member of the party," she said, "but I can tell you that he was a member of the party for a period."

When this interview appeared on the website of the O'Malley archive, it caused a brief frisson among old Cold Warriors, especially when former SACP central committee member Brian Bunting verified Hilda's account. The interview also caught the eye of the aforementioned Professor Ellis, a lifelong student of the byzantine inner workings of SACP. He notes that the SACP of the early sixties was of necessity a pathologically secretive organization, a network of cells with little or no knowledge of each other and no official membership records.

"SACP members were formally required to keep their membership secret," says Ellis. "In principle, only the members of each four or five-person cell knew each other. One person reported to the next higher level, and so on. But there was also a special category of ultra-secret members who were not required to join a cell and whom even very senior party members might not know about." With this in mind, Ellis proceeded very cautiously before publishing anything about Mandela's apparent role in the Communist conspiracy.

One item in his files was an old police report claiming that two arrested Communists had identified Mandela as an SACP member. A similar admission appeared in the minutes of a 1982 SACP meeting. The final breakthrough came when Russian researcher Irina Filitova interviewed veteran conspirator Joe Matthews, who confirmed that Mandela served on the party's innermost central committee alongside him. "In the light of this evidence," Ellis concludes, "it seems most likely that Nelson Mandela joined the party in the late l950s or in 1960, and that he was co-opted onto the Central Committee in the latter year, the same year as Joe Matthews."

Even as I write this I sense that I am losing the average South African. I can almost see you shrugging and saying, "So? This still isn't a story." But it is a story, and here's why: if Ellis's evidence is correct, the fatal decision to launch a war against apartheid had nothing to do with the ANC. It was a decision taken unilaterally by the Communist Party, and then imposed on ANC president Albert Luthuli by a prominent African nationalist who was secretly a member of the Communist underground. His name: Nelson Mandela.

It seems fair to say that black South Africans have entertained thoughts of armed revolt since the day Jan van Riebeeck landed in Table Bay. It is therefore clear, as Ellis stresses in his landmark paper, that no political party held a patent on the term armed struggle. The Pan-Africanist Congress was dead keen on it, and elements in the ANC thought it was inevitable from the early fifties onwards.

The difference between those organizations and the Communist Party is that peaceful change via the ballot box was never really on the Communist agenda, because that sort of change invariably left the capitalist edifice standing. "Classes do not commit suicide," said Joe Slovo, a dutiful acolyte of Vladimir Lenin. Enemies of the working class had to be undermined, subverted, and conclusively defeated before the socialist millennium could begin.

There was a time when this socialist millennium did not seem particularly attractive to South Africa's so-called "bourgeois nationalists," Marxist code for Africans who would have been perfectly happy to defeat the Boers in a bourgeois democratic election and then help themselves to a fairer share of the nation's riches. Communists did not approve of "bourgeois nationalists," and vice versa, which is one reason why Nelson Mandela spent the l940s breaking up Communist rallies with his fists.

In the early fifties, however, the SACP realized that cooperating with the nationalists was likely to hasten the fall of the Boers, thus creating conditions conducive to a more rapid advance towards true socialism. At more or less the same time, nationalists like Mandela realized that the Communists could bring several desirables to the party. Around half of them were white. They had cars, houses, telephones, organizational skills and access to funding. Soon, Communists were supporting the ANC's legal campaigns and recruiting ANC members into their own underground party.

As Ellis observes, this strategy did not enjoy the approval of the high priests of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary science, who were located in Moscow. It was a home-grown initiative, devised as a means of amplifying the influence of a tiny body of true believers. (At the time, the SACP had barely 500 members.) The SACP was thus delighted to discover, at a 1960 conference in Moscow, that these high priests were now thinking along similar lines. The imperial powers were pulling out of Africa, and alliances with previously detestable nationalists provided a way for tiny bands of Communist intellectuals to stay in the game, and perhaps wind up in control of a few key ex-colonies.

Out of this emerged the SACP's new revolutionary doctrine, which has always reminded me of the hoary old fable in which a scorpion convinces a frog to carry it across a river. The frog (or bourgeois nationalist) does all the work, staging a "democratic national revolution" that topples the imperial or colonial power. The scorpion (representing the Communist cause) goes along for the ride, only to sting the frog to death just as it reaches the far bank. The punchline of the original remains entirely apposite: scorpions do such things because that is their nature.

Something else happened in l960, something very important. The catalyst was the PAC, a movement of hardline African nationalists who'd broken away from the ANC the previous year on the grounds that it was "dominated by white Communists" whose ultimate loyalties were open to question (see above). In April, l960, the PAC staged a nationwide protest against the hated pass laws. In Sharpeville, police opened fire on a crowd of PAC supporters, killing an estimated 69. The resulting outburst of rage shook the apartheid government to its core, and led to the outright banning of both the PAC and ANC.

From afar, it seemed that the mood in South Africa had at last turned revolutionary, which is presumably why Joe Matthews and Michael Harmel of the SACP were given a stellar reception when they turned up in Beijing a few months later to canvass support for armed struggle.

According to Ellis, the Chinese had previously been sceptical of such plans, but now, the SACP delegates were considered so important that Chairman Mao himself took time to meet them. They were accorded a similar honour in Moscow, where they apparently stayed in Stalin's former dacha while conducting top-secret talks with senior Soviet officials.

The precise outcome of these discussions remains uncertain, but Ellis presumes that Matthews and Harmel came away with pledges of support, because the SACP now moved swiftly forward, adopting a policy of armed struggle at a conference in Johannesburg "towards the end of 1960."

