Former president of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe pays tribute to liberation stalwart

I join millions in our country and across the world in paying tribute to Isithwalandwe/Seaparankwe; a hero of the working class and a champion of the progressive trade union movement in our country: Ntate John Kgwana Nkadimeng, who has been laid to rest.

I convey my heartfelt condolences to Mama Nkadimeng, the children and grandchildren, the entire Nkadimeng family, relatives, friends and loved ones. 

Ntate Nkadimeng dedicated himself selflessly to a higher purpose in life: the betterment of the human condition. His was a life-long commitment to human dignity, social justice, equality and fairness. 

We count Ntate Nkadimeng among that revered golden generation of freedom fighters who were pioneers – a generation that delivered freedom in our lifetime.

Ntate Nkadimeng was among the standard bearers of the liberation movement who set a very high moral and ethical standard.

He and his generation of freedom fighters believed that the face of the liberation movement was intrinsically linked to the face of truth itself. Accordingly, they lived by the truth. They fought for the truth and they acted truthfully.

With unrivaled dedication and commitment, Ntate Nkadimeng served the ANC, the SACP and the progressive trade union movement inside the country, in the rural and in urban areas, in the underground structures and in exile.

He was there during the defiance campaign of 1952. He was an organizer and a delegate at the Congress of the People in 1955. He was also among those charged with high treason during the Treason Trial of 1956 to 1961.

As a migrant worker from Sekhukhuneland, Ntate Nkadimeng lived in Jeppe Hostel, in Johannesburg, with his fellow comrades including Elias Motsoaledi and Flag Boshielo.

At the time Flag Boshielo was already a member of the Communist Party of South Africa and he worked at a publication called The Guardian. It was Flag Boshielo who politicized and drew Ntate Nkadimeng into the liberation struggle.

The story is told that Flag Boshielo used to personally deliver a copy of The Guardian to Ntate Nkadimeng and his comrades. Even when he could not find them in their rooms, he would live a copy of The Guardian on their beds for them to read on their return.

On a regular basis Flag Boshielo would ask Ntate Nkadimeng and his comrades questions about an article or two that had appeared in The Guardian.

Ntate Nkadimeng then joined the trade union movement, the Communist Party and the ANC. He shared a Party cell with Thomas Nkobi and Ben Turok, where they used to engage in intense political education sessions   

As an underground Party operative he was in attendance at the Party’s Congress in 1960, after the unbanning of the ANC.

It was Ntate Nkadimeng who drove Andrew Mlangeni and Raymond Mhlaba, to the Lobatse boarder when they were en route to China for military training as part of the first hand-picked MK recruits.

In the 1950s Ntate Nkadimeng was among those migrant workers who organized themselves under the banner of an organization called Sebatakgomo.

This organization of migrant workers was instrumental in mobilizing rural communities to take part in the struggle for liberation. It served as a vital link between workers struggles in the rural and urban areas. Flag Boshileo was elected as President of the organization while Ntate Nkadimeng was its Secretary.

Walter Sisulu who was at the time the Secretary General of the ANC remarked that Sebatakgomo was the first and best example of how the ANC can organize in rural communities.

Sebatakgomo played a critical role during the peasant revolt in Sekhukhuneland. In addition, many young people who were part of Sebatakgomo were recruited into MK.

At the Morogoro Conference in 1959, Flag Boshielo was elected into the NEC of the ANC. In 1972 he and his MK comrades Victor Ndaba, Bob Zulu and Castro Dolo were killed in Caprivi as they were trying to find their way back to South Africa. His remains were never found.

After being released from prison in 1966, Ntate Nkadimeng worked closely with Mama Albertina Sisulu, Joe Gqabi, Squire Mokgotsi, Alois Manci, Martin Ramokgadi and many others to revive the underground structures of the ANC. It was at this time that Ntate Nkadimeng served in what was known as the Main Machinery of the ANC.

When Ntate Nkadimeng went to exile in Swaziland in 1976, he was already a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. He rejoined the NEC in exile and also served in the Revolutionary Military Council.

True to his character as an all-rounder Ntate Nkadimeng was instrumental in giving direction to student struggles of the late 1970s, leading up to the formation of the Congress of South African Students in 1979.

In November 1976, while in exile in Swaziland, Ntate Nkadimeng, Moses Mabhida and Stan Mabizela met a delegation of students from the Soweto Students Representative Council which included Billy Masetlha and Murphy Morobe. This meeting helped shape future student and other popular struggles inside the country at the time.

While in exile, Ntate Nkadimeng was elected the General Secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and in that capacity played a central role in the unity talks between unions affiliated among others to CUSA, FOSATU, SAWU, the Independent Unions and unions within the Black Consciousness Movement. These talks led to the formation of COSATU in December 1985.

Among his personal attributes, Ntate Nkadimeng was disciplined and he expected no less from his comrades. He was also compassionate and he cared deeply not only for his comrades but also for their families and loved ones.

While being a highly skilled debater who always researched and demonstrated deep and detailed knowledge of what he was talking about, he refrained from imposing his views on others and denigrate them. 

He believed in the power to persuade, yet he had the courage and the humility to accept persuasion.

To his peers, to the young and to the old he earned universal respect as a skilled educator from whom many drew wise counsel and valuable lessons.

Ntate Nkadimeng organized and led the progressive trade union movement at a time of great hostility from employers and the apartheid state.

Correctly so we credit him as being the founding father of the progressive and united trade union movement whose primary preoccupation are the interests of workers, regardless of the industry in which they are organized, colors of their T-shirts and logos in their banners.

Ntate Nkadimeng was an internationalist. He took a keen interest in the struggles of workers in other parts of the world. 

Up to his last days, he stood as an enduring symbol of the common struggles of the workers of the world; a symbol of working class power in the fight for a world without the exploitation of man by man.

Ntate Nkadimeng was there at almost every important epoch in the struggle for liberation and in the struggle for the rights of workers. He was an all-rounder. He was prepared to roll up his sleeves and do whatever is necessary for the liberation of the people of South Africa and the emancipation of workers.

He was courageous. He led from the front.  He did not expect of others that which he himself could not do. He was disciplined and up to the end he remained loyal to the cause of liberation and the rights of workers.

Most importantly, Ntate Nkadimeng and his generation lived by the truth. They fought for the truth and they acted truthfully.

May we draw lessons from the life of Ntate Nkadimeng. May we follow in their footsteps. Robla ka Kgotso Tau. For you, it is mission accomplished.