ADDRESS BY KZN PREMIER, HON SIHLE ZIKALALA AT THE KWAZULU-NATAL LEGISLATURE SESSION TO COMMEMORATE HARRY GWALA - PIETERMARITZBURG, 23 JULY 2020
Speaker of the House, Honourable Nontembeko Boyce;
Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ndobe
Members of the Executive Council & Honourable Members;
Yesterday, the solemn African sun rose to bring us the sad news that the gods of Africa had finally come to take our beloved elder and fountain of wisdom, our liberation stalwart and Isithwalandwe Andrew Mlangeni.
Although uBaba uMlangeni was in the twilight of his extraordinary life at 95 years old, still his death cuts deep as we realise that the transitioning of the last Rivonia Trialists closes a chapter in our long journey towards freedom and justice.
We convey deep sympathies to his family. We honour him for his integrity, his selfless service to the downtrodden, and for not betraying the struggle of the oppressed.
Now he has reunited with the other Rivonia Trialists – Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Harold Wolpe and Raymond Mhlaba.
He is now with his comrades and the two-time Robben Islander after whom today’s sitting is dedicated to, Isithwalandwe Harry Themba Gwala would in seven days have turned 100 years.
Remembering Gwala is not only an important part of the struggle of memory against forgetting.
Remembering him in this House is also opportune as it is here where after our elections in 1994, he served as an MPL and the Chief Whip of the African National Congress. In Madiba’s words, the Chief Whip became, “the guardian of ANC policies in the caucus.”
Fondly known as Umunt’ Omdala and the Lion of the Midlands, he was aligned with the wisdom of the sages; just as he distinguished himself in revolutionary courage and fearlessness.
We remember him for his incisive intellect and single-minded devotion to the liberation struggle.
We envy those who heard him speak; we celebrate those who saw him in action; and we bless those who were at the feet of this passionate teacher and great orator. So, in remembering him, we also remember some of his famous students who include Moses Mabhida, William Khanyile, and His Excellency President Jacob Zuma.
Writing on the 20th of June 2020, the day Cde Gwala passed away, former Premier of KwaZulu-Natal and current South African High Commissioner to India, S’bu Ndebele said:
"Cde Mntomdala was a teacher par excellence. He hated learning by rote. He had so internalised Marxism- Leninism that he could give us lectures for two years without any text, and when you finally lay your hands on the book, be it Das Kapital, Maurice Cornforth or Dobbs, it's like you have long read these.
But he also had so much depth and detail about the country we live in, South Africa. You just marvelled that you could be a university graduate and yet find so much you had never heard of, both in content and perspective".
Honourable Members, although it was not said often while this giant of the revolution walked among us, we must thank him for his honesty and frankness. He spoke truth to power without flinching because he understood that without being truthful to one another, we would have delayed the revolution or allowed it to be sold at the altar of political expediency and political correctness.
Paying tribute at his funeral, former President Nelson Mandela said, “Personally I was fortunate to cross swords with him on many an issue, both in prison and outside. I would naturally insist that I was right; as Harry would definitely insist that he too was right.
But the abiding lesson from all this is that none of us emerged from such debates the poorer in knowledge; in appreciating issues from different angles; and indeed in forging an enriched understanding of struggle.”
Umunt’ Omdala was the joy, hope, and inspiration of the conscious, radical, and militant South African youth. He moulded them to be fearless, and opened their eyes to the promise of socialism. He believed that the struggle for the National Democratic Revolution, and ultimately socialism, needed dedicated revolutionary cadres rooted in a radical political theory that have the capacity to overthrow the exploitative capital relations of production which produces and reproduces underdevelopment, inequality, poverty, and unemployment.
As a revolutionary cadre and a committed Communist, he had absolute faith in the power of the poor masses to be their own liberators against national oppression which in the South African case, saw both class and race intertwined to exploit blacks in general and Africans in particular.
Thanks to this distinguished son of KwaZulu-Natal who together with his comrades, became a key architect of our freedom and democracy.
Today we also pay heartfelt tribute to the fallen spear of the nation for his great contribution to the ending of violence and forging of peace in our province and our country. In his honour and the multitudes who died in KwaZulu-Natal during the so called “black-on-black” violence, we must remain united and deepen peace, tolerance, and development.
