South African Communist Party Centenary Press Alert

20 June 2021

July 2021 marks the year of the founding centenary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), which will culminate in the 15th National Congress of the Party in July 2022. The SACP has planned a programme of action comprising a series of activities to celebrate its centenary year.

Highlights of the activities

  • Because of the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the SACP Centenary Opening Rally will be a hybrid event (a physical rally simultaneously held virtually and streamed live on digital media platforms) with strict adherence to the COVID-19 preventative measures and regulations. It will be held in Cape Town on 4 July 2021.
  • Similarly, the Communist Party Founding Conference Rally will also be a hybrid event. It will be held in Johannesburg on 1 August 2021.
  • The SACP Founding Conference Rally will be preceded by the Inaugural Annual SACP Lecture on 30 July 2021, which will also be a hybrid event. 

There will be other events in between and after the above-mentioned activities. The SACP will announce further details covering all the activities, including starting times and speakers. Additionally, the SACP will announce other activities as the year of its founding centenary unfolds, up to its 15th National Congress.

Brief background of the 100 years of the SACP’s existence and contribution to South Africa’s liberation struggle

The processes leading to the formation of the SACP started in 1914 when communists across the world and in South Africa condemned and opposed the imperialist war known as World War 1. The SACP was founded as the Communist Party of South Africa after months of negotiations by a committee representing various communist organisations in South Africa. Preceded by the War-on-War League, the International Socialist League founded in 1915 was the largest component. The founding conference of the Communist Party was held at 20 Plein Street in Cape Town on 30 and 31 July and 1 August 1921.  

The formation of the Communist Party had been announced on the evening of 29 July 1921 at a public meeting in the Cape Town City Hall, attended by over 2,000 people. However, it was not until the following day, 30 July 1921, that the founding conference delegates adopted a report of the unity committee and formally passed a resolution constituting the Communist Party of South Africa.

Since its founding, the Communist Party has played a major role in South Africa. This includes the leading role it played in advancing the principle of non-racialism both in theory and practice as the first political organisation to organise on a non-racial basis in South Africa.

It was also in the Communist Party, inclusive of the Young Communist League, that women members first played a leading role.

The Communist Party further played a leading role in forming our Alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the progressive trade union movement, following the adoption by the Communist International in 1928 of the Resolution on the South African Question. The resolution was a product of interaction with the leadership of the Communist International in the Soviet Union led from South Africa by James la Guma, a leading member of the Communist Party, accompanied by Josiah Gumede, ANC President.

The resolution defined it as a key task of the Communist Party to pay particular attention to what were then embryonic national organisations with a revolutionary potential, with the ANC specifically mentioned. The communists, while retaining the full independence of the Communist Party, had as part of their activism the task to participate in these mass organisations, to seek to broaden and extend their activity. The aim of the Communist Party thus included transforming the ANC into a fighting national revolutionary organisation against the oppressors and the exploiters, at that time mainly comprising the British imperialists and the white bourgeoisie of South Africa who were equally interested in the merciless exploitation of the oppressed majority.

It was precisely in reaction to the leading role played by the Communist Party that the apartheid regime adopted the Suppression of Communism Act to ban the Communist Party in 1950. This was shortly after the National Party came to power in 1948 in a racist, white-only general election.

The apartheid regime took issue with the Communist Party exposing the link between oppression and class exploitation, attacking both and building the progressive trade union movement and the national liberation Alliance to intensify the struggle to end the system of oppression and class exploitation. In 1976, the apartheid regime reinforced the Suppression of Communism Act under the title Internal Security Act.

It was in response to its banning in 1950 when it shortly reconstituted itself underground that the Communist Party adopted the name SACP.  

The Alliance built by the Communist Party with the ANC and the progressive trade union movement reconfigured on various occasions, moving with the times, adapting to the ever-changing conditions. It was the Alliance with the decisive support of the majority of our people that played a central organisational, political and military role at the forefront of the South African liberation movement that achieved victory over the apartheid regime in 1994. This radical democratic breakthrough towards freedom paved the way for the adoption of our country’s human rights-based constitution in 1996.

Communists and other revolutionaries did not view the constitution as an end in itself but as a means to an end subject to amendment, if necessary, as it states itself. The basic aims of this process of liberation, transformation and development are outlined in the Freedom Charter, to the SACP a minimum programme. The SACP believes that the achievement of the goals of the Freedom Charter will reinforce the basis for an advance to socialism.

Communist cadres played a key role in the organisation of the Congress of the People that adopted the Freedom Charter in June 1955. Ever prepared to be the first in taking part on every front of the struggle towards liberation and social emancipation, the communists also played a key role in the formation, leadership, and operations of the joint ANC and SACP liberation army, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK).

The SACP had established its networks of armed struggle which had also carried out several operations before the MK was founded, as President Nelson Mandela says in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The SACP armed struggle machinery and experience became crucial organisationally in the establishment of the MK on 16 December 1961.

Mandela was himself based at the headquarters of the Communist Party, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg, using the alias name David Motsamai. It was from the headquarters of the Communist Party that the constitution of the MK was drafted, and training deployments and other initial operations also planned. It was at Liliesleaf Farm that members of the MK high command were arrested in 1963, leading to the Rivonia Trial.

The apartheid regime achieved the opposite results as the liberation struggle intensified, culminating in the radical democratic breakthrough of 1994.

Millions of South Africans only realised commendable social progress based on the constitution adopted in 1996 and the programmes adopted by the democratically elected government as a direct result of the 1994 radical democratic breakthrough. This is an important milestone in the History of South Africa.

However, deep-rooted contradictions, constraints and the stubborn legacy of colonialism and apartheid remain persistent, and new challenges have also arisen. 

The centenary of the founding of the SACP thus coincides with serious interrelated crises and challenges facing the South African society—the COVID-19 pandemic; the economic crisis characterised by stagnation and high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic; the crisis of social reproduction characterised by many households struggling to support life, rising levels of criminality, drug and substance abuse, and gender-based violence; the catastrophic climate change crisis; the corruption of capitalism; and neoliberalism as well as its agendas of austerity and attack on state/public participation in the economy, to name but a few.

The key challenge facing the SACP and the working class under the circumstances is to chart the way forward and carry it out into the second centenary of the Party, towards the achievement of all the goals of the Freedom Charter and socialism.

To rise to the occasion, over and above the national democratic revolutionary and socialist measures that the SACP advances from its current programme, resolutions, declarations and the key outcomes of its Central Committee meetings, the Party has approved a process to update its programme, the South African Road to Socialism. The outcome of the process will be circulated in advance to all Party structures, branches, districts, provinces, the Central Committee and its Political Bureau, and the 15th National Congress which will adopt the final product for implementation. The process will include consultation with allies and fraternal formations, and co-ordinated public participation.


Dr Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo
SACP Central Committee Member:
Media & Communications

Hlengiwe Nkonyane
Communications Officer:
Media Liaison, Multimedia & Digital Communications Platforms Co-ordinator
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