By Abayomi Azikiwe
Note: These comments were delivered to a memorial webinar on the life, times and contributions of Chris Matlhako, a Central Committee member and 2nd Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP) who passed away in April. Matlhako, known by his comrades as “Che”, was an internationally renowned activist who served as a liaison with the antiwar and anti-imperialist forces across the globe as a key figure in the South African Peace Initiative and the solidarity movement with the Republic of Cuba. Other speakers in the webinar were moderator Radhika Desai, Convenor of the International Manifesto Group and leader of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group based in Manitoba, Winnipeg in Canada; Margaret Kimberly, Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report; Ajamu Baraka, organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP); Carlos Ron, Vice Minister of Foreign Relations for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and President of the Simon Bolivar Institute for Peace and Solidarity Among Peoples; Vijay Prasad, Indian historian and journalist; and Kenny Coyle, an Asian Affairs expert and author for Communist Review and the Morning Star (UK). The webinar was hosted by the International Manifesto Group. The entire webinar can be viewed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-j-FcyF6s4
South Africa, the continent and indeed the international proletariat has lost a dedicated fighter for freedom, economic justice and peace with the transition of Comrade Chris Matlhako.
Comrade Matlhako was known around the globe as a selfless cadre in the struggles against national oppression, economic exploitation and imperialist war.
As a high school student, he was a member of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) which played a pivotal role during the 1980s and 1990s in the monumental campaigns that eventually led to the elimination of the apartheid regime and the realization of the democratic breakthrough in 1994. During 1985, Comrade Matlhako was disappeared by the South African Police for many days where he underwent torture in an effort to discourage his activism.
Nonetheless, he continued his organizing work joining the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). He rose through the ranks of the SACP, becoming a member of the Central Committee and being elected as the 2nd Deputy Secretary General.
Cuban solidarity was a major focus of his work in South Africa and internationally. The socialist society in Cuba has been subjected to a draconian blockade by successive administrations both Republicans and Democrats in the United States. Every year the United Nations General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to abolish the blockade placing this demand within the mainstream of world public opinion.
Since the 1960s, the Cuban Revolution has contributed immensely to the national liberation movements in Africa and the building of socialist-oriented states. During the period between 1975 and 1988s, Cuban Internationalists fought alongside the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government, the Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and the ANC to defeat the racist South African Defense Forces (SADF) which resulted in the withdrawal of apartheid troops from southern Angola and the independence of the Republic of Namibia in 1990.
In this same time period, there was the release of President Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the ANC, SACP and the democratic movement as a whole. The people of Africa continue to pay tribute to the role of President Fidel Castro and the subsequent Cuban leaders for their historic and ongoing solidarity work with the continent.
Anti-Imperialism in the Modern Period
In 2023 there remains the threat of imperialist military interventions in the African Union member-states. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2008 ostensibly to assist post-colonial states in enhancing their national security capacity in the burgeoning “war on terrorism.”
However, over the last decade-and-a-half since the deployment of AFRICOM, the security crisis in Africa has worsened. There is the reemergence of military coups in several West African states in response to the presence of insurgent groupings.
The present situation in the Republic of Sudan is a clear example of the political impact of U.S. policy in the North and Horn of Africa regions. The strengthening of the military apparatus in Sudan by Washington and its allies has further marginalized the popular forces which have engaged in mass demonstrations and strikes since December 2018. The people of the oil-rich geostrategic state are demanding a genuinely democratic dispensation.
Comrade Matlhako was a critic of AFRICOM and stated clearly in an interview with United World in September 2021 that the imperialist military command structure should be removed from the continent. This demand echoes the popular sentiment of the workers and youth in various states, particularly in West Africa, where demonstrations of solidarity with the Russian Federation and its special military operation in Ukraine have taken place over the last year.
This news website quoted Comrade Matlhako as saying:
“These military coups are not the answer to the challenges that confront the continent for a host of reasons. First, most of the militaries on the continent are extensions and/or appendages of the military ethos of the West. They are trained and funded by former colonial and imperialist elements that continue to seek a presence on the continent through various ways. This is in pursuit of the economic objectives and goals of Western multinational corporations seeking to exploit the rich mineral wealth of the continent.”
In other comments in this same interview, Comrade Matlhako went on to emphasize:
“That Biden and his administration have continued AFRICOM (U.S. military command for Africa, UWI) on the continent suggests he and his administration are not committed to redesigning the relationship with the continent. AFRICOM and its military positioning do not suggest cordial relations but a dominant and military power: unequal power relations, applying coercive force and subjecting the continent to the dictates of the imperialist powers. Biden must withdraw and disband AFRICOM and accept the sovereignty of the nations of the continent. Balanced trade and other relations must be allowed to flourish between countries of the continent and the rest of the world, and the people of the continent must be allowed to democratically – without the influence of the West engage their challenges and decide on their trajectory and political project. The West and North America must be just another international partner that the continent can engage without being coerced through illegal and unilateral sanctions and so-called war on terror.”
South Africa today is facing a growing crisis of relations with Washington involving two major issues. The position of the ANC government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa has maintained a nonaligned position in regard to the Ukraine war. South Africa along with the majority of the governments and peoples around the world want a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine situation as well as a global security framework which recognizes the emergence of a multipolar world. This view represents a repudiation of U.S. imperialism and its foreign policy imperatives.
This attempt by the U.S. to dictate the terms of international relations for independent states in the Global South and beyond seeks to determine the nature of relations between South Africa, Russia and the People’s Republic of China. South Africa held joint naval exercises with Beijing and Moscow earlier this year very much to the chagrin of the Biden administration.
Earlier this month, which represents the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU), the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa charged Pretoria with selling arms to Russia. Although the Ramaphosa administration has denied these claims, the reality is that South Africa is an independent sovereign state which can make its own decisions in regard to political, economic and military affairs. Even with more than six-and-a-half decades of independence struggles on the continent, the U.S. is threatening South Africa with economic sanctions over the arm sales allegations.
These developments illustrate the importance of the work of Comrade Matlhako in the national liberation, antiwar and anti-imperialist movements. We must continue to advance the ideas for which he fought so gallantly.
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