We thank Comrade Gwala for his great contribution in the building of the South African trade movement and for laying the foundation for South Africa’s progressive Labour Relations Act. Today, as our country faces a jobs bloodbath and a weakened economy, we look to the labour movement to rise to defend the historical gains of the working class and fight for the protection of jobs.
It is our revolutionary duty as patriots to oppose attempts to erase stalwarts like Harry Gwala from the annals of history or the consciousness of the youth and the masses. South Africa is a much better place today than it was before 1994 because of patriots like Gwala who genuinely believed in the ideal of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal, and prosperous society. Our country needs many fearless stalwarts like him who will speak truth to power even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Cde Gwala was a passionate non-racialist who understood the world through dialectical materialism and history. Looking at the unique circumstances of South Africa and its characterisation of a Colonialism of a Special Type, he believed that the ANC was on the right side of history. He thought that while the philosophy of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) had succeeded in psychological liberation and restoring black pride, it was still incapable to bring about a non-racial, equal, and just dispensation. He was a proud member of the ANC and a devout Communist who had no doubt that the ANC was at this phase of the struggle best placed to deliver a National Democratic Society.
In the centenary year of his birth, we must strengthen the unity of the oppressed masses of our land, but also the unity of the working class which is carrying much of the disproportionate suffering that has been visited upon with numerous challenges created by the apartheid regime and the current challenge of Covid-19. We must ensure that we dismantle all the structures and institutions which continue to perpetuate race-based inequality and gender-based inequality.
The renaming of Edendale Hospital where he worked for four years and mobilised staff and health workers is part of the struggle for memory against forgetting. And the Provincial Government is in full support of declaring the gravesite of great giant a national heritage site.
It is the duty of our generation to ensure that the South African youth learns about this giant of our revolution. One of the tragedies that we still face as a country is that we do not write enough about our heroes and heroines. Comrade Gwala addressed many gatherings in KZN and throughout the country. He did a number of interviews, wrote critical essays, but all this archive with his fingerprints and voice are not in one source like a book.
This great teacher and writer passed on not having written his own biography and many people who knew him intimately are passing away because of age. We hope that the Harry Gwala Foundation which was established last year, will prioritise the writing of a book on the life of Harry Gwala. This we all owe to his memory. We also challenge our writers and historians to record this history in the appropriate mediums and to make it available for the benefit of generations to come.
And there can be no doubt that when we have achieved peace and safety for women and children on our streets, homes, and places of work; and when we have banished inequality and poverty, that the Lion of the Midlands will find his eternal peace.
If he could speak again, he would be honest again about the dangers of divisions in society; the lack of decisive economic transformation with perpetuate poverty and inequality.
His life is a sharp reminder of the importance of organising the masses so that they can liberate themselves from the tyranny of race and gender based inequality, poverty, and underdevelopment
We pay tribute to him for teaching us that, “People don't get their freedom merely because they want to die for it, and merely because they are prepared to suffer. They still need to be organised properly, and have a proper direction…the important thing is to organise people properly, know how to go forward, know how to go back if needs must be. Know when to advance and give a big push.”
And we all know that the era of Covid-19 demands that people are effectively mobilised and organised to protect themselves from preventable infections.
It’s a time that demands that we all lend a hand to give history a big push towards a more just and equitable world order. It is the time to refuse that the vast wealth of our country is owned and controlled by a tiny minority while the overwhelming majority languished in a sea of squalor, poverty, and indignity.
The poor have suffered too long and many are feeling they can no longer tolerate a world order that is designed to keep them marginalised and economically excluded. If we fail to lead this push, we could have a leaderless and chaotic revolt that will leave everyone a loser.
This Legislature has an important task to hold all of us accountable about the impact of our programmes in changing the lives of the people, especially the poorest of the poor.
- Concrete understanding and execution of the revolutio Striving for scientific knowledge - Even today socio-economic and political conditions obtaining in the country require cadres that are armed with revolutionary theory. But as asserted by Karl Marx “Practice without Theory is blind, Theory without practice is sterile. Harry Gwala would not only theorise the revolution but would tenaciously lead the execution of all revolutionary programmes.
