Saturday, July 10, 2010

100th Birthday Celebration for Govan Mbeki: A Reflection On His Life

Readers Forum
Courtesy of ANC Today

100th Birthday Celebration of Oom Gov - a reflection on his life

Today, Friday - 9 July 2010 marks the centenary birth our late
veteran, intellectual, journalist, teacher, organizer, and a
distinguished leader of our liberation movement, Comrade Govan
Archibald Mbeki - a man who was described by Ruth First as, a stern
disciplinarian in possession of sharp mind who is intolerant of the
foolish and fainthearted.

It is an interesting coincidence that his birth was just few months
after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, a strategic
unification of the white oppressors in the country post the Anglo-Boer
war that had spanned the preceding period before 1910.

1910 is the year that was a cumulative point that created particular
concrete conditions for the revolutionary trajectory that the
oppressed were to take in pursuit of their liberation against
colonizers who had chosen to assume full citizenship in South Africa.

Far from the uncoordinated, sporadic and atomised wars of resistance
across country along tribal clans, the union of South Africa
facilitated unification of purpose across tribal and ethnic groupings
to the formation of the liberation movement for all of the oppressed
and that was the ANC in 1912.

We celebrate the life of Oom Gov' because he came to being for a
special purpose in life of fulfilling what the forebears set
themselves to achieve when they witness the coalescence of the white
settlers in 1910, a war of control of South Africa and all its natural

Govan Mbeki was born in the former Transkei. Like all those who were
lucky to have access to education at a time, he went to a missionary
school after which he enrolled for a teachers' diploma in Fort Hare
University. In 1936 he completed his BA Arts degree with politics and

A son of a Christian farmer and a headman, according to Mark Gessiver: His destiny was to be a black Englishman. He followed this path to Healdtown and Fort Hare and was, with two University degrees, to become one of the most educated black men of his generation. But he was of the generation that began to develop an understanding of how they had been subjugated rather than liberated as their parents had thought. By white man's school and church and he became committed to both African Nationalism and Communism while at University.

He joined the ANC in 1935 and the SACP in 1940's and he began to
concretely take special interest in rural motive forces and in
particular the peasants as important forces for the revolution. As a
teacher in Natal and Eastern Cape, he was dismissed for refusing to
lead student prayer sessions.

He turned to his other area of career interest as a writer, publicist
and a journalist. In 1938, he edited the Territorial magazine, which
under his stewardship was changed to Inkundla yabantu focusing on
issues affecting local people.

In 1943 he was instrumental in the drawing up of a document called “
African Claims” which constituted a basis for some important elements
for the Freedom Charter in 1955.

In 1954 Oom Gov' joined the editorial of the liberation paper at a
time, called the New Age where he worked with the luminaries such as
Ruth First, Brian Brunting and Sonya Bunting. He made a lot of
contribution in terms of giving perspectives on the developments in
the countryside particularly in the Eastern Cape.

New Age, like Inkundla yabantu was the trusted paper for the
liberation movement and was not controlled by the system or by media
houses sympathetic to the white oppressor. It was for the movement and for the people. It did not to live that long, apartheid regime's
Justice Minister JB Vorster banned it in 1962 just 10 years after the
Guardian was banned.

Those were difficult days when apartheid regime was stamping its
authority in all forms against liberation forces. In 1950 SACP was
banned and was followed by banning of the ANC in 1960. The New
Ageeditorial team formed a new paper called Spark, and again Vorster
banned it in the similar fashion.

In 1963 Oom Gov was appointed Secretary of the High Command of
uMkhonto weSizwe. In 1964 together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathadra, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mohlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Wilton Mkwayi, Dennis Goldberg and others was charged in the famous Rivonia treason trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island.

He served 24 years until his release in 1997.

Even in Robben Island, Mbeki, with other veterans like Harry Gwala was a leading political education teacher of many young comrades. He was a principal designer of the political curriculum.

Comrade Oom Gov was a prolific writer who recognized the power of
writing and how this can mobilize people through revolutionary theory
in the text and he fused it with practical struggles to give meaning
to the revolution. His first writings were essays going under the book
called: The Transkei in the making in 1939.

His most famous book influenced by the revolts in country-sides such
as in Sikhukhuneland, Zululand, Zeerust and more importantly in
Pondoland between 1956 to 1960, was: South Africa: Peasants Revolt.
These revolt for him, were important to draw attention of the movement
that its concentration should not only be in urban areas in terms of
struggle and pay less attention to the rural areas where peasants were
an important force against oppression. In the events of that time he
demonstrably showed the capacity of the rural masses in fighting
against apartheid rejecting imposition of chiefs, high tax and pass
laws to women.

Oom Gov whilst in jail awaiting trial under the law of Explosive Act
wrote manuscripts in the toilet papers and hide them with Dickens
novel. These manuscripts and other seminal writings gave him an
international recognition and was awarded honorary doctorate by the
University of Amsterdam in Sociology. Leading cadres of the alliance
presented these papers under the book titled “National Question in
South Africa” edited by Maria Van Diepen. Here we count Comrades Joe Slovo, Kader Asmal, Mzala Nxumalo, Pallo Jordan and others.

The Peasant Revolt book becomes all more important as Ingquza
Municipality in Eastern Cape had just celebrated 50th anniversary of
the revolt in then Pondoland (Ingquza Hill) where peasants at a time
even had to set up their own mountain committee called Intaba
committee (their Paris Commune) which was a buffer against apartheid
imposition. Although 11 peasants perished in the war but the stoicism
shown was revolutionary.

In 1992, Oom Gov released “Struggle for the Liberation” and in 1996
“Sunset in midday.”

It is without doubt that Comrade Govan Mbeki, father of the former ANC and country's President, represented a rare breed of a revolutionary, an intellectual and a communist who brought to us important lessons of how we can mobilize the working class in rural dwellings and incorporate them to the totality of the broader working class struggles against the common enemy.

In their tribute in his passing in 2001, NEHAWU put it correctly that;
“Comrade Govan as a communist intellectual. He always saw his life in
terms of advancing national liberation and socialism. He saw these two
as distinct but organically linked, the national liberation can never
be met without moving uninterruptedly towards socialism.”

As the then ANC Secretary General comrade Kgalema Motlanthe put it,
Govan Mbeki understood the experience of the relationship between
migrant labour and capitalist production.

Oom Gov would have never tolerated greed and culture of materialism
festering from all directions. He would have reminded the movement and the alliance as a whole of the noble duty to serve people not for
personal gain but for the people, in particular the poor crying loud
for real social transformation.

This was a man of rare breed that the tripartite alliance ought to
lift high his legacy and the pedigree for us, the youth, so that we
align our footsteps exactly to his footprints as we trudge. There is
no better honour we can give to Mzizi other than doubling our effort
in meeting the objectives we have set ourselves in this term of office
within the context of the key five pillars.

Khaye Nkwanyana is the Deputy National Secretary of the Young Communist League

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