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Comrade Rica Hodgson: One of our finest – Centenary Tribute

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Comrade Rica Hodgson: One of our finest – Centenary Tribute

1st July 2020

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Jennifer Schreiner 

‘We pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won’ – Rica Hodgson 

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We salute Comrade Rica Hodgson, born 100 years ago, as a mother, a progressive author, and one of the finest revolutionaries the Communist Party and our national liberation movement have ever produced. In honour of Cde Rica, we must deepen our work to build the South Africa of the Freedom Charter, adopted 65 years ago. Cde Rica was inspired by a vision of a meaningful non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic society - a South Africa without exploitation of one person by another and free from imperialist domination – a socialist South Africa.

Cde Rica was born in Johannesburg on 1 July 1920. Her father Maurice Gampel, was a Polish Jew from a well-off, educated and culturally refined family, who had amassed wealth by selling grain to Tsarist Russia, and who emigrated to South Africa in 1880 to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms (ethnic cleansing of minority groups). Her mother Rachel came from a poor family from Lithuania. Cde Rica was one of 11 siblings and matriculated at Athlone High School. Many of her schoolmates had Russian fathers who were Bolsheviks and this contact influenced Cde Rica’s thinking, but her father banned these schoolmates from their house.  She trained as a nurse and married when she was 20 years old. 

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At the outbreak of the Second World War, Cde Rica joined the Airforce and later in 1943 became involved with the Springbok Legion which had been started by left-orientated ex-WW2 servicemen mobilising to preserve the values for which they were fighting – anti-fascism and anti-racism. Cde Rica became a formidable fundraiser for the Legion. Her husband strongly opposed her activities, but her commitment to the cause ran deep, and she chose to divorce him. 

Cde Rica then met Cde Jack Hodgson, the National Secretary of the Springbok Legion, when he was on a visit to Cape Town; they fell in love, and married in 1945, a second marriage for both of them. Cde Rica became a mother to both the children of Cde Jack’s first marriage and to Spencer, their own son. Cde Jack was a committed member of the Communist Party of South Africa and recruited Cde Rica into the CPSA in 1946. The two shared a life of committed struggle.

Cde Rica joined the International Peace Council, established by the CPSA as a broad front and formed lasting friendships with comrades Hilda Bernstein, Ruth First and Joe Slovo driving forces in the Peace Council.

When the Suppression of Communism Act was passed in 1950, Cde Rica was amongst those banned and listed as a Communist. Unfazed, she clandestinely continued with her political work. She was involved in founding the Congress of Democrats (COD) which organised progressive whites into the Congress Alliance in 1953, and along with other members of Congress organisations travelled around the country, building a network of support. In 1954 Cde Rica served on the National Action Council of the historic 1955 Congress of the People. She served as National Secretary of COD until August 1954, when she was served with further banning orders.

Cde Rica describes in her book Foot Soldier for Freedom how she and Cde Hilda Bernstein, another Party leader, in defiance of their banning orders, observed the proceedings of the Congress of the People that adopted the Freedom Charter in 1955, a full 65 years ago this week! 

‘Hilda Bernstein and I were prevented from attending the Congress (of the People) due to ministerial banning orders. But we yearned to get a glimpse of it. We decided to drive out to Kliptown and try our luck. Hilda knew of an Indian man who owned a house that bordered the Kliptown field. A coal heap was piled up against his back wall for the winter affording us a strategic vantage point. The owner willingly opened his door to us and we scrambled up the coal mountain, the heavily pregnant Hilda bobbing with her big belly as she climbed.

‘We had a perfect view of the thousands who had gathered in the name of freedom and equality. We could see Bishop Trevor Huddleston addressing the throng from a platform. But our host began to worry. He had heard that the Special Branch, or the ‘Gestapo’ as we preferred to call them, was patrolling the area. He wasn’t looking for trouble and we didn’t wish to compromise him further, so we left. But it didn’t matter that our view of the congress was short-lived. It didn’t matter that we were on the wrong side of the wall. That brief experience did to my heart what strong coffee does… I felt like something had been started that would have a domino effect, finally heralding freedom for our beloved country.’ (pages 69-70)

In 1957, following the arrest of 156 leaders, she became fund-raiser and secretary of the Treason Trial Defence Fund. As a comrade committed to the performing arts, in 1959, she was secretary for the musical production King Kong that sought to promote black jazz musicians and non-racial performances. Later, in 1961, Cde Rica became a fundraiser for the Johannesburg branch of the Defence and Aid Fund South Africa. 

Cde Rica was detained during the 1960 state of emergency. She was held at Marshall Square police station, the Fort Prison in Johannesburg, Pretoria Prison and Nylstroom, along with other activists including Helen Joseph and Hilda Bernstein. After 100 days in detention and an 8-day hunger strike she was released without being charged.

