Book: The Making of an African Communist
Author: Robert Edgar
Publisher: Unisa Press
Reviewer: Eric Naki
The good thing about a political biography is that it does not only tell us about the individual politician but also gives an insight into the life of the organisation for which that particular politician worked.
The story of Edwin Thabo Mofutsanyana and the Communist Party of South Africa (1927-1939) is the first instalment of the Hidden Histories series that aims at telling the stories of unknown people who worked secretly but performed heroic acts. As the series foreword states, this view of history is not narrow or sectarian, and neither is it exclusively about the past but also about the present.
The book relates Mofutsanyana's role in the life of the Communist Party of SA and his interaction with his comrades such as Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Albert Nzula, Josie Palmer (Mpama) and others.
The early years of the CPSA or SACP were not a bed of roses. The party was marred by infighting, mainly between the white and black leaders.
Mofutsanyana, who was general secretary, led the onslaught against the domination of the party by white comrades (Jews) from Eastern Europe. In 1938 Mofutsanyana even unsuccessfully proposed the splitting up of the party into two sections - one black and the other white.
Kotane also became disillusioned with the squabbles and was subsequently fired from the central committee and the politburo.
The book gives the impression that the CPSA's activities were driven from Moscow or by the Comintern (Communist International), to be specific. CPSA leaders would be sent for training at the University of Toilers of the East (KUTV), a Marxist-Leninist school, in Moscow.
The mysterious death of Nzula in the USSR strained relations between the Comintern and some CPSA members, who became reluctant to go to the KUTV.
But Mofutsanyana, who went with Nzula to the USSR, insisted that Nzula was killed by his heavy drinking.
Mofutsanyana, who was born in Witzieshoek, Free State, in 1899, was a red-hot communist who was involved in every facet of the party's struggle since he joined it in 1927. He single-handedly organised the boycott of the lodgers' fee in Potchefstroom in 1927.
He, together with Shadrack Kotu, were in the forefront of physical confrontations between the black residents and white vigilantes in Potchefstroom.
Although a communist, Mofutsanyana won the hearts and minds of Christians in the township as they saw him as a Messiah who had come to save them from white oppression. Through Mofutsanyana's organising skills, the CPSA membership swelled as the party came closer to the people.
But his efforts were undermined when the party later concentrated on ideological issues rather than mass issues.
Mofutsanyana later served in both the CPSA and ANC executives in the Transvaal and took part in anti-pass campaigns. Due to continued harassment by apartheid authorities, he went into exile in Lesotho and apartheid security forces lost track of him.
That is where the author traced him to in the 1980s. He died in 1995 and was buried in QwaQwa..
As a tribute to Mofutsanyana, the eastern Free State district is named after him.