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Tiego Moseneke’s death a reminder about the fate of former liberation fighters

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Picture: Timothy Bernard – Tiego Moseneke was a great intellectual and political activist, who helped others in need and demonstrated empathy and compassion, the writer says.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

On April 20, 2023, the country was robbed of one of its finest prominent lawyers and former student political activists, Tiego Moseneke. Moseneke, who was a brother to former deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, perished in a car accident.

Talking at his memorial service, various speakers corroborated one another stating that Moseneke was a great intellectual and a political activist of note who helped others in need and demonstrated empathy and compassion. Confirming his different identities, politicians like Deputy President Paul Mashatile and renowned lawyers like Advocate Dali Mpofu praised Moseneke for his service to the people.

While this was a tragic loss by all accounts, the untimely passing of Moseneke served as a stark reminder about the country’s unfinished business regarding the plight of former liberation fighters.

It is a tragedy that as a country we remember our former liberation fighters and their sacrifices once they are gone. Even a prominent liberation fighter like Moseneke was not properly recognised until his untimely passing. As a lawyer, he could take care of himself even if he was snubbed by the post-apartheid government. What about the rest of former liberation fighters who have no jobs, no education and who cannot take care of themselves and their families?

When I heard about the tragic death of Moseneke and subsequently listened to the accolades made by different people at his memorial service, I was reminded of studies that I have carried out about former liberation fighters who operated in rural areas across the country and specifically those who operated around Ingwavuma, uMhlabuyalingana and uPhongolo.

When former President Jacob Zuma delivered his eulogy following the passing of Mama Nokuhamba Nyawo of Emachobeni at Ingwavuma, many people were moved as he recounted the different roles that Nokuhamba played for the liberation movement. Apart from harbouring liberation fighters, especially Umkhonto weSizwe cadres, she also provided them with the necessary intelligence which saved many lives. Her children had to suffer excruciating physical and emotional pain. Sadly, they have also passed on one by one living as paupers in a country for which they made sacrifices.

When the country talks about the ‘Border Caves’ located at Nkungwini, which falls under Ingwavuma within Jozini Local Municipality, the tendency is to view these caves as potential tourist sites. Very few people bother to link them to the names of people who manned these caves and sacrificed their families in order to keep the flame of the liberation struggle burning.

To this day, the names of people like Hlalakwezakhe “Russia” Mbhamali, Mandla Mngomezulu, Pass Four from the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal and many others are fading from people’s memories and yet these are the people who contributed immensely to keeping the struggle alive.

Even former liberation fighters from the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) such as the late Kati Mngomezulu and Ms Mafuleka whose dilapidating home is located along the road which leads to the Borer Caves have continued to live in misery almost thirty years since the dawn of democracy. There are many others who reside at uMhlabuyalingana who live under similar conditions.

At uPhongolo, former liberation fighters such as Commander Mbhamali who was in charge of the entire northern region and Mrs Gumbi who was one of the Councillors at uPhongolo Municipality while it was still under the ANC but has since retired have joined the list of unsung heroes and heroines from northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Many former liberation fighters were assisted by Mama Gumbi to cross over to eSwatini. She risked her own life by ensuring that these liberation fighters arrived in eSwatini safely or found their safe passage into South Africa to carry out their mission. Now that she is no longer active in politics due to her advanced age, her name has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

These are just some of many former liberation fighters who are known to Members of Parliament and those who are stationed at Luthuli house but who do not receive the recognition that they deserve. Once they are gone like Moseneke, that will be the only time that the nation will know about them and the different roles that they played in the liberation struggle.

This is an indictment on the current political leadership. Why should we praise our former liberation fighters once they are gone when we shunned them while still alive and ignored their plea for descent housing and financial support?

One of the most concerning issues is that of the Special Pension. Those in government know fully well that the liberation struggle was anchored on the guerrilla warfare. As such, many of the activities were carried out in secrecy.

Ironically, the same people who should know better are bold enough to insist that they require a ‘Force Number’ before one can qualify for the Special Pension. Common logic dictates that it would be difficult at best and impossible at worst to meet this requirement given the nature of the operations at the time. In fact, those who infiltrated the liberation movement and posed as “cadres” while they were working for the apartheid regime stand a better chance to have these Force Numbers compared to real liberation fighters. This cannot be fair by all accounts.

While the issues I have ventilated above are real and genuine, I am acutely aware of the fact that processing them is more daunting. It is an undeniable fact that even people who never raised a finger to fight against the notorious apartheid government might use the opportunity to project themselves as former liberation fighters. As such, more screening is necessary. But leaders like Mbhamali from uPhongolo already referred to above could assist in this regard.

There is something very easy to do by the current government. Many rural areas where these former liberation fighters come from and where some of them reside still lack basic services such as running water and proper road infrastructure. While government is busy identifying genuine liberation fighters (those whose identity is in doubt), the least that government could do is to provide basic services to those areas that made sacrifices.

There is no doubt, for example, that Ingwavuma, uMhlabuyalingana and uPhongolo contributed immensely to the liberation struggle. There is also no doubt that many rural areas in provinces like the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Northwest were instrumental in sustaining the liberation struggle due to their geographical location. It is also a fact that these are some of the areas where basic services are a rare commodity. Why is it so difficult for government in all three spheres to attend to the needs of these people?

In Ward 22 which falls under Jozini Local Municipality, people have lost hope. The road infrastructure is a shame. The bus that used to ferry people to and from Ingwavuma had to stop its service due to the terrible condition of the road. Many people have since relocated from this area to places like Bhambanana and Jozini.

This is even though one of the well-known former liberation fighters Thembinkosi Raymond “Ray” Simelane comes from this area (Road 1838) and was laid to rest at his home next to Echibini Elikhulu. Surely, he must be turning in his grave when seeing that all that he fought for has come to nothing.

What is concerning is that Jozini Dam has more than enough water. It is a disgrace that residents still do not have access to clean water after many promises were made that water would be provided. Other areas have water pipes being installed and in Simelane’s area there is no sign at all that clean water will ever be provided. Ironically, if one leader dies, politicians will come in their numbers to pay their respect and make fresh promises which will never be fulfilled!

It is against this background that the passing of Moseneke serves as a stark reminder of the grievous mistake that our politicians have made (and continue to make), as well as the injustice that has been meted out against former liberation fighters and their places of origin.

While it is true that those who were involved in the struggle did so voluntarily, it is equally true that they deserve a share from the gains that have accrued since the dawn of democracy. If people who either did nothing for the liberation struggle or were the opponents of such a struggle are now benefitting, it cannot be fair that genuine former liberation fighters are ignored and are only remembered once they are gone.

Meeting Mama Sophie De Bruyn on April 20 in Gqeberha, listening to her life stories, and hearing about the passing of Moseneke on the same date, reminded me of the travesty of justice that we as a country have wittingly or unwittingly sustained for so long. If we cannot do justice to the individual former liberation fighters, the least we could do is to develop their areas in their honour.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University.

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