The suppression of communism, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the instrumentality of fear during apartheid
Between the 1917 Russian Revolution and demise of the Soviet Union, the communist Other, as godless deviant and arch enemy of the capitalist state, inhabited a specific space in the minds and imaginations of much of the Western world. S/he was one to be feared, one to be guarded against, and if possible, one to be suppressed by political, ideological, or military means. Such conditions contributed to the widespread suppression and banning of communist and communist aligned organisations. In South Africa this coincided with the rise of Afrikaner nationalism, and the consolidation and reconfiguration of 'white' supremacy in the form of apartheid. After a marginal National Party (NP) victory in 1948, the Suppression of Communism Act (1950) and the 'Rooi Gevaar' became synonymous with dissent and revolution within and beyond the apartheid state. For example, it was on these grounds that a series of high profile political trials – the Treason, Rivonia, and Fischer Trials – would be fought and lost on the first occasion. Each trial was based upon the assertion that the accused were communists or involved in a Soviet conspiracy that intended to depose the apartheid government through violent revolution. Conversely, communism is now popularly invoked in relation to narratives of struggle and the ‘triumph of the human spirit over adversity', in which new and now old allies defeated the evil of apartheid, and ushered in an era of freedom, democracy, and reconciliation. As a result, communism and the SACP (the dominant political organisation associated with communism) have been incorporated into national histories that narrate the African National Congress' (ANC's) struggle and victory over apartheid, which culminated in Nelson Mandela and other political leaders returning to supposedly fulfil their destiny by ‘freeing the people’ from totalitarian rule.Having said this, I argue that the suppression of communism goes far beyond the limiting horizons of popularised political and ideological discourse, or indeed, violent acts of torture and murder directed towards those deemed to be a threat to the ‘nation’. In other words, debates surrounding communism are not merely representative of the state’s oppressive policies towards anti-apartheid activists, the global conflict between capitalism and communism, or popular narratives of suffering and struggle against apartheid. Alternatively, they were (and are) intimately linked with a nation-building project which, unlike violence sanctioned by the state or reconciled – at least on the surface – through symbolic acts like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), has been difficult to exorcise, come to terms with, and diminish in the contemporary. Put another way, although communism is intrinsically associated with the class struggle and class politics in South Africa, it was in fact driven by and interwoven with racist ideologies upon which apartheid and British colonialism before that were founded. With these debates in mind, this mini-thesis will attempt to remove communism from conventional discourses and re-place it within debates surrounding nation-building, and the formation of different subjectivities. This will be carried out not only as an attempt to "overcome the limitations of ideology" and further deconstruct legacies of oppression and violence, but also to think with the ways in which different groups perceive, mobilise and appropriate ideology as a means to foreclose resistance and reaffirm and maintain nationalist hierarchies of power within society. This mini-thesis will begin by exploring the ways in which communism has been perceived in South Africa. More specifically, it will consider how the idea of communism was mobilised and appropriated in relation to apartheid's nation-building project. It will also thematically engage with the ways in which mythologies surrounding communism traversed the supposedly rational and irrational worlds, and, in the latter stages of this mini-thesis, will attempt to develop an argument – using Bram Fischer as subject – based upon Jacques Derrida’s notion of the communist spectre, and the importance of the messianic or, more importantly, the prophet in history.