Members of the Maphoto family
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Premier of Limpopo, Cde Stan Mathabatha
MECs, Mayors and Councillors
Members of the National and Provincial Legislatures
Leadership of the ANC, SACP, COSATU and SANCO
Religious and Traditional Leaders
Comrades and Friends
And a special greeting to all the veterans in our midst, especially those from the heroic Luthuli Detachment.
On behalf of the government and the people of the Republic of South Africa, and on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC), I would like to convey my deep condolences to the family, comrades, friends and relatives of Comrade Maphoto, whom we all fondly knew as Bra Ike.
For the past four days, the national flag has been flown at half-mast around the country in tribute to this great soldier, who was also an unwavering patriot, a mentor and friend, a philanthropist, and a much loved father and grandfather.
It was the legendary American barrister Clarence Darrow, the defender of the workers, the poor and the marginalized in the early 20th century who said:
“In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born.”
We are here to pay tribute to such a man.
A man of distinction, of resolve, of immense courage, and of selflessness. A man who devoted his life to the liberation of our people.
He suffered the pain of exile. He survived incarceration in a foreign land. He forsook the comforts of ordinary life to pick up a backpack and a rifle in the cause of the liberation struggle.
He cheated bullets, and death. He endured hardship that would have crushed the spirit of any human being.
But he was no ordinary man. Bra Ike was made of sterner stuff.
He was from the legion of umgwenya – the detachment of Luthuli, and the standard-bearers of the politically conscious and revolutionary army of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Bra Ike, and the veterans we have from the detachment here with us today, answered history’s call.
They took up arms in the cause of freedom at a time when the liberation forces were in the crosshairs of the racist Pretoria regime at a time like no other.
Our people’s demands for freedom were being responded to with bloodshed and brutality.
The movement’s leaders had been forced into exile, the regime’s police were wreaking havoc in our villages, townships and cities. The apartheid defence force was actively destabilizing the neighboring states in pursuit of our guerrillas and fighters and to smash our networks.
The colonies and states ruled by white minority regimes in Southern Rhodesia, South West Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique surrounded South Africa.
The men and women who joined Umkhonto we Sizwe at such a time were amongst the bravest of the brave. It was a time when any association with the liberation movement risked imprisonment, and even death.
Like Comrade Maphoto, they were young, and their entire lives stretched before them.
But they were of uncompromising revolutionary morality, and understood that a life that was not lived in freedom, was no life at all.
In the words of President OR Tambo at the 25th anniversary of MK in 1986.
“Once we took that road there would be no going back; a road that was going to necessitate total dedication, self-sacrifice and a determination that knew no surrender. A road along which commitment not to submit but to fight would have to be transformed into the uncompromising warrior pledge: victory or death.”
Bra Ike was a soldier of the revolution. He joins the glorious ranks of George Nene, of Archie Sibeko, of Chris Hani, of Thandi Modise, and of the many legions of men and women whose actions lit the path to our liberation.
The story of his life offers many lessons to us today. Lessons in courage, lessons on the virtue of discipline, and on the limitless capacity for endurance of the human being.
But perhaps above all it is a lesson on devotion to a mission and to a cause, no matter how long and hard the road.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was President OR Tambo who also said: “that indelible page in the history of our struggle is written in the annals of the Luthuli Detachment.”
These brave men were the vanguard of MK. They fought with gallantry and intensity, taking on the might of the combined forces of the apartheid army and the Ian Smith regime in then Rhodesia.
The Luthuil Detachment was formed to infiltrate South Africa and to open routes for our fighters. In joining with their brothers-in-arms from Frelimo in Mozambique and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Arm (ZIPRA) their lives were in constant danger from the racist armies of the countries through which they crossed.
Before Bra Ike took part in the many campaigns of the Luthuli Detachment, he was amongst those sent by MK for military training, which he completed in Lebanon and the then Soviet Union. When he completed his training he was sent to an ANC military base in Kongwa in Tanzania.
Life in the camp was difficult, and the conditions grueling, especially for young men like Bra Ike who were rearing to go to the frontline to fight.
It is here that we learn about some of the virtues that epitomized Bra Ike. Respect, for the leadership of the movement and for his fellow soldiers. Discipline – an understanding that their mission was difficult, and would take time. And forbearance, the willingness to undergo hardship in pursuit of a bigger goal.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These were the honour codes that spurred the men and women of Bra Ike’s generation, and continued to guide them even once we attained our liberation.
