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A tribute to Muntu Myeza

This month marks 22 years since the mysterious passing of Muntu Myeza - a committed member and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in South Africa.

Throughout human history, there is a special category of human beings who emerge from among us and through the substance of their character infuse us with the confidence to embrace the possibility that, not only can we become better human beings, but it is in fact possible for us to build a world that is qualitatively better than the one we live in.

One such special human being was Muntu Myeza. A man whose contribution to the cause of human freedom is perhaps aptly encapsulated in the words of the realist writer Nikolai Ostrovsky, who once wrote that: ‘Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world - the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.’

This month marks 22 years since the mysterious passing of Muntu on 3 July 1990. He was a committed member and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in South Africa. While a student at the University of Zululand, at Ongoye, he joined the BCM through the South African Students’ Organisation or SASO (the first black consciousness organisation in South Africa).

Following in the gigantic footsteps of Steve Biko, in 1974, at the tender age of 24, he was elected general secretary of SASO and it was in this capacity that he helped conceive and execute the epoch-making Viva Frelimo Rallies in September 1974.

These rallies were part of SASO’s national political campaign to give impetus to the liberation efforts of blacks in South Africa and were aimed at celebrating the defeat of Portuguese settler-colonialism by the people of Mozambique under the leadership of Samora Machel.
This act by SASO obviously annoyed the apartheid regime and as a consequence, the then justice minister, Jimmy Kruger, banned the rally planned for 25 September 1974 - which was a futile act because the rallies had already been well publicised and scores of people turned up for them in Durban and Turfloop.

Following these rallies, the apartheid police hunted the BPC/SASO leadership down and arrested and detained Muntu Myeza, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Zithulele Cindi, Saths Cooper, Terror Lekota, Aubrey Mokoape, Strini Moodley (the late), Nkwenkwe Nkomo, Kaborone Sedibe, Sadecque Variava, Reuben Hare, Solly Ismail and countless others.

Most of them were charged under the notorious Terrorism Act, while others were detained for long spells under the same hideous piece of legislation. This trial became one the longest in South Africa's political history, dragging on through most of 1975 and all of 1976.

One of the memorable episodes during this trial was when Biko was called to give evidence on behalf of the accused. Instead of giving a typical witness testimony, as would be expected by any court of law, with breath-taking clarity, calmness and effortless eloquence - he instead turned the whole trial into a lecture on the meaning of BC and the mission of the BCM.

It is this character of the trial that inspired some historians and writers to conclude that it was actually the BC philosophy that was on trail, and not so much the accused.

After the charges were dropped against some of the accused, nine remained, and so the trial that was, according to apartheid laws, known as the State vs Saths Cooper and others, became known as the BPC-SASO Nine Trial.

All the nine accused - Muntu Myeza, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Zithulele Cindi, Saths Cooper, Terror Lekota, Aubrey Mokoape, Strini Moodley (the late), Nkwenkwe Nkomo and Kaborone Sedibe - were found guilty and later sentenced to serve various prison terms on Robben Island.

While on Robben Island, some of the accused, like Terror Lekota, decided to desert the BCM and join other organisations. This naturally upset the rest of his comrades (at the time) and not suprisingly, Muntu was one of those who didn’t hide his displeasure at what he considered to be an act of betrayal.

Despite this and the incessant attempts by some of the older prisoners from the other components of the liberation movement who were intent on luring them way from the BCM, Muntu and the rest of the BC leadership remained obstinately committed to the BCM.
At the time of his release from Robben Island, in December 1982, both SASO and the Black People's Convention (BPC) were still banned organisations so like his comrades who had been released earlier, Muntu logically continued his activism under the auspices of the new BC organisation, the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), which was formed on 28 April, 1978 and led by among others by Lybon Mabasa and Ishmael Mkhabela.

For tactical reasons, AZAPO was the BPC under a new name and just like its predecessor organisations, its leadership and that of its formations had to contend with the reality of unrelenting police harassment, detention without trial and even death.

Just as with SASO, Muntu served AZAPO in a number of capacities. As publicity secretary, not only was he meticulous in his use of words, but he also showed incredible depth of analysis and clarity of thought.

So committed to the cause of revolution was Muntu that he believed that, if needs be, one had to defend it with one’s own life. For this reason, he didn’t wince when AZAPO instructed him to serve as secretary for defence - a position he held with distinction until his untimely passing in 1990.

This perhaps explains why he is acknowledged by those who worked with him as one of those who, under the most hostile conditions, defended the names AZAPO and Steve Biko with his bare hands.

Muntu was a principled and thinking radical, who did not countenance any form of cowardice or political liberalism. Had he been alive today, he would want the conscious element of the black intelligentsia to account for the anomaly wherein our public intellectual space is dominated by analysts and academics, whose preoccupation is to defend the economic interests of the black and white elite.

He would regard it as a national scandal that those who rule over us could instantly mobilise bus loads of their supporters to remonstrate against a painting, but didn’t show the same urgency and anger when their comrades failed to do something as basic as delivering textbooks on time to the right schools. And to add to our depression, the same people authorise something as primitive as the burning of textbooks. All of this happens in a country that has some of the most frightening illiteracy levels.

He would remind us that irrespective of what the managers of the neo-colonial project want us to believe, the face of poverty, landlessness and economic deprivation remains black. And that ‘The Second Phase of The Transition’ theorisation is essentially intended to manage the economic powerlessness of the black majority and not change it.

Because he was pan-Africanist in his outlook, he would want to us to stop and ask ourselves whether the mere fact that South Africa is now chairperson of the African Union will put the African continent in a position to prevent similar situations as the ones that recently arose in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire, when the armed forces of western imperialism carried out the targeted assassination of Muammar Gaddafi and capture of Laurent Gbagbo?

As a firm believer in revolutionary praxis, Muntu would expect his beloved AZAPO to explain why it seems so calm when so much injustice is being meted out against the poor black majority in our country.

Muntu was a freedom fighter in word and deed. A tireless defender of black dignity. A remarkable human being, who dedicated every ounce of his being to the cause of human freedom. Yes! He was a paragon of noble virtues, whose selflessness has earned him the honour of being affectionately called Ingelosi Yomhlaba! He was indeed one of our brightest hopes.

There is no other way of honouring the legacy of Muntu, except to confront the contemporary suffering of the black majority in a direct and radical manner. Anything less would be a monumental betrayal of what people like Muntu, Biko, Tiro and others lived and died for.
In honouring his memory, AZAPO has accordingly declared the month of July Muntu Myeza Memorial Month and to conclude a series of commemorative activities. A memorial lecture will be held at South West Gauteng College in Molapo, Soweto. This event will be addressed by, among others, Prof Itumeleng Mosala, Lybon Mobasa and Dr Don Mattera.


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