South Africa Communists Prospect Bold New Role

Article excerpt

WHILE communism is in disrepute worldwide, the South African Communist Party (SACP) could emerge as a powerful voice for millions of black workers when negotiations for a democratic South Africa get under way later this month.

A four-day conference of the SACP here saw the party tentatively embrace multipartyism and open membership while clinging to the emblem of the hammer-and-sickle and much of the nomenclature of Marxism-Leninism. Party membership has rocketed from a dedicated band of some 1,500 underground activists two years ago to 23,000 paid-up members of the new legal party.

The prospect of the tiny SACP - a staunch ally of the African National Congress (ANC) - getting a new lease on life has been increased by the surprise election last weekend of popular ANC figure Chris Hani as SACP general-secretary to succeed the ailing Joe Slovo, who is also a key figure in the ANC.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the conference was that Mr. Slovo and Mr. Hani were defeated in an attempt to remove the term Marxism and Leninism from the constitution and to insert the word "democratic" before socialism in the party program. Nonetheless, they were unanimously reelected by the 400 mainly black delegates.

"There was a genuine compromise between the two streams," said Devan Pillay, editor of the authoritative left-wing journal, Work in Progress. "I think the party took a step in the right direction, but I would like to have seen it go further."

ANC President Nelson Mandela, who had personally blocked Hani's move to the SACP, gave his reluctant blessing to the move in a telephone call from New York on the first day of the conference on Nov. 5.

Hani said he faced irresistible pressure from the party rank-and-file to accept the nomination. He said he would resign his position as a member of the ANC's National Working Committee and probably would be "phased out" as chief-of-staff of the ANC military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

IN an interview after the party's first legal conference in 40 years, Hani stressed that the SACP's main objective was to ensure that a radical redistribution of wealth took place in South Africa in an equitable manner. …