Cosatu Pays Tribute to Moses Kotane and JB Marks [press release] (

The Congress of South African Trade Unions welcomes home the remains of two great revolutionary struggle heroes – Moses Kotane and JB Marks – and urges all our members to come out in force to give them a heroes’ welcome at the reburial ceremonies.
Both devoted their lives to the liberation struggle and both were long-serving leaders of all three components of what became the tripartite alliance – the ANC SACP and SACTU, the forerunner of COSATU.
They both died in Russia and were buried near to each other in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Now their remains are to be repatriated to the land of their birth.
They will be commemorated at special official reburial ceremonies, Comrade Kotane in Pella, North West, on 14 March and Comrade Marks in Ventersdorp on 22 March, both in the North West Province, and reburied at sites that will be designated Heroes’ Acres
COSATU fully concurs with Comrade Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Arts and Culture, that “It is a serious indictment that our children do not know the men and women who brought about democracy and freedom. We need to work together to tell the story of where we come from and celebrate our heroes… The memory and legacy of these two struggle icons continues to sharply define the ideals and aspirations of the society we want to be: just, equal and prosperous. We believe they will always remain inspirational figures whose stories have the power to remind us of where we come from.”
Welcome home Comrade Moses Kotane
COSATU pays its deepest respects to Comrade Moses Kotane on the occasion of the return of his remains from Moscow to the area where he was born, in the municipality named after him, and with the members of the COSATU Local which proudly bears his name.
Tributes to Comrade Moses Kotane sometimes use the words “all-round revolutionary” to describe him, because he was the embodiment of what years later was to become the Tripartite Alliance, as a leader in the trade unions, ANC and the SACP.
His roots were in the poor working class. He was born on 9 August 1905 on Tamposstad farm near Swartruggens. As a boy he herded cattle and received no formal schooling before he was 15, then left at 17 to find work in Krugersdorp as a photographer’s assistant, domestic servant, miner, and bakery worker.
He joined the African Bakers Union, an affiliate of the new Federation of Non-European Trade Unions then being built by Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), as the SACP was then known.
He first joined the African National Congress in 1928 but then left it, as he thought it was too weak and ineffectual. He later rejoined and went on to become one of its greatest leaders, involved in every struggle in South Africa – the 1952 Defiance Campaign, the 1956-1961 treason trial and the 1960 emergency. He became an ANC NEC member and its Treasurer General from 1963 to 1973.
In 1929 he joined the CPSA and rose rapidly through its ranks. Within two years he was a full-time official, working on Umsebenzi, the party newspaper, and by 1939 he was the party’s general secretary, and remained so until his death – an astonishing 39 years in office.
His life was brilliantly summed up by Comrade Yusuf Dadoo, who delivered the SACP’s eulogy at his funeral in 1978. “Comrade Kotane”, he said “was one of the foremost champions of the working class and a future socialist South Africa, yet he worked unceasingly to create a unity of all classes and groups, including revolutionary whites, to confront racist tyranny.
“He stood at the head of our working-class party for most of its life and was, at the same time, amongst the most respected front-line leaders of the African National Congress. More than any other individual, he helped lay the foundations for the life-giving unity between the working class and national movements which express itself in today’s firm alliance of liberation forces.
“If there is one quality in Moses Kotane which I would single out before all others”, he said, “it was that he was incorruptible… not only in his politics but also in his personal life. Moses Kotane was a man you knew could never let you down, never do something behind your back, never deceive you. You always knew where you were with Moses Kotane. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful, but they were never dishonest.”
How we need such incorruptible leaders today, to rescue our revolution from those who want to subvert it in order to rob the people who put their faith in them and enrich themselves!
Comrade Moses never lived the good life that so many today think is their right. He was born into poverty, with little formal education. But he was reading, studying and educating himself, while working for the white bosses. This led him to become one of the greatest interpreters of the theories of Marxism-Leninism which he was able to and translate into the language of the workers.
