Dr Emmanuel Matambo, Research Director, CACS
On 19 May 2022, the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) hosted the annual Chris Hani Lecture, in collaboration with the Chris Hani Institute (CHI). It was a hybrid event, held in the Madibeng Building on the UJ campus, but also conducted online.
This year’s lecture came 29 years after Chris Hani was assassinated by the Polish immigrant Janus Walus on 10 April 1993. At that time, Hani was the general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), and one of the most popular black leaders after Nelson Mandela.
The moderator was Prof Mandla Radebe, an Associate Professor at UJ and a CHI board member. Participants were welcomed by Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi, UJ’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Research, representing Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, its Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
The CHI was represented by its director, Dr Sithembiso Bhengu, who introduced the main speaker, and also thanked the participants at the end of the proceedings.
In his introductory remarks, Dr Bhengu recounted Hani’s commitment to the liberation of all South Africans. He bemoaned the fact that, 27 years after South Africa gained its hard-won democracy, its economy was in a parlous state. Among others, at more than 50 per cent, levels of youth unemployment were dangerously high. This provided fertile ground for the emergence of xenophobia and vigilantism, as demonstrated by recent events in Gauteng.
Disenchanted young people, desperate to understand their dire circumstances, instinctively sought to identify a single cause for their situation. This created an opportunity for populists to step in and blame immigrant populations for usurping employment opportunities.
Dr Bhengu said the current situation was due to the government’s failure to address three issues identified by Hani: Health, Housing and Hunger.
The keynote speaker was Prof Vijay Prashad, a renowned Marxist historian and commentator, and executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a network of research institutes in the Global South. He explained that he had joined the Indian Communist Party just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in a belief that the socialist path was both economically sound and morally superior to gluttonous capitalism. He remained convinced that capitalism was incapable of up-ending an unjust system that has left the developing world in an economically weak and inferior position.
Prof Prashad challenged the audience and the SACP to join the Red Book Day initiative, which falls on 21 February every year, to read literature about socialism and Marxism. This was the day on which Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto. In 2022, about half a million people in India took part. Cuba has announced a commitment that, in 2023, all Cubans would take part.
The first respondent was Mr Solly Mapaila, Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Responding to Prof Prashad’s challenge, he said the SACP would gladly take part in 2023 Red Book Day.
Mr Mapaila decried the fact that African universities were still tethered to Western mores with their capitalist inclinations. He noted the disturbing fact that only five universities in the entire Africa had centres for African studies. He also argued that Marxism should be taught in universities as a free-standing discipline, and that students should be encouraged to engage in this enterprise. African universities should be more responsive to the circumstances of the developing world, and Marxism seemed more suited to this task. For example, Cuba managed to eradicate illiteracy through a socialist revolution.
Institutions such as UJ could be effective agents of change in such undertakings. One way of doing so would be for students to teach literary in rural and other disadvantaged communities.
Mr Mapaila emphasised that the developing world needed to be come more independent, and that while the US-led Western world was still powerful, it was also vulnerable. Greater synergy in the developing world could go a long way towards creating greater global equality.
The second respondent was Prof David Monyae, director of the CACS. He undertook to take up the challenge of academic activism, among others by broadening the scope of research at CACS beyond Africa-China studies.
This was a successful event. It was further enhanced by the presence of Mr Ronnie Kasrils, a former Minister of Intelligence, a long-standing member of the SACP, and a friend of the late Chris Hani. In a short input during the question-and-answer session, Kasrils added an extra H to the three referred to earlier, namely human capital. One of the basic forms of improving human capital was by reading. This point resonated with Mr Mapaila’s presentation.