Dear Uncle John,
I was very deeply saddened and shocked when I heard on Friday afternoon that you had completed your earthly pilgrimage and that you had returned to your creator who had beautifully crafted you in his own image. Very much like every orphan who looses his father, I was engulfed by a deep sense of sorrow, grief, confusion and helplessness.
While I do appreciate the fact that we were never created to be immortal, it is always very difficult to accept this difficult reality, that even giants in whose company we were privileged to walk, will also depart from our midst.
On Friday night I eventually managed to fall asleep.
I am very happy to tell you that, deep in my sleep, I had a very beautiful dream wherein I was with yourself and your old comrade, Uncle Stan Mabizela. You were both very beautiful and radiant, so much so that you were, for lack of a better word, transfigured. We were all in a very beautiful place, the beauty of which I lack words to describe. Suffice to say that it had the most beautiful light and the lushest lawn that I have ever seen. In that brief moment we enjoyed each other’s company. However unlike in years gone by when we were all very far from our homeland, there was no discussion or conversation of any kind. We did however feel a deep sense of peace and tranquility such as I have never experienced before.
I certainly do hope that yourself and Uncle Stan will continue to visit me in my dreams. Apart from the beautiful memories which I have of you both, it is the only way I can get close to you up until that time when we are all united in that beautiful place, filled with verdant light, which God has set aside for us.
Your departure marks for me a sad milestone where the last of the leaders of our illustrious movement whom I affectionately referred to as “uncle” has gone forever. Apart from Uncle Stan, the others were uncles Stokes Sithole, Reg September, and Mendi Msimang. There was also George Monare and Mashigo, the first name of the latter which I have unfortunately forgotten.
Consequently this is a very difficult time for me personally. It is possible that other comrades , young and old, who are still with us will be able to bear this deep sense of loss. Perhaps because I am emotionally weaker than most, I am struggling to cope. I felt like this when Uncle Stan left us . I also felt like this when Cde Shadrack Maphumulo and George Ndlovu and many others fell in battle in the 1980s. Difficult as it is, I will do my utmost best to project a a brave image. You always expected me to project such an image. I will do my best to ensure that I do not let you down.
There is one other leader to whom I related to as “uncle.” That was Uncle Solly Smith. I am very well aware of the confusion and misterey which surrounded his last few years on earth. I tried without much success to establish what transpired behind the scenes during that very difficult period in the history of our organization. Whatever happened, I wish to ask you to forgive him whatever transgressions he might have committed, given that we too expect of our father in heaven to forgive us our own transgressions.
While many others are rightfully going to pay political tributes to you, mine is a very personable one. I wish to express my most sincere gratitude and indebtedness for all the comradeship, love, support and political mentoring which yourself and our other leaders gave me at the height of our liberation struggle. Despite my many failures and human frailties, you always strove to stand by my side and rendered me your unqualified support. I believe that I am a much better person in large measure to the support which you gave me. And for all of that, I shall remain eternally grateful to you.
Given the type of revolutionary leader that you were, I do pray and hope that no one is going to exploit your death and especially your funeral for narrow personal and factional gain. Any such move will not serve to preserve the beautiful memories which most of us hold of you. You hated factionalism and narrow mindedness. I shall follow broadcast of your funeral. However if any of the speakers does dare to exploit it for narrow gain, I shall turn off my TV set and hold my own memorial service, in the comfort of my modest residence.
Our personal history together is one which is characterised by instances of joy, suffering, confusion, and triumph in the midst of much suffering.
From the very earliest days when we first met, you always went out of your way to make me feel special and worthy to serve in the organization. Like Uncle Stan, you were very proud of me and for that, I shall remain eternally grateful to you.
I recall how you used to love my revolutionary drawings. You never ever criticized them. Far from it, you always encouraged me to bring more to you. I am smiling now as I recall you saying to me:
“You know my boy, with this one work of art, I could speak and write for the whole day!”
But that was not all, together with uncle Stan, you always ensured that I had access to the best politically literature available. On one of your trips to the Soviet Union, you bought me a very beautiful book detailing General Georgy Zhukov’s military strategy during the Patriotic War against Nazi Germany. Of all presents that I have ever received, none was more beautiful than that. Not even the first Makarov pistol which was issued to me ranked higher than that book.