They knew too well that the pursuit of a just struggle such as ours would not end with the ring of democracy’s bell.
They understood, as we do today, that the cause of building a nation, of truly realizing a society that is egalitarian, prosperous and free necessitates sacrifices in pursuit of the common good. Their lives were lived appreciating that to reach our ultimate goal requires courage, fortitude and above all, revolutionary morality and discipline.
There is no greater symbol of unity in pursuit of a common goal than a band of soldiers – and it is unity we should strive towards today.
The men and women of MK, and of the Luthuli Detachment were able to advance, confront and defeat the enemy because they worked together, because they did not descend into infighting, and because they saw the bigger picture. Let us ponder on this image, let us strive to emulate it.
The Luthuli Detachment distinguished itself in the famous Wankie and Sipholilo Campaigns, also known as the Western Front and Eastern Front campaigns. As we read the historical accounts, we are astonished by their bravery.
They are stories of advancing deep into hostile territory under cover of darkness; of hiding along crocodile infested riverbanks; of encountering locals who did not speak their language and being unable to determine who was friend or foe. Of pitching into battle with the cry Mayihlome!
They fought, refusing to retreat, often to the bitter end. We remember and salute those who lost their lives, like Patrick Molaoa, President of the ANC Youth League, Micheal Poe, Basil February, Andries Motsepe, Jack Simelane, and Gandhi Hlekane.
We remember those like Bra Ike, who were captured and imprisoned and sentenced to death by the racist Rhodesian regime. Prison did not break them, and their courage knew no bounds.
And yet it was not courage alone that fueled them. They were men and women of revolutionary morality, who were committed to the values of the liberation movement.
Though he is no longer with us, the ideas for which Bra Ike stood will not die.
We are confident that he has left behind men and women determined continue the fight for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
To carry on this legacy we must sharpen our revolutionary conviction to contribute to the ongoing transformation of our country. And that we do so without any motive of material advantage or personal gain.
Bra Ike abhorred corruption and the abuse of the movement to enrich oneself.
I am certain that Bra Ike would have been in the forefront of those against the beneficiaries and defenders of state capture.
In his honour, we must double our efforts and intensify the fight against corruption and hold accountable all those who facilitated the capture of the state by private interests.
Until his last days, Bra Ike identified with and represented a fighting force for justice and – as most of you know – he could not be separated from his signature MK regalia.
It is fitting therefore that while he lived, the democratic government awarded him the Order of
Luthuli in recognition of his contribution to the struggle for liberation and the creation of a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
He belonged to a special generation of African revolutionaries who, like Moses Kotane, very early on saw no contradiction between the ANC and the SACP and therefore between the National Democratic Revolution and the Socialist Revolution. In his memory, let us work to strengthen the Alliance.
I remember how happy Bra Ike was when we launched the OR Tambo School of Leadership earlier this year.
Inspired by his understanding of the Alliance and the Congress Movement as a whole, let us also intensify our political education programme to produce members with an appreciation of the changing dynamics and balance of forces in our country and the world.
We must emulate his example of humility and volunteerism.
Let us emulate his commitment to and love of education – and encourage our children to take advantage of all the educational opportunities at their disposal and study particularly subjects that respond to the rapidly changing nature of work.
In bidding farewell to a giant of the liberation struggle, I call on the people of this country, especially our young people, to pick up the spear that has fallen.
Theirs was a battle against the forces of racism. Let us strive and fight with equal measure to overcome the ills of our society today. The ills of poverty and injustice, of violence against women and children, against disease, and against racism and inequality.
In closing I draw on the words of Homer’s Illiad:
“A generation of men is like a generation of leaves; the wind scatters some upon the ground, while others the burgeoning wood brings forth and the season of spring comes on. So of men one generation springs forth, and another ceases.”
We are the inheritors of the legacy of Bra Ike, and we assume the responsibility of ensuring his sacrifices, and the sacrifices of many others, were not in vain.
This includes doing more to help and support our veterans, many of whom are in the twilight of their lives. We will continue our efforts, such as the provision of housing and special pensions; to ensure those who fought for our liberation are spared indignity and hardship.
To the family I say, we share in your sorrow, and we join you in celebrating a life well lived in the service of others.
He has run the race, he has fought the good fight.
And so we say farewell, Son of the Soil. Robala ka khutjo Mokone wa ntshi dikgolo.
Attaining the society you fought for, that you dedicated your life towards, will be the greatest and most fitting tribute.
I thank you.