A tribute to Xola Nene
CELEBRATING THE LIFE AND TIMES WITH XOLA NENE, IN THE MIDST OF POLITICAL INTOLERANCE AND DEGENERATION: A JOURNEY WELL TRAVELLED
(AN ABRIDGED VERSION)
Lubabalo Thabang Molefe
"I claim not to have controlled events but confesses plainly that events have controlled me" Abraham Lincoln
In his tribute to Chris Hani, Tokyo Sexwale writes "to know how to die, is to know how to live" he then concludes that "Chris Hani knew how to die because he knew how to live". Like Chris Hani - Xola Nene knew how to die because he knew how to live. As the saying goes in the world of Christians, "we only know our birth dates but we all do not know our death dates" Xola did not know that he was going to be murdered and sleep forever in cold blood while pursuing the freedom for the underdeveloped and ultimately for the poor. Likewise as his closest friends we never knew that when we failed on our bid to convince him not to leave on that Sunday - he was going to be prey to the obnoxious death.
Xola was a friend, a family member, a comrade to us, a boyfriend to his girlfriend and a loving brother to his sisters. As we have known him, it is equally important to reflect on the life we have travelled with this journeyman of our times. To us as his friends, we lost a glue that connected not only us but the entire youth and student movement with whom his life was dedicated, for years we could not connect until such time we realised that we must live like he did. We must appreciate living a life of selflessness, respecting ourselves, appreciating the wisdom of the old while making our point for the good of the revolution.
He was the epitome of our lives, the struggles we waged and the struggle yet to be finalised of the poor. He was not only with the poor, but was born of poverty. He represented the poor, the marginalised and the underdeveloped. He was the struggle - the revolution became his first name. Indeed he died like a soldier who stood at the peril of war but stood firm closer trying to lower the flag of his own country during the war. This is the only Xola Nene we have grown to understand. Out of us and out of the entire youth movement, we owe it to ourselves to again build a new adaptive Xola Nene as he was.
He understood that he was a young person but could not do many of the things that we find ourselves doing today. He was not a smoker but lived and understood the challenges of smokers. He was not drinking alcohol, but stayed with some of us who were drinking. He revolutionarised the drinkers and smokers; he belonged to the youth group which enjoyed politicking and reasoning. We all appreciated being around him during our drinking space. He was never an intruder in our social life, but he was part of it, he made it, in actual fact he was our social life. This was a young revolutionary with no other interest except for being hungry for change and peaceful life where the immediate and not so immediate needs of the people have been achieved. Like Chris Hani Xola Nene knew how to live.
As we celebrate his life as his family, comrades and friends, we must dare say that in Ndevana, lays a young revolutionary with whom our lives are indebted, with whom our souls are indebted. This is a comrade that has been betrayed, has lived to survive the conspiracies that were sowed against him. This was a young person who lived a life and died in the hands of those who are not and will never be peace lovers. Those who killed him and everyone who was part of that conspiracy, are today and will forever be haunted by the life of this visionary. They are struggling to understand as why this young none issue moved from good to being great. For us, who knew that he was brilliant but within reach, we have always known that he was beyond the good, he belonged to the generation of great minds.
OUR FIRST MEETING
I met this eloquent leader of students at the time when my personal life had its own ups and downs. We met in Queenstown, where he was addressing a meeting of the realigned Zone of COSAS, connecting the former lady grey students with the former cape provincial administration zone of Queenstown.
I definitely did not know him but have enjoyed his passion for politicking the Marxist ways of thinking. It was for the second time we had had people who came from the Border region to address us on the connection between our struggle against corporal punishment and the national liberation process, equally placing context of the difference between corporal punishment and disciplinary chastisement.
The majority of us who at the time came directly from semi rural schools, envied him and wanted to leave life of this great thinker. This was a short chap with a sharp chin, very thin at that time but loved to wear a white short which I was sure, he took it from the uniform of Bakers mini cricket, which was a sponsored uniform for school cricket of the time. Even though, he did not have a sport he hated, he spent most of his time watching and playing the township and school rugby.
This for me was a period which we spent with some of my friends and comrades, helping ourselves in the lunch boxes of teaches. I was with Vuyani "Ngeleketshane" Vellem who was a realist and who did not believe much in the broader politics that affected our lives. He and Xola connected immediately because Xola got fascinated by people who did not care most about what surrounds them in the immediate and wanted to adopt such people as his projects to change them from who they think they are, to what they can do to better the lives of the people around them.
Subsequent to this two week long engagement with ‘Mahlathamnyama', he left to where his life was, Peelton. We never got a chance to speak again as I was forbidden in my family to go to rallies and the likes that are outside from Queenstown.
FORT HARE - THE CONNEXION
There are many people whom I have met at the University of Fort Hare who contributed immensely to who I have become today and to whom I will become in the future. Amongst those Xola played a very important role and was closer to me in the same way as he was closer to my fellow friends, comrades and family members. It was at Fort Hare that our relationship with Xola grew immensely and was covered by our connection of being poor and financially unstable. This is where I met the good, brilliant and hardcore comrades and family members such as Timothy Duka, Sipho ‘Sixty' Matshoba, Mbasa "Nkala" Metuse, Mzukisi Makatse, Boyce Ngxokwana, Mawande ‘karate' Mrashula, Bishop, Mongezi "Bra Moo" Sihlahla, Philani Nongogo, Msetshi, Mathona Manyela, Nogemane, Fikile ‘Bra Fiks" Seti, Thando Mabengwane and many other comrades who if I were to pen them in this piece, they will consume a lot of space.
We unconsciously created a network and connection with these comrades. These were the heart of what made Xola and what made all of us. Interesting dynamics about these comrades were to surface later as we connected in this regard.
OUR SECOND MEETING - FORT HARE WHERE THINGS HAPPENED
In 1999, during the orientation, I had met another comrade with whom I had challenges with. He was a strong character who knew how to put his point across irrespective of the difficulties. I have never met someone who was willing to differ with everyone for the sake of speaking truth until I met Mzukisi Makatse.
We met during the orientation, after the first day of the session we went to town as "Freshets", with the few cents I had, I bought a polony which we shared under the trees of Green Auditorium which was the only place we knew at the time outside our residences because, that is where the orientation took place.
