Monday, October 15, 2018

Eric "Stalin" Mtshali, South Africa's veteran communist and anti-apartheid symbol, dies

Comrade Eric "Stalin" Mtshali (84), a long standing SACP leader, a veteran of our struggle for complete liberation and social emancipation, has ceased to breathe in the early hours of Friday, 12 October 2018. The South African Communist Party announced this great loss with deep sorrow.

Comrade Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary conveys our heartfelt condolences to the family of Mtshali, our entire movement and the people of South Africa as a whole. The SACP will announce memorial and funeral service details in due course after consultation with the family and the Alliance.

Mtshali is a recipient of the SACP Moses Kotane Award. The Award was conferred to him by the Party at its 14th Congress in July 2017, making him a lifetime Member of the Central Committee of the SACP. He is also a recipient of the Order of Mendi for Bravery in Silver.

He is survived by his wife Gcinile Kunene and daughter Lindiwe Mtshali, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren

"The man of steel"

"The man of steel", as he was affectionately known within the ranks of the SACP, Mtshali was born in Clermont, Durban, on 20 November 1933. He attended both primary and secondary school in Claremont. He joined boxing at Fannin Secondary School. The last fight he engaged in, in the amateur ranks, occurred after meeting Comrade Wilson Cele, then the SACP District Secretary of Durban. Cele asked Comrade Mtshali about the fight and his future plans.

He further asked Comrade Mtshali about his interests on, and then introduced him to, the local Ratepayers Association. Growing up in Clermont, Comrade Stalin was amused by the Ratepayers Association. The area was declared by the then government as the so-called "freehold", meaning that it was one of the rare settlements in South Africa where Black people were allowed to buy and own a house.

Mtshali later discovered that the association`s meetings, that took place every Sunday, were actually ANC meetings. He and four of his friends who were drawn to the Ratepayers Association used to sing, particularly the song "Mayibuye i-Afrikha..." At that time the comrades did not even fully appreciate what that meant in a broader context. Members of the Ratepayers Association were known as Amaphekula skhuni – trouble makers in English but revolutionaries in Zulu.

In that way Cele further introduced Mtshali to the ANC, as well as to the progressive trade union movement and the SACP. Cele worked together with "The lion of the Midlands", Comrade Harry Gwala, and Comrades Stephen Dlamini and M.P. Naicker to recruit Mtshali to the SACP, which he joined in 1957. At that time the SACP was an underground organisation after it was banned by the apartheid regime in 1950 under the Suppression of Communism Act.

As a young man, Comrade Eric had an idea of following a career that will see him make money. But Cele was not convinced. After a brief discussion he gave Mtshali a pamphlet titled "The Three Sources and Three Components Parts of Marxism" authored by Vladimir Lenin, the historic leader of the Great October Socialist Revolution that took place in Russia in 1917. Cele convinced Mtshali not to take the road of money.

Thanks to a section in the pamphlet stating that people have always been victims of deceit and that will remain so until they conduct an inquiry into and become clear about the class interests that underpin social phenomena. Cele played an important role in Mtshali`s political education and ideological training.
Cele had introduced Mtshali to the Dock and Harbour Workers` Union in Durban in 1950-1951. Mtshali began organising for the union in 1951. At the docks, his work was that of loading and unloading goods from ships. He started the job during weekends when he was still a high school learner. During that time the union also organised casual workers. That was when Comrade Eric joined it.

At that time he was paid a mere 15 shillings per week. It was during this time that he started attending political classes and workshops organised by the union and became active in the struggle for a living wage and improved employment conditions.

Comrade Eric`s active involvement in the civic movement as a young comrade played an important role in his decision to join the SACP and the ANC. His work in the trade union movement, starting with organising dock workers and later establishing trade unions, including his participation in the formation of the South African Congress of Trade Unions in the 1950s, fortified his resolute determination in the struggle for socialism, and his character as a vanguard cadre.

Comrade Stalin was amongst the first to join the ranks of the joint SACP-ANC military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe. He served in a crucial unit that started the sabotage missions against the apartheid regime. Comrade Stalin handled all of these and other tasks with extreme care and dedication.

He sacrificed a lot in building the trade union movement in this country and continent. At one point, with no pay he survived on bananas as a daily lunch whilst organising workers in South Africa.

