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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 2, No. 17, 20 August 2003

In this Issue:


Red Alert

People's Power - the 20th Anniversary of the UDF

By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

This week we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the launch of the United Democratic Front. The UDF played an absolutely critical role in our transition to democracy. The political culture and traditions it helped to nurture continue to impact significantly on the present.

Launched on August 20th 1983, the UDF was a front of some 700 civic, workers, women's, student, youth, faith-based, sporting and cultural affiliates. Its initial objective was to organise a massive boycott of the apartheid regime's constitutional reform measures, designed to include Coloured and Indians in junior parliaments within a "tricameral" system, and to provide for some dummy representation for urban Africans at the township level. The boycotts in 1984 succeeded dramatically, putting the regime's "reformist" agenda completely off-balance.

But if the UDF was a front of hundreds of affiliates, it was also a front for the banned ANC and its alliance partners, the SACP and SACTU. The overwhelming majority of UDF activists saw themselves as ANC-aligned. Following the success of the boycott campaign, the UDF increasingly occupied the vacuum of above-board national political organisation and mobilisation. However, not all ANC supporters within the country immediately accepted the UDF. Key progressive trade unions remained outside of the UDF, although after the 1985 launch of COSATU, the working relationship became very close.

People's Power

It was in the course of 1985 that the UDF, propelled by events on the ground in numerous townships, made perhaps its most significant contribution. Following the successful election boycott in April 1994, the UDF was uncertain of a precise way forward.

Then a new wave of popular struggle, beginning in the Vaal Triangle in September 1994, provided fresh challenges. This new upsurge was not initially directed by the UDF, it emerged out of the social crises in the townships of the Vaal, in Tumahole, Atteridgeville, the East Rand, and Cradock. Absolutely critical to these developments were thousands of activists, one of the most outstanding was Matthew Goniwe, a school teacher in Cradock, an underground SACP cadre, and soon thereafter a martyr.

In townships like these, the struggle moved up a gear from boycott to ungovernability, rendering key townships semi-liberated zones, at least for months at a time. And then, organically, these struggles began to address the challenge of moving from relative ungovernability (by the apartheid regime) to self-governance, people's power. This grass-roots popular power organised street committees, people's courts, alternative education, people's parks, rubbish removal, and, later, self-defence units.

Much of this happened organically, more or less spontaneously in the context of township crises and struggles. However, the UDF increasingly provided a strategic theoretical perspective to these developments. It helped to popularise the idea of people's power, using its web of affiliate networks, it spread the example of one township to other townships. ANC and SACP underground structures, and media from our formations, including the very influential role of Radio Freedom, were also central to advancing these strategic perspectives.

It is interesting to note how the UDF began to understand this emergent people's power at the time. The official journal of the UDF, Isizwe, wrote:

"It is true that the fullest consolidation of people's power is still in the future. It is true that control over central state power is the key to many things…Nevertheless, the building of people's power is something that is already beginning to happen in the course of our struggle. It is not for us to sit back and merely dream of the day that the people shall govern. It is our task to realise that goal now."

It is possible to discern in this passage an identical logic (although, of course, referring to a related but different content), to the logic that informs the SACP's current slogan, "Socialism is the Future, Build it Now". Struggle on the ground enabled the UDF to understand that the future had to be built in the present. Mass mobilisation is not just a tap to be turned on and off, depending on some national political objective. Mass mobilisation is not just directed instrumentally at a single objective - the capture of state power (whether by insurrection or election). The character and quality of the future is determined, in considerable measure, by the form and content, the transformative nature of tens of thousands of actual, present-day struggles of working people and the poor.

Social movements

The 20th anniversary of the UDF comes at a time when debate about the role and trajectory of social movements is again an important and contested subject. This past weekend's Secretariat Political Report to the Central Committee, devoted considerable attention to the topic of social movements.

In our discussions as the CC we agreed that there were two tendencies that need to be avoided when approaching social movements in our current situation. The one tendency is over-bureaucratisation, which can occur from within or from without. There is a danger that social movements will be captured by elite gate-keepers, transforming them from vibrant localised activities and struggles, into national formations that act as interlocutors with government "on behalf of" a real or claimed constituency. A related, but converse tendency, occurs when there is simple irritation and dismissiveness on the part of authorities when social movements are not easily funnelled into this kind of tame bureaucratic compliance, acting as transmission belts for government.

On the other hand, there is the very real danger that social movements will increasingly appropriate what is, in fact, a liberal perspective on state power. This is the danger that they will increasingly develop an anti-politics politics, seeing themselves as, by definition, oppositionist. "Ungovernability" becomes an end in itself. This latter danger gravely underestimates the significance of our democratic, popular breakthrough in 1994. It abandons the possibilities opened up by a range of new potential sites of popular power - from localised community policing forums and ward committees to national structures like parliament and government departments. Needless to say, where social movements neglect active engagement with the state, they contribute to the bureaucratisation of the state, rather than helping to transform it.

