Keynote Address by SACP General Secretary and Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande at the Yusuf Dadoo Centenary Conference, University of Johannesburg, September 4 2009
The chairperson, Cde Omar Badsha
University of Johannesburg Vice Chancellor, Professor Ihron Rensberg,
Honoured guests and conference participants,
Comrades and friends,
At the outset let me take the opportunity to commend SA History Online and the Centre for Sociological Research at the University of Johannesburg for convening this momentous conference celebrating the life of our beloved comrade and courageous liberation hero and leader, Isithwalandwe Dr Yusuf Dadoo.
It is initiatives like this, reflecting on the contribution of our freedom fighters to the liberation struggle that ensures that political discourse remain enriched and that we never, never forget what heroes like Comrade Dadoo accomplished to guarantee the democracy and freedoms we now enjoy.
This conference is more than a journey of remembrance, it is a look back in order to help chart the way forward. It is of particular importance as 100 years since the birth of Dr Dadoo, the battle against racial and class discrimination remains a pivotal issue impacting on freedom and justice in our society. The life's work and teachings of Dr Dadoo therefore remain as relevant today as ever before and provides a prevailing guide to confront and overcome these challenges.
For us in the SACP, it is forever deeply moving that Comrade Dadoo's final act, as he lay frail on his deathbed, was to write a five-page to the Communist Party to apologise for being unable to attend a Central Committee meeting that day. In death as in life, his commitment to the Party was unwavering and extraordinary.
It is therefore not an easy task for me today to do justice to Dr Dadoo's 50 years of fearless political activism. The person who perhaps best describes this challenge is Dr Dadoo's close friend and comrade, our former General Secretary Joe Slovo. In a tribute to Yusuf Dadoo, Slovo wrote about a rather peculiar debate about what was to be put on his tombstone:
"How do you carve everything Yusuf was into a piece of stone? Could we, indeed, have a grave-stone large enough to do justice to the many layers which made up his many-sided contributions? To scan the whole panorama of his life's endeavours would have needed more than a grave-stone; it would have needed a mountainside!"
The words "Fighter for national liberation, socialism and world peace" were chosen to capture and immortalise the revolutionary life of Comrade Yusuf Dadoo - simple and unpretentious, like the man himself, yet so rich in meaning.
Comrades, ladies and gentlemen, this conference is reflecting and examining various aspects of the dimensions, acts of resistance and teachings of Dr Dadoo. In my view, it would be important for us to draw on five particular aspects and principles which defined Dadoo's seminal life.
The first is non-racialism. Yusuf Dadoo was a true embodiment of a non-racial South Africa , decades before the dawn of democracy brought the term to fruition. His lifestyle, attitude and words exemplified non-racialism in every dimension which led to his repeated detention and imprisonment by the apartheid regime. The shape and texture of our constitutional democracy is attributable to the outstanding role of Dadoo and a generation of leaders he nurtured.
Dadoo was one of the first leaders of his time who recognized that the struggle for the liberation of Indian people could not be separated from the liberation of the African majority. In that, he went against the grain of those who saw the apartheid regime's anti-Indian legislation narrowly as just an attack on Indian people. At a time when the struggle for liberation was itself compartmentalised into separate racial campaigns, Dadoo had the foresight and understanding that freedom for any was not possible without freedom for all.
The historic Three Doctors Pact signed by Dadoo, Monty Naicker and A B Xuma paved the way for strong unity between the Indian and African struggles and was an avowal against all forms of oppression.
It was this outlook which attracted him to both the ANC and SACP. The ANC represented the struggle for the liberation of the majority of South Africa and the SACP envisaged a non-racial and different kind of society.
The class struggle
The second principle is Dr Dadoo's understanding and interpretation of the class struggle. He realized that even amongst all the oppressed, the most exploited would lead and drive the revolution.
Dadoo grasped the coincidence between the racial hierarchical nature of South African society and the class hierarchy. He was also able to interpret Marxist teachings to the time and context and campaigned as much for equal economic and industrial rights, as voting and social rights for all races. As a communist he was doubly demonised and harassed by the forces of repression.
Again Comrade Joe Slovo's tribute is instructive:
"In summary, there are few figures in our history to match Yusuf Dadoo's grasp, in practice, of the very complex relationship in our country between national struggle and class struggle. His contribution was not in the sphere of theoretical treatises, but in the practice of struggle and the personal example of his whole life-style."
Yusuf Dadoo was a powerful orator and activist, and he used all his talents, social skills and charisma to draw support for resistance and defiance campaigns from a variety of sources. He used his community links to tap into the Indian business sector, which despite its apprehension about the impact of the campaigns on business interests, offered substantial financial support.