Mzukisi Makatse was later going to lead the most difficult faculty of Law society and was to become the beacon of hope when all else was conformist. He remains one of the few comrades who stood up for the truth against corruption and patronage at Fort Hare and was later victimised with Siviwe Vamva after our expulsion with Mbasa Metuse immediately after Nene's death.
We met again with Xola, now by accident in a residence called Jabavu at Fort Hare, which we claimed (as dwellers) as the "heart beat" of the University. I stayed in the Ground Floor with Siyavuya Bulani from Dimbaza, a dedicated student who "knew" what he came to do at Fort Hare. We were a perfect mix in our corridor as we had staunch PAC members such, Sammy Ngqondela from Uitehnage, staunch ANC members such as Boyce Ngxokwana from Alice and various other comrades such as Mandrew of Soshangane from Bushbuckridge. There were some tsotsi's who were staunch PAC members Siyabulela Madaniso from Mdantsane (an interesting character indeed).
We had a debate just after the registration process. I had seen someone who was looking like Xola Nene addressing us at Green Auditorium during the orientation programme. Today, the day of our debate at Jabavu, he was accompanied by Timothy Duka, a very close friend of Xola and Fikile "brafiks' Seti towards a corner room in the ground floor of Jabavu straight from the cafeteria door. This was a room that belonged to Boyce Ngxokwana and little did I know that this room was occupied illegally by this comrade. There was a general challenge during the orientation of students at Fort Hare. Older students were supposed to pay a fee of R40 a day for their stay when they came to write their supplementary examinations. On the other hand the SRC opened earlier than other students, apparently there was also a general rule for SASCO leaders to arrive earlier than other students for the championing of the ‘right to learn campaign'
In the middle of the discussion, this short chap gets in and discusses with us. He hardly knew us in this session and he was busy eating four slices of bread with milk and flossing at the same time. This was a funny behaviour to some of us who had the mentality that in the university, only the best are found and only those who have means are seen around. We had this mentality that we are now better people who can no longer go eating on the streets let alone floss while eating.
Xola had a bad habit of eating and flossing at the same time. I recall at some stage Mbasa Metuse another close ally and friend, used to reprimand him of this behaviour and unfortunately to vain because Xola turned everything into a debate. Subsequent to our discussions, I was then called to this corner room by Timothy Duka who was apparently a student at Fort Hare at some point and left due to financial exclusions and was at campus ‘illegally". He had not registered as a student this time around. He was part of the campaign team of SASCO which came earlier. In fact that year, he registered around September if my memory serves me well.
At first I saw three different characters in this room, Timothy Duka from Whitlesea near Queenstown, a very private person who does not want to speak loud. He was one of the neat comrades in his old and out of fashion clothes. He had a sinus and when he spoke, one would be very sure that this comrade is just taking chances and knew nothing about the revolution and related struggles but he was a force to be reckoned with.
There was also Boyce Ngxokwana from lower or upper Gqumashe, a seemingly very serious and sensitive comrade, who looked a bit older. He seemed bold whenever he took stand in this room to speak and seemed to have a challenge of biting his tongue when he speaks. He was also one private comrade who had a voice as though he borrowed it. Little did I know his commitment to the struggle? He had the same old clothes, enjoyed wearing organisational t-shirts because he did not have enough of his own. He was also very neat and very sensitive to those who were not neat like me.
There was a short man, Xola Nene who had bravado of speaking while you are talking, he would nod and smile. Little did I know that he can do the same when he seriously differs with you? He loved his stomach but could not let a person die because he wants to eat. He was always on shorts, to the extent that when he wore a trouser and shoes it was as if there is something wrong with him.
There were many common issues around these three comrades though, the fact that all of them were poor to the core, they all enjoyed food, they wore organisational T- shirts, they were neat though, and all were students of Karl Marx and Engels. They loved reading and debating. One thing that struck me in all of them was their fascination with intelligence work in campus and their skill of analysing everyone. We also had something common, all of us were studying Law but little was said about Law itself in the discussions we had.
The debate was about how to topple Professor Mzamane who was the Vice Chancellor and they were also plotting some activities that must be undertaken to convince Law students of the protest march that must be waged during the visit of students from Makerere University for the pre trials. I was fascinated by this plotting process of course but had a feeling that these comrades are wasting my time as I came to study here nothing else. I had taken a decision that I will not join any political organisation given the fact that my father worked in a factory (Ampaglass) and my mother in a kitchen for me to be able to pay the registration fees, which were later divided between myself and other queenstownians who I knew from COSAS and did not have money. This was a cause for concern in me at the time.
As they finished the discussion, we went to meet another funny character - Mawande Mrashula, who was the apparent chairperson of the vibrant political active SASCO branch at Fort Hare. This character was to be briefed about their discussions and be lobbied to agree on their proposals in the Branch Executive Committee. He was to lead a branch to perform these activities and he was also going to lead the Branch to go to its Annual General Meeting, which was to agree on the broader programme and endorse the name of Xola to lead the Central Region of SASCO.
This Mawande character that ended up being one of my close friends dismissed the three hour long discussion with jokes, paraded to Timothy and Boyce who were a bit sensitive to some of them. I remember the smile in the face of Xola and a very diminutive laughter at time. It resembled a team of people who knew their destiny and who knew each other like the palm of their hands. This was to be the beginning of my involvement into the deep, sorrowful, painful, exciting and educational politics of the SASCO branch at Fort Hare.
Mawande was a very close friend of Nkala - as we used to call Mbasa. They both had an interesting charm for women in campus and outside campus. Mbasa was deployed to lead Southern African Student Volunteers (SASVO) which I later became its treasurer using his network and support. They would later become members of the SRC with Mawande becoming the residence officer and Mbasa becoming the transformation officer. A year later Mbasa occupied the same position of Mawande while Mawande became something else in the same SRC.
One of the common things that connected us in our social lives beyond the politics was our love of Hansa Pilsner at the time. Contrary to popular belief, this did not disfigure us. I obviously did not qualify on their charm for ladies as I would create a lot of excuses for this programme. Xola Nene had the same challenge and enjoyed to be with these two comrades. Whenever there was Xola, Mawande and Mbasa, there would always be noise and people were getting summarised.
