DOWN THE MEMORY-LANE ADDRESS BY COMRADE NOMVULA MOKONYANE, MEMBER OF THE ANC NEC, DURING THE 39th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF THE CONGRESS OF SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENTS (COSA), HELD AT THE SOWETO THEATRE.
31 MAY 2018
A TRIBUTE TO MAMA WINNIE MADIKIZELA-MANDELA COSAS HONORARY PRESIDENT.
- Allow me to take you back to the preceding decade of 1976-1986. This country was on fire. The campaigns of the liberation struggle came head to head with the “Total Onslaught” strategy of the Apartheid State Securocrats led by PW Botha. It was a desperate time.
- We were edging closer and closer to a civil war scenario. It was a time defined by anger, hate, loss and deep despair.
- At the time the pain delivered to us daily by the Apartheid Security machinery was carefully calculated to elicit a Black response to demonstrate to the international community that they were right.
- The apartheid regime wanted to “prove” that we blacks, were indeed, a dangerous and violent people. That we were among ourselves divided. That they were correct that we were not one unified suppressed majority living inside the most-cruel sociological experiment of the 20th century, called apartheid, second only to slavery.
- They had an artificial self-belief that we were in fact deeply divided on our own sub-racial and ethnic grounds and that the model of White-led and controlled ‘Separate Development” was, in fact, the correct one. That if they gave in to the local and international pressure at the time for a rapid end to Apartheid this country would implode into chaos, anarchy and mayhem.
THE ROLE OF THE YOUTH:
- Frantz Fanon in his seminal work: “The Wretched of the Earth” implores us to understand that “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.… the preceding generations have both resisted the work of the erosion carried on by colonialism and also helped on the maturing of the struggle of today.”
- The mechanism used by colonialist and oppressive regimes is to attempt dislodging the youth from the struggles of the earlier generations.
- And it is against that backdrop that Oliver Tambo does not mince his words about how important the youth is. And he states: “The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future”
- Being youth at the time of his hanging, Solomon Mahlangu legacy reverberates even in far-flung countries, accompanied by the golden words enshrined on the tombstone at Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Mazimbu, Tanzania. And they read thus: “Ours was not for personal glory, nor distinction, but for a noble cause of our time – the liberation of the people of South Africa and the entire humanity.”
- This tombstone is a home to deceased South Africans who fought for South Africa’s liberation. Important to all, is the fact that the college was named after Solomon Mahlangu, a patriot, a freedom fighter, a comrade and son of the soil, whose execution saw unprecedented world-wide campaigns to save his life.
ANC STRATEGY TO DISLODGE THE APARTHEID REGIME:
- The African National Congress developed a Strategy of how best to mobilize the people to confront and resist the apartheid regime and ensure that it was rooted within the people.
- According, the articulation of the strategic perspective of the ANC – to ensure that as a national liberation movement it gave leadership and stewardship to the tenacity of our people’s effort to dislodge the apartheid regime from power, became the centre-piece of struggle.
- In this regard, the Four Pillars of the Struggle were identified and pursued vigorously; these being:
- Mass Mobilisation – within the country, involving millions of our people, represented by formations of the mass democratic movement, including various civic, labour, the women’s, youth and student formations, as well as other progressive forces;
- Underground Action – within the country carried out by organized structures of the ANC, which were based among the people;
- The Armed Struggle – executed by politically and militarily trained cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe; and,
- International Support and Solidarity – at the core of this effort was the resolve to isolate of the apartheid regime and garner active support for the ANC and the broad democratic movement.
- It was against the backdrop of the tilting of the balance of forces in favour of the liberation movement, both inside and outside of the country that the apartheid regime had resorted to more repressive methods to try and stem the tide of the forces of democracy.
- The aftermath of the 1976 Students Uprising saw huge numbers of militant youth swell the ranks of the African National Congress and its military wing uMkhonto we Sizwe in exile.
- And many of them would return back in the country to intensify the armed-struggle in support of the political activities against the apartheid regime’s machine of repression; amongst them was a young Solomon Mahlangu.
- It was on 6th April 1979 that Solomon Mahlangu, another brave son of Africa, a cadre of uMkhonto we Sizwe, was hanged by the apartheid regime.
