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Michael Alan Harmel (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Michael Alan Harmel (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His relentless fight against injustice as part of the national liberation movement and his contribution to equality for all South Africans.

Profile of Michael Alan Harmel

Michael Alan Harmel did not turn a blind eye to the atrocities that were continuously perpetrated against other racial groups. He was born on 7 February 1915 in Doornfontein, Johannesburg to Irish immigrant parents.

An intellectual and a revolutionary, Harmel was profoundly versed in Marxism-Leninism and deeply devoted to the liberation of all mankind. He spent his adult life working full-time for the Communist Party, fulfilling whatever roles he was assigned to. Harmel was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, its foremost theoretician, and also a member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe’s High Command. He inspired generations of young South African communists, through his own passion and commitment.

Shortly after joining the Communist Party in 1939, Harmel was elected to the Johannesburg District Committee, where he served as a district secretary. He also served on the editorial board of Inkululeko. Together with Moses Kotane, Harmel was one of the only two members of the Central Committee who opposed dissolving the Party in 1950. After its dissolution he worked tirelessly to reconstitute the Party and was a prominent member of the underground party collective.

In 1952, Harmel was one of the first to be banned under the Suppression of Communism Act which he defied and for which he was subsequently arrested. It was the first of endless banning orders and arrests he endured. Harmel was a founding member of the Congress of Democrats, established in 1953. He contributed towards the planning of the Congress of the People at which the Freedom Charter was adopted and was named as a co-conspirator in the Rivonia Trial. In 1961, he joined the High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe and attended frequent meetings at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. Harmel played a leading role in drafting the Communist Party’s new programme “The Road to South African Freedom”, which contained the theoretical approach that he developed.

In 1959, Harmel was appointed the first Editor of the then illegal journal, The African Communist. After he was placed under house arrest in 1962, Harmel was ordered by the Communist Party to go into exile in England to continue editing and producing the journal. He was also commissioned to write a history of the party, which was published and translated into many languages as Fifty Fighting Years under his pseudonym, A. Lerumo.

Harmel played a critical role in forging and maintaining the exceptional bonds that developed between the ANC and the Communist Party during the 1950s. He was part of a prominent group of men and women who dedicated themselves to the struggle for a free and equal South Africa. Michael Harmel passed away on 18 June 1974, in Prague aged 59 years. At the time, he was serving on the international board of the World Marxist Review as its South African delegate.