Later that evening, we were called into the Extended Branch Executive Committee meeting of SASCO. This is a meeting where deployees of SASCO to SRC, student societies and various other places were accounting to the BEC. I was neither a deployee nor a member at this time. However; I went to the meeting with these four comrades now. Mawande introduced me as a Freshet and used a Xhosa phrase calling me ‘Inqunqu'. I was obviously angered by this but there was nothing I was going to do about it.
This is where I saw the serious nature of this Mawande character. It was for the first time in my life, where I saw a culture of report back from the BEC but also from the deployees. I saw some other characters who I would not be interested into getting into detail in this piece about them. These are the characters of people who saw themselves as being better than the general members of the student body, but had the charm and charisma of being around students. SASCO Fort'e branch had all the characters believe me.
I became friends with the trio and later became friends with Mawande and various other comrades such as one social democrat - Thembelani Ndlazi who I later became his Branch deputy Secretary.
As my life went pass in the campus, I became closer to Nene, and I enjoyed the comfort of their company even though it brought nothing on the table for me to eat. Xola, always in our discussions, emphasised the role that each one of us must play in the student struggles and beyond. When he spoke, he was not able to stand in one position as he was addressing not so easy mass meetings at Fort Hare's Great Hall. I took from his wisdom, the love of reading and writing. I learnt the love of analysing and the pride of living a simple life which is not informed by crass materialism that existed at the time - which also exist dangerously today.
Other than all else, the glue that connected us as a team which was later joined by other former Fort Harians Bishop and Sipho Matshoba (who were also financial excluded), was Xola Nene. He was the actual glue when we were down, he came with alternative solutions to a multitude of problems, and he brought to us the same idea of going beyond praise of our deployees but created balanced analysis of not only their performance but the impact of their deeds to SASCO loosing or winning elections.
He became day by day a lecturer of politics in the informal meetings we had in the Jabavu Parliament. He was a real embodiment of what does not exist in the current Youth Leaders of our country. He had a charm, a way of choosing his words when he differed with you. He would never say he disagrees but make his input which would be totally against what you thought was consensus. He believed that maximum unity cannot be achieved but cohesion can be totally achieved for making progress in the revolution.
He never had time to go around fundraising money like many leaders do today. We always hitch hiked to attend to his deployments in Fort Cox and various other places. This habit of hitchhiking was one habit that I lost when I started to own my own vehicle. I remember comrades dubbed me a mad person when I hitchhiked to The University of Kwa - Zulu Natal ‘ongoya' somewhere around Empangeni with not money altogether.
The hitchhiking process was not without its challenges. In some instances we had challenges of drivers or owners of vehicles finding it difficult when we argued that we did not have money to pay. The same way I had hitch-hicked to the SASCO national congress in Ongoya. I had no money or nothing while another fellow who was studying at Border Technikon and was in the PEC of SASCO comrade Sityebi ‘Ta bricks" had indulged himself on the resources provided by the ANC for our travelling.
THE FOOD SHORTAGE AND ACTS OF DESPERATION
As having stated before, as a collective we had a challenge of being poor but most importantly we enjoyed our food. To put it harsher, we did not like a situation where we saw ourselves hungry. Our stomachs were as democratic as a country I have not yet seen in the world. We were comfortable with everything that was called food. We did not have the luxury of choosing what to eat.
Given this reality, Xola had been home for a weekend. He came back with two heads of pig or pork whichever is the right word. It was Christmas in June in our lives. We closed every possible door and cooked this while we were trying to answer the question: ‘Why revolutionaries need Marxism'. As the debate was flowing, there was always interruption because of our excitement given the meat we had just received from Xman. We cooked pap because mealie meal was the only thing that was always available and ate it with this scobho. This was one of the best meals we ever ate other than the one we used to steal from the SRC.
We also had other interactive and proactive ways of getting food. Mzana (the female residences as they were called) was one of the sources of food for us. This was not without its disadvantages. Due to the charming effect of Xola, some of these disadvantages became irrelevant and escaped our heads. There were some of the permanent victims of our scams for food. Tabisa Ralawe was one of the victims.
Here we did not need any charm we just forced ourselves to the fridge and ate. I remember at some stage, Xola, Timothy and I, went to Tabisa's room and we found her sleeping with her boyfriend (current husband), we knocked and got in before she could even say come in. We found them on bed but shame they were doing nothing but it was clear that they were not in any form of clothing hence it was difficult for them to wake up and stop us from the damage we caused on her fridge.
This day we ate from eggs to polony to last night's meat. Some of these victims were Nomvuyiso Batyi and many others. However, it must be said though that those women who had been at the university for some time and who loved SASCO, were the ones who fed us most. We would politicise this process of getting this food, practically making it impossible for any female to disagree with giving us food or cooking for us. The challenge though, was that we could not do this on daily basis as it was prone to making us loose respect and integrity from the female folk.
Xola was afraid of stealing, worse when it had something to do with food. I have never said this and it might be very embarrassing to here but it is a fact. One day SASCO had this big bash at sports complex. It was addressed by Archie Ralo who was in the PEC of the ANCYL at the time having graduated from SASCO in Cape College. There were many festivities and these included drinking and some major braai that took place. Sim Makalima and Xolani ‘Babsie' Mbeleni were the DJ's of the night, banging us with Kwaito. I stole a box of meat. The box was full of pork in fact it was the whole pork but frozen.
I went to Tabisa and requested her to give me the keys to her room. She without asking why gave me the keys and I took the meat to her place. Later in the morning when the bash ended, I took my comrades including Nene and Tabisa to her room and started saying we must cook. We fought with Tabisa about this and ultimately she succumbed to this. Xola was fighting with me over this stealing process but I was defending it as though I repossessed the material from the wrongful owners to its rightful owners. As he differed with me he was also laughing which was not simple sign that he is game.
