Ms Audrey Mamoepa and the Mamoepa Family;
The Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa;
Former Chairperson of the African Union, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma;
Representatives of the Gauteng Provincial Government;
Representatives of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality;
Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
The Tripartite Alliance and all Political Formations Present;
Dr Cassius Lubisi and all the Presidency Staff;
Comrades and Friends;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am thankful for this opportunity to reminisce about the life I once shared with the late comrade Ronnie Mamoepa.
First off, let me express my deepest condolences to comrade Ronnie’s wife, Ms Audrey Mamoepa, and the family at large.
At the age of 56 Comrade Ronnie still had potentially much more life to look forward to as well as much to live for. As Victor Hugo would have it, he was in the youth of old age.
Comrade Ronnie’s family, his wife, children, siblings and extended family were still looking forward to a blossoming life of one of their own.
The gap that is left by such a loss as you have suffered is only to be imagined. Yet the masses of South Africans gathered here to commiserate with you and the millions more who in their own ways are mourning and celebrating comrade Ronnie’s life are in fact saying he was also one of their own. His life mattered to all of us and this is how history will remember him.
This outpouring of grief by the masses of South Africans is a profound statement affirming the impact of comrade Ronnie’s life on that of our nation.
For the family under the circumstance it may be little comfort to know the impact he has made on the fabric of our history. However, this should not detract from the truth that Ronnie Mamoepa has earned his spurs during his lifetime. His is no ordinary story; for to be involved in the liberation struggle is to be steeped in one of history’s high tides of human affairs.
Indeed, it is not often that individuals make history at a very tender age of their lives the way he did. In hindsight, the political vision he developed and the moral valence he assumed while still a teenager seem out of proportion with his age.
It was almost as if his life was purposed to make maximum impact within a very short period of time before he transitions to the other dimension, passing into history the same way those before him did after handing over the revolutionary baton to him so that he could in turn pass it on to those after him
Some of those elders after whom he had come welcomed him and his fellow youthful comrades to Robben Island in 1980. Among them were Harry Gwala, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Ike Mthimunye, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Pro Malepe, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Wilton Mkwayi, Elias Motsoaledi and Jafta Masemola.
Indeed, when one looks back at the heady days of struggle the memories illuminating one’s mind speak of a glorious history of fortitude against all odds. Ours was a life shared in the terrain of the liberation struggle. This means that our encounter was imposed by objective historical conditions.
While a moment like this offers us an opportunity to celebrate the good and meaningful life comrade Ronnie lived during his days in this vale of tears, those who got to know him during the days of his life cannot help but succumb to the intruding pain of his loss.
I will confess to be among those in whom Ronnie’s passing has triggered life-deep melancholy.
Mortality has once again reduced us to the state of brooding contemplation about the fragility of the human condition! And for this grim existential reality it has chosen the life of comrade Ronnie Mamoepa, the apple of our eye; as if to rub it in and this way dare us to strike back at it, if we could!
And so the rivers of pain run even deeper.
This is all the more so when the mourned one was once flesh and blood with whom one shared daily existence across the spectrum of human emotion.
The philosophical filiation that bonded me and comrade Ronnie during the time that tested the human soul in our history accentuates the vivid memories that one will live to cherish.
My chance encounter with comrade Ronnie was of course behind bars; a desolate social space meant to wither the human spirit. Yet even under the most insufferable social conditions innate dynamism has always enabled the human personality to blossom within whatever given narrow and confined spaces.
Comrade Ronnie was among the few that could excite uproarious laughter even when deep inside one harboured a sinking feeling of despondency. An enlivening presence on our collective consciousness, his presence lit up the surroundings and uplifted us in many ways.
Our inherent spirit to be free as a species does not allow external domination the absolute powers to arbitrarily define all subtle dimensions of our social existence. Even within conditions of oppression humans still find a way to reclaim who they are. And so it was with the social life of comrade Ronnie. A dynamic, exuberant and expansive character that belied the suffocation of prison life, comrade Ronnie was always and everywhere the life and soul of the party!
