The role and influence of the South African Communist Party in the armed struggle by Patrick Mangashe UFH


The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was virtually outlawed in 1950 by the introduction of the Suppression of Communism Act, yet its activities and influence within the extra-parliamentary opposition circles in South Africa persisted significantly. By this period, several of its prominent members were also leading members of other political organisations that had remained functional as they were not directly affected by the ban on ‘communism’. But in addition, from the 1920s, the impact of the ideas disseminated by the CPSA had been able to permeate South African society to a large extent, with a number of propaganda platforms having been open to the Party including its own newspapers, which enjoyed considerable readership from among working people and other left-leaning groups in the country. With its banning, it seemed that more than suppressing its ideas, the Nationalist Party government only succeeded in popularising the CPSA and its views, especially among the subaltern groups and classes in South Africa. When the Sharpeville massacre took place and the move to armed struggle occurred, the South African Communist Party (SACP - with the name change) and its members were firmly among the most active in this sphere of struggle. From leading the theoretical debates on the possibilities of ‘revolution in South Africa’ at the close of the 1950s, to the practical steps taken towards this course of action just after Sharpeville, the SACP was to be a joint leader of this effort with the ANC. The ideas of the SACP, its philosophy and beliefs, were to greatly influence the strategic line that shaped the ANC’s approach to the armed struggle. This influence was to impact on the form that uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) as the organisational expression of the armed struggle, took, on its doctrine, its armament and chosen traditions. This paper will trace this influence and illustrate the impact of the SACP particularly on this facet of the struggle, from the first steps of the armed struggle in the early 1960s, to the arduous path travelled by uMkhonto weSizwe through the armed struggle experience of the late 1960s to the 1970s, and on to arguably the golden era of the ANC’s armed struggle, the 1980s. 

Patrick Mangashe was a participant in the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) armed struggle from the late 1970s to the period of the cessation of hostilities and the beginning of negotiations. He now works as a research intern at the University of Fort Hare in East London, his interests are in the study of the interaction between armed struggle and mass popular struggles in the South African context of the 1980s. He has written a few papers for publication and has also presented in some conferences in the country mainly on the subject of the armed struggle in South Africa.

The ANC, the SACP and Bantustan ‘independence’ by Arianna Lissoni

After the imposition of Bantu Authorities in South Africa's rural reserves in the 1950s, the apartheid state continued to roll out its Bantustan policy, with ‘self-government’ and, in some cases, ‘independence’ being granted to the Bantustans over the next decades. While the liberation movement exposed and rejected ‘independence’ as a political fraud, the creation and existence of the Bantustans produced serious discussions within its ranks about their strategic implications for the national liberation struggle. This paper analyses the debates taking place in the ANC and SACP during the 1970s over the question of participation in Bantustan politics and the problems, as well as the opportunities, they posed, especially in terms of underground organisation and the armed struggle. The paper reflects on the processes involved in the development of strategies and tactics within the liberation movement and what they reveal about the nature of ANC-SACP alliance. These strategic debates culminated in the 1979 Green Book, and opened the way for the intensification of the struggle during the following decade and the transition, when the Bantustans emerged as key sites of resistance. Yet, writing from prison in Robben Island in 1976, Walter Sisulu presciently argued that “We shall only experience their [the Bantustans’] full impact when the revolution has triumphed over apartheid”. Indeed, although the Bantustans have been dead on paper for twenty-seven years now, South Africa is still confronting the complicated legacies and afterlives of these political formations.

Arianna Lissoni works as a researcher in the Wits History Workshop. Her research and publications focus on the history and politics of the liberation struggle. She has co-edited the books: One Hundred Years of the ANC: Debating Liberation Histories Today (2012), The ANC between Home and Exile: Reflections on the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in Italy and Southern Africa (2015), and New Histories of South Africa’s Apartheid Era Bantustans (2017); and co-authored Khongolose: A Short History of the ANC in the North West Province from 1909 (2016).

