The Mandela Capture Site outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: REUTERS
The Mandela Capture Site outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: REUTERS

FORMER president Nelson Mandela was a member of the South African Communist Party’s (SACP’s) central executive committee at the time of his arrest in 1962, the SACP and the African National Congress (ANC) confirmed on Friday.

Even though it had always been denied, the ANC and the SACP confirmed that Mr Mandela had served on the party’s central executive committee in their statements paying tribute to the antiapartheid icon. There had been much debate about the issue among historians and academics.

SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila on Thursday said he was a member of the party, but it was denied at the time for "political reasons".

"There was a huge offensive by the oppressive apartheid regime at the time against communists. They portrayed the ANC as a communist organisation, but it was not," he said.

Mr Mapaila said all the Rivonia Trialists were members of the party.

"At his arrest in August 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party, but was also a member of our party’s central committee. To us as South African communists, Cde Mandela shall forever symbolise the monumental contribution of the SACP in our liberation struggle," the party said in a statement reacting to Mandela’s death.

"The contribution of communists in the struggle to achieve the South African freedom has very few parallels in the history of our country. After his release from prison in 1990, Cde Madiba became a great and close friend of the communists till his last days."

At the time Mandela was released from prison the Soviet Union was crumbling and there was "too much negativity around the Soviet system", Mr Mapaila said.

"But we should not focus on that now, let us focus on resting the old man," he said.