Moses M. Kotane was born at Tamposstad in the Rustenburg district of the western Transvaal in 1905, Kotane came from a devoutly Christian peasant family of Tswana origin. Largely self-taught, he received only a few years of formal schooling, but became an insatiable reader. Later as a young worker he enrolled in the Communist-run night school in Ferreirastown, Johannesburg, where he became known for his ability to master the most abstruse political writings.

Starting to work at 17 in Krugersdorp, Kotane was alternately a photographer's assistant, domestic servant, miner, and bakery worker. In 1928 he joined the African National Congress (ANC) but found disappointingly ineffectual organisation. The same year he joined the African Bakers' Union, an affiliate of the new Federation of Non-European Trade Unions then being built up by the Communist Party.

In 1929 Kotane joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), and soon became both the vice-chairman of the trade union federation and a member of the party's political bureau. In 1931 he became a full-time party functionary. Working as both a party and a union organiser, he also set the type for Umsebenzi, the Communist paper then edited by Edward Roux.

In 1935, because of an ideological dispute with Lazar Bach, then chairman of the CPSA, Kotane was removed from the party's political bureau. He was later restored to his position, however, and in 1939 he became general secretary of the party, a post he continued to hold through the CPSA's subsequent phases of legality, illegality, and exile. Kotane combined his strong convictions as a Marxist with a commitment to the goals of nationalism and a firm belief in the importance of an African leadership and initiative in the struggle for equal rights.

In 1943 he was invited by A.B. Xuma to serve on the Atlantic Charter committee that drew up African Claims, and in 1946 he was elected to the ANC national executive committee, a position he held until bans forced his nominal resignation in 1952.

When the Communist Party was banned in 1950, Kotane moved from Cape Town, which had been the party's headquarters, to Johannesburg, where he opened a furniture business in Alexandra Township.

In 1955 he attended the Bandung conference of Third World leaders as an observer and remained abroad for the better part of the year, travelling widely in Asia and Eastern Europe.

In early 1963 he left South Africa for Tanzania, where he became the treasurer-general of the ANC in exile. In elections held in Tanzania in April 1969 he was returned to the national executive committee. He later suffered a stroke and went for treatment to Moscow, where he remained until his death in 1978.


Moses Kotane
Memorial Heritage Site
Pella Village, North West