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South African Communist Party

South African Communist Party
General Secretary Blade Nzimande
Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin
Founded 1921

3rd Floor, Cosatu House
1 Leyds Street, cnr Biccard

Johannesburg, 2000
Newspaper Umsebenzi
Youth wing Young Communist League of South Africa
Membership  (2013) 150,000[1]
Ideology Marxism–Leninism
National affiliation African National Congress
International affiliation Africa Left Networking Forum
Colors Red, Black, Yellow
Party flag
Politics of South Africa
Political parties

South African Communist Party (SACP) is a communist party in South Africa. It was founded in 1921, was declared illegal in 1950, and participated in the struggle against apartheid. It is a partner of the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and as such wields influence in the South African government.


  • History 1
    • Apartheid 1.1
    • Post-apartheid 1.2
  • General Secretaries 2
  • Prominent members of the Central Committee of the SACP 3
  • See also 4
  • Literature 5
  • Notes and references 6
  • External links 7


The Communist Party of South Africa was founded in 1921 by the joining together of the socialism runs through the mass struggle for majority rule". By 1948 the Party had officially abandoned the Native Republic policy.

In 1946, the CPSA along with the African National Congress took part in the general strike that was started by the African Mine Workers' Strike in 1946. Many party members, such as Bram Fischer were arrested.


The CPSA was declared illegal in 1950. The party went underground and, in 1953 relaunched itself as the South African Communist Party - the name change emphasising the party's orientation towards the particular concerns of South Africans. The party was not legalised until 1990.

The CPSA/SACP was a particular target of the National Party government elected in 1948. The Suppression of Communism Act was used against all those dedicated to ending apartheid, but was obviously particularly targeted at the SACP.

Following the repression of the CPSA, the party adopted a policy of primarily working within the ANC in order to reorient that organisation's programme from a Congress of Democrats which in turn allied itself with the African National Congress and other 'non-racial' congresses in the Congress Alliance. The Congress Alliance committed itself to a democratic non-racial South Africa where the 'people shall govern' through the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter, having been developed by leading members of the Congress of Democrats, was adopted by the ANC leadership and has since remained the cornerstone of the ANC's programme throughout the years of repression.

SACP played a dynamic role in the development of the liberation movement in South Africa and had an influence beyond its size. The 'Africanists' of the Africanism and acceptance of Maoism informed the black student uprisings of the mid and late 1970s which were led by the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (South Africa) and Steve Biko.

As the National Party increased repression in response to increased black pressure and radicalism throughout the 1950s, the ANC, previously committed to non-violence, turned towards the question of force. A new generation of leaders, led by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu recognised that the Nationalists were certain to ban the ANC and so make peaceful protest all but impossible.

They allied themselves with the Communists to form Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation') which began a campaign of economic bombing or 'armed propaganda'. However the leaders of Umkhonto were soon arrested and jailed and the liberation movement was left weak and with an exiled leadership.

In exile the influence of the SACP grew as communist states provided the ANC with funds and arms. Patient work by the ANC slowly rebuilt the organisation inside South Africa and it was the ANC, with communists in prominent positions, who were able to capitalize on the wave of anger that swept young South Africans during and after the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

Communist Joe Slovo was Chief of Staff of Umkhonto, his wife and fellow SACP cadre Ruth First was perhaps the leading theoretician of the revolutionary struggle the ANC were engaged in. The ANC itself, though, remained broadly social democratic in outlook.

Eventually external pressures and internal ferment made even many strong supporters of apartheid recognise that change had to come and a long process of negotiations began which resulted, in 1994, in the defeat of the National Party by the ANC.


With victory a number of Communists occupied prominent positions on the ANC benches in parliament. Most prominently, Nelson Mandela appointed Joe Slovo as Minister for Housing. This period also brought new strains in the ANC-SACP alliance when the ANC's programme did not threaten the existence of capitalism in South Africa and was heavily reliant on foreign investment and tourism. However, it should be noted that the Freedom Charter had been considered only as a blueprint for a future democratic and free South Africa. Joe Slovo recognised that Stalinism had failed in Eastern Europe and could not be regarded as a model for the SACP. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela famously remarked:

"There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"

After Mandela's death in 2013, the ANC confirmed that he had been a member of the SACP and served on its central committee.[3]

Through the Tripartite Alliance and the sitting of many SACP members on the ANC's NEC, the SACP has wielded influence from within the ANC, often serving as an ideological opposition against the presidency and socio-economic policies of Thabo Mbeki (1999–2008); this became most apparent with the ouster of Mbeki from the presidencies of both the party (2007, by vote) and the government (2008, by ANC party recall) and his eventual replacement in both offices with Jacob Zuma, who is widely seen as being more conciliatory to the ideological demands of both the SACP and COSATU.

General Secretaries

1921: William H. Andrews
1925: Jimmy Shields
1928: Douglas Wolton
1929: Albert Nzula
1933: Lazar Bach
1938: Moses Kotane
1978: Moses Mabhida
1984: Joe Slovo
1991: Chris Hani
1993: Charles Nqakula
1998: Blade Nzimande

Prominent members of the Central Committee of the SACP

See also


  • Raising the Red Flag The International Socialist League & the Communist Party of South Africa 1914 - 1932 by Sheridan Johns. Mayibuye History and Literature Series No. 49. Mayibuye Books. University of the Western Cape, Bellville. 1995. ISBN 1-86808-211-3.
  • Time Longer Than Rope by Edward Roux. The University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wisconsin. 1964. ISBN 978-0-299-03204-3.

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ South African Communist Party (SACP), O'Malley archives, Nelson Mandela Foundation

External links

  • South African Communist Party official site
  • Fifty Fighting Years: The Communist Party of South Africa 1921-1971
  • South African Communist Party Documents from Marxists Internet Archive.
  • South African history
  • Are communists running the country? First Draft
  • Blade Nzimande - Notes for NEHAWU Congress - 26 June 2007
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