On Tuesday 21 October, Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and Government Minister for Higher Education and Training, visited Cambridge accompanied by colleagues representing Further Higher Education Institutions. Blade was hosted by the Cambridge CP and spoke to hundreds of young students.The visit began with a high level meeting with representatives of Cambridge University at which discussion focused on how links between education and research institutions in Britain and South Africa, might be improved.

Following this meeting, Blade went to a well known local sixth form college, where he was greeted by union representatives and the principal and  met by a room overflowing with 250 and more students who gave up their lunch time, and a good deal of applause, to hear Blade speak about the freedom struggle and Marxism.

Blade outlined to the students, how important the struggle against apartheid was, and he made clear that he understood that most in the audience, which also included teachers and college staff, had not been born at the time of that struggle.

He took the opportunity to describe the meaning of international solidarity and how it can help people who take up the struggle for liberation and against global capitalism. In a question and answer session, which went way beyond its time allocation, he really came in to his own.

Speaking as general secretary of the SACP he fielded questions about the morality of armed struggle – which he compared to the British people’s struggle agianst Nazism, described the real Mandela who he and so many others had known and fought alongside, agreed that there could well be again a white person as President of South Africa “provided they were progressive”.  He pointed to the power of education when allied to liberation, the inquities of capitalism which kept so much of the world in poverty,  how he had discovered Marxism and what it meant to him. He explained why the communists ascribed so much importance to the struggle for gender liberation alongside class liberation and how the future of South Africa was tied to class struggle and economic empowerment of the poor and the workers. It was he said, a struggle begun a 100 and more years ago with the formation of the ANC and later the SACP, which was the first political force in South Africa to press the case for non-racialism, when it was a party led by mainly white immigrants. In one particularly forceful reply to a question about young people he affirmed, “There is a future and it will be one in which the vast majority can share common burdens and aspirations to build a society free of capitlaist exploitation.”

Blade pointed especially to the differences between apartheid, where black youngsters were not allowed to study mathematics, to today’s ANC government, which was providing completely free educaiton and school meals to 80 per cent of the population with so many black youth studying vocational education and at further and higher institutions.

Blade expressed deep appreciation of the quality of questions and agreed that in many ways, young people have immunised themselves against the lies of the old Cold War capitalist propagandists. He understood and thought the meting demonstrated, “that young people are eager to find alternatives to capitalism.”

In the evening, the South African delegation was welcomed to a meal and meeting by the Cambridge Communist Student Society and the Cambridge University Humanities Society and then to a public meeting made up mainly of undergraduates from St Johns college.

They listened to Blade speak on the problems of the state and tranistion to socialism in a world dominated by global capitalism.

In a spell-binding delivery, Blade again asserted that South Africa was proof that alternatives could be built, which materially affected the way people lived. Political freedom had to be sustained and underpinned with a struggle of the poor for increasing levels of literacy and economic liberation. He thought the key was to develop the manufacturing base of the South African economy so that the country could meet its own needs rather than simply be an exporter of minerals [which often resulted in them having to reimport those minerals as finished goods at exhorbitant prices]. He thought that this appraoch was key to generating the funding base required for increasingly radical measures to improve lives of the people.

He was asked about how the freedom struggle in South Africa imposed a hegemony of ideas and interests on access to and the content of education, in the media and police force. He talked about crime, how the communists were now shifting gear to raise issues about worker self motivation, establishing volunteer brigades to confront economic challenges and how to manage a welfare system that supported liberation. He talked about the struggle against corruption and whilst certainly not denying it existed in the public sector asked why the media never talked about the corruption of the banks or the building companies which had fleeced the nation whilst building often sub standard housing. He returned again to the issues of positive discrimination on gender  and pointed to the high level of female participation and leadership in policital institutions but said that so much had yet to be acheived – citing domestic violence and rape as key issues to be confronted.

Cambridge communists are meeting again on 7 November, also at St Johns, when Professor John Foster will lead a discussion on Sovereiegnty and whether the peoples of Britain can and should remain united. If you want to attend, go here. The Cambridge communists branch committee is hosting a special enlarged meeting to discuss the CP executive emergency resolution on the national question, on Thursday, October 30.

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