For all of these reasons, it is important how we remember the UDF in the present, how we draw lessons from this important chapter of our struggle history. In some quarters, there is a tendency to present the UDF experience as an "alternative" to the ANC, or to draw a crude division (as if it were possible to do this) between comrades emerging from the UDF experience and those "from exile". This is dangerous, divisive and historically inaccurate. It is, therefore, very correct that cde Frank Chikane, once a key UDF leader and now the most senior official in the Presidency, should write that the UDF was "the direct result of a strategic decision of the liberation movement to intensify the levels of mass resistance inside the country."

Cde Chikane is right to assert this. Just as it would be right to assert that the UDF was the direct result of relatively autonomous, township based struggles against repression. The UDF was also the direct consequence and inheritor of a long tradition of communal and solidaristic struggles, ranging from village izimbizo, to stokvels and burial societies, through to the more overtly political traditions of the Congress of the People, and the defiance campaigns. The UDF was also the direct result of the 1976 semi-insurrectionary struggles of township students, and of a growing sense of black solidarity among African, Coloured and Indian youth. It was the direct result of the growing urbanisation and proletarianisation of African people, and the re-emergence of radical trade-unionism. It was a direct response, also, to the apartheid regime's repressive-reform strategy.

The UDF was inspired by the ANC-led liberation movement. But the UDF also inspired the liberation movement, helping to develop in practice a qualitatively new element (organs of popular power) within our struggle, and in the concrete conditions of South Africa .

In 2003, we must not fall behind the achievements of the mid-1980s, by seeking to bureaucratise, manipulate or even demobilise social movements. Equally, in 2003, we must not fall behind the breakthrough of 1994, conducting ourselves as if we had no access to, or responsibility for state power. As last weekend's Central Committee affirmed, we must continuously fuse state power and popular power. We must build an active, effective developmental state and vibrant social and community based formations rooted amongst the working class.


A farewell and a tribute to Smiso Nkwanyana - a communist and dedicated cadre of our revolution  

To lose a provincial leader of our Party is a huge loss. This becomes an even bigger blow considering the death of someone only 31 years old, who also had a very bright future and would certainly have become a leading national figure of our Party and in the national political life of our country. The SACP dips its revolutionary banner in honour of this young lion - a loyal cadre, a revolutionary, a communist activist!

Tribute to a generation

Smiso Nkwanyana was part of a generation of young communists who currently form the backbone of our Party. At our 11th Congress about 47% of our delegates were between the ages of 30-39. It is actually this generation that has been in the forefront of rebuilding the Party in the 1990s. Our detractors have sometimes sniped at us for this youthful character of our Party. Indeed this poses a huge challenge to the SACP, in terms of cadre development and ideological strengthening of our Party. But this generation has provided us with something unique. As they learn from the Party, the Party has also learnt from them. It is through this thoroughly dialectical process for instance that the Party has been growing stronger.

The Smiso Nkwanyana generation is primarily made up of young workers, former SASCO activists, and youth drawn from other progressive youth organisations. It is a very active layer of our Party, bringing youth energies into the Party, deeply interested in reading and debating Marxism-Leninism, and very loyal to the ideals of the national democratic revolution and socialism. It is this layer that has contributed immensely in focusing our Party on programme based activism, through our many campaigns, principally the Red October campaign. They brought into the Party the experiences, energy and enthusiasm of youth struggles of the mid to late 1980s

When Cde Smiso was elected provincial secretary of KwaZulu Natal province in 1999, he was only 27 years old. At the time he took over, our Party was extremely weak in the KZN province and had been experiencing a decline. Many in our ranks expressed some doubt at the time on whether Smiso would be able to perform this function. Working together and with the guidance of the likes of cdes Willies Mchunu, Eric Mtshali, Yunus Carrim and Ben Dikobe Martins, Smiso blossomed in an almost unprecedented way. He led the growth of the Party to become one of our strongest provinces in the country and a highly respected and dependable component of our Alliance in KZN.

Smiso the communist

One of the fundamental qualities of Cde Smiso was his complete loyalty to the vision and programme of the SACP. Already by the time he died he had completed the provincial plans for the 2003 Red October campaign and had them tabled and approved by the provincial executive committee. It was this loyalty that saw the Party in that province implementing our Party programmes to the letter. Under his leadership the Party in KZN managed to stage some of the biggest events ever held by the Party in that province. For instance the national 80th anniversary programme saw a rally of more than 5000 people in Durban. The launch of our banks campaign in 2000, saw a march of more than 10 000 people in the streets of Durban. Our 2002 Red October campaign mobilised and assisted in social security grants registration of thousands of those who qualified but were outside government's social security system. Through these activities the Party in the province has produced a permanent core of communist volunteers known as the Red October Brigades. It was these brigades that led and drove the 2003 Right to Learn campaign undertaken by the KZN province to assess and assist with registration of students at schools, particularly ensuring that children from poor families were not being excluded. Smiso, like a true communist, was an activist, who always wanted to see the Party in action. We will sorely miss this activism.