- Organiser and educate people to be part of the struggle. In the contemporary struggles we must mobilise people to be part of the fight against crime and social-ills. People must take a lead in the fight against gender-based violence in the localities, People must be organised into organs of people’s power, such as school governing bodies. People must lead the social economy in order to eliminate poverty.
- Economic Growth and Radical Economic Transformation: In commemorating Harry Gwala, we are called to strategise and ensure that we re-ignite the country’s economy. But he would call on us not to re-ignite the same economic structure that existed before Covid-19. He would advise us that this is an opportune moment to restructure the institutions, system, operations and ownership of the economy. Thus he would emphasise that Radical economic transformation remains the policy position of the ruling party must be implemented in full.
I am convinced that Harry Gwala would applaud the launch and implementation of “One Home One Garden’, he would applaud the execution of Operation Vula, especially RASET, Bulk Buying, Youth Business Development Fund and the Operation Vula Fund.
- Teacher and Education: As a former Teacher, Cde. Harry Gwala would applaud access to education as delivered by the ANC government but would further call on us to expedite the delivery of quality education and be encouraged that the current rollout e-Learning should reach all rural and township schools.
- Health and care of the poor: Today the world is engaged with the Coronavirus and we should all play our role in curbing the spread and providing care for those that are infected. But Harry Gwala would further demand that we expedite the implementation of the National Health Insurance.
- Fight Corruption: Equally, it would have troubled Cde. Harry Gwala to hear about allegations of corruption in any sphere of government. He would be troubled to hear corruption associated with the fight against the deadly Covid-19 which has taken lives and destroyed livelihoods of many people. In his honour, we must recommit ourselves to an ethical and developmental state whose task is to tackle the root causes of poverty, inequality, and unemployment
I know as a matter fact that the ANC-led government will ensure the attainment of the all objectives of the struggle. And, indeed, in his honour we commit to ensure the full attainment of the ideals enshrined in the Freedom Charter.
Compatriots, Both Harry Gwala and Andrew Mlangeni were involved in the collection of demands of the Freedom Charter and their ratification on 26 June 1955 in Kliptown. They picked up arms and went to prison in defence of the Freedom Charter which is the blueprint of an equal society that belongs to all, black and white.
The Freedom Charter was a product of all the people of South Africa and was adopted by all racial groups 65 years ago. People were tortured, killed, banished, and exiled for embracing the Freedom Charter.
In the year of the centenary of Gwala’s birth, let us rededicate ourselves to the vision of the Freedom Charter and play our part to ensure that all its demands, including the sharing of the country’s wealth and land, are met.
Let us get to work to ensure that our people have access to clean water, decent sanitation, and economic opportunities.
Honourable Members, when the Lion of the Midlands was buried in 1995, we buried a revolutionary seed which continues to defy death.
If anything, the Lion of the Midlands became a symbol of defiance throughout his life. He passed away with his battle boots on, and in the trenches of struggle. His legendary fearlessness, unwavering militancy, and fiery spirit continues to inspire our generation and our youth.
Twenty-five years after his departure from the human eye, history continues to absolve Harry Gwala.
The Mother of the Nation, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was correct to say at his funeral: “I have news for those who came to bury Harry Gwala: his soul marches on in the youth inspired by his militancy, in the women who saw him as a rock and in the people.”
Even in death, we hear his warning that we are still engaged in the struggle against an enemy with entrenched interests; that political expediency leads to disaster; and that in the end, it will be the strength of the contenders of struggle that will determine the destiny of this country.
As we remember this icon of the oppressed, we also wish to pay tribute to his family for gifting our nation with such an outstanding warrior in the struggle for a South Africa which is truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, and equal.
We pay tribute to his beloved wife Mama Elda whom he was refused permission to bury in 1984 by his jailers on Robben Island. We remember too, his cousin, the trade unionist William Khanyile, who was murdered with his comrades by the racist regime during the Matola raid in Mozambique in 1981.
We thank his children for never for once demanding anything from the ANC, the SACP, and our government for the sacrifices the family has made for our liberation.
Long May You Live Harry Themba Gwala!
Bhubesi lase Midlands!
Namanje sisalawulwa nguye u-Harry Gwala!
I thank you!