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Moses Kotane

1905-1978

  • Obituary in Sechaba, third quarter 1978
  • The Funeral, African Communist, London, fourth quarter 1978

Oration by Oliver Tambo, President of ANC, at the funeral of Moses Kotane, Moscow, May 26, 1978(6)

My first contact with Moses Kotane was in 1946, which was the beginning of a period of great political upheavals in our struggle, a period that was to prove most decisive in the general orientation of our political advancement as a movement. If Moses Kotane was the general secretary of the SACP, he was no lesser degree a highly esteemed and completely devoted leader of the African National Congress.

His rigorous self-discipline enabled him to survive the sophisticated vigilance of the South African fascist police for many years during which he engaged in full-time underground political work in defiance of banning orders and numerous other restrictions imposed on him by the fascist regime. He fought fiercely to inculcate this high level of discipline among all the activists of the movement.

Reflecting the confidence which our movement had in Moses Kotane, Chief Albert Lutuli, the late President-General of the ANC, often consulted him on complex issues calling for wise leadership and delicate decision. It was for similar reasons that, at our request, Comrade Moses left South Africa to join the external ANC leadership in Dar es Salaam in January 1963. Umkhonto we Sizwe was one year old at the time and its members were leaving South Africa in large numbers for training abroad.

In the emergence of Umkhonto we Sizwe Moses Kotane saw the beginnings of the final onslaught on the last stronghold of imperialism - the fascist republic of South Africa. His devotion to the building up of this nucleus of our People`s Army was second only to his devotion to the struggle for national and social liberation in South Africa, for the triumph of the socialist cause the world over.

In the arrangements for the political and military training of the cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the maintenance, deployment and logistic equipment of Umkhonto units, Comrade Moses worked tirelessly from the moment he arrived in Dar es Salaam in 1963 until he suffered a stroke in December 1968.

We shall never forget that during the period of three years ending in December 1968, two political giants of the South African revolutionary struggle, J.B. Marks and Moses Kotane, comrades-in-arms for more than 40 years, operated from a small country town - Morogoro, in Tanzania - sharing a small office and sleeping in two small adjacent rooms, now worthy of preservation as national monuments. It was during these trying years that the supreme qualities of leadership of Moses Kotane and J.B. Marks emerged and made their mark on all the younger men and women who lived, worked or associated with them - all except confirmed and incorrigible counter-revolutionaries.

A valiant, courageous and stubborn fighter has fallen at his post, on the battlefield. Our battle-steeled working class, our death-defying youth, our militant women, our tested peasantry and committed intelligentsia - our entire people, and in particular our national liberation movement headed by the ANC, today pay eternal tribute to the people`s leader, Moses Kotane, for his monumental contribution to the great advances made towards the seizure of power by the people in South Africa.

The Soviet Union was Moses Kotane`s second and beloved home. He loved the Soviet people dearly and regarded the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as his own Party. It is not surprising that he should have expressed the wish that when his heart ceased to beat he should be laid to rest in the land of Lenin.

Obituary in Sechaba, third quarter 1978

Friday, May 21, was a sad day for all the members of the ANC, its allies and all our supporters and sympathisers. On that day Moses Kotane - Isithwalandwe - died in Moscow, where he was hospitalised, after a long illness which attacked him since 1968.

Moses Maune Kotane was born in Tampostad in the district of Rustenburg, Transvaal, on August 9, 1905. He came from a peasant family. Though his family background was Christian, the environment in which Kotane grew up was a non-Christian one. At the age of 13 he went to look for work and when he was 15 years old he entered for the first time the door of a classroom - a mission school which he attended for 2 years and then qualified to be a "full member of the church". Since that time he worked as a "kitchen-boy", a "house-boy", milkman and an employee of the West Rand Consolidated Mines. His wages ranged from 1 to 2/10 a month.

When in 1928 he got a job at Quinn`s Bakery as a packer-dispatcher, a new chapter started in his life. Kotane had joined the stream of the industrial working class and he was no longer a "migratory labourer". In the same year he joined the African National Congress and the Bakers` Union which was formed by the Communist Party after the collapse of Kadalie`s ICU. It is significant to note that this step led Kotane to join the Communist Party in the following year. By so doing Kotane joined the growing stream of Africans who later became the first generation of African communists on our continent.