Never did he imagine that this theoretical brilliance entitled him to a big salary. He remained a loyal workers’ representative and always saw the need to talk and listen to the rank and file on the ground. He made this point as early as 1934, when he wrote to the Party leadership what became known as his “Letter from Cradock”, which influenced their policies then and is still highly relevant to COSATU today.
He suggested “that the party becomes Africanised, that the CPSA must pay special attention to South Africa and study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the masses from first-hand information, that we must speak the language of the native masses and must know their demands, that while it must not lose its international allegiance, the Party must be Bolshevised and become South African not only theoretically but in reality.”
Another fine tribute to Comrade Moses Kotane was paid on his seventieth birthday in 1975 by Comrade Brian Bunting:
“There is perhaps no man who symbolises as much as he does all that is best in the glorious traditions of the South African working class and national movements. His contribution has been a monumental one. Coming from peasant and labourer background, he joined the Communist Party at a time when it was still groping for an indigenous application of the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism.
“Almost completely self-educated, his profound insights into the basic needs of the oppressed and exploited people of our country won him immediate recognition and [he] was soon to equip himself for his future leading role by a devotion to the study of the Marxist teachers which was to become the loadstar for all his subsequent approaches to our revolutionary struggles.
“But for him books were not magic formulae; they had to be read and applied in the context of our own revolution and not abstract dogma. He immediately grasped the need to indigenise Marxism so as to give it meaning for millions of our workers and peasants. Comrade Kotane saw clearly that there could be no working class victory without Black liberation and no Black liberation without the destruction of capitalism in all its forms.”
At our 11th COSATU National Congress in 2012, when we discussed building organisational unity, we said something uncannily similar to Moses Kotane’s ‘suggestion’ about the importance of “connecting with our membership”. We agreed on a programme for “rolling out a ‘Members First’ listening campaign, which would include the reinstatement of general meetings in all workplaces, discussions with shop stewards and members on the role of shop stewards, improved servicing, education and training, a recruitment campaign, capacitating provinces and locals and a programme to implement the 2015 Plan.”
Comrade Moses would surely have applauded that resolution.
By far the best way to remember our Comrade Kotane, is to follow his example of revolutionary leadership, put secondary differences of opinion to the side, reject name-calling of opponents and rumour-mongering and unite behind the class struggle to complete the national democratic revolution which he spent his entire life striving for, and move forward to the creation of a free, socialist world.
Long live the memory of Comrade Moses Kotane, long live!
Welcome home Comrade John Beaver (JB) Marks
John Joseph Marks was born in Ventersdorp, on 21 March 1903 into a working-class family. His father was a railway worker all his life and his mother, a midwife. Like all the oppressed African people living in the townships, he grew up in grinding poverty and suffering.
At school he acquired his second initial ‘B’ after his friends gave him the nickname ‘Beaver’ and the ‘B’ became stayed as part of his name ever since; he was known to everybody as ‘JB’.
He chose a career in teaching and after graduating from the local school, went to a training college, received a teaching diploma, finished his training and went on to become an educator.
In an interview with the ANC journal Sechaba in November, 1969, he said: “I joined the ANC in 1928. I was much influenced by my father who was a staunch supporter of the ANC and I myself had revolted against conditions, particularly those at the institution where I was trained, where the missionaries did not treat the students well.
Comrade Marks political activism and rebellious outlook inevitably left him vulnerable to attack and after some years he was fired from his teaching job at Vredefort in the Free State.
He joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1928, in a period of increased militancy among the oppressed people. In 1929 the Party, acting in line of the “Black Republic” resolution passed by the 1928 Comintern Congress, launched and joined other organisations in anti-pass law campaigns, many of which were bloodily suppressed.
In 1932 he was a ‘demonstrative candidate’ for a parliamentary by-election in Germiston. Africans of course had no vote, nor could they sit in parliament. But the CPSA argued that the majority of the people of Germiston were Africans, and if they were enfranchised would vote for a Communist candidate.
