Chris Matlhako left us on Thursday morning, 20 April 2023. He served as mascot to the entire liberation movement till he breathed his last, as well as the working-class across the world. His exit is major loss to the anti-imperialist movement worldwide, in which he played a most laudable role.
At the time of his passing, Chris Matlhako served the South African Communist Party as a full-time Central Committee Member as elected by the SACP 15th National Congress held 13 – 16 July 2022. In this capacity, he served as Secretary for International Relations at the Party’s Headquarters in Johannesburg. Previously, he was the SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary as elected by the 14th National Congress in 2017, and served as a Central Committee member before that tenure. He was also a member of the African National Congress and played a most influential role in shaping the mass democratic movement as an activist and leader.
Chris Matlhako gained his baptism in the South Africa liberation struggle as a student, actively participating in the student movement to confront the barbaric the apartheid system. He later joined the SACP and never flinched from the socialist course.
An intellectual fully dedicated to the socialist cause Chris dipped ink, producing many articles for various publications, local and international, unfolding diverse spheres, concerning the revolution. A collection of his articles published in various publications over the years was made available and serialised in the magazine Thinking Che, with the first volume appearing in 2019.
Chris Matlhako did not restrict his periphery to serving the South African working-class, however. He also trotted many areas across the globe, escalating the international struggle against imperialism and assiduously delivering the SACP’s message to various parts of the world. As part of his internationalist work, Comrade Chris served as the General-Secretary of the Friends of Cuba Society – South Africa (FOCUS-SA) and was also a member of the South African Peace Initiative, among other responsibilities. He also represented the Party in the Working Group of the International Communist and Workers Parties, shimmering or fluttering the socialist banner in every corner of the globe.
While in Kimberley – his birthplace – Matlhako was detained without trial on numerous occasions for his role in the then Galeshewe Students’ Organisation (Gaso).
He also served as the provincial secretary of the SACP in the Northern Cape and later took national leadership positions in the same organisation including Friends of Cuba Society of SA (Focus SA) where he served as its general secretary until his death.
Matlhako is also greatly remembered for his death defying battles with police at the University of the Western Cape while students were protesting against financial exclusions.
He vowed for more student admissions at the university, especially pupils from the poor backgrounds of Khayelitsha, Langa, and Gugulethu.
In paying tribute to Chris Matlhako, revolutionary forces must continue to relentlessly organise the working-class, mobilise the left forces in order to widen the building of a socialist movement of the workers and the poor, as professed by the 15th National Congress. He inspired youth worldwide to integrate themselves with Marxist-Leninist intellectual work as well as working-class internationalism. The Young Communist League of South Africa, whom Comrade Chris harnessed every ounce of his energy to nurture, is ever determined preserve his legacy by organising the youth of our country to fight against imperialism, towards socialism.
He was a dedicated friend to the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean and partner in the construction of socialism internationally. Deepest condolences were expressed by the Cuban embassy and Ambassador in South Africa: “The world loses one of its most exceptional sons.”
Chris, an internationalist, made numerous trips to Venezuela and Cuba, offering solidarity and accompaniment from Africa and raised his bold voice in opposing NATO and the cold war on China. Chris condemned imperialist aggression in no uncertain terms against Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and other countries, urging international solidarity from South Africa and was on the Steering Committee for the Black Alliance for Peace’s U.S. out of Africa Network.
Most significant wok in challenging the tyranny of NATO, defending China from being enstragulated by USA, condemning Zionist expansionism and defining legacy of Cuba.
Paying tribute to Matlhako – named Comrade Che – Focus SA said: “Comrade Che will always be remembered as an outstanding intellectual revolutionary and internationalist for which he was admired and respected.”
“He was particularly admired and respected by the people of Cuba for his consistent participation and leadership of the South Africa and Africa Cuba Solidarity.”
“He hailed from the Northern Cape, lived a modest life, and did not allow any social distance between himself and those he led.”
“Not many comrades can claim to have had such a great impact on the bilateral programme with Cuba through active SA-Cuba health and other bilateral programmes that South Africa and Cuba have as comrade Chris did.”
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has studied national Liberation Movements Thanks Information from Baldwin Ndaba,Towards Freedom and In Defence of Communism blogs.