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He defied apartheid, he could not surrender and now he has defied death itself!
Jose` Marti, 19th Century Cuban revolutionary, patriot, poet and visionary said in January 1871, in Spain, "These pages should be known by no other name but infinite pain". So infinite and so enormous is our pain that it reaches to the heavens.
On June 10th, 2002, one fine young South African and African patriot passed on. Since then, those whom he had loved and who had also loved him have cried and filled their hearts with pain and grief. They have found it hard to come to imagine this young man silent, cold and without a voice. To them, like Tony Yengeni said, he is alive and his vivacious self lingers in their midst.
Peter Mokaba was at home in this universe where, in Ben Okri`s words, his deepest nature could breathe and be free - "He felt he was in that place where he could step out of himself and into unbounded realms". He could here, "by some mysterious grace transcend so many boundaries and enter so many realms that [he] occasionally astonish[ed] even the gods". During his entire life, he was obsessed with "learning to be master of the art of transcending all boundaries to go beyond the illusion that is behind the illusion".
This is what we ordinary mortals who see and judge only through the barometer of the naked eye came to describe as a defiant and militant attitude. In him, through the nakedness of our eye, we saw a young rebel who loathed the apartheid system, in its entirety. He was more than that: he hated the system of white supremacy not because he hoped to replace it with that of black supremacy, but because he was deadly opposed to all systems of oppression. He had grown up in severe conditions of savage political oppression and he knew the violence that socio-economic squalor unleashes on the poor. The fire in him owed its origins, therefore, in the concrete material conditions of existence of his people whom he learned to love at a young age, whose course and aspirations he cherished and for whose freedom he was willing to volunteer to fight even if this meant sacrificing his own life and limb. He lived true to Jose` Marti`s words that "a real man does not look to see on which side one lives best, but on which side lies duty".
His was a life of complete and fearless dedication to his organisation, his people and their course. It was a life lived in a disciplined manner where militancy was blended together with respect for the leadership and the orders they gave him from time to time. At all times, he acted within the discipline of a people engaged in a people`s war against apartheid. He understood it perfectly that the interests and aspirations of the youth, of which he was part and whom he led for so long a period, were inseparable from those of their people as a whole. So huge was his devotion to the struggle that he always volunteered to perform the most difficult tasks, regardless of the dangers involved or the sacrifices demanded.
Mokaba was, thus, produced by a people at war against apartheid, by their struggles, by the struggles of the youth and by an era! Some choose to remember him by trifle things. They would write endless pages about how controversial he was, about slogans such as "Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer", about his opinions about HIV/AIDS and about his opinions recently about the tripartite alliance. For them, this Peter Mokaba was a new phenomenon. In their malicious campaign, they would so paint him in a manner that seeks to blemish his legacy and everything he had ever stood for.
But, the Peter Mokaba that our youth knew was one who had no fear in his heart, who was never afraid to be wrong, knowing that as a young person he had a right to be wrong and to be corrected. It was a Peter Mokaba the sharpness of whose tongue not only drove the white supremacists round the bend, but inspired the youth with unimaginable courage. He was as fearless in action, leading from the front, as he was in debates and discussions. He earned the respect of the people, particularly the youth, precisely because he was able to interpret and articulate their aspirations.
He proved that to be revolutionary and militant, indeed to be a firebrand, was not out of context and without a purpose and mission. He proved that it did not detract from discipline and respecting and listening to, taking orders from, the leadership of the movement. He was thus a disciplined revolutionary and militant whose militancy arose from the concrete experiences of his people, and was thus contextual. When he spit fire, he was interpreting and articulating the experiences and aspirations of the youth who have always been very impatient with slow progress in struggle. He never did so in contempt for the leadership. But, whenever the time for change in strategies and tactics emerged, he never hesitated to change his slogans and adapt his militancy.
Many try in vain to create a fictitious contradiction between the roles, characters and tasks of his generation and the current generation of youth, ANCYL in particular. They argue, out of its concrete material context, that these generations are not the same. Indeed, they are not - the other sought to destroy apartheid, and the other, to build a democratic society. Our militancy is directed at different things and exists in different historical and material contexts.
Many times, the Mokaba we know walked in the valley of the shadow of death, with countless attempts to kill and silence him. Not even this could tame him.
He was moulded by the struggle of the oppressed and produced by their unyielding yearning for freedom. He cherished the ideal of a free and democratic society, where his people were politically and socially emancipated. He was thus passionate about the transformation of the state, dedicating his two Masters theses to this objective and the objective of public management. He did not want us to repeat the mistake of many liberation movements in Africa after the victory against colonialism when they took over only the political reigns while leaving the colonial state apparatus intact, prompting Jack Simons to argue that in Africa there had been political revolutions as opposed to social revolutions.
Mokaba had, in his young life, been through all the experiences and traditions of the struggle. He had joined the struggle during the times of the black consciousness movement (BCM). He served in the civic movement, joined Umkhonto WeSizwe, worked with the underground structures and within the mass democratic movements in both SAYCO and the United Democratic Front. His relentless opposition to divisions and factions in the ANC derived from the leadership`s instruction to him to fight the cabal within the UDF.
Armed with this rich experience, he was to be the first and only ever President of SAYCO under whose leadership, without hesitation, it was resolved that all youth must join the ANCYL when the ANC was unbanned and hence SAYCO would be dissolved. SAYCO fought hard within the UDF to defeat the argument that said that the UDF did not need to dissolve to make way for the ANC. They took this decision regardless of whether their own positions were guaranteed by this process or not. The ANC Youth Section, with which they were to blend, would bring its leadership structures from exile. He became the Chairperson of the Provisional National Youth Committee that prepared for the launch of the ANCYL. He became its first President and stood down in 1994 at the Vista National Congress of the ANC.
By this time, he had risen into prominence within the ANC itself, earning himself the admiration and adoration of the ANC members and cadres, getting elected into the ANC`s National Executive Committee in which he served uninterruptedly until his death. He served the democratic parliament in many positions until his death.
But, the Mokaba we know was also very flamboyant, outgoing and fun-loving. He enjoyed a good time, hosting and attending parties, sport, culture, music and dance. He himself had a black-belt in karate. He was epitomised a complete person the struggle sought to create - who indulged in politics with passion, engaged in sport, culture, music and enjoyed a whole life with unyielding passion.
No, the youth of South Africa must refuse to allow Mokaba to die. He had himself refused to die and had, many times, evaded death. The injunction of his life is that we must ourselves as today`s youth continue to volunteer and sacrifice in the name of justice and development, of course, to expand the frontiers of freedom and democracy. His is a call to youth to defy all the conditions that continue to hold us down, to fight against poverty, underdevelopment, marginalisation and social dislocation. At the centre of our people`s effort, every young person must find their place. We can enjoy fun, sport, culture and still participate in politics and in the reconstruction and development of our country.
Mokaba has not died. He has defeated this death too! He is now in the presence of the illuminators, and these, as we know, live eternally! Our great sense of loss at Mokaba`s sudden departure to another world is compensated by the knowledge, as President Mbeki said of Tata Sisulu, that "our people will still give birth to new heroes and heroines".
ANC Youth League