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SACP Salutes Walter Sisulu:

Friday, 13 May 2005

Tribute at the Pretoria City Hall Memorial

A giant has left us - Cde Walter Sisulu is no more. The South African Communist Party is deeply saddened by the death of Comrade Walter Sisulu (just 13 days before his 91st birthday). The South African Communist Party dips its banner, and expresses its heartfelt condolences to Mama Sisulu, to the Sisulu family, and to our movement, the African National Congress.

Tata Sisulu, a pioneer and champion of non racialism

In his life and personality, in his easy-going non-racialism, unpretentious humility and passion for justice, Walter Sisulu embodied the core values of the struggle that liberated our country. It was for all these reasons that the 9th National Congress of the SACP held in 1995 unanimously made Comrade Walter Sisulu the first recipient of our Chris Hani Peace Award. This is an award named after our late General Secretary as the highest award that the SACP gives to honour those who have played a sterling role in our liberation struggle to bring peace to our country. Comrade Walter is synonymous with more than half a century of ANC-led mass struggles. He played an unparalleled role in shaping the ANC. The recent publication of the biography of Walter and Albertina Sisulu ("In Our Lifetime", by Elinor Sisulu) provides a timely and informative insight into the life and struggle of Walter Sisulu. What is striking about the biography is that it simultaneously captures the history of the ANC through the key decades in which it became a genuine mass movement, and the centrality of Cde Walter Sisulu in that history. It is the story of a rural boy, son of a domestic worker, later an urban worker, nurtured within the ranks of the ANC, and becoming one of the foremost architects of a non-racial, non-sexist and revolutionary organisation.

In 1949, when he assumed the position of ANC Secretary General on a full-time basis (he was the first to serve full-time in this post), there were still strong reservations amongst significant sections of the ANC leadership about working with other racial groups committed to change in our country. As SG he was instrumental in forging a working alliance between the ANC and the Indian Congresses in the early 1950s. He worked hard towards the formation of the Congress of Democrats (an organisation of white activists committed to the national liberation struggle), and the South African Coloured People's Organisation. These organisations later came together to form what was known as the Congress Alliance. In all of this, Tata Sisulu's incredible negotiation skills, patience and power of persuasion were critical.

Comrade Sisulu, a communist, a teacher and builder of the alliance

He also distinguished himself as a promoter and defender of the revolutionary alliance between the national liberation movement, the communist party and the trade union movement. Most importantly, he was in the thick of the major struggles in the 1950s that forged the Alliance into a fighting machine. He helped to overcome a deeply anti-communist sentiment found within the ranks of our movement at the time. As a founder member of the ANC Youth League, comrade Walter had shared the same original anti-communist sentiments of the early leadership collective. But, and sooner than some of the others, through concrete struggles and working together with communist giants like Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Yusuf Dadoo and Michael Harmel, he gradually changed his attitude.

Indeed, in his last year, comrade Walter chose to reveal his longstanding association with the communist party to his biographer and daughter-in-law, Elinor. After its banning in 1950, the Party was reconstituted in 1953 in the deep underground. Cde Sisulu was recruited in 1955, and IN 1956 became a member of the Central Committee.

Comrade Walter, the communist - this is a story that will, at some stage, have to be told in its fullness. In honour of this we will strive to build an even stronger communist party, and work towards strengthening our Alliance.

In 1960, he was centrally involved in the launching of the armed struggle. Arrested, finally, at Rivonia, he joined Cde Mandela in making a brave, defiant speech from the dock, fully expecting to be sentenced to death. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and served, mostly on Robben Island, for 25 years. Together with his fellow-inmates, he refused to be broken by the barbarism of the prison regime. With his comrades, he struggled to transform prison into what became known as the "people's university", conducting political classes and, later, teaching the younger cadres about the ANC and what it stood for. In honour of these traditions, and of this giant, the SACP pledges to continue conducting political classes as an integral part of our struggle to transform our country and build a better life for all.

Comrade Walter Sisulu must surely rank as one of the greatest unifiers in our movement, a patient listener and a caring revolutionary. Some of us had the opportunity to work with him in the midst of the bitterest violence unleashed by the apartheid regime (in collaboration with the IFP) in the killing fields of KwaZulu Natal. The gravity of the situation threw up very sharp tactical differences within the ANC itself in that province in the late 1980s and early 1990s. How much emphasis should be placed on trying to talk peace with the IFP and the police? Or should the emphasis be on building self-defence structures? The two options were not necessarily in contradiction, but there was a great deal of disagreement

on how to combine the two, and on the relative weight to be placed on each. Cde Mandela and the national executive committee of the ANC sent Comrade Walter on more than one occasion to assist. He patiently listened to all points of view and was a great facilitator in trying to build a common strategic and tactical approach in one of the most difficult moments in the history of our revolution. Some of us were fascinated by his ability to engage a militant like the late Cde Harry Gwala, we were impressed at how the latter would sit and listen to his counsel and views. That was Comrade Walter Sisulu at work!

Tata Sisulu, an internationalist and a caring family man

Comrade Sisulu was also an internationalist - a great believer in the unity of all oppressed and progressive people in the world. His own political outlook was further shaped by an extended overseas visit he undertook in the 1950s, visiting amongst other places, the Soviet Union, China, the UK and Czechoslovakia. As the SACP we will honour his memory by dedicating ourselves even more to building international solidarity amongst all progressive and peace loving people in the world. This is even more important given the fact that Tata Sisulu passes away at the time when global politics are entering an extremely dangerous phase.

The illegal invasion of Iraq by the US, backed by the UK, marks an extremely dangerous phase in international relations. This marks the "successful" implementation of some of the key elements of the new US doctrine - "regime change", pre-emptive war - something completely new since the second World War - "shock and awe", and unilateral action to defend the interests of the US and plunder the resources of the developing countries. On this occasion as the SACP we would like to reaffirm that that invasion had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but all about Iraqi oil. Proof of this is that there are no such weapons found up till now. This is an expression of the dangerous phase that imperialism is entering - recolonisation of the people and resources of developing countries endowed with resources or of strategic political significance to imperialist designs.

As the SACP we would like to use this opportunity of paying tribute to his internationalist and giant of our struggle to call for an urgent convening of a UN Conference, involving all democratic political formations in Iraq, to map out a way forward and work towards a democratic transitional arrangements. It is our considered view that an illegal invasion cannot produce a legitimate political outcome, particularly if presided over by the illegal invaders themselves. We should not demobilise the anti-war movement, but should built on its achievements and further mobilise peace loving people throughout the world to demand such a conference. In addition we should intensify our mobilisation to support the just struggle of the Palestinian people for a free and independent Palestinian state. In the process we demand of the "regime changers" - who parade themselves as champions of global democracy - to take immediate steps to ensure that the apartheid Israeli state is disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction and that it implements all the UN resolutions it has defied over decades. We must expose the double standards of imperialism.

It is only by mobilising progressive forces globally that we can make the world safe and stop this emerging armed unilateralism globally, and make the world a place characterised by the values and morality of a giant like Comrade Walter Sisulu.

In the midst of all his struggles, Tata Sisulu was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts go out to Mama Sisulu, a leader in her own right and a pillar of strength to younger activists, and to the Sisulu family.

A thoroughly democratic South Africa is the best monument that we can build in honour of Comrade Walter. Let us honour him by deepening the struggle for a better life for all, and most critically by tackling, collectively, the twin challenges of jobs and poverty eradication, and a just, peaceful world order. As the SACP we won't be found wanting in this regard!

Blade Nzimande
General Secretary