We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of comrade Chris Matlhako – Secretary for International Relations of the South African Communist Party, freedom fighter and internationalist. In addition to his leadership role in the SACP, Chris was a member of the ANC, General Secretary of the Friends of Cuba Society – South Africa (FOCUS-SA) and a leader of the South African Peace Initiative (SAPI).
Chris was a longstanding friend of China and an advocate of close China-Africa relations, which topic he discussed in his contribution to the China and the Left conference organised by Qiao Collective in September 2021. Remarking on the joint centenary of the SACP and CPC in 2021, he stated that the two parties “have in their own separate ways contributed enormously toward theorization and further elaboration of socialist theory” and that the Belt and Road Initiative, “which enables the post-apartheid South African state and progressive political forces including the SACP to play an important part, is paving the road for further achievement.”
When we formed Friends of Socialist China in May 2021, he immediately agreed to be part of our advisory group. He was consistently supportive of our work, including speaking at our June 2022 event The Empire Strikes Back: Imperialism’s global war on multipolarity. He was a founding signatory of the International Manifesto Group’s manifesto, Through Pluripolarity to Socialism: A Manifesto, and spoke at its launch in September 2021.
We remember his insight, commitment, passion and humility, and we will always be grateful for his support and encouragement. As Enrique Orta González, Cuban ambassador to South Africa, remarked on Twitter, the world has lost one of its most exceptional sons.
Hamba Kahle Comrade Chris!
Published below are the tributes issued by the SACP and ANC.
SACP dips its red flag and mourns the passing of Central Committee member Comrade Chris Matlhako (21 October 1964 – 20 April 2023)
The South African Communist Party (SACP) conveys its message of deepest condolences to the family of Comrade Chris Matlhako, SACP 15th National Congress Central Committee member who served our Party and movement diligently.
Comrade Chris Matlhako passed away on Thursday morning, 20 April 2023.
The SACP also sends its message of condolences to the entire liberation movement which he served till he breathed his last, as well as the working-class across the world.
At the time of his passing, Comrade Chris Matlhako served the SACP 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 participated in the mass democratic movement as an activist and leader.
Comrade Chris Matlhako joined the South Africa liberation struggle as a student, actively participating in the student movement to fight against the apartheid system. He later joined the SACP and never shifted from the socialist course.
An astute intellectual fully committed to the socialist cause, Comrade Chris penned many articles for various publications, local and international, on numerous subjects 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.
Comrade Chris Matlhako did not limit himself to serving the South African working-class, however. He also spread himself across the world, helping to raise 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, directly contributing to shaping and sharpening the socialist voices across all lands.
In paying tribute to Comrade Chris Matlhako, the SACP will continue to tirelessly organise the working-class, galvanise the left forces in order to deepen the building of a socialist movement of the workers and the poor, as mandated by our 15th National Congress. In taking forward his work, the SACP calls for more revolutionaries to actively involve themselves in Marxist-Leninist intellectual work as well as working-class internationalism. The SACP calls upon young communists, as led by the Young Communist League of South Africa, whom Comrade Chris worked very hard to nurture, to preserve his legacy by organising the youth of our country to fight against imperialism, towards socialism.
ANC pays tribute to Comrade Chris Matlhako
The African National Congress (ANC) mourns the passing of a revolutionary, a freedom fighter, internationalist and one of the finest intellectuals produced by our liberation movement. We add our collective voice by exclaiming that the death of Comrade Chris Matlhaku has dealt a devastating blow to the liberation movement by robbing us of one its best and selfless cadres.
Comrade Chris was elected as Central Committee Member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) at its 15th National Congress held 13 to 16 July 2022. He served in a full-time capacity as SACP Secretary for International Relations. Comrade Chris was a committed revolutionary who served both the ANC and SACP until his last breath. The whole country and the entire democratic movement has lost a dedicated and loyal servant.
Comrade Chris joined the struggle at a very tender age when it was extremely dangerous to do so. He consciously chose to risk his life and sacrifice his youth in pursuit of the liberation struggle. As a student and youth activist, he personified the spirit of “no compromise and no surrender”. He was a humble, yet fierce fighter against the injustices of the apartheid regime.
Comrade Chris is an unsung hero of our struggle whose real contribution to our freedom is still to be fully acknowledged and documented. His name will be mentioned alongside those of the best sons and daughters of our country who passed on with dignity and honor after making an outstanding contribution to our liberation.
As a true revolutionary and a patriot, Comrade Chris’ contribution to the struggle for liberation was not aimed at seeking personal glory and fame. It was not motivated by the pursuit of personal ambition, self-interest and or lust for power and self-privilege. His was a genuine commitment to build for our people a future that is qualitatively better than our ugly past.
All freedom-loving people of our country will sorely miss his intellectual sharpness, political maturity and passionate commitment to the plight and aspirations of the working class.
As the Alliance, we must make a solemn commitment never to betray the cause for which he fought all his life. In his honour and in taking forward his legacy, we must continue to work tirelessly towards the unity and renewal of our movement. We must uproot corruption and factionalism wherever they may rear their ugly heads. Consistent with the revolutionary spirit of Comrade Chris, we must do all of these things not to seek personal glory or popularity, but as part of our revolutionary duty to defend the gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough.
The ANC urges all its cadres, especially young people, to emulate the revolutionary example of selfless service, discipline and loyalty that was displayed by this distinguished son of the soil.
The ANC conveys its heartfelt condolences to his family, comrades, and the entire mass democratic movement. We wish them strength and fortitude during this difficult time. We hope that the family will find comfort in the knowledge that they are not the only ones who have lost a loved one. To the family, we wish to say that we are with you in your difficult hour. Your pain is the ANC’s pain. The whole nation shares in your grief.
May his revolutionary soul find eternal peace.