Ayesab'amagwala and the heritage of uMkhonto weSizwe
We are three months away from celebrating the golden jubilee of the birth of the people's army, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK). This army established after many months of deliberations, lobbying, anger and frustration. A decision to eventually establish it was not taken lightly, given the ANC's policy of Passive Resistance that was in operation between 1912 to 1961.
The history of passive resistance characterized our people even before the birth of the African National Congress (ANC). This is a history that speaks volumes of the work behind the scenes where Comrade Nelson Mandela and his fellow comrades requested an elder in the form of Moses Kotane to approach other elders in the leadership to put across a plea that departed from ANC policy. Mandela and his comrades relied on the persuasive and revolutionary zeal of Moses Kotane to convince his peers to accommodate the view of the youth that sought a departure from passive resistance policy.
The then ANC leadership under the presidency of Comrade Chief Albert Luthuli did not readily accept resorting to armed struggle, but due to the persuasive skills of the youth of the time and able assistance of other senior leader like Moses Kotane, the ANC leadership eventually relented and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is this history that needs to be put into context, the history of MK and by extension the broader perspectives in the armed struggle and the importance to its heroes and heroines of preserving its history, legacy and heritage.
In the wake of the recent High Court ruling by Judge Colin Lamont banning the singing of a revolutionary song has necessitated that we put into proper perspective our revolutionary songs within close to 100 years of ANC and liberation history.
The launch of MK was a call to mobilise people against the brutal and forceful apartheid regime through "Ayesaba amagwala". The singing was the recognition that a time has come for the new forms of struggle against apartheid oppression for a united, non-racial, non-sexist democratic and prosperous society.
The singing of revolutionary songs in the struggle and in a military context as was the case in uMkhonto weSizwe served many purposes, namely but not necessarily limited to the following:
- boosting the morale of the soldiers
- instilling order and focus in the new recruits
- keeping the eye focused on the enemy
- served as a battle call
Many of these songs were coined and sung in the camps in Angola and later Tanzania and Uganda. These songs were not coined at the ANC Headquarters in Lusaka, nor were they coined in the corridors of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College. It is important to appreciate that the only experts on these revolutionary songs are the people who coined them because they understood the explicit and subtle meanings of the songs they coined.
These revolutionary songs were never to be interred in the archives of universities or heritage shrines. If the understanding of the disbandment of MK were that it would go with its revolutionary songs, there would have been a revolt within the ranks of the African National Congress as even the non-combatants formations of the ANC had adopted to mobilise society.
So it is relevant for us as fighters of a just war against apartheid, an evil system that was dubbed a crime against humanity by the United Nations, that when so called experts are called to give or interpret a meaning of these songs that we be called instead of giving prominence to people that probably never sung any of these songs in their lives.
It is important to first understand the nature of MK and only then can you even begin to understand the meaning of the liberation songs, deeds, aptitude and behaviour. It is also important to note the atmosphere and context in which these songs were sung with pride and emotion.
Cognizance should also be given to the fact that MK was made up largely of people who, in some cases, were yet to graduate into adulthood and had cut their childhood short to take up a burden placed on them by the worlds most brutal system of subjugation and deprivation. This was a system that forced children into situations of adulthood.
This placed an onerous burden on the ANC to ensure that the training given to MK cadres was such that it prepared the combatants for a life of decision-making that would have been difficult if not impossible for an ordinary 18 year old. The training we got went beyond guns and artillery pieces, it went beyond limpet mines and block of TNT. This training went beyond Karl Marx and Dialego. It went to the very core of developing an upstanding role citizen of the World. We were taught the skills of analysis which no other university could impart. It taught us the ability to distinguish between the good and the bad. It further taught us how to distinguish the people from the enemy.
Identifying the enemy was never ambiguous, it was clear as daylight. We would spend hours on end in our political education classes dealing with that distinction. We would spend time analyzing all non-combat and military operations that had been embarked upon, especially in the 1980s where the rate of military operation of MK was very frequent. We analyzed these to ensure that all our operations were within the policy of the ANC and whether they actually supported or responded to the ANC January 8 statement which charted the way and provided emphasis for action in any given year, and to celebrate our advances through songs and to keep our morale high and focused.
The bonding of young revolutionaries was weaved through the songs we sung at jazz hour, the singing in the platoon as we waited for the next order, it travelled with the gunpowder in the detonating cord. Our songs travelled with the velocity and ring of the 7.62 calibre bullet of the AK 47 and the AKCM. Songs were sung when a comrade died of malaria or could not join the platoon or company when we collected logs to build our classrooms and dwellings because they were sick.
We sung to assist a comrade who for one reason or another could not cope in the class activities of that day. Comrades understood that moving at the pace of the slowest soldier did not mean "dropping of standards" but rather to ensure that we move as a disciplined collective for the greater good of the organization and the formation. This bond meant you were the only family I have and I could take a bullet for you and the converse applied.
