The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle
Table of Contents:
Relations between Russia and South Africa
In the late-19th century, Russia was engaged in rivalry with the British Empire, especially in Asia, and sought to establish relations with England’s enemies. Tsar Nicholas II considered establishing a Russian consulate in the South African Republic (ZAR, later Transvaal) in March 1897, due to the ‘ever growing importance of the African continent for the people of Europe and important political questions’.
With about 8,000 Russian Jews living in the Transvaal also taken into consideration, the Tsar agreed to the appointment of a South African of Dutch origin, Dr Leyds, as the ZAR’s envoy to Russia in September 1898. At the same time, Adolph von Gernet, a Russian living in the ZAR, was appointed the Russian vice-consul in Johannesburg.
Russians tended to have sympathy for the Boers, who became engaged in a war against the British Empire from 1899 to 1901, and about 200 Russian volunteers travelled to the Transvaal to help the Boers fight the British.
The USSR and South Africa
After the Bolshevik Revolution and the establishment of the USSR, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), established in 1922, became a member of the Communist International (Comintern).
The CPSA’s first Black secretary, Albert Nzula, became the first Black South African to travel to the USSR, where he lived until his death in Moscow in 1934. Nzula worked for the communist-controlled trade union organisation, the Profintern, and together with Ivan Potekin and Alexander Zuusmanovich, wrote a book on African workers in South Africa – with Nzula using the pen-name Tom Jackson.
Founding father and later president of the ANC, Josiah Gumede, visited the USSR in February and later from November to December 1927. A delegate at the inaugural congress of the League Against Imperialism in Brussels, Gumede was accompanied by JA la Guma, a member of the CPSA. They travelled to Germany, and then to the Soviet Union. They returned to Moscow at the end of the year, attending the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the October revolution, and took part in the Congress of the Friends of the USSR.
Gumede, a guest of the All-Union Society of Cultural Ties with Foreign Countries, travelled to various parts of the country, including Georgia, where he was ‘given a good reception and had various conversations with Georgian leaders and peasants’, reported AF Plate, his interpreter, 50 years later. ‘Gumede asked the peasants about their lives in detail. We visited a number of Georgian villages and returning to the hotel every time, Gumede compared the way of life of the Georgian peasant with the modes of life and labour in his motherland.’
Plate continues: ‘Gumede considered as one of the greatest achievements of our country [the USSR] that the Socialist Revolution managed to unite people of different nationalities in their struggle for common ideals. He emphasised the significance of this experience for all nationals struggling for their independence and considered that success in this struggle would highly depend on the unity of action of all forces fighting against racism and colonialism.’
When Gumede returned to South Africa, he said in a speech: ‘I have seen the world to come, where it has already begun. I have been to the new Jerusalem.’ Marked by his experience, Gumede began to call for a united front uniting communists and non-communists. Later that year he was elected president of the African National Congress(ANC).
Francis Meli, South Africa Belongs To Us: A History of the ANC. James `Curry, London 1989
Vladimir Shubin with Marina Traikova, ‘There is no threat from the Eastern Bloc, in South African Democracy and Education Trust, Volume 3, International Solidarity, PART 2. Unisa Press, 2008