Smiso was building on a great tradition of great communists produced by that province - Johannes Nkosi, Moses Mabhida, Steven Dlamini, Harry Gwala and Mzala Nxumalo. Smiso understood that to be a true communist means placing the interests of the people above personal interests. He lived and died as that, a people's person totally committed to the interests of the workers and the poor. Given his talent, dedication and sharp intellect, Smiso could have been anywhere. But he chose to remain and serve the Party on a full-time basis on a very modest monthly salary and with very minimal resources.

Smiso strove to educate himself and was a voluminous reader of both the Marxist classics and contemporary communist literature. He hated opportunism and careerism, and was very forthright in expressing his views, without fear or favour. In the same vein he liked to provoke debate at every moment on a range of issues confronting the Party, our Alliance and the revolution as a whole. It was these qualities that earned him, at this young age the complete respect of all the Alliance components in our province. He was building a fiercely independent Party, yet loyal to the ANC-led Alliance. He never saw a contradiction between an independent Party and membership of the Alliance.

Smiso, the ANC cadre

Smiso knew, understood and insisted that a good communist must be in the ANC. He was a very committed member and cadre of the ANC. He strongly believed that the strengths of the Party must always translate into building a strong ANC. He used to insist that of what use is a strong SACP branch if the ANC branch was weak in a particular locality. He also believed strongly that an independent Party with its own programmes adds quality to the ANC and the Alliance as a whole.

Though when he took over as provincial secretary he was an angry young man, intolerant of criticism levelled at the Party, he had grown to deal with these in a very mature manner. He had mastered the art of handling differences in the Alliance, and had consequently developed a very close relationship and understanding with the ANC's provincial secretariat, Cdes Sipho Gcabashe and Senzo Mchunu.

It was this commitment to building a strong ANC that led to his appointment as ANC deputy elections co-ordinator in the province. The best way for us to honour this communist would be an electoral victory for the ANC in KwaZulu Natal. Smiso was enjoying his election work, difficult and complex as it is in a province like KZN.

Smiso the COSATU activist

Cde Smiso spent a considerable amount of his time doing work in COSATU and its affiliates. Cde Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of COSATU best captures the work he was doing in COSATU, in his tribute to Smiso. Addressing our last Central Committee Cde Vavi said he was not sure who is the bigger loser in Smiso death, whether it was the SACP or COSATU. This was because Smiso was doing a lot of work with all the COSATU affiliates. Cde Vavi said whatever solution to whatever problem confronting any COSATU affiliate; Smiso was part of developing that solution. It was of no surprise to Cde Vavi and all of us that the last task he was doing before his death was related to assisting in dealing with problems in SAMWU.

For Smiso work in COSATU was part of building and forging a closer relation between organised workers and the SACP. He understood that the SACP could never be strong unless COSATU was strong. His work in the trade unions is also graphically described by KZN SACP provincial chair, Cde Willies Mchunu. When Cde Willies was elected provincial chairperson he told himself that one of the ways he was going to assist the young Smiso, was by concentrating on building relations and engaging with the trade union movement. Cde Willies is a stalwart of the trade union movement, having been in NUMSA for a number of decades prior to 1994. But Willies concedes now that Smiso ended up embarrassing him by the manner in which he excelled in doing work with the trade unions on his own.

Smiso: the gender activist

Comrade Smiso was also remarkable for how he grappled with the issue of gender equality in his political and personal life. He was always concerned with that the Party must not just theorise the gender struggle. As a result, earlier this year he worked with SADTU in KwaZulu Natal to ensure that a joint gender political school was held in June and an agreement was reached with SADTU that this would be an annual gender school.

He loved his wife and children dearly. He would not start any long meeting without having called his wife, Gcina, to find out how she was and also trying to explain his wisb to be with his famuily. As Gcina's message at the funeral said, Smiso's best playmate was their three-year old Olwethu. He did this as his own contribution to shared family duties.

His death has stolen from us a communist activist in the gender struggle.

Hamba kahle Zikode

Smiso was a personification of the glue that has held our Alliance together. Cde Smiso's role was never limited to the KZN province. He was a very important part of our Central Committee, a good debater and builder of the Party nationally. He also represented the Party in many international engagements, including being in delegations to China, Cuba and Vietnam.

We will sorely miss him, his kindness, his unique laughter and dedication to the cause of the workers and the poor. We shall honour him by building an even stronger, more activist and programme based communist party! We will unswervingly implement our medium term vision, which he fondly referred to, as our "MTV".

Hamba Kahle Zikode
Nyoni yaphesheya koThukela
Endize yathi cababa EThekwini
Keph'izimpiko zayo ezibomvu
Zasabalala zafukamela izwe lonke

Ingqungqulu ebomvu
Ememeze eMgungundlovu
Kwaphendul'iMpangeni ne Newcastle
Kwaze kwavuma ne COSATU House qobolwayo!


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