There were also some moments which, thought pregnant with danger of capture or arrest, remain deeply ingrained in mind. One such occasion was when the Swaziland special branch launched a surprise raid on Uncle Stan’s residence in Manzini. Uncle Stan vanished in an instant and I wasn’t sure in which direction to go as the residence was surrounded. You were very cross with me and pushed halfway down the passage. I had to hide in the wardrobe for a very long time while you engaged the Swazi officers, getting them to eventually depart. When I , very embarased, sought to tender my apologies, you very politely brush it aside.
There was also another incident when, following a trip to Maputo, you picked me up in Manzini. When I got into the car, I immediately noted that there was what seemed to be a bullet hole in the windscreen of the Peugeot 404 which you were driving. I asked you : “Uncle John, did you survive an ambush?” You responded softly “No my son, a truck overtook me and a stone which flew off the back wheel of the truck hit the windscreen. The driver of the truck was not aware that he almost had me killed. But as you can see, I am survived and here I am with you.”
We drove to a small shop on the edge of town where you wanted to buy something. As you were parking the car, one gentleman, a South African immigrant who had relocated to Swaziland, was walking out of the shop. I raised my right hand to politely greet him. You however hit that hand so hard that it hurt and pulled it down: ” Don’t greet that man! He is an enemy agent!” Of course I didn’t know he was an enemy agent. Although I was embarased, I also couldn’t help laughing later after you had you had dropped me off.
You were also a family man Uncle John. Very much like Uncle Stan, you related to all cadres as though they were your own children. You did however miss your family for I remember how you told me on a few occasions how much you missed your own son and how you would often go for a very long period without seeing him. That very beautiful son of yours was tragically killed in a car bomb explosion in Gaborone, Botswana. You carried your grief and sorrow with much fortitude and revolutionary discipline.
You also displayed the same fortitude when you had to join our president Oliver Tambo and lead the burial of of our cadres who fell in battle at Matola in Mozambique. Amongst those killed was one of your closest comrades, William Khanyile who died when a rocket propelled granade fired by the racist raiders exploded in the bedroom where he was reading a book.
You were not just a leader but a father figure to all. I am sure that many of the gallant commanders and cadres of our organization who got to know you very closely will share this sentiment. Among these I will mention General, Gebhuza, Dira, Seiso, Dikgang and many others.
You always went of your way to ensure that the rights and welfare of cadres was respected. Indeed one cadre told me how you once came to the rescue of another who had been sentenced to death. I am told that you intervened on his behalf and ensured that the death sentence was not carried out in our rear areas.
In the late 1980s we met in Europe at a time when I was experiencing some difficulties in that region. Although Cde Eleanor Khanyile, Aziz Pahad and Charlie Joseet had gone out of their way to ensure my well-being, a few other comrades to whom that responsibility fell, had somehow been blindsided by other issues and I was thus left largely to fend for myself in a foreign land, very very far from the shores of this land. I must add that Cde Joseet eventually resorted to using his own money to help me to get food.
My situation somehow improved after they had seen you, talking to me and asking if I was ok. You gave me your contact number and told me to call you whenever I felt that I needed your help. This difficult chapter came to a close after uncle Mendi was deployed to that region. He convened an urgent meeting and ensued that the RPMC made appropriate arrangements with HQ in Lusaka so that I would get my stipend.
After our return to South Africa you were, apart from Uncle Stan, the only leader with whom I had worked, who took time to maintain, in your very busy schedule, contact with myself. Even when you were our country’s ambassador to Cuba, you maintained continuous contact with myself.
I also do remember very well that you had raised the issue of me working with you to help our former cadres to secure financial independence:
“I want you to help me to open doors for our former cadres; you my boy were always very good at opening doors even when we were outside the country.”
That statement by yourself was for me a solemn reminder that our liberation struggle was far from having been accomplished . Unfortunately due to your busy schedule, we never ever got to work on that project together.
Upon your return and retirement you extended an invitation to me to visit you at your residence. I am very sorry that I was disrespectful and never honored that invitation. That is a grievous error of judgement which I regret to this day.
Please do convey my regards to all of our comrades with whom you are now reunited. Although I and many others will continue to mourn your departure, I personally find solace that you are now in a very beautiful place and are free from the sorrows of this valley of tears which we call earth.
No more you will have to face the scourge of man’s hatred of fellow man, of lies, selfishness, hypocrisy, deceit, selective morality and double standards.
Go well my father and teacher.
Hamba kahle Mkhonto.
God be with you till we meet again.
Eternally yours in struggle and triumph,