An ode to comrade Ronnie Mamoepa
BETWEEN 1975 and 1979, a reprehensible act was visited on the township of Atteridgeville, when several young girls disappeared. It would later be discovered they had fallen victim to a muti killer. Years of searching yielded no results, much to the anguish of parents, relatives and the community.
A group of young people barely into their teens raided the homes of local traditional healers, in the belief they were responsible for the girls’ disappearance. Among these young boys, driven by outrage and a sense of justice, was Ronnie Mamoepa. They were arrested, but because of their emaciated bodies, whence their bones protruded, they were given stern warnings and released into the care of their parents.
When 1976 beckoned, Ronnie, 15, joined his older brothers to poke a brutish and blood-thirsty regime in the eye.
In 1978 I was in a damp cell of Sunnyside police station, where the sun never reached. A teenage voice called my name. I asked who it was. “Ronnie, mfana wa Thabo Mamoepa. I am also detained.”
To say I was stunned is an understatement because I thought Ronnie was still a small boy. Soon I saw this young lad in action: selling The Voice of the Voiceless newspaper, cajoling adults to buy Staffrider books, and when Solomon Mahlangu was sentenced to hang, haranguing elders to sign a petition to save the life of this freedom fighter. In these steps, another tireless freedom fighter was born.
Arrested and imprisoned on Robben Island, Ronnie matured with each year of his incarceration. He imbibed from the great lecturers of Robben Island the theories of our revolution, and thus became himself, upon his release, a good teacher of dialectical materialism and historical materialism.
And so I speak for many comrades and friends when I say a tearful: Adiós, Comrade Ronnie, adiós! We have met and travelled together a long time ago, but not so long ago.
Throughout your political work, you became one of our finest revolutionaries when it came to theory and practice. You chose the media as an important weapon to advance our struggle, and in time became an expert, the Dean of Communication.
Without political books that were not allowed in jail, you reproduced significant parts of Maurice Cornforth’s Dialectical Materialism.
Emulating the teachers that used to beat the daylights out us, you refused to release some comrades who had difficulty grasping the basics in our political classes. You made fun of prison warders, much to the delight of fellow prisoners. Adiós, My Brother, adiós! You had high ambitions for yourself. When we asked the police authorities to allow us to play music tapes, you insisted on classical music. And when fellow comrades complained, you retorted: “When freedom comes, I, Ronnie, I will be listening to classical music at the State Theatre with Oliver Tambo, and you, comrades, will be listening to bubblegum pop music at Atteridgeville Hall.” Adiós, Political Teacher, adiós! In the youth organisations, starting in Atteridgeville-Saulsville, in Tshwane, in the then Transvaal and indeed the entire country, you insisted that together with your peers, there was always the need to sit around the bonfire of learning and teaching; of discussing what are major and inconsequential contradictions.
You got a kick out of teasing theories and assumptions, and how all those are applicable to our Struggle and to everyday life. Adiós, the Lover of Soccer, adiós! We had great and lousy moments, ups and lows as our favourite blackand-white attired team played with our emotions. Remember that day when you asked me that we should not talk politics? Yet when we spoke of Pirates and Bafana Bafana, we became more stressed.
Adiós, the Dean of Communications, adiós!
Indeed, you, the Dean of Communications, served with distinction under president Mbeki and deputy president Zuma, deputy president Ramaphosa, minister Dlamini Zuma and premier Sexwale.
All these seems to be a long time ago! But not so long ago! Adiós, Comrade Ronnie, adiós! When we visited you in hospital, you lay still; not a sigh, not a groan escaped your body. You lay there with undisturbed serenity until you closed your well-spent life.
Yet, in your stillness and serenity, you made and make our hearts ache and bleed; our minds stunned and bewildered.
Comrade Ronnie, as you depart into the solemn shades, as you leave us to the silent continent of eternity, tell the sages and saints that await your arrival there are still many among us who are prepared to defend, protect and perpetuate the monument they have built for us.
Tell them that despite and in spite of the termites that consistently attempt to eat away the great edifice they have bequeathed us, this monument will not fall, for it comes from the most cunning workmanship, with forms that are not just strong but symmetrical, beautiful and perfect.
Today, you are mourned by many, but especially those who walked with you when the path seemed shrouded in clouds of darkness, doubt and possible defeat, but who endured with you.
Of course, even those who waited for the rough road you strenuously carved to be smooth and paved, are themselves there to be crowned with your victory, your honour and your glory. And to claim all that for themselves.
But in your serenity and silence you knowingly smile at each and every one of us, as we all claim for ourselves the power and the glory for which you sacrificed your youth.
Adiós, Comrade Ronnie! Adiós!
You got a kick out of teasing theories and assumptions