South African Arts and Culture Minister Mr Nathi Mthethwa visited Russia for repatriation of the remains of Moses Kotane and JB Marks. Their remains were brought back home on 01 March 2015 and later reburied in honour on 14/03/2015 and 22/03/2015 consecutively, well, but what about their “forerunner” Albert Nzula?
History had always been written in favour of the ruling class and we had hoped that would come to an end especially after 1994 in South Africa. In fact History must record events the way they happened and not the way anyone would have loved them to happen. South Africa was a promising country shortly before and after 1994. But what is happening now?
The remains of Moses Kotane, who is portrayed as the first African/Black general secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa, and J B Marks, were brought back and buried.
However, there was nothing said about the late Albert Nzula, the first African/Black general secretary of the CPSA, not Kotane.
Reliable sources talk with one voice, that the first African/Black general secretary of the CPSA (renamed South African Communist Party) is Albert Nzula. Karis Carter says “General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa in the late 1920’s, the first African to hold this position”. Joyce (1999:200) agrees and also states the year, “Political activist; first African Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) (1929)”.
Yet people like Brian Bunting who were with the CPSA leadership did not even mention him in his book The rise of the South African Reich.
According to Joyce, Nzula was also editor of the South African Worker and organiser of the CPSA’s anti-pass law campaign that culminated, in December 1930, in public pass-burning demonstrations. He resigned the secretaryship within a year to become general secretary of the communist-aligned Federation of Non-White Trade Unions. He also belonged to the radical wing of the African National Congress.
Eddy Maloka (2013:1) also agrees and goes further about Nzula and Kotane “The first generation of African CPSA leaders emerged during this phase, beginning with Albert Nzula who became the first African general secretary of the organisation. Other notable African figurers who emerged during this phase were Moses Kotane (who became general secretary in 1938), Edwin Mofutsanyana, and JB Marks”.
Also the late CPSA stalwarts, Edward Roux, and Michael Harmel (A Lerumo) agree that Nzula was the first African/Black secretary of the CPSA. When listing the first African revolutionary intellectuals/militants, Harmel put Nzula first, based on a sequence. Roux (1948:223) who worked close with Nzula even goes deeper “Nzula was an African of outstanding ability”.
Therefore both the SACP and the ANC, especially the SACP, are expected to do three things: rectify the falsification of History; portrayal of Moses Kotane as the first African/Black general secretary of the CPSA, honour Nzula for the role he played in the struggle especially during those trying times and investigate his questionable death and whereabouts. Both the SACP and ANC have never popularised him as they did with others; hence many people don’t know about him, even from the alliance. This is because the “crime”, Nzula committed is of being a “Trotskyite or Trotskyist” and challenge the Soviet Union which was under a ruthless leader Josef Stalin. This was regardless of the role Soviet Union was playing in supporting the oppressed and exploited nations. So does that all mean that he must not be honoured for the role he played in the struggle? Is that the very same reason his death and whereabouts are not investigated, suspicious as they are?
Joyce (1999:200) outlines “He then left to study at the Lenin School in Moscow, where his premature death was attributed to pneumonia (some sources maintain he was murdered by Stalin’s security police)”. Why not a follow-up on Joyce’s lead?
In conclusion, the first African/Black general secretary of the CPSA is Albert Nzula, and is on records and therefore cannot be changed. Maloka states that Kotane and Marks were other notable Africans who emerged during that phase. Harmel and Roux list him in front not only of the first African communists, but of militant/radical and intellectuals. He belonged to the first generation of radical ANC youth, amongst those who supported the first radical ANC president Josiah Gumede. He could not go further; he was limited by the era, conservative. As a predecessor to the Lembede/Mda/Mandela generation, he laid a good foundation for them. That he differed with his comrades does not change facts. In fact even the line of thought he followed is attributed to Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s right- hand and not Stalin who Lenin treated him with suspicion. Regardless of the line of thought he subscribed to, he made a contribution to the struggle in general, particularly from the CPSA (SACP)/ANC circles. He did just like Trotsky did in Soviet Union generally, especially for the Bolsheviks. Therefore his title role cannot be credited to somebody else. He deserves to be honoured and his death and whereabouts of his remains investigated. Is the Communist Party and the ANC punishing him for the same “crime” he committed against The Soviet Union such that they allow falsification of his History, regardless of his enormous and outstanding contribution? The irony is that, former oppressors including former Bantustan leaders and cabinet ministers are honoured and given state funeral but no honour is given to Nzula! This indicates signs of distortion in this new South Africa. Therefore, we, as the South African nation must not allow that which will “kill” our History. Distortion succeeds when there are no records or the ruling class/party uses its power to suppress the truth. Therefore we are duty-bound as a nation to guard against distortion and make sure that honour is given to those who deserve it, and Nzula is amongst those!
The SACP needs to tell the family, friends, comrades, the nation and the entire continent about the whereabouts of Nzula.
Many thanks to the CPSA/SACP and the Soviet Union for the role they played in the liberation struggle of South Africa. But at the same breath we need to know about the whereabouts of one of own. Not only our own in terms of nationality, African/Black or South African, but one of our fearless freedom fighters and intellectual. On one hand if he died from the enemy hands we need to know. On the other hand too, if he later turned against the struggle, still we need to know, as long as there is substantial evidence. We have enough of people who disappeared in the struggle. We know where we must point our fingers, the Apartheid Machinery. We are in the dilemma yet there are leads. It is not fair at all. Everyone wants closure in order to get healing and that would happen after knowing the truth, nothing else but the truth. The CPSA/SACP and the former Soviet Union need to clear themselves and the former Soviet Union through current Russia.
Thembile Ndabeni is a freelance Writer, Researcher and Commentator. He holds Master’s degree in South African politics and political economy from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.