After spending time at the Lenin School in Moscow on a course of study, he devoted himself full-time to work for the CPSA, at a time in the 1930s when the Party was the victim not only of ferocious assaults from the white racists but also of internal schisms and factionalism which seriously undermined its work and mass support.
In 1937 he was temporarily excluded from the party for a breach of its regulations. But he remained loyal to the cause and a year or two later, when the party leadership and policy had been placed on a firmer footing, he was restored to the full rights of membership and once again began to play a leading role.
Marks and others formed a committee to revive the ANC in the Transvaal. He was elected Transvaal President in 1950 and devoted over 40 years tirelessly working for the movement.
Comrades Marks also became more involved in the trade union movement. In 1942 he was elected President of the African Mineworkers’ Union (AMU), formed in 1941 and was elected as president of the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions.
In both capacities he exercised a tremendous influence on the development of the trade union movement among the African mine workers, who slaved underground as migrant labourers for starvation wages.
In 1943 the Government had granted a cost of living allowance to all African workers except those in mining and agriculture. This led to a wave of spontaneous strikes. The AMU met with a tremendous response from the workers and the Government was compelled to appoint a commission of inquiry into conditions on the mines.
The commission recommended a miserable increase in wages and improved conditions of work, but the Chamber of Mines implemented only a portion of even these recommendations and ignored most of the report completely.
Then, in April 1946, an AMU conference decided to demand a wage of ten shillings a day, which sparked spontaneous strikes but the bosses refused to budge. So on 4 August a conference of over 1 000 thousand delegates in Johannesburg decided to call a general strike of all mineworkers. Marks warned the delegates: “You are challenging the basis of the cheap labour system and must be ready to sacrifice in the struggle for the right to live as human beings.”
But up to 100,000 African miners responded to the strike call; ten mines were shut down completely and 11 others seriously affected.
The Government responded ferociously, sending in police armed with batons and guns. Over the next few days nine African miners were killed and 1,248 injured according to official figures, though the actual toll was probably far higher. The strikers were driven back to work at gun-point. JB, other union officials and all the members of the Johannesburg District Committee of the CPSA were arrested and charged with incitement under the Riotous Assemblies Act, charges which were eventually reduced to supporting an illegal strike, for which they were sentenced to fines and suspended sentences.
When the Nationalist Government under Dr. Malan came to power, it set out to suppress the CPSA and the growing militancy within the black population. The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 not only outlawed the Communist Party but also gave the Government sweeping administrative power to ban and restrict any opponent of the Government’s apartheid policy, whether or not he had been a member of the Party, and to ban anti-apartheid newspapers and other publications. JB Marks and other Communist leaders were amongst the Act’s first victims.
In 1950 he had been elected Transvaal President of the ANC, and presided over the foundation conference of the South African Peace Council. In a Great May Day demonstration in 1950 in Johannesburg, of which Comrade JB had been a foremost organiser, 18 Africans were killed and 30 wounded.
In 1952 the African and Indian Congresses launched a campaign of defiance against six unjust laws “whose continued operation, enforcement and observance is both humiliating and degrading to the non-Europeans of South Africa” and which the Government had refused to repeal. Nelson Mandela was appointed Volunteer-in-Chief.
To try to prevent the growing agitation amongst the people, the Government served notices on prominent trade unionists and leaders of the African and Indian Congresses ordering them to resign from all political organisations, banning them from attending any gatherings and, in some cases, confining them to the provinces in which they lived.
Comrade Marks was one of those banned, but he defied his ban as his contribution to the Defiance Campaign, during which over 8,000 people openly defied the apartheid laws, and served prison sentences imposed on them by the white magistrates for breaches of various discriminatory regulations.
He and other top Congress leaders were charged, under the more serious Suppression of Communism Act, with attempting to bring about the aims of Communism by the promotion of disturbance or disorder or by unlawful acts or omissions.