- The commission of this crime by the apartheid regime, which ignored international pressure to commute Solomon Mahlangu’s death sentence and recognize freedom fighters as prisoners of war, aroused widespread international condemnation.
- Torture, murder, detention and hanging increased at an alarming rate. A number of young political activists including Umkhonto we Sizwe cadres were arrested and charged, receiving long-term imprisonment.
- The words of Solomon Mahlangu when faced with death still ring strong in our ears:
“My blood tree will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”
- Inspired by the words of Solomon Mahlangu when he came face to face with his executioners, the youth our country, at the time, become renewed and gathered new strength to fight battles for another day and many more days to come.
- We all know that the apartheid regime committed many more atrocities and claimed many more victims in the intervening period before the dawn of freedom and democracy.
ALUTA CONTINUA: FORMATION OF COSAS:
- The 1979 hanging of Solomon Mahlangu, a cadre of Mkhonto weSizwe (MK) and the centenary of the Zulu victory over British troops at the Isandhlwana served as the rallying points for the ANC underground campaign.
- The banning and demise of South African Student Movement created a vacuum for the mobilization of young students, and therefore, a need arose to establish a new organization.
- True to the spirit of the 4 Pillars of Struggle – as articulated by the ANC – as the centre-piece of struggle, the movement’s underground machinery kicked in to carry out the mandate.
- The ANC set up a machinery in Botswana, under the leadership of the late comrade Joe Gqabi, to run the Centenary of the Battle of Isandhwana campaign, which had a multi-faceted mini-campaigns in it. The overall strategy was to ensure all the four Pillars were covered.
- In came a young man, then, by the name of Billy Masetlha. He had just been released after along trial charged for ANC and uMkhonto we Sizwe activities.
- The formation of that organization, later to be named Congress of South African Student, became a project of the ANC underground structures. The internal structures, led by Billy Masetlha, were accountable to comrade Joe Gqabi in Botswana. The machinery in Botswana under Joe Gqabi included the late Roller Masinga, Joyce Dipale, Super Moloi, Tsanki Modiakgotla and Thele Moema.
- In the run-up to the launch of the new organization, Billy Masetlha came to Botswana for consultation with comrade Joe Gqabi and the leadership from Lusaka to give a full report on level of organization and readiness. All the necessary support was provided, including financial support for the mobilization of regions and other logistical matters.
- Back inside the country reports from the team kept trickling in giving an indication of the readiness to launch this student organization whose 39th anniversary we are celebrating today.
- It became interesting to understand the choice of the date of launch. Originally, SASM used to hold its annual general meetings and conferences around the date of the Republic Day, 31st May, which was a holiday, then.
- The agreement was reached that the conference launch of the new student organization will be on 30th-31st, May 1979 and the venue identified was Wilgespruit.
- But that time the Isandhwana campaign was spreading like wildfire and the regime was getting more and more into panic mode.
- That, notwithstanding the last lap of preparations, were made and the various regions from across the country finally converged at the venue after a meticulously managed security operation to ensure that the security police were not alarmed by the movements towards the venue.
- At the conference, there was unity of purpose and the level of discourse very high. The toner of the discussions could only be matched by the radical proposals and decisions that were reached.
- Ephraim Mogale, a young and very astute fire-brand from the Northern Transvaal, then, was chosen by consensus to become the President of the new student organization to be called Congress of the South African Student.
- Outside the venue, the security police could only watch with amazement at the level of sophistication which was displayed in an organization such an important and ground-breaking conference.
- The mission to set up a new Congress Movement student organization was accomplished with aplomb and O.R. Tambo, then President of the ANC, sent a note to congratulate the team for a job well done. In the note, he referred to the success of the launch as “the re-birth of the Congress.”
- The note from O.R. Tambo, really summed up the centrality and importance of the formation of COSAS.
- Let us celebrate the 39th anniversary of COSAS in memory of Mama Winnie, the honorary life President of COSAS, and therefore, rededicate our efforts to the transformation of education in her honour.
- As we celebrate the 39th anniversary of this great student, let us all remember all those that were part of the formation of the organization. And also take it to heart and understand how risky it was for individuals who attended such a gathering appreciating how brutal the apartheid regime was.
- Let us ensure that COSA is rooted amongst the people and become a change-agent for radical transformation in society, in general, and education, in particular.