Eric “Stalin” Mtshali remembered - SACP

Party pays tribute to long standing leading member and veteran of struggle

South African Communist Party

12 October 2018

The Red Flag remains at half-mast in honour of long standing SACP leader, Comrade Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, “The man of steel”

Comrade Eric “Stalin” Mtshali (84), a long standing SACP leader, a veteran of our struggle for complete liberation and social emancipation, has ceased to breathe in the early hours of this morning, Friday 12 October 2018. The SACP announces this great loss with deep sorrow.

Comrade Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary conveys our heartfelt condolences to the family of Mtshali and our entire movement and the people of South Africa as a whole. The SACP will announce memorial and funeral service details in due course after consultation with the family and the Alliance.

Mtshali is a recipient of the SACP Moses Kotane Award. The Award was conferred to him by the Party at its 14th Congress in July 2017, making him a lifetime Member of the Central Committee of the SACP.

He is also a recipient of the Order of Mendi for Bravery in Silver.

He is survived by his wife Gcinile Kunene and daughter Lindiwe Mtshali, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren

“The man of steel”

“The man of steel”, as he was affectionately known within the ranks of the SACP, Mtshali was born in Clermont, Durban, on 20 November 1933. He attended both primary and secondary school in Claremont and joined boxing at Fannin Secondary School. The last fight he engaged in, in the amateur ranks, occurred after meeting Comrade Wilson Cele, then the SACP District Secretary of Durban. Cele asked Comrade Mtshali about the fight and his future plans. 

He further asked Comrade Mtshali about his interests on, and then introduced him to, the local Ratepayers Association. Growing up in Clermont, Comrade Stalin was amused by the Ratepayers Association. The area was declared by the then government as the so-called “freehold”, meaning that it was one of the rare settlements in South Africa where Black people were allowed to buy and own a house.

Mtshali later discovered that the association’s meetings, that took place every Sunday, were actually ANC meetings. He and four of his friends who were drawn to the Ratepayers Association used to sing, particularly the song “Mayibuye i-Afrikha...” At that time the comrades did not even fully appreciate what that meant in a broader context. Members of the Ratepayers Association were known as Amaphekula skhuni – trouble makers in English but revolutionaries in Zulu.

In that way Cele further introduced Mtshali to the ANC, as well as to the progressive trade union movement and the SACP. Cele worked together with “The lion of the Midlands”, Comrade Harry Gwala, and Comrades Stephen Dlamini and M.P. Naicker to recruit Mtshali to the SACP, which he joined in 1957. At that time the SACP was as an underground organisation after it was banned by the apartheid regime in 1950 under the Suppression of Communism Act.

As a young man, Comrade Eric had an idea of following a career that will see him make money. But Cele was not convinced. After a brief discussion he gave Mtshali a pamphlet titled “The Three Sources and Three Components Parts of Marxism” authored by Vladimir Lenin, the historic leader of the Great October Socialist Revolution that took place in Russia in 1917. Cele convinced Mtshali not to take the road of money. Thanks to a section in the pamphlet stating that people have always been victims of deceit and that will remain so until they conduct an inquiry into and become clear about the class interests that underpin social phenomena. Cele played an important role in Mtshali’s political education and ideological training.

By 1950-1951 Cele had introduced Mtshali to the Dock and Harbour Workers’ Union in Durban. Mtshali began organising for the union in 1951. At the docks, his work was that of loading and unloading goods from ships. He started the job during weekends when he was still a high school learner. During that time the union also organised casual workers. That was when Comrade Eric joined it.

At that time he was paid a mere 15 shillings per week. It was during this time that he started attending political classes and workshops organised by the union and became active in the struggle for a living wage and improved employment conditions. 

Comrade Eric’s active involvement in the civic movement as a young comrade played an important role in his decision to join the SACP and the ANC. His work in the trade union movement, starting with organising dock workers and later establishing trade unions, including his participation in the formation of the South African Trade Union Congress in the 1950s, fortified his resolute determination in the struggle for socialism, and his character as a vanguard cadre.

Comrade Stalin was amongst the first to join the ranks of the joint SACP-ANC military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe. He served in a crucial unit that started the sabotage missions against the apartheid regime. Comrade Stalin handled all of these and other tasks with extreme care and dedication. He sacrificed a lot in building the trade union movement in this continent and country. At one point, with no pay he survived on bananas as a daily lunch whilst organising workers in South Africa.