We comforted ourselves over a week or two with this box. Matshoba would make a lot of noise but ultimately ate because the reality was that no one had something better to offer. Tabisa was always a source of our strength when it came to feeding our stomachs. At some stage Fort Hare was hosting a provincial congress of SASCO. SRC members did not want to provide their plates for PEC members to eat amongst whom were Claude Qavane, Lemi Mzendana, Jack, our dear friend Siyabulela ‘tshangisa' Fani and Nasiphe ‘Spakes' Zambodla. We were joined later by Babalwa Ntabeni who was the one of the finest TG's of SASCO of our time. It was only Mbasa, Tabisa and Mawande who offered their own plates for the PEC members to eat. However this was not enough.
These comrades were not even offered accommodation and we ended up accommodating them in our rooms. This was usual to us in any way. Tabisa went home at Ntselamanzi and brought back a 20 litre of Milk which we used. We cooked and ate African salad for the period preceding the congress until congress food was available. We never knew until congress that some within campus and within SASCO were planning some conspiracy. I will dwell much about this later.
Xola had a charm for women, but was not a wining anyone womaniser. There were many women who wanted to throw themselves to him and never even once used women. He at first had a challenge with comrades who spent enough time with women until at least for the first time he became open about it, he got a girlfriend. I am unfortunately not at liberty to go to town about this relationship but the only thing I can say, is that we started missing him in the men residences. He used particularly phrases to women even during the campaigns. Phrases like "Notsununu" and others.
One day we entered a room in Elitheni 2 (another female residence) and met with two beautiful women who we thought had issues with SASCO. One of them was a very close friend of mine Ndilisa Toto, a very short, chubby and beautiful dignified lady. She was in actual fact the same size with Nene. Out of his realisation that these women were coming hard on us, he used those phases to charm them into agreeing to vote for SASCO. This became a challenge as they started to have problems with him thinking that he was reducing them to sex pests or related issues. We spent in that room almost two hours until he demanded food. Today, we are still friends with Ndee ever since we started meeting in their room.
Other than his charm and flossing while eating, Xola had an interesting habit of not wanting to sleep angry. He would want us to iron all issues out before we go to bed so that all the disagreements we had are understood by each one of us. We would fight about this because Boyce Ngxokwana and Timothy had girlfriends. To the extent of their closeness of his girlfriend, Boyce used to spend time in her room or in his room with her. The unfortunate situation, this time would be stolen by debates with Xola in his illegal room in Iona 1 a male residence. It was also in this room that I got to know Cdes like Mongezi ‘Bra Mo' Sihlahla a brother to Andile Sihlahla who remained an astute leader of the Youth League of our times and who was a former president of SASCO by the way (one who is not celebrated by many who claim to be leaders of SASCO today)
XOLA NENE - THE SONG BIRD
Gangatha did not enjoy the names we gave to him. However these names did not come from the normal jokes that people had. Xola was a great singer of revolutionary songs, even though he was not a composer he sang with passion all revolutionary songs. To the extent of his principles, i have never heard him singing about any person except for Oliver Tambo. Xola would sing songs but he enjoyed the song "amahlath'amnyama". This was used at Fort Hare as his middle name by many within the student movement.
He definitely did not like it but realised that the more he had issues with it the more this was growing. I must say I enjoyed seeing him angry at times because this is the time when he was loud. He had the talent of singing songs that fit particular moments. This reminds me of the conspiracy that was made against him when we came back from the Funeral od Wanga Sigila. He was accused of having raped a friend of ours who stood at congress and said she was not raped let alone sleeping with Xola. He was dishonerably discharged in SASCO expelled by congress. He stood up and Sang "Oliver we Tambo thina si Gxothiw'ekhaya'. As James a Froud (an English historian of the 18th century) remarks that "experience teaches slowly and at the cost of mistakes", everyone including the leaders of the conspiracy started to realise the mistake they have done. This was one hard to swallow moment in his life and in our lives as leaders of the branch. I will explain this conspiracy later.
As passionate as he was about the songs, he recruited small, new and naughty women to join him in songs. These comrades we used to call them "abafowethu". They were three beautiful girls who enjoyed their lives at Fort Hare. They were first year students who had life and modernised the life of our branch with their new ways of wearing organisational regalia. They became his unquestionable crew in singing, and in toy toying as though they were once in the trenches. Mbasa used to joke about this, we used to laugh at this as he jumps around mimicking how Nene was toy toying. These were indeed great moments. It is in this period as well that I got to be identified with the song "Commander", while Claude sang ‘Nants'imelo yellow as though he was crying.
This was the Nene, who had a passion for singing revolutionary songs. A comrade who sang songs as though he lived in those dark days of colonialism and apartheid. I remember when we came back from the Provincial General Council of SASCO in PE Tech, where Nqaba Mbanga another politically astute drinking character of our times, was at his best misbehaviour. Xola led us into old songs of the movement, teaching us how they are sung and who does what during the songs. Throughout in the taxi to King Williams Town, we enjoyed songs such as Sobashiya bazalekhaya, Kurekure Natinova, Uwagcine amavolontiya and many others.
He used songs to connect us including in hard times to heal our wounds. He believed in the principle of engaging everyone including those that were said to be "senior comrades". To be honest to history there were many people who got annoyed by this young man's behaviour. He would write his political report and give it to some ANC leaders to comment and he would take them to task. At times for us to reach to conclusions of our discussions, we would fight physically and be angry at each other but by the time we left either my cold, dirty room or Timothy's room or his room for that matter, we would be friends and comrades again.
THE ELECTION IN THE ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURES
One of the lessons from this relationship which I leant from my fellow comrades and particularly from Xola, was to TRUST a comrade with everything you have. I believe that in today's world of crass materialism, Xola would have been a victim of his belief. He stood firm in convincing comrades without speaking to me and to Thembelani Ndlazi that we must be elected into the secretariat office of the Branch of SASCO. Not only did he do that he went further to lobby for our election into the University Gender Forum. This was overwhelming to us but saw it as our duty to work to improve the conditions of students.
I later realised when I got elected in the BEC of SASCO that Xola believed that once the organisation has taken a resolution, whether he differed with it or not he stood by it. I was afraid like hell to lead the branch of SASCO at Fort Hare particularly because; it was not for the fainthearted. This was a branch of people who were not afraid of each other but who respected each other's views. It was a branch were there was a serious contest of ideological positions, were the first three to four hours of the meeting would be spent debating politics and how those affect our conditions at Fort Hare. This was a branch with many activists who were student at Fort Hare before us and were financially excluded and later came back to finalize their studies. It was a branch, were fire was not feared but fear and fire itself feared this branch.