They were found in breach of the law and given a suspended nine-month prison sentence, and, for the next ten years, JB could not take any open part in politics, and no word that he spoke could be published. The Party was forced underground and renamed the SACP, with JB as its Chairperson, a post he held for the rest of his life.
For a while he managed to address meetings by means of gramophone records, but eventually the Government closed this loophole too.
In 1962 Comrade Marks was sent out of South Africa and was a member of South African delegations at many international peace conferences, and headed the South African delegation at the international conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow in June 1969.
“There is no way to emancipation except that of revolutionary armed struggle”, he told the conference. “In our conditions of total suppression of the people’s rights, of constant daily terror and force exercised against the masses, with tens of thousands of patriots in detention and massacres a commonplace, with the great majority of the people in a state of seething revolt against enslavement and intolerable affronts to their human dignity, there could be no other way forward.
“Indeed, comrades, a war has already begun and is in progress for the liberation of southern Africa. In Mozambique, in Angola, in Guinea-Bissau, in Namibia and even in the Republic of South Africa itself, fighting has broken out. Brave African guerrillas are dealing heavy blows at the fascist and racist regimes. Behind the lines the workers of town and countryside are increasingly defying the fascist terror and raising the banner of resistance. Inevitably the struggle will spread and merge into a single people’s war which can only end in the destruction of white minority rule and the establishment of people’s power. We shall win!”
Two years later in 1971, ‘Uncle JB’ was struck down by a severe illness while at the headquarters of the ANC External Mission in Tanzania. When he had recovered sufficiently to travel, he was sent to the Soviet Union. With intensive treatment and his own indomitable spirit, he rallied and seemed to be making good progress, but suffered a fatal heart attack and died on 1 August 1972.
At the unveiling of a memorial to Comrade JB Marks at the Novodevichye cemetery in Moscow on 16 December 1974, a moving tribute was given by Comrade Yusuf Dadoo, who had been elected to fill JB’s position of SACP Chairperson:
“It is but fitting that we are unveiling the memorial to J B Marks, affectionately known to us all as ‘Uncle JB’ today, December 16 – Heroes’ Day, a date of special significance for the ANC and the entire national liberation movement… On this day we pay respect to the memory of, and derive inspiration from, the brave deeds of our dedicated men and women who fought and struggled with admirable gallantry against colonial conquest of our land ever since the white coloniser set his foot on our soil in the middle of the 17th century.
“It is fitting indeed that we honour Uncle J B on this day for he was without a shadow of doubt one of the great heroes or our struggle. He was a hero of the African people. As a dynamic leader of the ANC he commanded the respect of, and earned the love and affection of, the African people throughout the land. His contribution in the cause of national liberation is a part of our history.
“He was a hero of the South African working class. As a dedicated Communist and working class leader he devoted his energy and efforts to the most formidable task of organising the most exploited section of workers, the African gold miners, into the African Mine Workers’ Union and under his inspiring leadership the miners came out in the historic strike of 1946 which struck a mighty blow against whole of cheap labour system. He exercised a tremendous influence on the development of trade union movement among African workers.
“He was the hero of the fighting men of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC and the national liberation movement. In the camps his presence was a source of inspiration to our men and his fatherly guidance and advice gave them encouragement and steeled their fighting spirit.
“Long live the unity of the Socialist community, the national liberation and working class forces of the world against imperialism, colonialism and racism and for peace, freedom and social progress!”
As we gather to rebury the remains of our hero, we must use the opportunity to learn vital lessons from the life of JB Marks. Although the challenges today are different, we still desperately need leaders with his iron determination to devote their lives to the struggle for the Second Phase of the Transition.
The transition to democracy, a non-racial society and the election of the ANC to power in 1994 was achieved thanks to leaders like him, but we need similar heroes today, to complete the transformation of our economy, end the continuing crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality and build the socialist South Africa and socialist world for which Comrade JB Marks lived and died.
Source: Politics