Similarly, his education in India and Britain which accomplished him as a doctor and a communist was put to use for the betterment of society and liberation of those less fortunate. It is on the basis of this ideological stance that we are currently engaged in a strategic mission to broaden access to higher education, not in order to lower standards as some argue, but to uplift the standard of living of our society.
Comrades, this brings me to the third feature of Yusuf Dadoo's life. He was a pioneer in founding the Alliance , recognising that political and class struggles were indivisible. As much as the alliance between racial and ethnic groups fortified resistance against segregation, the alliance between the working class and the rest of the progressive middle classes consolidated the Defiance Campaign.
Dr Dadoo had the foresight and awareness that the most effective way to advance the National Democratic Revolution was through the combination of the formidable forces of the labour movement, the ANC and SACP. That argument remains as relevant today as it did at the height of apartheid.
Culture and identity
Ladies and gentlemen, it is appropriate to attribute the notion of the "rainbow nation" to outlook and actions of Dr Dadoo. He understood the multiple identities of the oppressed and through his own life broke all the stereotypes. Therefore the fourth lesson we can draw from his life is how to embrace one's culture and heritage in political and social struggle.
Dr Dadoo showed that he did not have to surrender his Indian identity in his fight for liberation. In fact, he demonstrated that his cultural roots, Indian identity and political struggles were not in conflict but fundamental ingredients towards building the kind of multi-dimensional rainbow nation we now have. He was a non-conformist but he also illustrated that his Muslim origin and communist beliefs were not incompatible. And so when he died, it was perhaps strange for some that his burial according to Muslim rites also embraced his life as a communist.
From this, modern day South Africa which is characterised by competing interests, can extract many lessons as the dimensions of our lives need not be mutually exclusive and incompatible.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, Yusuf Dadoo was an internationalist who put our struggle for liberation on the world agenda. Through his tireless campaigning, India was the first country to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa and this helped to rouse support for the liberation struggle in various other parts of the globe. Dr Dadoo was able to correctly diagnose that imperialism was the main enemy, and that the struggle for national liberation and national self-determination were indivisible irrespective of geographical location.
But though the world was his workplace, South Africa was his home and while we celebrate his life, it is a source of profound pain that Comrade Dadoo's dying wish to be buried in South Africa could not be fulfilled. It is however greatly symbolic that his resting place at Highgate Cemetery in London is a few metres from the tomb of Karl Marx whose teachings inspired Comrade Dadoo's life's work.
Over the decades since his death, international solidarity of the working class has intensified and this strengthening of the struggle against global capitalist greed is perhaps the best tribute to Dadoo's devotion to internationalism and a socialist future.
Comrades, ladies and gentlemen, history remembers Yusuf Dadoo as a great revolutionary, a proud communist and an exemplary freedom fighter. It does not record him as an "Indian" activist or a "minority" leader. He was a "South African" hero who broke the barriers of race, class and ethnic classification to unify the fight for national liberation.
Therefore any attempt now to retreat into narrow African chauvinism would amount to a betrayal of the life of Dadoo and the generation of liberation heroes who ascended racial divides to mount the battle against all forms of discrimination. They understood that the answer to white racism was not black chauvinism. This tendency to stratify our movement according to backward definitions of race, class and ethnicity has previously led to breakaways from the ANC as it has no place in our organisation. It is alien to the culture and traditions of our movement and must therefore be weeded out.
The example of Dr Yusuf Dadoo's life leaves us with the challenge to work towards the kind of inclusive and caring society he envisaged. His was a relentless and arduous struggle for equality and he taught us that the fight against all forms of discrimination is the most noble cause we can pursue.
We must never be tempted to embark on ethnic entrepreneurship where we explore ethnic, tribal, racial and chauvinistic sentiment as a possible solution to South Africa's challenges. Rather we should confront the fundamental causes of our problems - poverty and social inequality.
It is our duty to educate the younger generation about the life and contribution of the likes of Yusuf Dadoo, and reveal the foresight of these leaders in shaping our destiny and confronting the social issues we still face.
Initiatives like SA History Online are therefore an essential tool for the current and future generations to appreciate the legacy and heritage of the procession of liberation heroes who delivered our democracy. We have a duty to pass on their knowledge and principles which characterised their lives of revolutionary struggle.
The seminal life of Dr Yusuf Dadoo is one of those which will serve as an eternal beacon for nation-building and our continuing struggles against all forms of discrimination and chauvinism.
In trying to tell the story of Dr Dadoo simultaneously highlights a huge gap in our historiography - a comprehensive history of the role of the SACP in the liberation and reconstruction of our country.
Long live the spirit of Yusuf Dadoo!
I thank you.
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter