In the life of every nation, there arise men who leave an
indelible and eternal stamp on the history of their peoples; men who are both products and
makers of history. And when they pass they leave a vision of a new and better life and the
tools with which to win and build it.
Moses Kotane was such a man. The South African liberation movement has had no better or more original pioneer. He, above all, symbolised the all-round revolutionary whose passion for liberation is combined with a scientific grasp of the true nature of the ruling class and the social energies which have to be mobilised in order to destroy it and to build a worthy social order in its place.
Comrade Kotane hated white domination and aggression, yet he spurned racialism in all its forms, whether expressed in white arrogance or black chauvinism. He was one of the foremost champions of the working class and a future socialist South Africa, yet he worked unceasingly to create a unity of all classes and groups, including revolutionary whites, to confront racist tyranny. He was a foremost patriot who had his feet firmly planted in the national culture and aspirations of his people. Yet he remained a shining example of true internationalism and believed passionately in the world-wide bonds of progressive humanity everywhere. He stood at the head of our working-class party for most of its life and was, at the same time, amongst the most respected front-line leaders of the African National Congress. More than any other individual, he helped lay the foundations for the life-giving unity between the working class and national movements which expresses itself in today's firm alliance of liberation forces.
In short, Comrade Kotane was one of South Africa`s greatest Communist revolutionaries.
He gave an indigenous meaning to the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism and through his
life won a place as one of the most outstanding working class and national leaders of our
Let us recall, in brief, the life of our departed leader. Moses Kotane was born on August 9, 1905, in the little town of Tamposstad in the Western Transvaal. His early years as a young boy he spent as a cattleherd, afterwards going out to work for a white farmer. It was only at the age of 15, that he was able to go to school for the first time and learn to read and write. But he only remained at the school for two years, leaving in 1922 at the age of 17 to seek work on the Witwatersrand.
Among the jobs he took were those of photographer`s assistant, kitchen boy, miner and bakery worker - jobs which gave him little work satisfaction and little pay. All these years he was slaving for the white man boss, Kotane was reading and studying, asking questions, dissatisfied with the life he was leading and with himself. He read whatever books he could lay hands on, and it was his search for knowledge, his rejection of discrimination and oppression, his thirst for a more meaningful way of life that eventually drove him to the ranks of the bakers` union, the African National Congress and the Communist Party.
The year in which he joined the Communist Party was 1928 - the year of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern which adopted the resolution on the national question in South Africa, the so-called "Native republic resolution" which called for "an independent native South African republic as a stage towards a workers' and peasants' republic, with full and equal rights for all races, Black, Coloured and white". This slogan was to form the basis of the policy on the national question developed over the years by the Communist Party and eventually incorporated in the 1962 programme of the Party which is still our guideline today. And no man did more to bring that slogan to life in the South African context than Moses Kotane.
It was Moses Kotane, together with comrades like J.B. Marks, Johannes Nkosi, Edwin Mofutsanyana, Albert Nzula, Johnny Goma, and Jimmy La Guma, to mention only a few, who in the 1920s and 1930s followed in the footsteps of the early Communist pioneers - Andrews, Bunting and Ivon Jones and carried the message of communism to the black masses. Kotane had by this time become a Party functionary, living, working and sleeping in the Party office in Johannesburg and active in all the African areas.
He studied at the Party's night school and rapidly absorbed the fundamentals of Marxism.
Visit to Moscow
He progressed so rapidly in his studies that the Party leadership decided to send him for further study at the Lenin School in Moscow, where his teachers included the great Ivan Potekhin, Zusmanowich and the Hungarian Marxist Endre Sik. Kotane wrote many years later: "It was at the Lenin School that I learnt how to think politically. They taught me the logical method of argument, political analysis. From that time onwards I was never at a loss when it came to summing up a situation. I knew what to look for and what had to be done from the point of view of the working class."
Kotane's experiences in Moscow made a lifelong impression on him. Not only did they deepen his understanding of Marxism. They also brought to life in his heart a love and comradeship for the Soviet people and the CPSU which was a constant source of strength and encouragement to him throughout his life. His loyalty and faith in the Soviet people, his confidence in the CPSU as a guardian of proletarian internationalism never wavered. After he was struck down by his illness in 1968 and became hospitalised in the Soviet Union, he was the recipient not only of the very best medical attention, but also of every fraternal service which the CPSU and its functionaries could lavish on him. I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of my party and the South African people, of expressing to our Soviet comrades our heartfelt gratitude for everything they did to make the last years of our comrade General Secretary comfortable.
With the masses
Time does not allow me to chronicle all the achievements of Kotane after his return from Moscow to South Africa in 1933. His main and abiding achievement was to root the party in the masses. In a letter from Cradock in the Cape to the Party leadership, he wrote in 1934:
"My first suggestion is that the party becomes Africanised, that the CPSA(2) must pay special attention to South Africa and study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the masses from first-hand information, that we must speak the language of the native masses and must know their demands, that while it must not lose its international allegiance, the Party must be Bolshevised and become South African not only theoretically but in reality."
He himself showed the way. His whole political life was dedicated to a translation of the truths of Marxism-Leninism into the realm of practical politics. As the General Secretary of our Party since 1939 until his death he threw himself body and soul into building and strengthening the Party. He also played a vital role in building the organisation which represents the most oppressed section of the Black majority - the African National Congress of which he was an elected member of the National Executive.
Moses Kotane was in the thick of every struggle in South Africa - the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the treason trial of 1956-61, underground in the 1960 emergency, one of the main organisers of the liberation movement's army. In the 1950s and 1960s he went on many diplomatic missions for the liberation movement and won the respect of all the world statesmen with whom he came in contact.
But if there is one quality in Moses Kotane which I would single out before all others,
it was that he was incorruptible. He was incorruptible not only in his politics but also
in his personal life. Moses Kotane was a man you knew could never let you down, never do
something behind your back, never deceive you. You always knew where you were with Moses
Kotane. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful, but they were never dishonest. He was
a hard taskmaster, but only because he put the movement above himself and because he never
demanded from others more than he was prepared to do himself. He drove himself to the
limit of his endurance, and it is no exaggeration to say that the illness which struck him
down was the result of overwork, his refusal to spare himself, his constant and meticulous
attention to detail, his willing acceptance of the burden and responsibility of leadership
in the great fight for freedom.
Moses Kotane set a high standard for all freedom fighters. We who say "farewell" to him pledge, in the name of our organisations and our peoples, that we will never forget his contribution, that we will endeavour to live up to his example, that we will never waver in our determination to complete the task to which he devoted his life - the total elimination of the scourge of apartheid and racialism, the translation into reality of the Freedom Charter for national emancipation and social progress and to carry forward the struggle for peace, national independence and socialism.
1 Speech delivered at the Novodevichy
Cemetery in Moscow where Moses Kotane was buried on May 26, 1978.
From: African Communist, fourth quarter 1978.
2 Communist Party of South Africa