Within the prison environs a socio-political community had evolved with its brand of cultural personality steeped in the mobilising ethos of a South Africa of our dreams, of our vision, of the Freedom Charter; a South Africa with which history was still expectant; a South Africa yet to be born. These ideals united the prison community, enabling us to engage in some communal activities, including sport.
Comrade Ronnie’s knack for communication saw him playing the reporter during our sporting activities on Saturdays. While he was not given to sportsmanship, he would make up for this by playing the journalist, covering the game and interviewing the players and spectators after the game, all the time wielding a makeshift microphone, a cameraman in tow with a make-believe camera fashioned out of odds and ends. By all accounts, he was the salt of the earth, if there ever was one!!!
His huge appetite for life helped dissipate the blanket of gloominess hanging over prison life, enfolding its residents into a shroud of unending despair.
What prison life was meant to do to a political prisoner was at once empty them of pre-existing content as well as reduce them to a broken soul pliantly receptive to the given order of things, not only as natural but desirable.
Such prison conditions are historically known to wear down even the most hardened of political leaders, breaking down resistance of formidable personalities and even turning individuals against the very philosophical tenets that defined their struggles.
To emerge intact from this contrived social environment presupposed impermeable revolutionary spirit lodging in an elastic personality. I would contend that comrade Ronnie fitted this bill of particulars.
When one considers the tender age at which he plunged himself into revolutionary politics and the many cases where young developing minds were easily overwhelmed by the juggernaut of the state power that turned them against their own ideals matters assume an even clearer perspective.
Comrade Ronnie defied the Cimmerian darkness into which his jailors had cast him with his contagious laughter; his infectious smile; his magnetic personality and most of all, his lucid mind and redoubtable spirit.
In the cell that we shared I ended up assuming the responsibility of waking him up before the morning head count as he was a heavy sleeper, resulting from his tendency to sleep after everybody else, almost in the wee hours of the morning. His late sleeping habits resulted from his reading voracity, a culture to which most inmates had gravitated.
Successful political education was predicated on a reading mind. And so like many young comrades who came under the wing of the ANC comrade Ronnie was encouraged to devour books the better to expand his intellectual horizons and so deepen his understanding of politics, society and history.
Uplifted by the intrinsic justness of his cause, he was able to hold the line, knowing that each day that passed meant a step towards freedom from the degradation of racial oppression, economic exploitation and political domination.
His interaction with fellow comrades and immersion in political education lifted him to a higher level of consciousness to appreciate the effects of history on the creation and shaping of race and class as the dominant features of human society and the most visible attributes of human experience.
A string of coincidences emerged between my life and that of comrade Ronnie Mamoepa which drew us even closer together and sealed our friendship for ever.
When his sister showed up for a prison visit, she asked him to pass her regards to me, much to his surprise. On further inquiry, it turned out that his sister was friends with my cousin sister from Mamelodi.
As if that was not enough, he discovered, through our conversations, that I used to play for a soccer team called Spa Sporting Club in Attridgeville, which was managed by Russa Bud’Mbelle, whose father, Horatio Isaiah Budlwana Mbelle, was the ANC’s second Secretary General and a bosom friend of Solomon Tshekiso Plaatje, another ANC luminary and first secretary general who had married Horatio Mbelle’s sister, Elizabeth.
It also turned out that Russa Bud’Mbelle had been a student of the future president of the ANC, O.R Tambo, at Saint-Peters College, in Rosettenville, Johannesburg.
To cap it all, for lack of parking space, the 15-seater team bus of my soccer team, Spa Sporting Club, used Ronnie’s home for safe parking for a spell of time. Ronnie himself used to give this bus some wash-down.
It was clear that a colourful history of the ANC was deeply rooted in comrade Ronnie’s childhood social environs.
It was equally clear that there were social connections between us that went deep into our history.
Not surprisingly, these intimately connective threads wove together a canvass of wider personal historical meaning against which our comradeship was recast into palpable particularity.
Against this background I myself cannot even imagine my political biography without the figure of Ronnie Mamoepa impinging on my historical memory. My past would be incomplete without this connective thread that makes comrade Ronnie a very special part of me.
