Harry Gwala’s (R.I.P) 100th birthday (30 July 2020).
The Communist wing of the ANC has declared 2020 as the year of celebrating the life and contribution to the struggle of former Natal Midlands SACP and ANC leader, Harry Gwala. Let me share my insights and personal experience of Gwala’s involvement in the violence in the Natal Midlands from around 1980 to 1996.
From 1974 I was an elected Natal politician. While MP for Pinetown (1974-77) I was involved in efforts at finding a resolution to the strikes at some of the Philip Frame factories in the Durban area. I was the MP for Maritzburg North from 1981 to 1987. I served on the Estcourt/Wembezi Peace Committee in the 90s. I was close to Harry Gwala’s foot prints. I had met Gwala’s primary school teacher sister. She taught in Edendale.
I knew a family who fled Edendale and emigrated to Canada because they feared that Gwala would kill them because he had decided that they were “impimpi“(informers). I was in a meeting in the Weenen Town Hall where he was present. His aura (mthunzi in Zulu) brought a palpable tension and fascist aggression into that space and in a way, it was re-inforced by his sad physical disability. He declined to go for treatment to the three perfectly good Provincial hospitals in Pietermaritzburg but preferred to live with the contradiction of a Communist using expensive private hospital care.
In the Midlands, the ANC was usually the instigator of violence. That was my overall conclusion as I observed, from very close quarters, the violence in Wembezi and in Natal in general. The IFP responded (buyisana - retaliating) and there was a war.
Anthea Jeffrey of the IRR has written a magisterial account in her “Peoples’ War: Light on the Struggle for South Africa”. It effectively challenges the narrative which the ANC wants South Africa to believe -- that Communist revolutionaries were innocent victims of state sponsored violence.
Lakela Kaunda’s commemorative article written on behalf of the ANC on Harry Gwala, looks at him through rose tinted spectacles.
Gwala despised Albert Luthuli’s unwavering commitment to non-violence. His political unpalatability within the ANC and Mandela’s caution about him was no secret. It stemmed from their days together on Robben Island where Gwala was and remained a fundamentalist Stalinist.
One of the few good things Jacob Zuma did was finally to marginalize Gwala within the ANC, which then made a peaceful settlement with the IFP possible.
Gwala’s vigorous support and promotion of the war against the IFP was in clear sight in both Bruntville, Mooi River and Wembezi in Estcourt. While I was serving on the Estcourt-Wembezi Peace Committee and saw, at very close quarters, Gwala’s people organising, violence and killing and the IFP supporters responding (buyisana – paying back).
John Jeffrey (now a cabinet minister) our present Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, were enthusiastically supporting the anti-Inkatha campaign in and around Pietermaritzburg. SACP member Yunus Carrim (a Cabinet Minister now) was playing his role and later helped the ANC in Parliament disband the Scorpions so that Zuma and iKongolosi (Zulu for the ANC) could loot without consequences.
Mondli Makhanya, now of City Press, was involved in violence in the New Hanover area and, under a pseudonym, wrote about how thrilling he found it. Even today his unrelenting hatred for Mangosuthu Buthelezi is undisguised.
If one wants to imagine who in public life nowadays would embody Gwala’s ideology, then the militant Julius Malema, Ace Magashule (Communist Cubans are the only whites that he seems able to tolerate), Mzwandile Masina of Ekhurhuleni, Andile Lungisa (now appropriately, and at long last, wearing an orange overall), would fit the bill.
The fascist triumphalism of the Communists resulted in Pietermaritzburg’s Jan Smuts Stadium being renamed the Harry Gwala Stadium. Jan Smuts fought the Boer War against British Imperialism, fought against fascism in the Second World War and wrote the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations. The only other South African who has ever attained such significant international stature was Nelson Mandela. That Gwala’s name replaced that of Smuts is a deep insult to all South Africans.
Gwala was not only an uncompromising fighter, as Lakela Kaunda writes in her sanitised profile, but was also a killer as Stalin was. When I was in Georgia in the Caucuses of Russia, I visited Gori where Stalin was born. Also, like Stalin, Gwala was an atheist so “RIP” after his name may be inappropriate.
As I walked about the Gori Museum, I sadly recognised that Gwala’s commitment to Stalinist methods was what had sown death and destruction in my Province of Natal. For Gwala and the Pietermaritzburg communists 20 000 black lives didn’t matter. Only the revolution did. Gwala taught them that.