Cde Rica was a trailblazer for fresh thinking, and she and Cde Jack played a huge role in the transition from protest to underground resistance. Overcoming her doubts about armed struggle, their Hillbrow flat was turned into a small bomb factory where they manufactured explosives and timing devices for the 1961 Sabotage Campaign. 

In 1962, comrades Rica and Jack were placed under house arrest in that same flat. Jack had to quit his job. Rica’s small salary as a reporter at New Age, the influential Party newspaper which operated from 1953 to 1962, had to support the family.

They fled South Africa in mid-1963, just months before the Rivonia Raid in which the police caught leading members of MK. In the subsequent Rivonia Trial, Cde Jack was cited in the indictment as a ‘co-conspirator’ of the accused in recruiting people for military training and carrying out acts of sabotage for ‘violent revolution’ against the apartheid regime. They were driven over the border by Cde Andrew Mlangeni and set up a transit centre for MK cadres en-route to training abroad outside Lobatsi in the then Bechuanaland (Botswana). The couple were declared prohibited immigrants to Botswana by the British Colonial Government and were deported to London in September 1963.

Between 1964 and 1981, Rica Hodgson worked full-time for the British Defence and Aid Fund and headed the Welfare Section of the International Defence and Aid Fund, covertly channelling funds for the defence of apartheid prisoners and the support of their families. Thousands of people were assisted with regular income transmitted through a network of church and sympathetic people, which Cde Rica helped to establish in various countries. No cent was reported missing from all of these financial responsibilities. Cde Rica became a leading figure in the international anti-apartheid movement. Ever alert to the defence of the revolution, Cde Rica encountered Gordon Winter and Craig Williamson, later exposed as apartheid spies, and warned Canon Collins, the Head of the International Defence and Aid Fund, to have nothing to do with them.

While working for Defence and Aid, she continued to assist in clandestine ANC and MK work. Their small flat in London served as a workshop for Cde Jack and other comrades producing underground material. Most of the movement's printed material for internal South African underground and international distribution was produced there. 

Cde Jack had been a union organiser in the mines of Southern Africa, and as a consequence of his work in the mines, suffered from lung cancer, which ultimately caused his death in exile in 1977. Committed as always to science and education, Cde Rica donated his body to a medical school. Cde Rica herself faced medical treatment for cancer, having facial surgery.

After Cde Jack’s death, Cde Rica volunteered to serve the revolution in another capacity. She joined her son, Spencer, his wife Claudia and their daughter, Tanya, in Tanzania and worked in the development of and administration work at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco), which was established by the ANC after the Soweto Uprising. To many of the young people who spent their formative years in Somafco, Cde Rica was as a mother, a mentor and a dedicated cadre.

Cde Rica embraced the struggle for freedom without regard for the possible consequences to herself and her family, rejecting racial privilege. On her return to South Africa in 1990, she worked as secretary to the late Cde Walter Sisulu until her retirement in 1996. For those who worked in support the ANC leadership on the 10th floor of Shell House, the ANC Head Office at the time, Cde Rica was a mother and friend, a cadre and mentor, and a humble leader. Her contribution to our liberation struggle was recognised when Cde Rica was awarded the National Order of Luthuli in 2007.

When Cde Rica Hodgson died aged of 97 on 11 January 2018, the SACP mourned her as one of the finest revolutionaries of the Communist Party and our national liberation movement. As we celebrate the centenary of her birth this week, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should re-commit to the principles of the Freedom Charter that inspired her revolutionary work.  In her honour, we should drive the SACP Know and Act in Your Neighbourhood Campaign to improve the safety of women and children, to ensure human settlements with electricity, water services, sanitation, a clean environment, health care services, quality education and childcare services. These are the freedoms that Cde Rica fought for throughout her life. Let us lift up her Spear and soldier on. 

Long live the memory of Rica Hodgson long live!

Cde Schreiner is an SACP Politburo member and Deputy Editor of Umsebenzi, and a former MK combatant, political prisoner, MP and government department Director-General.

Rising unemployment, deepening capitalist crises, another reason for a guaranteed income grant 

Sithembiso Bhengu

On Tuesday, 23 June 2020 Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) released its latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) for the first quarter of 2020. The figures show a jump in unemployment, from 29.1 per cent in last quarter of 2019, to 30.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2020. This quarter 344 000 jobs lost. The formal sector lost the greatest number of jobs, 50 000, followed by agriculture, 20 000. The decrease in employment is relatively common in the first quarter. Reports over the past four years show. However, this year’s figures give a harrowing picture when considering that they are drawn from the period before the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its impact on the economy and jobs. 

The first quarter of 2020 already registered more than seven million unemployed South Africans. This number is even more concerning when considering that it depicts the narrow headlining of unemployment numbers extrapolated from the economically active population of people actively looking for work. The expanded definition of unemployment puts proportion above 39 per cent, which means the South Africa has over 10 million unemployed people including discouraged work-seekers. 