It now became necessary for the SACP to convince the ANC to join its initiative. White Communists couldn't act in this regard, because they weren't allowed to join the racially exclusive ANC or take part in its deliberations. The task thus fell to black ANC leaders who wore two hats - which is to say, were members of both the ANC and the SACP. In some cases, this joint ANC-SACP affiliation was open and well-known, at least to those in the underground. In others, it was secret. The most important of these secret members was the charismatic Nelson Mandela.

On the day the SACP took its fateful decision, Mandela was a defendant in the Treason Trial, a marathon affair that had been dragging on since l956. The rest of South Africa was extremely tense, but inside Judge Rumpff's courtroom, the atmosphere was oddly congenial, considering that Mandela and his co-accused were on trial for high treason, and that the three judges were officials of a white supremacist regime that Mandela frequently characterized as "Nazi."

In theory, the gap between the white judges and the mostly black accused was unbridgeable, but these men had been staring at one another across the courtroom for years, sparring, joking, taking each other's measure and acquiring a measure of mutual respect.

All the accused were out on bail, but when they were re-detained during the post-Sharpeville State of Emergency, Judge Bekker's wife came to their aid, running errands on their behalf and carrying messages to their families. Judge Kennedy was so impressed by the pro-ANC testimony of Professor ZK Matthews that he came down from the bench and shook Matthews' hand, saying, "I hope we meet again under better circumstances." Judge Rumpff was a grumpy old Afrikaner and a reputed Broederbonder, but even he seemed to be softening.

On March 23, l961, Rumpff took the unprecedented step of interrupting the defence's closing argument, saying, in effect, we don't really need to hear this. Some of the accused took this to mean that the judges had decided to disregard the evidence and hang them - the predictable totalitarian outcome. They were wrong. A week later, Rumpff asked the accused to rise, and pronounced every one of them innocent.

This was a dumbfounding outcome, given the enormous resources the apartheid state had devoted to the treason case. Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was in the habit of telling the world that most blacks supported the principle of separate development, and that only a handful of misguided troublemakers opposed it. Rumpff's judgement annihilated that argument. In rejecting the state's case, he had in effect ruled that the ANC's cause was just, its grievances legitimate, and its strategy of non-violent defiance acceptable in the eyes of reasonable men.

This outcome hugely strengthened the hand of ANC president Albert Luthuli, a devout Christian who continued to believe that peaceful change was possible in South Africa. After the Sharpeville shootings, his stance was bitterly criticized by ANC radicals, who thought the time for talking was over. Rumpff's verdict suggested otherwise. It showed that South Africa was still a land of law, with judges willing to hand down decisions that infuriated the ruling party.

South Africa also had a relatively free press, a vigorous democracy (albeit for whites only) and, as Mandela acknowledges in Long Walk To Freedom, a police force that still conformed to British norms, with due process respected and torture at this stage unheard-of. Some observers saw Rumpff's verdict as a watershed of sorts, a development that could easily have led to further liberalization.

Nelson Mandela was totally disinterested. In Long Walk To Freedom, he writes that he went underground within hours of Rumpff's verdict. Officially, his mission was to organize popular support for a national convention, but Ellis thinks this unlikely. "A close analysis of the campaign for a national convention concludes that this initiative was primarily intended to provide proponents of armed struggle with a paper trail that would justify their forthcoming change of policy," he writes.

In other words, the SACP was angling to regain the moral high ground. It knew that the verdict had come as a surprise to international observers, who were left wondering if Verwoerd's regime was indeed as evil as it was held to be. But the SACP also knew that Verwoerd could be relied on to reject any call for a national convention, thus restoring his reputation as an intransigent racist. As Ellis notes, this would allow the party to present the coming declaration of war "in the best possible light for public and international consumption."

The second leg of Mandela's underground mission was of course to convince ANC president Albert Luthuli to follow the lead the Communists had taken. Luthuli was not a pacifist per se, but he believed that non-violent options remained viable. Like many others in the ANC and even the SACP, he also believed it would be folly of the highest order to take up arms at a point when the ANC was still struggling to organize effective protests.

Luthuli and Mandela had it out in June l961, at a tumultuous meeting of the ANC's national executive in Tongaat, Natal. The debate raged through the night, but when the sun rose, Mandela was triumphant; the ANC had authorized him to launch Umkhonto we Sizwe, and to start making preparations for war against the apartheid state.

This is Mandela's version - or more accurately, one of his versions. In Long Walk, he acknowledges that the outcome of his clash with Luthuli was actually very messy. "The policy of the ANC would still be that of non-violence," he writes, and the new military organization was required to be "entirely separate from the ANC." Luthuli himself remained committed to non-violence until his death six years later.

Reading between the lines, Mandela seems to be suggesting that Luthuli was willing to turn a blind eye to his military adventure, provided it did not damage the mother organization. Durban Communist Rowley Arenstein rejected this out hand. "Luthuli was simply brushed aside," he said. "Adoption of armed struggle by the ANC was the act of a Johannesburg SACP clique, a hijacking."

Arenstein was subsequently purged from the party. Mandela returned to Johannesburg to plan his sabotage campaign, heedless of the counsel of men with clearer heads. "If you throw a stone into the window of a man's house," said SACP general secretary Moses Kotane, "you must be prepared for him to come out and chase you. The backlash will be fantastic. The police will go mad."

The first MK bombs went off on December 16, 1961. The rest is history.