Kotane`s leadership qualities were soon discovered by his colleagues and on September 1, 1929, he was elected Chairman of the South African Federation of Non-European Trade Unions and in the same year he was instrumental in the formation of the League of African Rights - a united front of all progressive organisations: the ANC, ICU and other African groups. In 1931 Moses Kotane became a full time functionary of the Communist Party of South Africa: first as a compositor of the party paper Umsebenzi (the Worker) and in 1938 rose to the position of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, a post he held until his death.

There is not a single activity of our movement in which Kotane was not. He was one of the leading figures at the All-African Convention Conference held in Bloemfontein in 1941 and as early as 1943 he was involved in the drafting of the African Claims and Bill of Rights which were adopted by the annual conference of the ANC in 1945. In 1946 he was elected member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. He worked closely with Dr. Xuma, the ANC President-General, and in 1949, together with Selby Msimang and O.R. Tambo, drafted the Programme of Action. Almost ten years later, in 1958, he served on a committee which drafted the new ANC constitution. If there was any man who was feared by the racists in our country, it was Moses Kotane. He was arrested many times - also during the 1956 Treason Trial, hounded, banned and house-arrested. When he left the country in 1963 he had been banned for a decade. But in 1955 he did manage to attend the famous Bandung Conference of Asian-African States and thereby helped to integrate the ANC into the world-wide anti-imperialist movement of our times. When in the late 1950s it became clear that there was a possibility of the ANC being banned, Moses served on a committee which worked out a new underground structure which would serve in the event of the ANC being declared illegal.

It was at the historic 1962 conference in Lobatsi, Botswana - the first conference held when our organisation was banned - that O.R. Tambo as head of the External Mission indicated to Moses Kotane that he needed his (Kotane`s) assistance in the work of the External Mission. After consultation with the ANC leadership inside the country Moses Kotane left the country to come and assist in the work of our External Mission. Kotane`s presence in the work of the External Mission proved to be invaluable. The positive role played by the ANC delegation at the AAPSO meeting held in Moshi, Tanzania, in 1963 was enhanced partly by the presence of Moses Kotane in the ANC delegation which was led by O.R. Tambo. Since then Kotane has undertaken various missions on behalf of the ANC.

From December 1965 to December 1968 Moses Kotane was based in Morogoro, Tanzania. He was the ANC Treasurer-General at Headquarters. Kotane worked until late in the night. He permitted himself no time to rest and even resisted all attempts to persuade him to go for holidays. His sense of discipline, or to be more precise his sense of self-discipline, forced him to work without a break. He expected his colleagues to do the same: he was a strict disciplinarian.

The "Morogoro period" was perhaps the most difficult in the history of the ANC. Yet it was during this period that his supreme qualities of leadership emerged. He and Uncle J.B. Marks were by far senior to all those they worked with. Yet they treated them as equals and comrades sharing common experiences and wisdom.

Moses Kotane`s contribution to our movement and struggle is immense: he was an activist and a theoretician; publicist and polemicist; aggressive debater, and an administrator; a man who hated sectarianism of any type. He was a communist, a Marxist-Leninist and at the same time a member of the ANC par excellence. He did not "support" the ANC but was himself a personification of the ANC; a man who attached so much importance to the national liberation of the African people, especially the African workers. His conviction, devotion, dedication and commitment to the cause of his people was to him more than just a question of principle: it was a way of life. As a member of the most oppressed and exploited group, he saw this as his duty. As a Marxist-Leninist he saw the question of the liberation of the African people and all nationally oppressed blacks as the primary task of our revolution; an application of Marxism-Leninism to concrete South African conditions; a precondition for the liberation of the South African working class and a cornerstone of proletarian internationalism as applied to our concrete situation. His internationalism strengthened his patriotism!

That is why he saw no contradiction and conflict in being an ANC member and a communist. On the contrary, he maintained that the Communist Party is inseparable from the ANC and vice versa. Moses Kotane became a confidant of the ANC President-General, Albert Luthuli, who relied so much on him. Kotane`s clear insight into the problems of our movement developed in him what we call a foresight; almost a premonition.

