A tribute to Thivhileli Mutobvu


HE was the archetypical example of someone you could confidently describe as quiet, cool, calm and collected; with all the adjectives perfectly justified.

Like a thief under night-cover, the cruel sting of death has once again caught us off-guard to rob us of one truly committed and deeply inspirational of our leaders.

In Thivhileli Mutobvu we have lost a shining beacon of our hope, one whose well-rounded character embodied those finest of elements that we should always remain proud of as a people. Honesty, humility, hard-working ethic, and respect can all be employed to describe Mutobvu without a hint of exaggeration. 

A man who spoke from his heart in measured tones in a tongue free of sophistication, brilliantly captivating his audience not so much with diction as with the sheer simplicity of the searing truth and organic ingenuity that always laced the authenticity of the message he was communicating.

Ever-since I first met him in my teens in the mid-eighties, Thivhileli Mutobvu always cut an ordinary figure of a well-built man who stood shot in height, sturdy in stature, strikingly African-Black in complexion; and always wearing that ever disarming infectious smile on his face.

Short as he was, he stood conspicuously taller than most/many in the totality of his commitment to the Black Consciousness Movement course (which) he consistently championed all his life dating far back from his early student days while at Shikoena Matlala.

A soft-spoken person endowed with a big-heart and palpable sincerity in his interactions and general dealings with fellow human beings of whatever hue, for the better part of the prime phase of his life, Mutobvu threw his all as a dedicated and committed trade unionist who single-handedly organized (farm and ordinary) workers deep in, and across the length and breadth of the rural hinterlands of the then Far Northern Transvaal (present day Limpopo Province). 

At a time when, (by mere definition) Trade Unionism activities thrust one’s life in a dangerous terrain ever mired by perpetual threat of death from apartheid-inspired functionaries, Mutobvu stood distinguished amongst the leading figures during the formal establishment and launch of a workers trade union BAWUSA (Black Allied Workers Union of South Africa)  in the then  Far North.  I vividly remember attending the launch meeting in Makhado (then Louis Trichardt), of a trade union that organized ordinary common workers who were often side-lined from mainstream, with the launch carried out in the presence of heavily armed police, under the motto which aptly proclaimed: “With brooms and picks in their hands, and sweats on their faces, they shall declare South Africa a Free Country”.  Fearless Mutobvu was at the helm of it all.

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.An unapologetic disciple and avid exponent of the Black Consciousness (BC) philosophy, we would regularly defer to Mutobvu as our local elderly pillar for ideological guidance, political grounding and conscientization during our undergraduate days at the University of Venda.

When we formed the Northern Transvaal Student Organization (NTSO) in the late eighties to rally black students around BC at the height of Apartheid inspired persecution, Thivhileli Mutobvu was our relatively elderly communal anchor who served as a pillar of our strength and an ever-dependable point of reference, diligently nourishing us with carefully selected political literature; mainly BC inspired with Marxist leanings.

As an overt, well know trade unionist in the region, Mutobvu commanded wide-spread respect with political clout and gravitas across the Vhembe region, often in transcendence of the straight and narrow political divides that pervaded and muddied the politics of the eighties and the nineties.

Indeed the unassuming nature of his disposition was what endeared a sustained organic bond that literally enjoined him with the common ordinary folk throughout his life. Mutobvu never once severed the bond he had with ordinary people, and he continued to believe undoubtedly  in the inherent capacity of ordinary people to liberate themselves from the exploitative yoke of oppression.

Often guided solely by his selfless nature and character,  for all his dedication to advance the workers’ course, especially farm workers who endured the worst of the superlative form of apartheid racism and exploitation by white settler farmers, the quiet Mutobvu was ever content, working always with dedication, away from the limelight, and never yelling once for either reward or recognition. 

When one confronts the poetic irony of it all, stemming especially from the fact that his name Thivhileli literally translates “I do not complain”,  it becomes all the more sombre and torturous a moment of reflection on the life and times of Mutobvu, the man who would often gladly assume the back-seat at a place or event where a seat/space would have been reserved in his name, and yet readily swop  positions to thrust his lifeline at the front-end of the firing line when many of us would opt to rationalize with “good” reason a “tactical retreat” which in truth camouflaged an otherwise genuine fear of imminent reprisals and guaranteed repercussions. Mutobvu was a brave soldier who marched forward without retreat in the war against white domination.

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More than sincerity and commitment to the course of championing the struggle for emancipation  of the downtrodden, it was his unbridled bravery and fearlessness that qualified Mutobvu as a truly inspirational BC luminary, par Black Jacobian in the CLR James sense of the phrase.

Countless persecution episodes instigated by the (so-called) security police intent on braking his spirit served only to eliminate fear completely out from his psyche. Dentention and police brutality he endured under the Mphephu, Ravele and Ramushwana Bantustan administrations seemed to succeed only in sharpening his resolve and determination to fight on for liberation, free of fear. 

Mutobvu was so fearless he would, in the conventional view, “carelessly”  risk  not just his own life but the life of his entire family by continuously harbouring in his house at Makwarela countless members of AZANLA, the military wing of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania(BCMA). With his house at Makwarela operated as a de facto military base of AZANLA forces,  at times Mutobvu would be so casual about it that one would be pardoned to imagine that AZANLA was in essence operating legally at the time. Later on I rationalized it could well be that Mutobvu honestly considered the inside of the demarcations of his yard a truly and justifiably liberated zone.

Like Toussaint Louverture in CLR’s Black Jacobins, Mutobvu was as reliable in organizational strategic planning as he was trustworthy in program implementation and execution.  You could without a shred of doubt rely in the absolute on Thivhileli Mutobvu to see an organizational mission carried out and undertaken to completion, often with military precision, without cutting corners or opting for quick fixes or short-cuts.

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.As the chapter finally closes and the curtains fall on the physical life of this gallant fighter, the physical world is today left all the more poorer without  Mutobvu in its midst. It should bother humanity at large that people of Mutobvu’s calibre are gradually becoming an endangered and rare of the remaining living species, and that the few of them we have left we are losing at an alarming rate.

Every now and then, truthful, generous, committed, honest, reliable, hardworking human beings quietly and politely ascend the world stage to undertake and fulfil their assigned duties without the world itself taking particular notice, let alone paying special attention or semblance of recognition. Away from the limelight, they live a lifetime of dedication on their allotted portion of the world stage, championing (on a daily basis) their accepted course of the least of God’s children, until a time comes when they step off the stage as politely and quietly as they ascended it, leaving behind veritable traces of evidence validating beyond doubt the fact that it was the world’s own mistaken choice to relegate them to the unfortunate category of unsung heroes or heroines.  When Mutobvu’s life system caved in to pass him away from us on January, 21,  2021, at One Millitary hospital, the world stage was robbed of one such hero.

Those of us who knew and interacted with him at close range should bravely confront the challenge to take up the cudgels to honor, emulate and carry forth the proud legacy of Thivhileli Mutobvu, a committed trade unionist, and ardent Black Consciousness leader who served without complaint until his dying day.. Brave souls like Mutobvu’s deserve peaceful eternal rest

I consider myself absolutely privileged to have been raised as one amongst his protégés.

Brave souls like Mutobvu’s deserve peaceful eternal rest

      Ri ri Masha iwe Mushavhi mu ila nguluvhe

      Rudzani Nemutudi

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