The LFS was in the midst of growing devastation and jobs bloodbath sparked by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global lockdown that followed it. Already, economic projections estimate that the economy will contract significantly, which the National Treasury puts at 7 per cent in its revised budget outline. It is expected to cost in excess of about seven million job losses by the end of 2020. This suggests that unemployment could reach as high as 50 per cent by the fourth quarter of this year. The projections point to a likely possibility of South Africa’s unemployment reaching unprecedented crisis proportions. 

The LFS figures reinforce the analysis of the SACP on the interrelated Covid-19 and economic crisis. In its position paper on the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic and broader social impact and the way forward, the SACP describes the endemic capitalist system crisis that the Covid-19 pandemic found already under-way as “the crisis before the Covid-19 crisis”. That means the Covid-19 pandemic sparked the current wave of the crisis of job losses and other worsening capitalist system social crisis indicators, but is by no means its genesis as some economist views would want us to believe. The SACP highlights long-standing structural crisis in the economy, characterised by capitalist accumulation accentuating the crisis of social reproduction associated with rising unemployment, widening inequality and growing vulnerability of average working-class households locked in a vicious cycle of precarity, among others. 

Just in the three months of Covid-19 in South Africa, we have seen a decimation of large sections of our economy and jobs, the hospitality, entertainment, retail, travel and related sectors, to name but a few. In the airline industry, SAA and SA Express are on the brink of collapse, and so also is Comair, which owns Kulula. Mango is also reported to require financial stimulus to keep afloat. In the retail sector Edcon, the largest retail group by employment, is under a business rescue process. In the hospitality sector, a number of well-established hotelier groups are permanently decommissioning hotel establishments. A slew of companies are serving unions and workers with retrenchment notices. In the financial sector banks, which were already going through restructuring before Covid-19, are set to experience even more profound job losses in the coming months. So are companies, and workers, in a number of other sectors. 

The first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have given us a glimpse of the depth of the crisis of social reproduction in our country, to which government responded by introducing temporary unemployment benefit, as well as temporary expansion or increase in child support grants and other social grants. Yet, preliminary locality studies in affected areas indicate vast inadequacies and shortages in the responses by government to curb poverty and hunger for many of our people. 

The worst is still ahead both with regard to the pandemic and the South African economy, the emerging figures warn. As we speak now, the pandemic growth trajectory is rising sharply with numbers of infections already topping 110 000. In the Western Cape the health system is overwhelmed as is the case in the Eastern Cape. With the easing of lockdown regulations, we are likely to continue to see a continuing sharp rise in infection rates, as well as a heightened health crisis. Yet, econometrics proponents have already declared that government focus should be on economic recovery, stimulus to bolster the economy. Meanwhile, all indications point to a different scenario that places human life first. 

By current figures as well as scenario projections, South Africa is facing a triple pronged crisis, namely the health crisis posed by a continuing sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, sharpening crisis of social reproduction and the challenge of economic recovery and development. The challenge is to develop holistic responses to expand health provision, comprehensive social protection and structural economic transformation driven by massive infrastructure development programme, re-industrialisation and massive investment in productive sectors of the economy. In the health sector, this heightens the necessity to expedite the National Health Insurance, but in meantime it must include extraordinary measures by government to open access to healthcare services. 

What these figures tell us is that the pronounced R500 billion ‘stimulus package’ should in all likelihood be regarded as just a starting point, rather than a comprehensive intervention the South Africa needs. Policy makers should consider a guaranteed minimum income not as a polemic but a necessary measure to cushion scores of working-class households affected by the crisis. While the basic income grant discourse dates back to the early 2000s, the advent of Covid-19 and its disastrous impact have brought the debate to the fore, especially in light of the pandemic and apparent desperation and hunger in households. While the announced extra measures on recipients of social grants are welcome, the current temporary unemployment cover of R350 is both too little, falling below R561 food poverty line figure. Added to this, its administration is proving too cumbersome, with very few people that have actually received this benefit almost two months after its promulgation. 

Ideally, South Africa needs to promulgate a universal benefit that is either following the upper-bound poverty line of R1 227 (worst case scenario is to follow the lower-bound poverty line of R810). While the universal basic income is the most appropriate measure in principle, shortcomings in state capacity, lethargy in government institutions and corruption have already delayed the administration of the R350 grant, currently being rolled out to fewer than 100 000 recipients, two months after its promulgation. 

Some locality studies and surveys already point to a fatigue and despondency by those supposedly targeted to receive such a grant. In rural and township communities, many of the vulnerable seem to have moved beyond this measure because it simply hasn’t reached them. What these studies tell is that a universal benefit needs to be coupled with protection benefit for the informal sector. This seems an important area of in research and policy direction, as the informal sector is likely to absorb a large balk of workers retrenched from formal employment. Such broad and extended protection is also likely to assist in sustaining informal entrepreneurship, most of which is survivalist by mainly people excluded by the formal sector. 

Dr Sithembiso Bhengu is the Director at the Chris Hani Institute and writes in his personal capacity. 

 


Issued by The SACP

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