After receiving further training in Tanzania, together with Comrade Lambert Moloi, Comrade Stalin was send to Egypt for a special higher training laying the basis for future work. 

He was the first editor of “The Dawn”, our movement’s military magazine. He worked closely with his comrade, friend plus brother, Comrade Chris Hani to make “The Dawn” a successful project. 

Mtshali’s involvement in political education, using the magazine, provided a clear direction on various strands of thought amongst to the soldiers who were trained in the Soviet Union and China respectively, especially during the Sino-Soviet split.

He worked with outstanding loyalty when he was deployed by the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) to establish trade unions in many parts of our continent. He worked in Ethiopia, Sudan and Morocco, pioneering the development of the progressive trade union movement. Comrade Stalin’s outstanding work in the WFTU is immense. As the SACP we will forever be proud of his achievements on behalf of the working class. 

He formed the first open trade unions in Ethiopia, during the time of Mengistu Haile Mariam as President. Previously, trade unions were suppressed in Ethiopia despite the emperor, Haile Selassie claiming to be a Communist.

Mtshali was deployed by the WFTU to revive the trade union movement in Sudan after that country’s regime massacred communists including murdering the Communist Party's General Secretary. He went to the country to carry out the work despite the danger that this involved. Again, the Communist Party in Sudan did not evaporate. It resiliently soldiered on and helped Comrade Stalin to revive the country’s trade union movement.

He was further deployed to Morocco by the WFTU to build the trade union movement.

Comrade Stalin worked with leaders like Moses Kotane, Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, Gwala, Rusty Bernstein, among others who shaped his political and ideological training.

Comrade Stalin became one of the long serving members of the Central Committee of the SACP.

Mtshali served as the ANC's representative in East Africa, and was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Before then he spent eight years in Prague, in the now Czech Republic where he was advancing the struggle for liberation in our country and for universal social emancipation of the working class of the world.

Comrade Moses Mabhida, one of the outstanding leaders of the SACP, tasked Mtshali whilst in Dar es Salaam to open a passage to ships coming from and going to South Africa via Tanzania. Again he obliged with distinction and served our struggle. Comrade Stalin carried out the work, reviving his days in the “James Bond Unit” that he was part of. He organised the unit in the troubled waters and created stow ways back home. Later they managed to smuggle firearms and carried out fully-fledged operations. The unit went on to serve the movement with outstanding dedication. Two of its members retired as military colonels. 

Mtshali was assigned to focus on the launch of the Communist Party of Lesotho, together with the late Joe Matthews, by the SACP. This signified the critical role that he played in the work of the Party and symbolised the trust that he earned. 

After our 1994 democratic breakthrough Comrade Stalin served at the Deputy Commissioner of Crime Intelligence in the Province of Moses Mabhida until 1999. He was elected and served as an ANC Ward Councillor in 2001 and served in this position until 2004. He was elected to the National Assembly in 2004 and served as an MP of the ANC until he retired from the House in 2014.

A number of years ago, post-1994, Comrade Stalin cautioned us against the unbecoming behaviour of some of our former comrades and others in the ANC who pretended to be friends of the SACP and its struggles towards a communist society. He however advised that we need rather those hostile associates inside the movement so that we could keep our vigilance at all times and never lower our guards like we did during the height of the “1996 class project”.

He also cautioned us about the rapid growth in the membership of the SACP. He especially expressed reservations about the recent exponential growth in the membership of the Party. He expressed the view that we should still tighten up Party organisation and make sure that quantity and quality go together in order to defend working class interests by creating no space for rearguard tendencies within the Party.

In recognition of the sterling contribution of Comrade Eric "Stalin" Mtshali, the struggle, including against our own weaknesses, continues and must intensify!

We must not engage in any retreat or surrender, particularly in waging the struggle against our own weaknesses.

The generation of Comrade Stalin and other class-conscious workers read Marx, Engels and Lenin veraciously, in-depth and during a time when, especially between 1950 and 1990, it was illegal to do so in South Africa.

The SACP says:

Hamba Kahle Mkhonto.

Statement issued by the SACP, 12 October 2018