Tribute to a friend and Comrade
A lot has been said about the character, stature and values that Comrade Jackson Mthembu emulated, lived up to and embraced. A lot of these traits has to do, I dare say, with our upbringing and training.
Growing up within the Christian families and finding training, exposure and been steeped in the Contextual and Liberation Theology which was tempered with the Marxist theory. It became very clear very early on that something was very wrong with the society, the community and country we lived in, and that something needed to be done to change it. It was simply not right that we lived in separate residential areas, went to different schools, attended separate churches compared to our White Compatriots, that our parents were labourers serving white “masters” that we as African children Youth could only be Caddies for whites and not play golf etc.
We could not explain these through pin pointing them to Laws of Apartheid or how society was organized until our exposure to the Young Christian student(YCS), Young Christian workers,(YCW) and Congress of South African Students(COSAS),
Some of us though young and adventurous were lucky to have had activists in the families and got exposed to the Soweto Student Representatives Council (SSRC), South African Student Movement (SASM) and the Soweto Student League (SSL) which were fore or front runners to COSAS formation in 1979.
My first encounter with Cde Jackson was in Mayfair at the HQ of YCW and YCS, he had come to a training session which was combined for both organization a but there were also comrades from other organizations. I got attracted to Cde Jackson, wanting to know more about the Eastern Transvaal.
The next time we met was yet at another national training session in Wilgespruit again jointly with YCS, COSAS, YCW, SUCA. Leading figures at this event that one can recall include Comrades Peter Manchidi (May his soul Rest in Peace), Cecil Sols, the Sadies Mel, Dave, and Steve, Jabu Ngwenya, Nhlanhla Lephoto from Orlando East (May her soul Rest In Peace), Vincent Williams from Cape Town, Tshediso Matona, Pat Lephunya, Chikane Chikane, Pat Mashiane, Sophie Masite (May her soul Rest In Peace), Father Albert Nolan, Koki from
Cape Town, Joe from Mapetla, Tom Wasp and Bra Joe, from Kagiso (May their soul rest in peace)etc.
We spent time imbibing and learning the tools of analysis viz “See , Judge and Act”. We also learned the history of the South African struggle through books like “time longer than rope and gold and workers”. These two books came to be our “Umrabulo”, in addition to extracts from books about struggles in other countries as well as Morris Comforth three volumes viz 1. theory of knowledge 2. Dialectical Materialism and 3. Historical Materialism.
Comrade Daphney has already captured the other interactions we had with the Eastern
Transvaal and in particular with Comrade Jackson Mthembu , I want to associate myself with that experience.
At the time I was very young and very much adventurous, guided and under the tutelage of among others ,the likes of Comrade Vincent Mogane whom I accompanied to launch the Lowveld Youth Movement (LOYOMO) which took place at the time when the regime declared the state of emergency.
I recall very vividly that Comrade Vince and myself did not go to Cradock for the burial of the three Comrades, Ford Calata, Mathew Goniwe and Sparrow Mkhonto but instead drove to Nelspruit to launch the Lowveld Youth Movement (LOYOMO ) and hold consultations with the ANC Swaziland and Mozambique. We stopped in Witbank, met Comrades there including Jackson and Pat, we also stopped at Waterfall Boven. We also had meetings with the Kwa Ndebele Leadership including Chief Minister Mahlangu and Steve Mabone. We also had meeting with Enos Mabuza the Chief Minister of Kwangwane Homeland. The LOYOMO(Lowveld Youth Movement)launch went ahead without any hitch or disturbance from the Kwangwane Bantustan authorities,it took place right opposite the police station.
We had support from Comrades Mathew Phosa, Mojapelo and Thabo Mamoepa. In addition to names of Comrades that were mentioned by Comrade Daphney, the following Comrades come to mind: Joe Nkuna, Ntombi Shope (May her soul RIP) even this Goddrich Gaddi of the EFF was a young congress activist.
Comrade Jackson was in the leadership of the Witbank Youth Congress and other mass democratic formation including “the Unemployed Youth of Emalahleni” (Abolova) which organized the significant activities that led to major detentions and “Apartheid show trials” that led to convictions of key Cadres from that area but also survival and acquittal of others. Comrade Jackson was among the survivors from these apartheid showtrials. He was now a “marked man” a target for the system.
