Opinion: When Comrades become Komryks


Once upon a time comrades were respected people in our communities. They sacrificed their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy. As such being called a comrade accorded a person a certain status in the community.

The word comrade is originally associated with communists around the world especially with revolutionaries like Lenin and Trotsky. In essence a comrade is a combatant, compatriot and a brother in the liberation struggle.

Ironically, in South Africa, communists from the South African Communist Party (SACP) are either beneficiaries of capitalism, passive spectators or both.

As much as comrades turned to komryks especially after 1994 – two or more years earlier signs were already there, looting of resources to support the struggle. They amassed the resources for themselves and their families. Their children got bursaries, yet others who were in the struggle could not access finance for their studies. Some of these bursaries were even from reactionary funders and funders associated with other ideologies. Comrades mushroomed overnight into position of power and access to wealth.

Shortly after 1994 some trusted and respected comrades became komryks. Apparently they had shares in business like the fishing industry. It means while they were involved in negotiations they were also negotiating for their stomachs. At some stage during negotiations they were referred to as “Freedom in my life time”. This is because of their preparedness to give in, compromise anything to be in power. Hence there were a lot of compromises that came from their side. Some were well-renowned communists. 

The first chief whip of the ruling party post-94 justified the high salaries they presented. He said for the comrades to perform in Parliament, they must get good salaries. Was that language expected from comrades? Yet South Africa at the time was an emerging democracy with many challenges, especially addressing the basic needs of the previously disadvantaged majority. Even Great Britain, a country with one of the strongest currencies in the global community, was shocked.

There were MECs and other government officials found guilty of wrongdoing: fraud, corruption and other illegal acts. Instead of the wrongdoing coming to an end it escalated until today. The reason is that we have corrupt careerists instead of real comrades. Today’s comrades are earning high salaries. Yet they are not satisfied, as a result they are involved in shady deals and tenders. It is either they are directly involved or involve their families. Yet the bulk of the former oppressed and exploited remain poor.

The worst is killing of people who challenge wrongdoing. But beneficiary of this ugly act don’t care as long as they become rich. If they are no longer comrades but komryks who will give assurance to the following:

  • Gains of freedom from national oppression and economic exploitation are protected, consolidated and advanced.
  • Gains of economic freedom also protected, consolidated and the struggle for socialism is advanced.

Many real comrades put their lives on the line for the freedom and democracy we have today. They started the struggle having nothing and passed on having nothing. Some were supported by their families, friends and friends as a result of their political involvement. Even now their families are poverty-stricken. On the other hand their “fellow combatants, compatriots” have transformed from being comrades into becoming komryks. It is easy by just getting a higher position from Government or corporate sector and then change just like the chameleon does.   By the way this is nothing new:

  • Those from exile were “big headed”, cold, with all other new bad habits, looking down upon their fellow comrades and human beings;
  • Had their way to government positions and resources, some through the unbecoming ways and means;
  • Are no longer talking the language of the comrades but of the komryks unless it is for unvervilence.

The real comrades, who are still part of the have-nots, are still in touch with the masses, the down-trodden, and the poorest of the poor. Komryks, meanwhile, are only in touch with the riches.

Is there hope for komryks becoming comrades again? None! They are tuned to the comfort they are in. As a result they avoid fellow comrades. Come elections time they leave the sky and come down on earth. This is because voters are their source of survival. An isXhosa phrase says “intak’ ibhabha phezulu kodwa itya ezantsi” (the bird flies on the sky but eats down there). How long are the masses, the down-trodden, and the poorest of the poor going to be taken for a ride by former comrades who are now komryks?

Kom ryks – come riches!

Thembile Ndabeni is a freelance writer.

He has Master’s degree in South African politics and political economy from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.