This is a branch that produced many leaders of SASCO who were not even studying at Fort Hare. Its membership participated in the structures of the movement outside campus. This was the branch which produced a number of YL leaders of our time such as the astute and cool headed Mlungisi Lumka.
At the time of my election with comrades such as Nombasa Hewana, trade unionist Max, social democrat Thembelani Ndazi, Lwando, Thando Mabhengwana, Fikile Seti, Mathona Manyela and others. I must confess it was not easy at all to lead this branch as sharp contradictions continued to surface. Not only did they surface in the BEC but the pressure that was there to the BEC to take hard decisions, was one pain that was making it difficult to go to "Kgotso House" as we used to call the SASCO office.
Those who have had time to engage Xola, Duka, Ngxokwana, Metuse, Mrashula, Matshoba, Sogayise, Ndlazi, Mrubatha, Macanda, would know how difficult was to manage this branch. This is the branch which used to get visted by the likes of Teboho Padu who is now leading the policy unit of the ANC, Sihlahla, Lubabalo Gwintsa and many other comrades. The most difficult thing with the branch was when Timothy, Xola, myself and Ngxokwana differed on the positions we had before the meeting. These differences would define themselves in the meeting. This made it very difficult for the meetings to end early.
It was because of his role in the local politics that some of us got elected into local structures. I remember when i got elected as the deputy branch secretary of the Andile Gwintsa branch of the SACP in Alice and an additional member of the ward 9 branch of the ANC in town. Xola was instrumental in making sure that I got elected. ANC needed Fort Hare SASCO branch to forward a name of a comrade who was going to be part of the Ward Committee. I wanted the position so badly because I thought i was going to be paid. Xola and Mbasa stood firm for my deployment only to realise that it was not paying save to say that I ate free when ever Ward committee meetings took place. We got elected in the Region of the ANCYL in Nkonkobe with Xola and Tengela. This was to be our last REC before the realignment of structures after the watershed ANCYL conference which was marred by serious contest of ideas at Fort Hare. The congress was adjourned twice and the short man with an unusual chin - Xola Nene was also a nerve at this conference.
There were three types of people in the membership of SASCO as Xola used to define them. Those who wanted to use SASCO to get to the SRC and use the resources of students badly, those who really stood up for the interests of students and devoted their time to becoming role models in respect of the academic excellence and those who just did not know whether they were going forward or backwards but just love SASCO to the core. Beyond these generic ones, politically the branch had two types of wannabes. There was a group which was not anti capitalism as a system and in fact at all costs tried to live life like they owned the means of production. The used patronage as their source of strength and power. There was also the communist wannabes who concerned themselves with debating solutions to contradictions of the time.
The latter as I recall remained the defenders of the students and workers revolution and stood to support the establishment of cooperatives and the provisioning of contracts to these without the open tender process, as these did not have the exposure, while the other stood against it and accepted and used their leadership positions to further the poverty stricken cooperatives.
Equally we had a task of making sure that these people live together in the same organisation with their different interests. Contesting positions was not really an issue that was in the minds of the likes of Xola as it is in the minds of many young people today. Xola through our support even though he was known and popular, he became the first chairperson of the central region, a position which was to be headed by comrades from Fort Hare for a period of three consecutive years. It started with Xola, moved to Sipho Matshoba and later to Bishop who is now a practising attorney in Johannesburg. Even as sharp as Xola was, he was weak when he was being discussed to lead a structure. He always avoided discussions about him and leadership positions. To attest to this, he only served once and was not so effective in the SRC as a transformation officer in 1998/9.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES - THE BEGINING OF THE END
Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said "In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly". Indeed from 1830 when this was said we experienced it at the tail end of the 19th century. Xola was a brilliant theoretical and an astute implementer of organisational decisions. As good as he was he became a threat to many people including those in the ANC PEC of the time and in the SACP equally. His presence in SASCO posed a lot of challenges as there were many conspiracies that were thrown against him.
I will not dwell in those that I see as useless but will capture the ones that tested our relationship and his faith in the organisation in general till his death. The majority of these conspiracies were sponsored by those that were outside the frame of the organisation but some were a direct result of his beliefs to socialism and ultimately to communism. I am saying this because Xola never hesitated to implement what he has captured and leaned from the Marxist - Leninist theory.
Some of these conspiracies had something to do with squabbles for leadership position in the SRC and in the transformation agenda of the University. The were some amongst SASCO at the time, who saw the project of chasing Professor Mbulelo Mzamane out and the ushering in of the new era as the be all for them to be millionaires and to get closer to the riches. In many times this was done at the expense of students. I dare to challenge anyone who could argue differently that some of these conspiracies were influenced by the fact that people knew that Xola would stand up and raise these without any fear of contradiction and without mobilising anyone to agree with him.
So it was inevitable that that many wanted him out of their faces. Some who in the current days still believe that he was the source of us tightening the reporting processes in the branch. I will not lie here, myself, Xola and some close comrades such as Duka, Matshoba and Boyce had enough time to reflect on the situations and plot processes going forward about the direction of the university and the general crass materialism that had become the disease that was eating those that were in the leadership of the statutory structures from our progressive ranks.
Every little thing we did as a branch was associated with Xola as though the BEC had no capacity to deliver some of the issues forward. I want to place it on record for the first time, Xola had nothing to do with the recall of the SRC president of our time but the General Meeting including the BEC had everything to do with it. I fought with Xola over the phone on the matter as he was in Bisho before it happened. I had travelled at some stage, meeting some of the comrades to lobby them on the decisions that we were likely to take in the BEC. This was to test the likely impact of these decisions as we were towards SRC elections and many unorganisational issues were taking place at the time. Again I must say it; this soul had nothing to do with it.