After receiving further training in Tanzania, together with Comrade Lambert Moloi, Comrade Stalin was send to Egypt for a special higher training laying the basis for future work.

He was the first editor of "The Dawn", our movement`s military magazine. He worked closely with his comrade, friend plus brother, Comrade Chris Hani to make "The Dawn" a successful project.

Mtshali`s involvement in political education, using the magazine, provided a clear direction on various strands of thought amongst the soldiers who were trained in the Soviet Union and China respectively, especially during the Sino-Soviet split.

He worked with outstanding loyalty when he was deployed by the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) to establish trade unions in many parts of our continent. He worked in Ethiopia, Sudan and Morocco, pioneering the development of the progressive trade union movement.

Comrade Stalin`s outstanding work in the WFTU is immense. As the SACP we will forever be proud of his achievements on behalf of the working class.

He formed the first open trade unions in Ethiopia, during the time of Mengistu Haile Mariam as President. Previously, trade unions were suppressed in Ethiopia despite the emperor, Haile Selassie claiming to be a communist.

Mtshali was deployed by the WFTU to revive the trade union movement in Sudan after that country`s regime massacred communists including murdering the Communist Party`s General Secretary. He went to the country to carry out the work despite the danger that this involved. Again, the Communist Party in Sudan did not evaporate. It resiliently soldiered on and helped Comrade Stalin to revive the country`s trade union movement.

Comrade Stalin worked with leaders like Moses Kotane, Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, Gwala, Rusty Bernstein, among others who shaped his political and ideological training.

Comrade Stalin became one of the longest serving members of the Central Committee of the SACP.

Mtshali served as the ANC`s representative in East Africa, and was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Before then he spent eight years in Prague, in the now Czech Republic where he was advancing the struggle for liberation in our country and for the universal social emancipation of the working class of the world.

Comrade Moses Mabhida, one of the outstanding leaders of the SACP, tasked Mtshali whilst in Dar es Salaam to open a passage to ships coming from and going to South Africa via Tanzania. Again he obliged with distinction and served our struggle. Comrade Stalin carried out the work, reviving his days in the "James Bond Unit" that he was part of. He organised the unit in the troubled waters and created stow ways back home.

Later they managed to smuggle firearms and carried out fully-fledged operations. The unit went on to serve the movement with outstanding dedication. Two of its members retired as military colonels.

Mtshali was assigned to focus on the launch of the Communist Party of Lesotho, together with the late Joe Matthews, by the SACP. This signified the critical role that he played in the work of the Party and symbolised the trust that he earned. In Lesotho he worked among other revolutionaries with Mokhafisi Kena.

After our April 1994 democratic breakthrough, Comrade Stalin served as the Deputy Commissioner of Crime Intelligence in the Province of Moses Mabhida, until 1999.

Thereafter he was elected to serve as an ANC Ward Councillor in 2001. He served in this position until 2004 when was elected to the National Assembly. He served as an MP of the ANC until he retired from the House in 2014.

A number of years ago, Comrade Stalin cautioned us against the unbecoming behaviour of some of our former comrades and others in the ANC who pretended to be the friends of the SACP and its struggles towards a communist society. He however advised that we need rather those hostile associates inside the movement so that we could keep our vigilance at all times and never lower our guards like we did during the height of the "1996 class project".

He also cautioned us about the rapid growth in the membership of the SACP. He especially expressed reservations about the recent exponential growth in the membership of the Party. He expressed the view that we should still tighten up Party organisation and make sure that quantity and quality go together in order to defend working class interests by creating no space for rearguard tendencies within the Party.

In recognition of the sterling contribution of Comrade Eric "Stalin" Mtshali, the struggle, including against our own weaknesses, continues and must intensify! We must not engage in any retreat or surrender, particularly in waging our struggle on this front.

The generation of Comrade Stalin and other class-conscious workers read Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Lenin veraciously, in-depth and during a time when, especially between 1950 and 1990, it was illegal to do so in South Africa.

In honour of Comrade Stalin, the SACP will intensify the struggle to dismantle the networks of the corruption of corporate-capture of the state and sections of our movement.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union [NEHAWU] mourns the passing away of Cde Eric "Stalin" Mtshali. Cde Mtshali passed on this morning after a long illness.

