Keynote address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the occasion of the Gala Dinner commemorating the repatriation of the remains of struggle Stalwarts, Moses Kotane and JB, Moscow

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27 Feb 2015

Programme Director, Ambassador: M Mphahlwa

Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation: Hon L Landers.

Deputy Secretary General of the ANC, Comrade J Duarte.

Delegation from the North West led by the MECs

Director African Department  of Foreign Ministry Ambassador V Utkin,

Comrade Solly Mapaile, 2nd Deputy General Secretary of the ,SACP,

Comrade Frans Baleni, General Secretary of NUM

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Professor Shubin

SANDF Chaplain General

Family and Relatives

Members of the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen

Comrades and friends.

It is indeed a great honour and a privilege for me to stand here before you today. The occasion to celebrate the lives of the South African liberation struggle stalwarts,  Malume Kotane and Uncle J.B Marks, offers us an opportunity to reflect on the common histories shared by the peoples of Russia and South Africa.

The people of Russia and the people of South Africa are bound by a common cause of internationalism.

We are connected by a century of history as the Russian revolution inspired the oppressed masses of South Africa and indeed the entire developing world to fight an anti-colonial struggle to free themselves of imperialism and colonialism.

In South Africa, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and other organisations were actively organising the working class and conscientising the toiling masses about the struggle for socialism.

The leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) formed in 1912 also embraced the philosophy of Ubuntu and a progressive African nationalism that was strengthened through the decades of resistance and struggle and became a strong alliance between the ANC and the CPSA.

In the Long Walk to Freedom, the late Nelson Mandela, made the following observation:

“A friend once asked me how I could reconcile my creed of African nationalism with a belief in dialectical materialism. For me, there was no contradiction. I was first and foremost an African nationalist fighting for our emancipation from minority rule and the right to control our own destiny. But, at the same time, South Africa and the African continent were part of the larger world. Our problems, while distinctive and special, were not unique, and a philosophy that placed those problems in an international and historical context of the greater world and the course of history was valuable.”

Thus the struggle for national liberation became inextricably bound with the struggle for a more egalitarian society, a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa where everyone would have an equal opportunity to grow and to prosper.

For nearly 21 years, South Africa has been striving towards these goals.

We have done so in a world in which increasingly the gap between the rich and the poor is growing.

We have fought racism in a world in which increasingly individualism is winning against collectivism, in which unilateral approaches to world problems still hold sway.

Yet collectively we as developing nations have swum against the tide.

Together we have taken a different route.

Russia, South Africa, and all within the BRICS community have put forward multilateralism and fostered intra continental co-operation as we seek to build a better and a different world.

As we march towards the 21st year of our freedom and democracy and as we get closer to the centenary of the great October revolution, let us redouble our efforts as nations of the south and with long common and intertwined struggles to build a better world.

Indeed the life stories of Malume Kotane and uncle JB Marks whom we pay tribute too today are intertwined with the rich history of the relations between these two countries.

They themselves would be proud that today we continue along a common path of building friendship, practising solidarity and forging internationalism in the world.

For this too was the path they travelled when they first joined the revolutionary movement.

It was for this that they strove for, dreamt of and gave their lives in struggle and in exile to attain.

Uncle JB as he was affectionately known became the President of the African Mine Workers Union which organised the famous strike of 1946. He was immensely popular and well respected as a result the mine strike which exposed the conditions of the mine workers was and it was a great success.

Later, he became the President of the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Union, President of the ANC in Transvaal Province an Executive Member of the ANC. 

He was among those at the forefront of Defiance Campaign which resisted apartheid laws. In 1952 he was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act.

He was asked by his comrades to leave the country in 1963 to further the struggle abroad. He went to Russia for medical attention in 1971, and suffered a fatal a heart attack in 1972.

Malume Moses Kotane as he was affectionately known, was born at Tamposstad in Rustenburg in 1905. He was largely self-taught attending only a few years of formal schooling.  He was a voracious reader and as a young worker (17 years old), he enrolled at the Communist Party -run night school in Johannesburg, where he became known for his ability to master the most abstruse political writings.

In 1928, he joined the ANC but was disappointed that it was an ineffectual organisation at the time. He joined the African Bakers’ Union, an affiliate of the new Federation of Non-European Trade Unions then being built up by the Communist Party. 

In 1929 he joined the Communist Party of South Africa. In 1931, he became a Political Bureau member of the Communist Party. He also worked for Umsebenzi, the Communist Party paper.