His death has robbed us of a political giant, a man who has emerged from the womb of our movement, growing with it; contributing to its growth in an almost unique manner and literally being taught everything he knew by the movement and our people whom he served so loyally and taught so enthusiastically. Our people are proud of having given birth to such a noble son. Let us all follow his example!

Moses Kotane is survived by his wife Rebecca, and his sons Leni, Joseph, Sam and Isaac.

The Funeral

Moses Kotane was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow at mid-day on Friday, May 26. His funeral was attended by a large crowd of mourners, comprising former colleagues in the Communist Party and the African National Congress, African students in the Soviet Union, political workers and academics with whom he had had contact on his many visits to Moscow and even some nurses from the hospital where he had spent the last years of his life. Some of the mourners had travelled from distant parts of Africa and Europe to attend the ceremony, though the only member of Moses` family who was able to arrive in time was his son Joseph, a student in Budapest, Hungary.

The funeral proceedings took part in two stages. The first took place in a small hall attached to the hospital mortuary where Moses Kotane lay in state in an open coffin banked with flowers and a magnificent collection of wreaths sent by fraternal organisations and some of his former comrades. A wreath from the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party bore the message: "In memory of Moses Kotane, South Africa`s greatest Communist Party and ANC leader, an outstanding fighter for national and social emancipation". Another wreath said simply: "To dear Comrade Moses Kotane, general secretary of the South African Communist Party, from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union". A wreath sent by the National Executive of the African National Congress stated: "To Comrade Moses Kotane, courageous and beloved leader of the oppressed people. Hamba Kahle Malume". Other wreaths bore personal messages, including one stating simply: "Mayibuye".

Only a limited number of mourners had access to the hall, and they stood in silence for several minutes, their minds full of memories of their departed comrade. It was hard to believe that a man so vigorous and positive in life was now silenced by death, though as he lay in his coffin his face bore that familiar expression of defiance with which he had faced his enemies throughout his long and stormy career in politics.

From the mortuary hall, the coffin was carried in a vehicle, specially designed so that three or four of his comrades could accompany him on the journey, to the cemetery, where the main body of mourners were waiting in the central square. Here, with the body still lying in the open coffin, all those present paid their last respects to Moses Kotane, and the funeral orations were delivered by Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, national chairman of the South African Communist Party; Oliver Tambo, President of the African National Congress; and R. Ulyanovsky, Deputy Head of the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

With fists clenched in the ANC salute, the mourners sang the national anthem "Nkosi Sikelel`i Afrika", followed by a number of freedom songs. The coffin was then closed and carried on the shoulders of his former comrades-in-arms to another corner of the cemetery, where a grave had been dug. As the body was lowered into the grave, a Soviet military band crashed out the opening chords of the "Internationale" - the tune whose words and music had accompanied Kotane throughout his career in politics and most vividly expressed the brotherhood of man for which he had been fighting. Once again, the mourners joined in the singing, sending Kotane on the last journey with the pledge to carry on the struggle to which he had contributed so much until final victory was won and South Africa was totally liberated.

Novodevichy Cemetery, on the banks of the Moscow River and next to the fabulously domed Novodevichy Convent, now a branch of the history museum, is the resting place of many of the Soviet Union`s most famous sons and daughters. Here lies buried too J.B. Marks, the former ANC leader and national chairman of the SACP who predeceased Moses Kotane in 1972.

Most of the graves are surmounted by a bust of the deceased, and on a walk through the cemetery it requires only a small flight of fancy to imagine oneself in the physical presence of the most famous figures in the history of the Soviet Union. J.B. Mark`s grave already has its bust, and in due course so too will that of Moses Kotane. For the time being his grave is surmounted by a framed portrait...

Moses Kotane was an internationally known and respected leader of the South African liberation movement, and memorial meetings in his honour were held in many centres - in London and Lusaka, in Toronto and Soweto. Those who worked with him will never forget him. At lunch in a Moscow hotel after the funeral, some of Kotane`s intimates recalled their past association with him, reminding one another of his firmness and vigour, his warmth and loyalty, his sense of humour and fun, gathering together all those memories of the good things in his life whose memory they will cherish forever.

6. From: African Communist, London, fourth quarter 1978

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