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Remembering S’miso Nkwanyana – A dedicated communist until the end

It was on 12 August 2003, almost 19 years ago, just before the crack of dawn, when we received the news of the tragic passing away of a young, dedicated, principled, honest, selfless, and promising leader, comrade S’miso Nkwanyana. 

Nkwanyana was involved in a horrific car accident on his way home to Newlands West, outside Durban. At the time he had assumed the stature of being an indispensable voice of the working class and the poor of our country.

To illustrate this commitment, on the morning of his passing, he was coming from a night long meeting with leaders of SAMWU who, he was mediating with towards the congress, because their infighting was risking the future of this municipal union and its workers.

Having cut his political teeth in the student and youth movement, Nkwanyana was among a special breed of activist, post the negotiated political settlement of 1994.

He was dedicated to delivering South Africa’s working class to the Promised Land – a socialist future! 

He was only 26 years old when he took over the position of being SACP KZN provincial secretary from veteran Ben Martins Dikole. A position he occupied with utmost dedication and commitment.

Had he lived long, he was destined to be a key voice in today’s life and politics. While he himself was the product of an imminent catastrophic change, he left an indelible mark.

Nkwanyana was among a mere handful of individuals in the history of mankind to have this kind of impact on his community and on those who served with him. 

Through his leadership the SACP grew numerically and its presence was felt from factory floors to villages, lecture halls to townships, squatter camps to the air-conditioned offices of conglomerates. During his leadership, the SACP, was deeply immersed in its historical title of being a vanguard of the working class.

Affirming the Path to Power’s injunction which states the following:

“A Communist Party does not earn the honoured title of vanguard merely by proclaiming it. Nor does its claim to be the upholder and custodian of Marxism- Leninism give it a monopoly of political wisdom or a natural right to exclusive control of the struggle. At each stage of its political life, guided by a correct application of Marxist revolutionary theory, a Party must win its place by its superior efforts of leadership and its devotion to the revolutionary cause”. 

Nkwanyana was not only a breath of fresh air, but most importantly, he personified the best values and the ideological outlook of being a true Communist.

As best explained by Mao Tse-tung,

“A Communist should have largeness of mind and he should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests of the revolution as his very life and subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution; always and everywhere he should adhere to principle and wage a tireless struggle against all incorrect ideas and actions, so as to consolidate the collective life of the Party and strengthen the ties between the Party and the masses; he should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about any individual, and more concerned about others than about himself. Only thus can he be considered a Communist”. 

Mao Tse-tung

Nkwanyana died while he was fighting for maximum unity within the left socialist axis in the country, the party and the progressive trade union movement.

Also Read: SA’s trade unions must get their act together or risk total irrelevance

He dedicated most of his time to building a strong trade union movement. He consciously knew that a strong trade union movement would have a positive impact in the long sustenance of the Party, and that it is relevant for the struggle for a socialist transition. 

Through his courage and determination, workers embarked on numerous efforts and strikes fighting against neo-liberal reforms and austerity measures that were being imposed by the ANC-led Government towards 1996 and the 2000’s.

It was not by mistake that Nkwanyana was the only leader that was able to address SAMWU’s watershed national conference held in Durban, in lieu of sharp political differences and anger by workers against the ANC. 

As we remember this consummate thinker, leader and mobiliser, we need to reflect on the SACP of today. It’s betrayal not only to his contribution and legacy, but to the entire South African working class and the poor. 

Regrettably, for many years the SACP has been cloned and held captive by a certain faction which has been intolerant of strong communist leaders within the party.

It’s no longer the party of power and socialism. A number of leaders were expelled, notably, Dale McKinley, Mazibuko Jara, Vishwas Satgar and the isolation of others like Zico Tamela who dared to contest the general secretary position in 2007. The list is endless. 

It has been a key enabler in the fragmentation and weakening of the once progressive COSATU, and the subsequent expulsion of NUMSA. It failed to play its vanguard role, but chose, to take a factional stance, and abandoned truth and the task of uniting workers.

Even the formation of the now defunct LIMUSA trade union, which was designed to liquidate NUMSA, was an idea that the Party leadership tacitly endorsed

For many years the SACP has been aiding the ANC to religiously champion the failed and disastrous policies as prescribed by the IMF, the World Bank and ratings agencies.

This has led to our country being declared the most unequal society on earth. Accompanying this socio-economic catastrophe we have high levels of poverty, deepening inequality and the cost of living is soaring. 

Also Read: SA one of most skewed income countries in the world – Research

To qualify this assertion, we haven’t seen it leading mass struggles on high food prices, nor have we seen it demonstrating against continued blackouts in the form of loadshedding.

You will never see the SACP mobilising in rural communities for the total eradication of pit toilets that have led to the unfortunate loss of life of many children from these poor areas. In the midst of the current crisis facing our people, the party cannot even take a class stand and lead struggles for a living wage for South Africa’s organised workers.

It has anointed itself to be praise-singers of the billionaire President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

The SACP has been used as a boarding pass for greener pastures, for those associated with a particular dominant faction. No revolutionary agenda has been driven to better the lives of our communities, more especially the working class and the poor.

Thus, this has rendered South Africa’s working class to be leaderless, in lieu of the fact that it has lost it spark and steam. 

Having said the above, the jury is out on the new General Secretary, comrade Solly Mapaila who was recently elected.

He has two choices. To change this class docile trajectory that has relegated the party from being a voice of the working class, or he can choose the self-defeating Nzimande legacy.

If it chooses the latter, it must be known that there will be no future for a socialist transition led by the SACP. The working class must forge new alliances, on its own. 

Had Nkwanyana lived long, we have no doubt, he would be on the side of those who would have been critical of this docile class trajectory. He would have argued for the sanctity of working-class battles against capital, including the ever-deepening neo-liberal agenda in the current ANC government.

He bought no faces on issues affecting the working class and the poor.

As we pay tribute to Nkwanyana, none of us ever thought that we would one day be out of the SACP. Not because of our own choosing, but as a result of its mismanagement and sectarianism.

We find comfort in the fact that being a Communist is not about a membership-card, but through conviction and adherence to the teachings and practice. 

In his memory and honour, we continue to say rest in power comrade Nkwanyana, wherever you are in the nooks and crannies of the universe.

You continue to be a source of courage as we fight for a South Africa “free of exploitation of man by man”, as proclaimed by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

• Mbuso Ngubane is the Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and a former student and youth activist. He is writing in his personal capacity, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Citizen.

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