MEMORIAL LECTURE BY CDE NDABENI-ABRAHAMS ON THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF CDE MKWAYI

Programme Director

The Mkwayi Family

The leadership and all Members of the ANC in the Province

Leaders of the Progressive Alliance and Congress movement

Distinguished Guests

Comrades and Friends,

I take this platform only a day after the working people all over the world observed 1 May, the day dedicated to the working people globally. May Day, this year is observed when the threat of Covid19 continues to loom large with variants emerging in different parts of the world. This health crisis has demonstrated its ability to pull us back as we strive to continue in the acceleration of our socio-economic programs towards changing the lives of the people of South Africa. I have no doubt in my mind that we shall come out triumphant, for we are a triumphant nation and people, who have come victorious in many battles before, however it is no small feat to state the socio-economic ravage this pandemic has caused us. Unemployment has risen to unprecedented levels, large business retrenching employees, with many others closing, especially small ones, tax revenue is dwindling as a result.

I thank the provincial leadership of the African National Congress for selecting this day for this lecture. It is the most befitting time to remember this leader of the Great Unwashed-Cde Wilton Zimasile Mkwayi who together with Cde Moses Mabhida were the first SACTU leaders to visit the British Trade Union Council and the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) in Prague when the Movement was beginning its international mobilisation against apartheid.

In the face of the current rumblings within the ANC owing to divisions which do not seem to subside, and which inevitably affect the work of the ANC in government, it is to that end that we must then tap into the exemplary wisdom of one of the most revered leaders of our times, Comrade Wilton Zimasile Mkwayi. I shall not even attempt to narrate the rich story of his life. For the purpose of this lecture, I have chosen to lift some history-making moments and episodes in his life in order to demonstrate the type of a leader comrade Mkwayi was. His contemporaries describe him as a simple person who had a unique ability to solve complex matters. He came from the generation of the uniquely gifted leaders who led the struggle for freedom in South Africa under the battle cry ”Freedom in our life time!”.

But who is Wilton Zimasile Mkwayi?

The humble background from which he hails may have helped prepare him for the future roles he later shouldered in the ablest manner of doing. He was born at Chwarhu in Middledrift eXesi on 17 December 1923. This is where he grew up looking after the family’s livestock and it is here that he learned to plant and nurture amazimba to feed his family. Early in his life he internalised the duty of care as a way of life and this sustained him over the years and sometimes under very trying circumstances.

Being one of the seven children of the family, he only started schooling at the age of 10. He received accolades from both teachers and inspectors as a child who was quick to learn. He broke record as a learner who got promoted to the next grade, sometimes twice in a year until he reached standard 4, where he maintains, this marked the end of his schooling career. He however refused to accept that end of formal schooling means the end of learning. He learned to be a decent citizen when he joined the world of work as a general worker in Cape Town. Those days the journey to Cape Town had a half-way station in De Aar where those who came from the Eastern Cape would be subjected to a dose of DDT over their clothes and bodies. This was said to be a helpful disinfectant in case they carried some diseases. These humiliations were the building blocks in the making of a revolutionary that Cde Mkwayi became.

CDE MKWAYI IN THE CAULDRON OF THE STRUGGLE

Cde Mkwayi moved from Cape Town to find employment in Port Elizabeth eGqeberha. This coincided with the end of the Second World War and the advent of apartheid ushered in by the victory of the National Party in the 1948 general elections. As a worker he organised into trade union movement the textile, metal and dock workers. Port Elizabeth grew to be recognised as a grooming ground for revolutionaries. He worked with leaders like Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Benson Fihla who was from Middledrift too, Gladston Tshume, Aaron Pemba, Vuyisile Mini and many others. Dr Malan’s government passed the most draconian acts some taken from the Nazi German laws. Suppression of Communism Act targeted communists but in application it suppressed all progressive minded people. These laws were met with an equal force of resistance especially eGqeberha.

In the face of brutalities of apartheid comrades learned new ways of waging the struggle. It is here that the practice of what was later to be called the M-Plan began, whereby each street in the townships had a comrade responsible to monitor every activity taking place and report to the chief steward. This way the community monitored and detected enemy movements in the community. It was in this situation that Cde Wilton emerged as a leader of the workers in the trade union movement as well as in the community. When apartheid government limited the number of gathering to a maximum of ten people Cde Mkwayi would move from street to street addressing groups of nine at a time. Cde Ben Fihla remembers how effective this method of organising was. He says it galvanised into action the whole Gqeberha community and almost everybody joined ANC. When M-Plan was later introduced, comrades from PE were distributed to other areas- countrywide to teach how it works in practice.