In the early 1930s he was offered an opportunity to study at the Lenin International School in Moscow for a year.

In 1939, Malume Kotane became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa until his death in 1978. The longest serving General Secretary.

His firm belief in the importance of the implementation of the resolution of the ‘Native Republic’ as taken by the Commintern in 1928. His was an all round communist.

He rose in the ranks of both the Communist Party and the ANC, occupying the leading position in each of them. He earned the status of a clear thinker, courageous and pragmatic leader of the rank and file membership.

During the term of office of President General AJ Luthuli, Malume Kotane was to act as his closest adviser. The SACP, under his leadership, was therefore able to influence and be influenced on direction to the militancy of the both the Youth League and the ANC.

He went into exile and continued the struggle. He was sent from Tanzania to Russia for medical attention after being struck by a severe stroke in 1968. He later passed away in 1978.

When the then President of the ANC, Comrade OR Tambo spoke at the funeral of Moses Kotane in Moscow he said,

“We shall never forget that during the period of three years ending in December 1968, two political giants of the South African revolutionary struggle, J.B. Marks and Moses Kotane, comrades-in-arms for more than 40 years, operated from a small country town - Morogoro, in Tanzania - sharing a small office and sleeping in two small adjacent rooms, now worthy of preservation as national monuments. It was during these trying years that the supreme qualities of leadership of Moses Kotane and J.B. Marks emerged and made their mark on all the younger men and women who lived, worked or associated with them - all except confirmed and incorrigible counter-revolutionaries.”

These two stalwarts played a paramount role in solidifying relations between the ANC, SACP and progressive trade union movement, whose alliance exists up to this day.

They were hosted in Russia until the end of their days. And although, while alive, they were never to return to their motherland, we have no doubt that they were among friends and in a home away from home. We know this as a fact, because they were laid to rest amongst eminent Russians.

Let us not forget that Uncle JB and Malume Kotane came from a generation that had seen the intensification of segregation and discriminatory policies in South Africa through the introduction of the apartheid system in 1948, followed by a barrage of unjust laws. This compelled the liberation movement to consolidate their struggle.

A delegation comprised of Malume Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo and other leaders of the SACP came to Moscow to discuss support for the liberation struggle in South Africa. The Soviet Union provided substantial humanitarian support, which included education, food supplies, clothes, musical instruments, vehicles as well as military training.

We shall never forget the sacrifices made here on Russian soil in solidarity with the struggle for a free South Africa and for an independent Africa as a whole.

South African cadres received military training on Russian soil. In 1978, ANC President O.R. Tambo led a delegation to the USSR where he requested assistance on the organisation of MK cadres in Angola.

It was through this immense support from the USSR and Cuba and through the assistance of the anti-apartheid movement throughout the world and the uprising of the oppressed people in South Africa that brought the apartheid regime to its knees and forced them to commence negotiations with the liberation movement.

In the first democratic elections held in 1994, the ANC, under the leadership of the late President Nelson Mandela, won a resounding victory.

During his state visit in 1999, President Mandela expressed his gratitude for the “solidarity of the Russian people in the South African fight against apartheid for freedom.”

We have come a long way since then and are firm partners in sustainable economic, social and cultural development.

We acknowledge and cherish the role of these selfless revolutionaries, Uncle JB and Malume Kotane in the attainment of the freedom and democracy that we enjoy today.

We thank their families for their sacrifice and are pleased that now we can honour their wishes to bring back the remains of their loved ones to be re-interred on South African soil. What started the process of repatration was a request made by Ma Kotane, a wife to the late Malume who is turning 103 years old this year.

Her request was to have her husband buried in her home country.

It is in this context that we are returning the mortal remains of Uncle JB and Malume Kotane to their native land.

Let this historic occasion as we mark the return of the remains of our great heroes serve as a reminder of the common tribulations and shared triumphs experienced between the peoples of our two countries.

This moment will be engraved in our collective consciousness as a people of South Africa.

Indeed we thank you for the warm camaraderie and solidarity that you provided for South African freedom fighters. We were looked upon not as strangers but as comrades and people who shared a common philosophy and fought a shared struggle for freedom, world peace and equality between people.

Even as we prepare to depart back to South Africa, we are grateful to the hospitality provided by our Russian hosts.

We once more express our gratitude for the long years in which Russia gave our fallen heroes a befitting resting place.

South Africa will always cherish this relationship first forged in struggle and now consolidated in new times.

We will forever be indebted to the Russian government and the people in particular of this beutiful land and the progressive humanity in general for the support they have given us.

I thank you.