DAILY LIFE | Daring to imagine a new country
In this extract from ‘Matthew Goniwe on a South African Frontier’, Menzi Duka reveals the immense intellectual breadth of the slain grassroots leader from Cradock
The exiled ANC, which instructed the charterists to set up underground structures, came out with a follow-up instruction that before the end of 1983 a national democratic front should have been established.
In response, Matthew Goniwe worked with Gilly Skweyiya towards a mass meeting in St John’s Methodist Church hall. Skweyiya invited parents and church leaders to the meeting. Nyameka Goniwe organised professional people. The Cradock Cultural Youth Movement brought in the youth.
Matthew believed that the oppressed should rethink their collective identity and see themselves as New People in charge of a New South Africa agenda, rather than accepting an identity imposed by racists.
This racist perception was based on the “myth of the inherent or biological inferiority of Africans”.
Matthew saw this as scientifically unproven. He wanted Lingelihle (Cradock) residents to reimagine their identity as producers of this new country.
This was his theme for the meeting that took place in the first week of May in 1983 in St John’s Hall.
A security policeman, Fred Koni, attended the meeting.
Matthew told the audience that the New South African would emerge if people became social, political and economic change agents.
This was a mission for the collective vision of the audience, who should see themselves as ambassadors of the New South Africa, a New Society.
At a social level these change agents would fight crime, and get rid of prostitution and alcoholism. Exploitation of women had to be eliminated. Couples had to be “true to [their] marriage”. The youth had to be well-behaved and “respect their bodies, respect themselves”.
He was instilling pride and self-respect into people who had been dehumanised by the system of racial capitalism.
His change agents would champion the “fundamental rights of man”. And see to it that in the old South Africa people enjoyed the civil liberties – which are “freedom of assembly, press, individual, speech”.
By doing this as representatives of the New South Africa they would transform the old into the new at a political dimension where those who “represent a New South African” would be with the people to win political power in the “national democratic struggle”.
They are therefore sensitive to non-racialism, taking a tune from political models such as Mandela and Tambo, who were sensitive to the suffering of others.
This sensitivity underlined what a politician or revolutionary was to be.
These change agents had to be part of the move to win political power which is essential to bring about economic change. They should understand that true economic change would “eradicate disparity [between] rich and poor”. It would guarantee (qinisekisa) food; clothing; shelter (izindlu).
Matthew’s views were in line with his philosophy of reconstructionism.
The thrust of his message was “we want young men and women who are embodiments of the New South Africa”.
This statement put the youth at the centre of his speech. This focus was necessary to instill in the youth a sense of correct focus in life.
For a long time, the people of Lingelihle needed such a speech which had an inspiring vision and warmth of human touch. This speech became the talk of the town of Cradock.
This meeting was Matthew’s first public address to Lingelihle since his release from Mthatha prison on August 31 1981 where he served five years.
He had been mostly working underground planning around the New Approach of organisation, mobilisation and education. He had secretly trained his inner circle comrades and a number of trusted activists.
The next move was to establish the civic organisation, which would have an interim executive. After this the street, block and zonal committees would be set up.
He had produced a team to execute this task.
He started to craft with a document (for his collective) that stipulated the roles and responsibilities of the committees. It was written in English and translated into isiXhosa and Afrikaans. These roles and responsibilities were part of the Code of Conduct for individual, organisational and revolutionary discipline.
Each street committee leader was expected to perform certain roles and responsibilities.
They would be educated on these so that they understood exactly what was expected of them.
Each leader would be made to know that s/he had been elected by the people, and that the people had the power to remove him/her from their seat if s/he did not perform as expected.
The fundamental principle was that the leader was the servant of the people and that s/he had to be responsible and accountable.
The street committee had to see to it that the people in the street behaved in a morally upright manner. Hence, members of the committee were to be an example to the people; they should be able to manage themselves in such a way that they became role models of the New South Africa.
They should resist being bribed with money, liquor, or anything of material or personal benefit.
In all, they should not be corruptible.
These street committees were expected to lead people in such a way that everything they did led them to truth. They were told not to interfere with police matters but rather to take habitual criminals to the police. The committees dealt with the following matters:
Problems of people residing in the street and those of the township in general;
Educating people on their roles as members of the civic organisation;
Educating people on the constitution of civic organisation;
Informing people about various organisational issues; and
Discussing complaints about street representatives.
These discussions showed that decisions were democratised, and the people participated in the decisions of the organisation.
Matthew’s leadership promoted accountability of leaders to the citizens.
Furthermore, the representatives of civic organisation would be obliged to sow the spirit of equality, brotherly love, non-discrimination, and anti-sexism. People were expected to respect each other regardless of faith, gender, race, creed, culture, and origins.
Matthew firmly believed that “the human race was one big family”.
Matthew believed that the national liberation struggle should prepare and produce high-quality leadership that would effectively and efficiently run the struggle and the New South Africa.
On the basis of this projection, he perceived that a leader in the struggle should acquire a sound political theory of the struggle. The reason for this was that this leader had the responsibility “to impart” this knowledge to the people.
Matthew believed in Cabral’s doctrine that masses had to be educated so that they would not remain “babies” in knowledge and strategic thinking. This empowerment would produce New People who would defend the victory of the struggle. He therefore educated, empowered and trained the identified leaders in high quality leadership.
These leaders had to understand “individuals in their own situations” for proper political education. The leader had to acquire appropriate knowledge for building people, organisations, and the nation.
In addition, Matthew expressed the view that a high-quality leader should:
Be able to work with people and have good personal appearance;
Have good personality;
Be exemplary and have good social relations, be sympathetic, and be sincere;
Not work in isolation; must make use of various fields of knowledge; and
Should educate the community and give advice on unemployment, poverty.
Judging by these qualities, Matthew had in mind a leader who was empowered to build people and a nation.
He asserted that a leader should be able “to teach self-respect; children to respect their homes”. This leader then would be one of integrity who enjoyed a high credibility rating in the society or community.
However, Matthew also warned that leaders should avoid being “intellectual giants but social dwarfs.”
In this statement, Matthew encouraged leaders to be intellectually equipped as well as sociable with the people they worked with.
Such a leader would be able to develop people for self-liberation. They would qualify as people’s intellectuals in the New South Africa.
Matthew never sacrificed his revolutionary principles.
He lived by his beliefs, principles and values, which enriched the lives of the people with whom he interacted.
Professor Menzi Meshach Minsie Duka’s new book Matthew Goniwe on a South African Frontier: A Community History of an African Revolutionary is published by the Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University..