Women and Gender in the South African Communist Party in Exile by Rachel Sandwell

Submission to “100 Years of the SACP” Conference
February 15, 2021
Faculty Lecturer, Department of History, McGill University

This paper examines women in the South African Communist Party (SACP) in exile 1960-1990. It proposes three interlocking areas of inquiry: first, who were the women involved with the SACP, and how; second, how can an understanding of their work enrich our analysis of ANC-SACP relations in exile; and third, how or why gender mattered – did women as women influence SACP practice, and did socialist thought shape women’s politics? Did it matter, this paper will ask, that several key women leaders within the exiled ANC were SACP members? This paper addresses the conference theme 4, the SACP and the national liberation struggle. The participation of women in the SACP in exile, and the significance of these women being women has attracted very little attention, despite the growing body of scholarly work reconsidering women’s involvement in nationalist and anticolonial movements in South Africa and beyond. There has not been a corresponding turn to women’s implication in Communist movements globally, with some notable exceptions, like Kristen Ghodsee’s work. In South Africa, scholars have drawn attention to the importance of Party-affiliated women in the formation of the Federation of South African Women in the 1950s (Hassim 2006, 2014; Walker 1991) and to connections between international socialist WIDF and the Federation (Healy-Clancy 2017), while Paul Landau has suggested that Ruth First, a leading SACP member, also played a significant role in uMkhonto weSizwe’s early years (Landau 2019). But no work has yet examined in depth the significance of gender and women within the SACP in exile.
Reading women’s archives of exile, including personal correspondence files and past oral histories, particularly those conducted by Party members, this paper will offer new insights into how women defined their political identities in exile and how their work shaped these organizations.


Rachel Sandwell is a Faculty Lecturer in the Department of History and the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at McGill University. Her research explores women’s roles and the politics of gender during the exile period of the South African national liberation struggle. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Southern African Studies and the Journal of Women’s History and is forthcoming in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

Living Together: The ANC-SACP Alliance, the Soviet Union, and the National Question by Hilary Lynd

UC Berkeley

SACP Centenary Conference 2021

This paper takes a fresh look at the relationship between the ANC-SACP and the Soviet Union, using archival records, interviews, and memoirs from both South Africa and Russia. An old set of highly-politicized debates concern the extent of Soviet influence over the military and political-economic direction of the alliance. That traditional focus has obscured how important to the ANC-SACP relationship with the Soviet Union was the ‘national question,’ the question of how human difference should be organized in a post-imperial society. Soviet nationalities policy differed from apartheid particularism in its optimistic commitment to living together, mixing, and merging, as it differed from liberal universalism in its emphasis on cultural diversity and affirmative action for formerly oppressed peoples. In interactions with their Soviet hosts, as well as in interviews and memoirs recounting their experiences, South African visitors to the Soviet Union paid special attention to a Soviet model for how different people might live together without either dissolving difference or pathologizing it.

Hilary Lynd is a Ph.D. Candidate in African and Soviet History at UC Berkeley, where she is completing a dissertation about connections between South Africa and the Soviet Union before, during, and after the simultaneous collapse of apartheid and socialism. Her focus is ideas about the political meanings of race, nation, and ethnicity.

 Moscow and the South African Communist Party by Vladimir Shubin and Daria Turianitsa

The article will examine the relationship between Moscow and the South African Communist Party (SACP) over three decades, starting in 1960, when the CPSU's contacts with the South African Communists were renewed. It will be based on documents from Russian archives, published memoirs, interviews with former Soviet officials, and personal interactions between the authors and SACP leaders and activists. It will describe the forms of cooperation between the CPSU and the SACP, such as political studies, consultation, material, and humanitarian aid, as well as the role of the South African communists in Moscow's relations with the African National Congress.

The newspaper will try to show the fallacy of claims of "unswerving loyalty to Moscow" and to prove that both sides influenced each other's positions. Particular attention will be paid to the contribution of a number of leaders of the SACP to the formation and development of relations between this party and Moscow, as well as the role of the officials of the International Department of the CPSU.

The final part of the article will analyse the evolution of Moscow's policy towards the struggle against the apartheid regime during the “Gorbachev rule” and the controversial impact of the so-called “perestroika” on Moscow's relations with the SACP and its allies.

Professor Vladimir Shubin

Prof. Vladimir Shubin is a Principal Research Fellow, Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Research Fellow, Centre for Military Studies, Stellenbosch University. He has Doctor of Science (History) degree from the Moscow State University and Ph D (Honoris Causa) degree from the University of the Western Cape.

Before joining the academia, he was involved in the political and practical support for the liberation struggle in Africa. Apart from Soviet/Russian state awards he was bestowed with the South African Order of Companions of O.R. Tambo (silver) “for excellent contribution to struggle against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa”.

Daria Turianitsa

Daria Turianitsa is a Junior Research Fellow in the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. She attended Moscow State University from 2012 – 2018, where she received her Bachelor and Master’s degree in Asian and African studies and developed a strong interest in South African History. She speaks English, Afrikaans, and a bit Swahili (as her minor). Currently as a part of the research team Daria is working on the joint Russian-South African project " International Solidarity and Struggles against apartheid. Historical memories in South Africa and Russia" and pursuing her PhD degree in contemporary history of South Africa.