The first conspiracy though that was a heart breaking, was when we returned in the funeral of Wanga Sigila, the former deputy president of SASCO who died on a car accident while attending to deployments - May his revolutionary soul rest in peace. A story broke that Xola has raped a female comrade from Eastern Cape Technikon. I will not mention the name of the comrade as I did not speak to her before writing this piece. While we were preparing for the provincial conference, comrades in the PEC knew about this conspiracy and in fact some of them were deeply involved in the conspiracy.
None of them said anything. I still remember Xola, Myself, Siyabulela Fani and Claude we forced ourselves in the computer centre using the access code of Tabisa Fiko another short, dark and brilliant comrade who stayed at Luke and who was a student of science. We entered and wrote the longest political report of Claude in the province as he was the chairperson of SASCO at the time. We debated for the whole three days trying to clean and deal with the report. None of the PEC members had even whispered in our ears that the story is coming. During the week, we did here the vibes; the gender officer PEC at the time had said something about the story as though it was a rumour.
When congress came, comrade Lemi who was the deputy chair of the province and who was also the chairperson of the DC had presented the disciplinary issues at congress. If I remember well, amongst the issues that were presented as part of the organisational report by Jack who was the deputy secretary but acting ever since Teboho Qholosha was financial excluded in UNITRA, was the issue of Mahlathamnyama and the rape. This shocked the Provincial Congress and Xola was sitting next to me. I touched his back and immediately said it will be fine. We all knew Xola not to be a person of sex let alone being in a situation of sleeping with a woman without consent.
As the debates were continuing, it became clear that there was a gang of people who hated Xola till his death by the way. This gang was led by one person who led students in Border Technikon and who is now a BBBIIIG COMRADE OF THE LEFT. He was the most vocal as though he was there when the story happened. As a leader of the branch I was shocked but never doubted Xola not even once. I whispered to his ear and said tell me what happened? He smiled with his sharp and white teeth and said, I did not rape anyone. I took his word and I took it upon myself to engage the person who is said to have been raped. She was and still a close friend of mine, she replied ‘it's a lie'.
The mood changed in the congress as there was a barrage of attacks to Nene without any investigation or criminal case opened. The funeral of Wanga Sigila was one the most attended funerals and every possible leader and former leaders were in attendance. This was happening just at the verge of our National Congress in Ongoyo if my memory serves me well. We immediately consulted each other as delegates of the branch, even though there were many people from the branch in attendance. There were those who clearly rejoiced at this situation while to us as Nene's friends we had difficulty of understanding this situation.
We stood to oppose not the rape but the process that was being followed. We took the congress back on what procedure must be followed if such an issues arose. We were supported by Claude and even comrades such as Mawande and Mbasa who were not delegates to this congress. We managed to be heard and a special committee was set to deal with the matter. In the middle of the discussions, the comrade who is said to be raped wanted to clarify issues for the congress and those who chaired the congress could not agree that she must clarify congress. She believed that wrong things are being said about Xola at her presence and wanted to clear his name. Unfortunately the GANG refused she cried and left congress.
Xola was left to hang, national leadership present was also not helping the meeting as it nearly deteriorated not in the sense of the current congresses of the YL but politically the debates got personal. Comrade Xola was then suspended by the congress pending further investigations on the matter by the committee of three. This affected him dearly and he obeyed the sentence. Just a reminder of those that were present the following was the sentence imposed by the provincial congress:
1. That he is suspended pending further investigations;
2. That he was not going to be seen in any SASCO office during this suspension in any campus;
3. That he would not be deployed into any position nor supported by the organisation to such a position;
4. That he will be reported to the ANC for the ANC to suspend him until such time that SASCO had finished its investigation and;
5. That he was not going to attend any organisational meeting or forum.
Life was difficult for the branch without this vibrant and brilliant youth and student leader of our time. Life was equally difficult to him as I saw and sat with him daily in campus. I understood his difficulty because Xola was no more without his beloved organisation and equally his organisation was crippled without him. We sat meetings between me, Duka, Matshoba, Mbasa, Mrashula and Bishop. We were later joined by young growing intellectuals of the time Siviwe Vamva and Mzukisi Makatse to map the way forward. We collectively agreed to fight this to the bottom. The branch did not want to adopt this position. We termed this and other fights against conspiracies ‘HOTSHAKA'. I will not delve into detail about how we were going to go about dealing with the matter as that is still a very touchy subject to ourselves.
At this time I was the Branch Secretary of SASCO at Fort Hare. After having discussed this at length with Mbasa and Mawande and at the risk of being expelled by SASCO, I went against the decision of the branch and raised a call for the review of the decision to suspend Xola in the Provincial General Council held at Cape College. Late in the evening I went to drink in the township in Fort Beuafort. On my arrival, I was called by Cde Nqabisa and her fellow comrade they told me that I must stay in their room because they overhead the GANG speaking about dealing with me and suspending me because I had no mandate on the matter and I have undermined the decisions of the congress on the issue. I slept in their room and early in the morning I did not even eat breakfast and went straight to the congress hall.
What the GANG failed to realise is that, the call has already won the hearts of those that could debate in congresses such as Nqaba Mbhanga and others. The gang relied on patronising delegates and on howling. Insults were again thrown by this BIIIG COMRADE OF THE LEFT against Xola. He exposed his distaste for Nene at all times. We lost the debate and only succeeded in pushing for the change of the team that was to investigate. We equally succeeded in changing some of the rules imposed on Xola such as his participation in the campus activities.
Already there were people who were going around campus saying wrong things about Nene and this particularly came amongst those who were deployed in various positions of power within campus. We managed to demystify the myth as some of these comrades were raising this as a joke with a huge effect not only on the life of Xola but also on the life of the branch as well. Fort Hare was a very fragile but strong institution politically and stomached this nonsense.
Finally, Mbasa, Mawande, Sipho and Timothy, became delegates to the provincial congress which was held at Border Technikon that year. These comrades combined their energies to fight the suspension of Xola Nene. The congress was tense and comrades such as Mandisi Mpumlwana, Mlungisi Lumka, Andile Fekisi, Archie Ralo and Andile Sihlahla honoured the invitations and came as delegates of the ANCYL to this congress, while Xola was always around the congress venue. Mandla Mabuza had become the newly elected president of SASCO in the watershed congress of SASCO at the University of Kwa-Zululand. Mandla took over the control of congress and wanted to understand the basis for Xola's suspension.