The roaring 1950s saw major campaigns against apartheid in which Cde Mkwayi played a leading role. He was one of the leading volunteers in the Defiance Campaign. He led the campaign to compile the people’s needs towards adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. He led textile workers to the formation of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in March 1955. He is one of those who were charged with treason in 1956. The Treason Trial pooled together national leaders from different parts of the country to Johannesburg. This allowed leadership to strategize together and plan the revolution from one centre. With hindsight this was the biggest mistake apartheid government made. Many regional leaders graduated from Treason Trial to be prominent national leaders.

It was during this trial that comrade Mkwayi miraculously escaped the watchful eye of the police and escaped and left the country before Treason Trial was finalised. Perhaps this little anecdote will share some glimpse into the man. While entering the Johannesburg Synagogue in 1960 during the treason trial of the 156 congress leaders, Mkwayi was barred from entering the courtroom by a white policeman who thought he was an ordinary member of the public. He took instantaneous benefit of the error to skip the country by flying from Lesotho to Ghana and then to the Czech Republic, where he joined the World Federation of Trade Unions. His political aerodynamism was unparallel. He made two melodramatic escapes from the apartheid police. Both these were at the instance of his sharp eye for the right moment to act.

His second escape was at Rivonia during the Liliesleaf farm arrest, where leaders of the Movement were arrested while having a meeting at the farm. Tata Mkwayi was disguising himself as a gardener at the farm and was once again able to slip off and avoid the arrest.

In a short space of time in exile Cde Bribri visited many countries in Africa, Europe and China mobilising resources to support the struggle of the working people in SA. The British Trade Union Council (TUC) leadership was shocked how Cde Mkwayi came to account for every pound donated by the TUC to SACTU as they claimed that throughout the world they supported unions in the developing world but had never been favoured with the kind of accountability they received from him. This is the kind of a leader he was, disciplined and respectful of the people he led. During this short period he went to China for military training leaving behind Cde Moses Mabhida to continue with the mobilisation of the international trade union movement against apartheid.

In a long autobiographical interview with Sipho Ndhlovu Cde Mkwayi demonstrates the significant role played by internationalism in advancing the struggle for liberation of SA. It is important to emphasise this because nowadays it is easy to frown on other peoples who are in need of our support. SA would not be free without assistance from other countries of the world.

On his return from abroad having received military training he continued working underground. He was a man of versatility and unwavering commitment to the ideals of a free democratic SA. He rose from the ranks to be a Treasurer of SACTU arguably the first truly non-racial trade union federation in SA. He later took over from Oom Ray Mhlaba as Commander in Chief of MK in the early 1960s. Cde Mkwayi came from that generation of leadership who knew that there can be no organisation without discipline and that leaders can be leaders when they are capable of being led.

I titled this lecture “a Giant without a title” as even during that time nor even after our democratic dispensation, and despite not being deployed into top national leadership in government positions after 1994, as it was expected, Cde Bribri never decried positions but always served with all his heart and love wherever the ANC deployed him. He served as a Member of Parliament in the 1st parliament of South Africa between 1994-1999 when it would have been expected that he could become a cabinet minister under the Presidency of his fellow prison mate and given his considerable rich and profound struggle credentials. This is the servitude I refer to above.

Cde Mkwayi believed that continuous learning improves capacity to understand the mood of the people we lead. Without feeling the pulse of the people leaders can easily find themselves influenced by other forces other than the interests of the people they lead. Where this happens it tends to mark the beginning of the end. It is for this reason that from time to time it is the duty of leadership to study and understand the forces lined up as adversaries and develop strategy capable of containing and ultimately defeating the adversaries. There is no disaster worse than fighting an invisible enemy or an ill-defined enemy. It is like fighting igunanti kumakhwenkwe amaXhosa fighting in a dark room with dangerous weapons. Here you may kill even your brother. We must never tire to ask ourselves whether we have defined who the adversary is, as long as the journey to total emancipation is not yet finished.

The generation of Wilton Mkwayi played their role and political freedom was realized in their lifetime. We have taken our rightful place among the nations of the world as equals, thanks to their sacrifices.

However, it must be stated here …. that the freedom of an oppressed and exploited nation can only be complete when political, economic freedom and social emancipation are realized. Despite the efforts of our government, the wealth of SA is largely out of the majority of the country’s population in particular the Africans and women.

What advice would Cde Mkwayi provide under the circumstances?

“Those who live not for themselves but for others, never die but forever live”. For even in their state of physical death, they continue talking to the living through the actions and activities of their well lived lives. Henceforth, to draw the guidance of Cde Mkwayi, we need not have to go far but just to look into the exemplary nature of his life. Hence the question, “what guidance would he have given us if he was alive” becomes not some guess, imaginary work but from the book he wrote with his life.