From the viewpoint of our movement, the ANC, the passing of comrade Ronnie is yet another sad chapter in our unfolding history. It is a pain for us older generation to be gathered here to bury comrade Ronnie, when in fact we had expected that he would be the one to bury us.
It is true that the indeterminacy of the human condition precludes logical consistency in how life works out. Be that as it may, it is also true that in the eternal smallness of our minds we humans expect the young to bury the old, after the fashion of some mechanistic chronology. We conceive of human existence as regularised along those lines.
And so we had expected that comrade Ronnie and those of his generation and those after them would continue taking up the cudgels as we strive for the vision of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic society.
This is a generation of young men and women whom one could be forgiven for saying were born into the African National Congress (ANC).
Their lives, indeed their biographies are political from the beginning to the end. One would be hard put thinking about the lives they led outside the context of revolutionary politics.
Before I conclude, let me steal this moment to make an instructive point about our responsibility to the historical memory of the struggle. The struggle was not just an abstraction. It was a historical project with a concrete political agenda pursued by human beings. It was grounded in human reality.
It is notable that individuals write their own history through their conscious actions and the choices they make in their daily existence. However, there is a need to record the history of the struggle and its cast of actors by, among others, the South African intellectuals, artists, scholars and journalists.
Failure to do this amounts to an injustice to our collective historical memory. Reminiscing about comrade Ronnie as I have just tried to do in the funerary context is neither enough nor does it do justice to the historical memory of the struggle of which comrade Ronnie was such an illustrious part. It is the duty of the current crop of intellectuals, including revolutionary intellectuals, especially the youth of our country, and the ANC in particular, to capture this history. It is a revolutionary imperative.
Through both academic and popular modes of historiography, we face this challenge to write our own history as a tribute to the conscious historical actors such as comrade Ronnie. Not only that, to write down your history is to both reclaim and own your past and therefore define your future, consciously. Writing about one’s past amounts to the construction of one’s historical personality. It is not only a matter of conscious agency but subjective becoming.
We cannot make sense of the present until we impose structure and meaning on the past as a historical category. No less a figure than Antonio Gramsci tells us that (quote) ‘history is always contemporary, that is to say political’ (unquote). We owe it to the current generations of our country to provide them with the conceptual tools to understand the historical imperatives that shaped our nation.
At a material and consciousness levels the past both configures and is rooted in the historical present through deeper yet imperceptible historical processes. Confronting the embedded shadow of the historical past in the present is predicated on a historicised comprehension of our past.
In conclusion, programme director, let me reiterate the scale of loss we all suffered at the passing on of comrade Ronnie Mamoepa. All of us, the family, the ANC, the Presidency, friends and comrades, the community of Tshwane and South Africans as whole, are all the poorer for it.
Those who were lucky enough to know him in person would have been struck by the fact that he was a pleasant human being. He was humble and personable to a fault as well as down-to-earth. In simple terms he was truly every brother.
There is no doubt that his impeccable moral, ethical and revolutionary credentials ennobled the cause of the struggle. He was a model youth leader, fiercely independent of mind and thus possessed uncontaminated and incorruptible individuality even within the context of the organisational collective that moulded him.
Precisely because comrade Ronnie had a clean political record and self-effacing manner, too happy to let others shine and averse to political office at the time when he could have simply breezed into one, I cannot help thinking of these stirring words of the poet, which may or may not have a twist of irony:
‘He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,…’
The poet continues in the last sentence of the last stanza:
Had anything been wrong, we should have certainly have heard.’
(The Unknown Citizen; W.H. Auden, 1907 — 1973)
Indeed, in this day and age, had anything been wrong with the conduct of comrade Ronnie Mamoepa, we would have heard…we would have read all about it.
Thankfully, what the name of Ronnie Mamoepa will always evoke in our minds is that of an image of a commanding figure larger than life, radiating an air of magnificence!!!!
Fare well my brother…farewell compatriot…fellow revolutionary…you have had your run…and for this memories abound!!! What else could possibly be there to say still!!
I thank you for your kind attention.