The gang could not elaborate on the reasoning, they continued with their howling and generalisation until the president was forced to intervene and reverse the decision through a congress decision. Xola was then freed from this conspiracy and immediately called to join congress. I remember he stood up and spoke on political issues that were raised by former first SASCO provincial chairperson who was at that time the Deputy Chairperson of the ANCYL in the province - Mlungisi Lumka's longest input. Xola spoke as though he was not suspended and as though life was normal to him and to the organisation. He extended an olive branch to those who stood against him and even supported some of them to be elected in the regional leadership of the central and western regions of SASCO.
I watched this as it became more interesting to me and everyone else who was there. I remember the mood of that congress and learnt that in actual fact Samuel was right when he said "In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly".
The second conspiracy is what led to his death and I'd rather not engage on it safe to say that we must make a call for the review of Xola Nene's case to expose everything that was involved in it.
Even though the situation may be like that we must act like Cabral said "exposed lies whenever they were told". There are many stories surrounding the death of Nene and I will not be fooled by my emotions to raise anyone of those. However, some process must be engaged to "separate oil from water" and to put closure to the matter for ourselves as his friends and to his beloved family.
HIS POLITICS AND PRINCIPLES - THE GAME OF POLITIKING
Fort Hare was a breathing ground and a hub for political activity. Xola spent most of his time reading and analysing the situations. This was one his strongest points. His own room in Iona One was like the old offices of Home Affairs where one could visible see the dirt caused by the papers. Around his bed and around his study, there were a lot of papers. This process helped him to grasp a lot of information which was translated through our discussions and through organisational debates.
At the heart of his theoretical beliefs, was the idea that the national democratic revolution is a vehicle towards the achievement of the socialist order. While Xola believed in Communism as the ultimate stage of societal development. He was an aspiring young communist who believed that socialism and ultimately communism can be achieved in Africa from within the values and cultural perspectives of our noble continent. He believed that the only way for communists to push for their agenda was to do so under the understanding that before they became communists - they are Africans.
This explained his fascination with the politics of the continent and the revival of the African continent. He appreciated the renaissance debate of the African continent in the same spirit that other comrades of SASCO did. However, to be true to history, we must indicate that there was always something that made us to think that Xola was better than us. We were not afraid of his beliefs neither was he about our views. He had the courage to bring in new ideas and approaches to development challenges that faced us as students and as community members at large.
He hated patronage with his last blood. He never believed in the use of money to lure people minds to agreeing to wrong things. He rejected patronage to the core and in fact provided a platform for people to engage directly with SASCO without proxies. He opened our SASCO and the ANC through his own charm for people to participate without prejudice. He simplified the language of comrades into the one that was understood by everyone. At some stage, I was starting to believe that mass meetings of the university were without content when he was not around.
As I stayed with him, I have grown to understand him to hate labelling. He always extended an olive branch even to his worst enemies in the revolution. He loves comrades as though they were his own brothers and sisters. Like Che Guevara, he locked his thinking in the same perspective that revolutionaries must have love of their people. Even at times when he knew you were disagreeing, he emphasised the role of continuous engagement on our differences because he believed in the teachings of Lenin when he said "contradictions are necessary for as long as they facilitate progression".
He simplified Marxism. He knew that it was difficult to read Das Capital for many and simplified it. He was always in the computer centre writing discussion documents which had been started through his ugly hand writing. Oh I still remember that writing. He chose his language when addressing the old because he strongly believed in the wisdom of the old while understanding that mistakes can also be made by the old. He died disagreeing that there is a Black Capitalist Class which is a motive force of the revolution. He believed that society gives birth to two classes that are in constant interaction with each other. That these classes have stratum within and that the interests groups which are born as a necessary foundation laid by democratic forces do not by themselves constitute a class but they are part either of the dominant or hegemonic class forces or the class of the oppressed people.
As part of his vision to extend the understanding he had of the revolution, he lobbied us in the BEC to establish political space in residences. These were later called residence units at Fort Hare. These were to become the primary platforms to politicize students in their residences. This was done under the belief that not everyone is willing to engage in the general meetings of the organisation. This was designed by him to capture the soul of students. He fought against the notion of political apathy; as a result he always made the mistake of wanting to transform every social platform into being a political platform.
I must confess though that due to this, not many students enjoyed drinking and socialising with us because we were social dwarfs. Until now, I have continued to laugh at the way he used to jive. I cannot explain it but it was definitely not in the same way that Xavatha arrangements are done. He was a person of humility and dignity. He believed that respect must be earned rather than it being forced to the people. He did not like to be given serious responsibilities because he enjoyed being with the mass and placing posters around campus. Leadership to him had nothing to do with him being elected but everything with us discharging our responsibilities and obligations as collectives.
Xola was one of the few leaders of Law society who transformed the faculty into robustness. This was his fertile ground for debates not only on legal issues but also on political issues. He interpreted our role as that of influencing people so as to make our ideas hegemonic within and outside campus. I however wonder what would he have said in the current degeneration amongst youth leaders, who force their ideas and alienate anyone with a dissenting view? However, I am sure he would have had a different view all together.
Nene did not carry grudges, he believed in engaging people rather than isolating them, he had an attitude of an old African person while he was young. He believed in placing his love forward for his own people because love does not lie as confirmed by Jonas Gwangwa in his song "umyalo". He shared good and bad moments with us - his comrades. He was down to earth and yet everyone gave him respect. He was feared in the movement by many because he spoke truth when it was not fashionable to do so. He did not judge people for who they are but stressed on the strengths of people. This he said was because every person has his/her own weaknesses but rather if we were to concentrate on those, progression for development would be doomed.
Like Cabral said it in his Article ‘tell no lies and claim no easy victories" Xola "exposed lies whenever they were told". Irrespective of the position which one held Xola was not afraid but would be gentle, calm and respectful when he disagrees with you? This is the Xola many in today's would have killed him for his honesty, love of his people and his organisation.
While there were those who honestly loved him, there were also those who were hell bent on destroying him.
