Nelson Mandela and the SACP – Yet Again
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some in South Africa and abroad refuse to believe that Nelson Mandela was a member of the underground South African Communist Party (SACP). Hugh Macmillan (Mail&Guardian, 17-23 January 2014), amazingly, thought that even though Mandela could have been co-opted to its Central Committee, he was never a party member - as if such an aberration was possible.
In the most recent contribution to this debate Isaac Mpho Mogotsi emotionally pleaded with his readers not to call Mandela a communist (Politicsweb, 30 March 2015) and drew attention to his ‘anti-communist’ period – as if, somehow, it was OK for Mandela to be an anti–communist, but not a communist, as so many of his closest friends and comrades were.
There are two major reasons for such disbelief. One is that Mandela himself never said in as many words that he was a member of the party, either in court, or later. This argument assumes that Mandela, unlike, for example, Walter Sisulu (who too did not declare his membership in court and for many years afterwards), could not conceal any truth – even from the apartheid court – and that if he were, indeed, a communist, he would have honestly declared this to the apartheid judges.
This despite the fact that such an admission would have jeopardised not only his own life, but that of his comrades, and, even more importantly, their cause itself. Whether and when to declare such membership after the party was unbanned and dropped the rule of the secrecy of its membership, was for every individual member to decide.
The other reason is the lack of written documentary evidence: Mogotsi calls an archival document, quoted by Stephen Ellis (Mail&Guardian, 3-9 January 2014), ‘muddled’ and oral evidence, coming from many of Mandela’s comrades, unreliable, as there are other comrades, who testified to the contrary. Ronnie Kasrils agrees.