Picture: Independent Archives – Members of the Black Consciousness Movement raise fists in salute as they carry the coffin of Stephen Bantu Biko, one of the founder members of the Movement who was brutally killed on September 12, 1977 by the Apartheid police. The passing of Hlaku Rachidi, a comrade and close friend of Biko, also constitutes a moment of profound national sadness, for in life, he lived and worked for a reality wherein black people would freely enjoy the beauty and wealth of the land of their ancestors, the writer says.
By Veli Mbele
‘Salute the warrior
Motionless on the battlefield
Shorn of life
Yet living evermore
He who gave his last
Gave his sacred best
That we might be free
Carrying our load
He wrote our destiny’
This extract is taken from the poem ‘Salute The Warrior’ by the Azanian poet and elder freedom fighter, Ntate Donato Mattera. Even though this poem may not have been written with Ntate Hlaku Rachidi in mind, this extract nevertheless encapsulates the essence of his life and meaning to us as a black people.
For my generation of black consciousness activists, Ntate Rachidi is a legend. An icon. A source of inspiration. A man among men and freedom fighter of the highest calibre.
For this reason, his passing constitutes a monumental loss to those of us who share in his philosophy of black consciousness.
His passing also constitutes a moment of profound national sadness, for in life, he lived and worked for a reality wherein black people will freely enjoy the beauty and wealth of the land of their ancestors.
The sum-total of his life compels us to ask ourselves difficult as the black consciousness family and on the nature of our existence as the natives in South Africa.
His life forces those who share his vision for a truly liberated Azania, to engage in critical and honest reflection on the extent to which black nothingness has been institutionalised in South Africa, and our failure to provide a well thought-out political programme that counters all this.
His life reminds us that, from the black consciousness perspective, when we talk about the liberation struggle, we are not referring to a nefarious scheme that has been designed to enable the fraudulent enrichment of a few.
By the national liberation project, we refer to the historically-evolved and sacred project that is led by ethically grounded men and women of substance, whose only preoccupation is to serve their people to the best of their abilities.
His life reminds us that, the titles ‘comrade’, ‘cadre’ or ‘leader’, are ordinarily reserved for a special breed of honourable individuals among us, who are incorruptible, whose thoughts and actions are driven by selflessness, an undying love for their people and have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the national liberation project.
His life reminds us that, like most of the African countries that have declared’ freedom’ from colonial domination, the period that followed the declaration of ‘freedom’ in South Africa, has been characterised by the tyranny of the elite, which includes the institutionalisation of neocolonialism, neoliberalism and the dangerous intersection of the interests of career criminals and those of politicians.
His life serves as a necessary reminder that, the social and economic hardships that black people continue to endure in South Africa today, are a direct result of the failure by the forces of liberation to resolve the interconnected questions of land repossession, white racism, capitalism and national liberation.
There is also a sense in which Ntate Rachidi’s passing signals the gradual disappearance of a particular breed of black political leaders, who lives revolved around the fundamental values of the black liberation struggle.
However, his life also provides the younger generation of activists, within and outside the black consciousness movement, with the opportunity to draw lessons from his monumental life, and on the basis of such lessons, come together and work out a programme that is geared towards the realisation of the vision that inspired Ntate Rachidi and his peers, that of bestowing upon South Africa a more human face.
On September 17 this year, we gathered under the auspices of Mutapa Afrocentric Dialogues at Funda Centre in Soweto to mark the 45th anniversary of the blood curdling murder in detention of his comrade and friend, Bab’Bantu Biko. We had arranged through his daughter, Ous Palesa, for him to be one of our guests of honour.
Unfortunately, due to the fragility of his health, he couldn’t join us at Funda Centre. We then unanimously agreed that, after the commemorative event, we would go to see him at his home.
Even though we didn’t give the family sufficient notice, they still received us warmly. We spent the remainder of the afternoon with him and his family. We sat and listened to him. He regaled us with anecdotes about his work in the Black People’s Convention (BPC), including his rendezvous with Biko and his incarceration by the apartheid police.
Even though some of the anecdotes related to some of the most painful moments of his political life, he however never lost a moment to sprinkle each anecdote with humour. It was in that moment that it become even clearer to us that, we were in the presence of a supremely courageous and special human being.
Ntate Rachidi sacrificed his youth and dedicated his life to the struggle for black dignity in South Africa. He did this fully aware that he was not just risking detention or torture, but also being killed.
In life, he epitomised the heroism that is contained in the words of the Jamaican writer and poet, Claude McKay, who wrote:
‘If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot.’
It is for this reason that today, his name enjoys honourable mention among those of the other giants of the black consciousness movement such as Bab’uBantu Biko, Ntate Onkgopotse Tiro, Mme Winnie Kgware, Mam’Nikiwe Matshoba, Ntate Mapetla Mohapi, Bab’George Wauchope, Bab’Muntu Myeza, Bab’Mthuli Shezi and many others.
We as Black people owe Ntate Rachidi an incalculable debt of gratitude, for his sacrifices and those of his family, at a time when the racist-colonial regime was killing and hanging black people and their leaders, with naked impunity.
It is also an interesting coincidence of history that he leaves us in the same month in which he was jailed by the apartheid regime, under the repugnant Section 10 of the Internal Security Act, 45 years ago. This was part of a nationwide crackdown by the Vorster regime on the black consciousness movement and its leadership.
In the final analysis, it is no exaggeration to say that, in life, Ntate Rachidi was the embodiment of the irrepressible philosophy of black consciousness, which taught black people to never surrender their souls to the European invader or bow at the feet of whiteness.
He is a national liberation hero and of him, history shall say: here lies one of Azania’s greatest sons. One who loved his people so much that he gave his only life to the noblest cause of all-the liberation of his people. May the great name of Ntate Hlaku Rachidi live on in our hearts and minds.
Veli Mbele kaSompisi is a former president of the Azanian Students Convention and co-founder of the think tank Mutapa Afrocentric Dialogues.