He then came to Southern Transvaal in Johannesburg and joined The South African Council of Churches (SACC) and later the Detainee Parents Support Committee (DPSC).These bodies besides supporting families of detainees with moral support, they organized legal advice and representation, material support like buying essentials like groceries for families and detainees, clothing etc. Also importantly they exposed the regime by keeping the nation and the world informed about apartheid atrocities and injustices they also provided knowledge on the rights of detainees under the infamous Security Laws.Cde Jackson became an expert in unraveling and explaining these Apartheid laws which assist Comrades from incriminating themselves and others.
The headquarters of these organizations, Khotso House (SACC and DPSC Darragh House) became centers for coordination information dissemination, venues for meeting and offices etc. Comrade Jackson was central to all these activities. He also organized psychological and psychiatric counseling for the released detainees at Wits University with Dr. Kistner and Reverend Beyers Naude. For some reason, most of the youth activists did not attend these counseling sessions, in hindsight it was a mistake for the leadership not to insist and or make these sessions compulsory.
Comrade Jackson became one of the point persons in the pipeline that we as SAYCO leadership established to facilitate and move “Delegates” from throughout the country who became targets of the system. These were mainly young people who had to leave (skip) the country because they were exposed and were in danger of prolonged detention or disappearance (being killed by the system). This was a very sensitive task which brought us into contact with the underground MK and the ANC in the whole frontline and we had to be very careful how we executed this task. Comrade Jackson was up to the task, providing resources, transport, safe houses, contacts, including in homelands like Kangwane (Enos Mabuza), Kwa Ndebele (Mahlangu and Mabona), Venda (Ramoshoame) and Transkei (Holomisa).
Around this time within the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) a debate was raging about what our attitude should be to the homeland leaders and the Chiefs and Kings. Our attitude was influenced by the notion of the “Armed Seizure of Power” whilst Negotiations was seen as a possibility but not a favourite or attractive subject among the youth.
After a lot of debate and discussion, we eventually embraced the notion of Negotiation as part of the overall strategy and a possible route towards a final defeat of apartheid. We even moved and launched the Congress of Traditional Leaders (CONTRALESA) to bring into the Congress movement progressive traditional leaders the majority whom were unjustly and illegally stripped of their hereditary leadership roles by the apartheid regime. Comrade Jackson was active in this project.
The next big project that I recall is when we got involved with his support and guidance was the organization of the memorial service of the late President of Mozambique, Comrade Samora Moise Machel, in Mbuzini Eastern Transvaal after their mysterious death in a plane crash. The decision was taken that we will gather at the crash site at Mbuzini and prepare a memorial monument to President Machel and those who perished with him in that mysterious plane crash.
We mobilized the structures in the entire Transvaal, especially the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDRAW) and Youth and Students structures in the Transvaal. This programme was a success and it irked and irritated the system and they tried to disrupt it by firstly, blocking the road just past Malelane, claiming that the road was mined and that they had detonated landmines and it was dangerous for us to go through in the busses. We insisted and went through after putting up a seriouse and prolonged negotiations with the enemy. They had to escort us instead of blocking and stopping us. I was arrested for wearing a t-shirt written “Unban the ANC”, the women of FEDRAW protested and refused to leave the police station and threatened to do something the police had not seen before, and then I was released. Jackson was the lead negotiator.
We got involved in the launch of FEDRAW Eastern Transvaal having to navigate tensions and suspicions between rural and urban as well as women working based in Pretoria, Witwatersrand and Vaal (PWV), as well as Kwangwane and Kwa Ndebele homeland women political party structures. We really had to work extra time to unite all these strands into one, fortunately Comrade Jackson was trusted and held in high esteem by all of these structures and the launch was a success.
I will leave my story about Comrade Jackson here, and not go into the following:
- The road to the launch of the South African Youth Congress in 1987.
- Different campaigns of defiance led by United Democratic Front (UDF).
- .Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), Release Mandela Campaign (RMC), Reception Committee.
- The Interim Leadership Group (ILG).
- In Parliament 1994 not to mention his role in Mpumalanga Legislature and his return to Parliament as Chief Whip.
- His role as a communicator and a spokesperson of the movement and lately of Government .
Let me convey my deepest condolences to his family especially the wife and children ,his siblings, neighbors Comrades and friends. Let his soul rest in power.