Unemployment

Unemployment remains the government biggest headache specifically amongst youth and again I have no doubt that he would have advised that we invest in the productive sectors of the economy to create new and sustainable jobs.

Poverty

The face of poverty in our country and in our continent remains women and youth and am certain that Cde Mkwayi would have advised that at the centre of poverty is lack of meaningful participation of the said groups in our economy and therefore inclusion of the above sectors must be compulsory in all aspects. As a farmer himself he would encourage those that have access to land to use it and those that dont have access to be given land to return their dignity.

Inequality

Therefore, in responding to the above challenges, a futuristic thinker as a Tata Mkwayi was going to guide us to look at the opportunities brought about by the advent of technology. He was going to remind us not to be shaken by the rapid advancement of technology, but rather progress through unfamiliar waters of the 21st century, characterized amongst other things, by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era of unprecedented technological growth and change.

On the scourge if violence against women and children

He was going to implore on all of us to intensify our fight against Gender Based Violence and Femicide wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head. He was going to remind us that patriarchal attitudes towards our role as women often make violence an acceptable norm in society, and that we as women, sadly conform to it when we should not. So he was going to call on us to be more proactive than reactive in dealing with GBVF and in rooting out the systemic nature of this pandemic.

Umhlambi ongenamgqeku awunakamva. The future of any nation is guaranteed if its youth are well prepared to take over the reigns of power and advance beyond the current stages of development of any society. Young people have a duty to learn all round, in order to be the deserving heirs of the revolution which Cde Mkwayi’s generation sacrificed all for its realisation. Responsible leadership is always ready to develop those who will take over from them. The habit of stifling development of young people for leadership is a short cut to destroying the organisation. When we consciously develop young leaders we will be confident to assign them according to their abilities without fear of failure especially if we continue to support them. Here springs the question of whether to deploy cadres or not. I am still to see one country in the world where the political party that forms the government of the day does not deploy its cadres. Part of the merit to be deployed is the understanding of and have unwavering commitment to the vision of the party that forms the government, which in our case cannot be at odds with the constitution.

As we enter the epoch of the Fourth Industrial revolution we need young people who are imbued with the spirit of patriotism of Cde Mkwayi to lead a new revolution which is characterised by an understanding of collaborative eco-systems, solidarity and promotion of that which enhances the common good. If we heed the lessons of Covid19 we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. For too long we took for granted the air surrounding us until Covid19 showed us that oxygen was more important that the valuables in your safe. It is proper for us to ask how we spend globally on arms aimed at destroying one another while there are no hospitals to take care of the sick.

His attributes

Those who know Cde Bribri, young and old, refer to his sense of humility towards all but his lack of hesitance to join the battle if the rights and freedoms of others were threatened to whatever system, life threatening as it would be. His tenacity and unparallel courage have been the hallmark of his political life as shown above. He was known for his bravery for instance, as a volunteer-in-chief during the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign in the early 1950s, Cde Mkwayi led a march of hundreds through central Gqebera to the docks, in a city that was known for the worse police brutality and callousness of the time. He was very strict on organisational principles and discipline, things that have since disappeared in our midst.

At this hour of need one cannot but remember a folktale narrated by our grandparents about two cats that got a piece of cheese to share between them. A monkey that was close by witnessed the argument and intervened offering to mediate and find the ultimate solution. He cut it into two unequal pieces and put on scale and the scale fell one side and the disadvantage cat complained. The monkey took a byte and scale fell on the other side and the monkey said it would be undemocratic to leave the scale unbalanced and the process continued until there was nothing to fight for as cheese was finished. He then asked the cats if there was anything left to complain about. Finally, he advised them that as a democrat he believes in equality and thanked them for the trust they afforded him. Comrades let us be on guard lest the misfortune that befell the two cats catch up with us.

Tatu’Mkwayi had he been here he would remind us that freedom is incomplete when we still fail to share equitably the resources like land and spectrum. He would call upon the leaders of our Movement to stop fighting among themselves and focus on improving the quality of life for the entire citizenry.

In closing allow me to quote OR Tambo in his closing remarks of the 1968 ANC consultative conference in Morogoro thus:

“The order that comes from the conference is ‘çlose ranks’ Be vigilant, comrades. The enemy is vigilant. Beware of the wedge driver! Men who creep from ear to ear, driving wedges among us; who go around creating splits and divisions. Beware the wedge driver! Watch his poisonous tongue.”

Phila ngonaphakade moya ka Cde Mkwayi phila ngonaphakade! Sikhokele President Ramaphosa sikhokele!

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