END OF DAYS - THE LAST HOUR OF HIS DEATH
Don Maquis an English Historian once said "the chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race". The morning was drizzling and there was quietness in campus throughout the day. SASCO had won elections and the PEC through its controversial but correct deployment strategy, was to deploy comrades to SRC. Another of our close friends from Unitra, Themba Xathula who was the Provincial Treasurer of SASCO that ended up not providing the treasurer's report to the provincial congress, was deployed with Xola to deploy comrades in the Forte' SRC.
There was so much contestation about the results including some within our ranks of SASCO worked tirelessly with the opposition to destroy SASCO because of their hatred of Nene's leadership. We went to a meeting on that Sunday morning and the meeting was not chaired by us in the BEC but by Themba Xathula who was the PEC deployee. Xola and Themba outlined the principles for deployment in SASCO and handed the view of the PEC on who must be elected. We all obeyed as lovers of peace and the revolution. The descending view was listened and issues were immediately ironed out.
Claude Qavane was also in campus as the president. I will not spend time for on his presence in campus as it was not important for this piece. We spent time disagreeing with Xola who wanted to go to Bisho and attend a political school or shop steward council of COSATU. Ultimately we lost, me, Timothy and Matshoba we accompanied Themba and Xola to hick at the main gate. They left and the drizzle continued. We were not as fresh as we had been over the past days. As if he knew that he was going to die, Xola remained silent in the whole meeting and during our discussions as we went to the hiking spot.
At night while we were drinking, we were joined by Comrade Fikile Seti who was also a gender officer of the BEC. We indulged ourselves with Claude, Mbasa and Mawande with alcohol that night. At about 1am in the morning we decided to go and sleep. I was on my way to Claude to sleep in my room, I received a call from a girlfriend of Xola who told me that she got a call from one comrade i cannot mention here that "nalomntu wakho ufile" transalated as that boyfriend of yours is dead. This was a comrade who apparently wanted to be a boyfriend of this woman. I laughed and said that is not true, i would have been the first one to know if that was true. Hardly 20 minutes later, we arrived in my room and the Jabavu hostel did not have electricity. We discovered that my room was broken into and papers were all over the room. While this surprised us, Fikile came in crying that Xola is dead.
I called Xola in his phone using Claude Qavane's phone. His phone rang and went on voice mail. This was not usual with him of course. I immediately received a call from Sabelo Nkuhlu who confirmed the news. I dropped his phone out of anger and i received a call from Noxolo Kievit who was the ANC treasurer of the time. She told me with no uncertain terms that my friend, my comrade, my brother and my confidante had passed on. He was shot by PASMA at Eastern Cape Technikon while asleep. Linda Mbaxa later contacted me crying dropping me the worst news of where was he short.
This is the day my life and the lives of my comrades started to be miserable. We went out of the residence with Claude, Fikile and now joined by Matshoba and Timothy. We went back to the student centre and already the news had woken up many people in campus. Fort Hare was not to be the same again. Xola was no more and things started to fall apart.
The following morning, ANC intelligence had arranged a transport for me and Timothy to go to Butterworth to visit the site and to visit the mortuary to see Xola. This was indeed devastating given the security that accompanied us to Butterworth. Bra Mongezi Sihlahla's wisdom came in handy and he continued to comfort us. He was also very close to Xola but was so strong that we also took the tune from him. I could see in the later stage his tears coming down his face without uttering a word. Our dearly beloved friend was no more. This was like a dream which I so wanted it to end. We have never even spoken about dead in all our interaction until he died. The pain and agony we felt was nothing to the one that was and is still felt by his parents. I literally refused to go to see his family as this was too much for me and my comrades to take.
The ANC did the onus and took centre stage in organising the funeral. Just days after Xola dies, before he was even buried, I got stabbed in the general meeting of SASCO at Green Auditorium where I had attended my first orientation to this noble university. Immediately after his funeral I and Mbasa Metuse were charged with intimidation which was not explained until we were expelled at campus the same day as we were charged. As his body had not yet decomposed we all who were close to him were chased out of campus. As if that was not enough we were chased out of Alice town under the disguise of intelligence and our security.
I am sure I speak on behalf of Timothy Duka, Boyce Ngxokwana, Sipho Matshoba, Mbasa Metuse, Mawande Mrashula, Siviwe Vamva (his adopted son) Mzukisi Makatse when I say we have not forgotten about anything. Time and only time will indeed prove that his worthness to the life of this revolution is missed and lost. We have not forgotten till this day, we are the lovers of peace but we will forever live with this agony until answers are provided to all who may be interested to know. We have not lived with Xola as parasites, we have not shared life for the sake of it, we have never pretended to love each other, we have always been true to who we are and our difficulties of the moment and we have never rejoiced at the sorrows of each other. We remain those who stood side by side with him in our difficult times and in our moments of happiness.
Even at this hour as we deep our flags in his remembrance, our tears are still falling down our faces when we see some of the work he tirelessly worked and built being destroyed by those who never got the taste of knowing this young, gallant revolutionary who was disciplined as we saw him in his coffin.
Today, as his grave will again be lucky to have many people for they will be paying their respect and remembering him. We who were his friends still are in deep sorrow to have lost such a noble friend whose contribution to the struggle was not about being compensated. We must again do everything we can to open up the enquiry to his death so as to close the chapter of his life. Xola will never be forgotten in our minds and in our hearts. We shall forever live to emulate the good work he did and will never forget what happened.
As I recall our fascination with CHE-LIVES.COM, I thought it would be important to quote Guevara when he said in Motorcycle Diaries:
"is is there, in the final moments, for people whose furthest horizon has always been tomorrow that one comprehends the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over. In those dying eyes there is a submissive appeal for forgiveness and also, often, at desperate plea for consolation which is lost to the void, just as their body will soon be lost in the magnitude of the mystery surrounding us".
Rest in peace hero of the heroes, I know that your name is written in the list of the heroes that lay closer to Ka Seme, Luthuli, Tambo, Mabhida, Kotane, Slovo, Hani and closer to your dearly friends Qavane and Sigila. We will forever miss you and dare not to betray your ideals
Lubabalo Molefe is an ANCYL NEC member but writes in his personal capacity as a friend and a comrade of Xola Nene.
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