The Dynamic of Revolution in South Africa – a review

Tabata picBobby Wilcox reviews ‘The Dynamic of Revolution in South Africa’, a collection of works by the South African Marxist I.B. Tabata. Bobby was a prisoner on Robben island and a President of the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa.


In this collection of the writings and speeches of I.B. Tabata, Dora Taylor, his political colleague and editor of his books, charts the course of development of the national liberation struggle in South Africa over a period of almost 30 years and the role of the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA) in it. They had both been members of the Workers Party of South Africa (WPSA) in the 1930s. As revolutionary socialists, the members of the WPSA were enjoined to become fully involved in the struggle of the blacks for democratic rights and working for a solution of the problem of their landlessness.

Confronted with the task of building a national movement, the revolutionary socialists realised at the onset that the first big obstacle to overcome was getting rid of the slave mentality, which the ruling white minority had cultivated among the oppressed blacks. Tabata’s writings and speeches are replete with the insidious effects of the slave mentality and the necessity for the blacks to slough it off, to engage in a struggle for equality with the whites. Secondly, to build a national movement it was necessary to combat the racist rulers policy of “divide and rule” among the blacks. These revolutionaries engaged in breaking down the barriers between the Africans, Coloureds and Indians and uniting their organisations politically in a federal body, the UMSA. This national movement came into being in 1943 during the Second World War and adopted “The Ten-Point Programme”, a programme of full democratic rights for all in South Africa. While the ANC, tied to the white liberals, the spokesmen of British capitalism in South Africa, collaborated with the racist regime by participating in the elections to dummy institutions like the Bungas, the Advisory Boards and the Native Representative Council, the UMSA adopted a policy of non-collaboration with the oppressor. They refused to operate the machinery of their own oppression and organised boycotts of elections to the dummy institutions. In a letter to his young kinsman, Nelson Mandela, at that time a member of the ANC Youth League, Tabata questioned why his organisation, having opposed collaboration with the oppressor, remained in the ANC.

In 1948 the white electorate handed power to the Nationalist Party. The government intensified the policy of segregation by passing laws such as the Group Areas Act, which extended the residential and occupational segregation of the blacks. The government defined this policy as one of “apartheid” , which when translated from the Afrikaans has a similar meaning to segregation. The book explains how the ANC, a reformist organisation, allied to the South African Communist Party (SACP) and tied to the liberals , was caught up in a passive resistance campaign against unjust laws, trying to frighten the white electorate into voting the Nationalists out of office and replacing it with a United Party government. This “anti-apartheid campaign” was designed to replace “the greater evil” with the “the lesser evil” and not to overthrow the whole system of oppression.

When the passive resistance strategy failed the ANC/SACP alliance turned to sabotage. In response to this, the government stepped up its repressive laws. South Africa was turned into a police state and the ANC and SACP were banned. Their leadership went into exile to prepare a “guerrilla campaign”. But their “guerrilla campaign “ defied all the tenets of guerrilla warfare, not involving the masses in South Africa in the campaign. The book explains how in exile the liberals and the SACP controlled the ANC by tying its one wing to London and the other to Moscow.

The UMSA identified the landlessness of the blacks and the migratory labour system, which flowed from it, as the cornerstone of the whole economic edifice of South Africa. Unlike the ANC, it built up organisations not only in the towns but among the landless peasantry in the countryside. It linked the struggle for land with the lack of political rights. The resistance of the peasants to the culling of their cattle and land deprivation was widespread throughout South Africa. This resistance, together with the boycott of the elections to dummy institutions, particularly in the Transkei, enabled the peasants to build organisations, which in the 1960s were the biggest in the country. The book, in dealing with the peasant struggles, shows that the slogan “Land and Liberty” took on real meaning for the peasants. By 1960, the year of the Pondoland uprising, there was a state of near civil war in the Transkei. The peasants in the Transkei demanded that the UMSA leadership supply them with arms to confront the racist regime. UMSA, in reply warned them against taking up arms as long as there was not a national struggle and organisation in place to resist the regime.

The leadership of UMSA judged the situation in the country in the early 60s to be entering a          pre-revolutionary stage. The formation of a national political organisation, the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) in 1961, affiliated to UMSA, was designed to meet that challenge. Tabata, in the presidential address to the first conference of APDUSA, highlighted the importance of the clause in its constitution, which declared the interests of the workers and peasants to be of paramount concern to the organisation. APDUSA anticipated that the struggle would move beyond national liberation. APDUSA recruited a large membership in the towns and particularly in the countryside. This development was considered vital to the next stage, the adoption of the armed struggle. Tabata and two of his close comrades were given the task of escaping into exile to present a memorandum to the newly established Organisation of African Unity (OAU) for recognition of UMSA. Recognition by the OAU was considered essential for UMSA to obtain military training for its members as well as diplomatic support from the newly independent African states. The OAU rejected UMSA’s application as it regarded UMSA’s aims for the future of South Africa as being too radical. Exile for the UMSA leadership, as the book outlines, became another battleground against the forces of reaction within and outside the OAU.

Bobby Wilcox, January 2015

This book is available for £10 (inc p&p) from Resistance Books, PO Box 62732, London, SW2 9GQ.

Share this article

3 Comments on The Dynamic of Revolution in South Africa – a review

  1. The “UMSA” referred to in the review only came into being in 1962. It was formed after a split in the NEUM which occurred in 1958.The NEUM of which IB Tabata was a founder member was formed in 1943. The UMSA was created by members of APDUSA (formed in 1961)and the SOYA who went into exile in 1962. In 1985 the New Unity Movement(NUM) came into being after members from the two sections became reconciled. The NUM bases itself on the principles and policies of the NEUM and UMSA.

  2. Basil Brown is disseminating misinformation when he states that the UMSA was created by members of APDUSA and SOYA in 1962, who then went into exile. The truth is that in 1964 the name of the NEUM was changed to the Unity Movement of South Africa(UMSA), as it was felt that the term non- European was politically outdated. UMSA was not, as implied by Basil Brown an organisation existing only in exile .In 1963. Three of its leaders(having escaped into exile) presented a memorandum to the OAU on behalf of the organisation requesting recognition for the organisation from that body. UMSA, as an organisation had a HQ in exile,first in Lusaka and later in Harare, working together with the bulk of the leadership and members remaining in South Africa as is well documented in this and other books. When he refers to the split in the NEUM in 1958, it was the withdrawal of the Anti-CAD delegates from the All African Convention conference that year. This was to be followed by the Anti CAD, a federation of Coloured organisations opposed to racist oppression, being withdrawn from the wider unity of the NEUM, by the leadership of the Anti-CAD, without them consulting the organisations themselves. Having excluded themselves from the UMSA, the remnants of the Anti CAD organisations functioned on their own. The organisation , New Unity Movement to which Basil Brown refers and of which he is president as far I am aware, was established in 1985 from remnants of Anti CAD organisations and a few disaffected members of UMSA and his statement that there has therefore been a reconciliation with UMSA is again grossly misleading. UMSA, to which APDUSA is affiliated continues to function as an independent organisation, carrying out its mandate and has no relationship whatsoever to the New Unity Movement.

  3. menasolnetus // February 24, 2015 at 3:21 pm // Reply

    By coincidence the Marxists Internet Archive has just begun uploading issues of World Outlook from 1963 to 1968 a key period for the comrades described in the review. The WO issues are full of articles on South Africa by and about the comrades. (Not all the tables of contents are complete yet.)
    Thanks for the review of what looks like a crucial book – never more so than now.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.