He played central role in the advancement of the socialist struggle and building of the World Federation of Trade Unions [WFTU] in the African Continent. Just last year NEHAWU through WFTU bestowed a Recognition Award to Comrade Stalin for the sterling role he played in the broader struggles of the working class and the proletariat in particular throughout the world.

As NEHAWU, we will forever be grateful for the sterling role Comrade Mtshali played in building the class orientated World Federation of Trade Unions which today stands with 92 million members drawn from 26 countries in all 6 Continents. Cde Mtshali who grew up in the trade union environment, had a passion for trade unions and workers struggles and had the opportunity of working for the World Federation of Trade Unions' [WFTU] in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The national union dips its banners after the passing on of an unwavering communist, assuming trade unionist, champion of our liberation struggle, and a founder of the military wing of our glorious liberation movement the African National Congress [ANC]. He was a true embodiment of the tripartite alliance as he built and jealously defended COSATU, the SACP and the ANC.

Dubbed the "Man of Steel" Cde Mtshali was awarded The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Silver his excellent contribution to the fight against the oppressive and racist apartheid regime. Despite great risks, he was never deterred from fighting against injustice. He was the Editor of Dawn magazine from 1964 to 1969 as part of the liberation movement's propaganda machinery to counter the apartheid regime.

The country has lost a disciplined veteran and a true revolutionary who sacrificed his youth and risked his life for the liberation of South Africa. In his honour NEHAWU recommits itself to aggressively pursue the National Democratic

Revolution [NDR] which is a direct route to socialism. One of the lesson we draw from the life and times of Cde. Mtshali is that we should always put members first and ensure that they are always serviced by the union.
We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, the entire Mass Democratic Movement and WFTU members throughout the world. As NEHAWU, we say "lala ngoxolo mkhululi wethu, siyohlala sikukhumbula" - umthi omkhulu uwile".

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat,
12 October 2018.

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“Capitalist system still remains the enemy of the working class,Especially now that it is undergoing the international capitalist crisis.The struggle is still there.
A strong and united trade union movement is what we need.”
Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, in “South African Worker and WFTU, Shoulder to Shoulder”, February 2012
It is with great sorrow that we heard about comrade’s Eric “Stalin” Mtshali’s death, a historic figure of the class-oriented trade union movement in South Africa and a firm militant against neocolonialism, apartheid and imperialism.
Comrade Mtshali has always stood as a symbol, representing the common struggle of the South African people along with the World Federation of Trade Unions, an example of internationalism and unequivocal commitment to the world working class in its fight for a world without man-by-man exploitation.
A historic cadre of the WFTU, Mtshali was born in Durban and joined the anti-apartheid movement straight after high school. In 1951, he mobilized workers in the Dock and Harbour Workers Union, and workers in the textile industry to protest against the repressive apartheid state. As he had stated : “At the time, the dockworkers were the most militants, really militant workers. The regime feared the dockworkers.”
He represented South African trade union movement in the WFTU Headquarters in Prague, Czechoslovakia and spent more than 30 years in exile. For him, “The WFTU positions always championed the class positions. Were there was struggle for liberation, WFTU was there. It stood on the side of the oppressed”. He participated in many WFTU missions to Ethiopia and Namibia, organizing trade union organizations. He has also served as member of the Parliament, always loyal to the working class principles.
For us, the WFTU, the words of the “Man of Steel” -as his South African comrades used to call him- that “true liberation will only be achieved when the working class becomes the ruling class” stand as a guide for the struggles of today and tomorrow.
The WFTU militants will never forget the moving moment, during the 17th World Trade Union Congress organized in the land cde. Mtshali fought and bled for, when, during the official opening ceremony he was chosen to raise the WFTU flag before all Congress delegates, inaugurating its works.
The WFTU honored his contribution and his selfless commitment to the working class emancipation ideals on several occasions, such as in Johannesburg, on February 2012, in the framework of an honourable ceremony for the stalwarts of the South African Trade Union Movement.
Dear comrades of COSATU and of SACP, please pass on our condolences to his relatives and assure the whole working class of South Africa that for us, the workers and simple people of the world, he will always remain IMMORTAL. We promise to continue his legacy.
The WFTU Secretariat.