The judgment delivered by Judge Lamont clearly seeks to erase this legacy of the glorious peoples army, uMkhonto weSizwe.
If anything, the judgment is a direct affront and assault on that which we as uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) embrace as part of our legacy. This in the year of celebrating 50th Anniversary of MK, that was established under the leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli after representations from Mandela, Sisulu and other comrades. This happens in a country where the heroes and heroines of the armed struggle have no shrine or monument that they refer to as being recognition of their existence. Our songs remain our only monuments and shrines.
To take this away from people who gave their all for the liberation of this country, is to literally defecate on the graves of Sisulu, Luthuli and literally spitting in the face of a living Mandela and surviving members of the Luthuli detachment.
The judgement exposes persistent stereotype of unruly guerillas that have no regard for human life and no semblance of humaneness to distinguish between right and wrong. The irresponsible notion by the judge himself that our people who are followers of the ANC are bereft of wisdom and are weak characters who could be incited to kill by a song.
We also need to ensure that the AfriForum's "ibhunu" has indemnity for the genocide he visited upon unarmed civilians in South Africa, the Southern African Development Coordinating Community member countries, Comrade Dulcie September in France and President of Sweden Mr Olof Palme.
The judgement presents an unpleasant opportunity to open old wounds and pursue the perpetrators' of this crime against humanity called apartheid with renewed energy and also resort to international instruments to deal with them when found. This I say because we gave our dignity, pride, and integrity to this thing called reconciliation.
This judgement truly open up old wounds, in a situation where we have always said in hushed tones that this reconciliation humiliated us to the extent that our heritage and legacy and the pains of the past were reduced to nothing. If there was a barometer to measure the extent of pain and death of the spirit, the soul and the body of the black child, no justifiable amount of a reconciliation process could have been expected from us.
What we see more and more is the criminalization of recognition of our past pain, the rejection of who we are and the censoring of our voices through song under the guise of equality, freedom of expression, hate speech, the Bill of Rights and flawed interpretations of songs whose meaning was yesteryear and what it is today. This further compounded by the wrong notion and interpretation of who and what the song is directed at.
In MK military language and I dare say struggle colloquium, "ibhunu" is the "enemy". And contrary to Judge Lamont's view, a hausfrau who supported apartheid did not necessarily constitute, the "enemy" or "ibhunu" and neither did a farmer who was not an extension of the South African Defence Force (SADF) brigade as a member of the Commandos. By extension it is not everyone who supported the apartheid system that was the "enemy" in a military sense. It is because of this that the ANC always recognized that this liberation was not just for blacks but also the liberation of whites including those who voted for the apartheid government election after election.
Clearly defined and for ease of reference, "ibhunu" is the policy maker who establishes laws that perpetuate crimes against humanity. He is the person who carried a gun to protect the border against the infiltration of MK Cadres who were waging a war against a system that is a crime against humanity. "Ibhunu" shot children in the township and arrested their mother and father and killed Africans in particular and blacks in general. "Ibhunu" raped and pillaged in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe under the guise of pursuing "terrorists who were freedom fighters.
"Bhunu" took orders to infiltrate the ANC. "Ibhunu " lurked in the churches, in bars, and many other public places. In the military sense, "ibhunu" was the member of the SADF, the South African Police Force both black and white. The "Ibhunu" was the lawmaker sitting in the Union Building and Tuynhuis. This definition was one that was destroyed when we found liberation. Today "ibhunu" is no more. "Ibhunu" died when apartheid died.
So to say that these songs incite murder or violence towards a certain racial group is not only false and malicious, but also mischievous and cruel in its nature because this is only an attempt to kill a history that the AfriForum and its like-minded would gladly obliterate from history.
A history rich in heroism, dedication selfless service and internationalist in its character cannot and should not be killed by a court that is expected to uphold the dignity of its citizens.
It is sad, very sad that our courts can rape our history and legacy in the way that Judge Lamont has in acceding to an attempt to silence Comrade Julius Malema by using the song as an excuse. This is further reiterated by the E-News when they say "Julius Malemas version of Dubul' ibhunu'. There is no Julius Malema version of the song dubul ibhunu, there is the ANC/MK revolutionary song Ayesaba amagwala.
MKMVA has to find recourse in preserving its history, heritage and legacy in the same way as the country's laws preserve the flora and fauna of this country and even other historical or cultural icons or symbols. The options are open to the extent that if we are to go to international platforms to ensure our legacy live for our children and future generations to embrace and identify with.
Ayanda Dlodlo is an ANC NEC member, Secretary General of uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veteran's Association and Deputy Minister of Public Service Administration. This article first appeared in ANC Today, the weekly online newsletter of the African National Congress.
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