Standing tall in years of struggle

“I SAW behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond,” said British novelist and playwright, Richard Llewellyn.

As we celebrate Heritage Month we, in the “Home of Legends” as the Eastern Cape is known, acknowledge Llewellyn’s inspirational words by recognising the legacy and heritage of “those who had gone” and those who are still with us, and what they have bequeathed to us.

The Eastern Cape has produced four presidents of the ANC, two of whom became leaders in a democratic South Africa, Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

We have a proud history of being home to men and women who dared to stand up to the brutal apartheid security forces. Many paid dearly for their sacrifices but they will never be forgotten.

The list shown here is by no means exhaustive:

l Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the world’s greatest moral and political leader;

l Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma, commonly called Dr “AB”, born in 1893 in Ngcobo, was the first black South African to become a medical doctor, who later became ANC president;

l Enoch Sontonga composed Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the first chorus and verse in the national anthem of South Africa;

l Steve Bantu Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa;

l Chris Hani, political activist, chief-of-staff of Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC, and secretary-general of the SACP;

l Govan Mbeki, activist, journalist, writer, author and father of former President Thabo Mbeki. After the first democratic elections were held, he was elected deputy president of the National Council of Provinces;

l Albertina Sisulu, political activist, founding member of the Federation of South African Women, helped form the ANC Women’s League;

l Walter Sisulu, an active trade unionist who joined the ANC and, together with Mandela and several others, formed Umkhonto weSizwe in 1960, retired on the eve of South Africa’s first multi-racial elections in 1994;

l Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, founding president of the Pan-Africanist Congress, persecuted and banned by apartheid rulers and was sent to Kimberley, where he was kept under house arrest until his death in 1978;

l Oliver Tambo, former ANC president, spent most of his life in exile serving in the struggle against apartheid. He returned to South Africa in 1991 after over three decades in exile and was elected national chairperson of an unbanned ANC in 1991;

l Donald Woods, editor of the Daily Dispatch, which was critical of the apartheid government and initially the Black Consciousness Movement. But, after meeting the movement’s leader, Steve Biko, Woods’ view changed and the two men became friends. They were harassed and, after Biko was killed in police custody in September 1977, Woods helped expose the truth behind his death;

l Raymond Mhlaba  was first arrested for leading marchers through the  “Europeans only” entrance  of New Brighton train station in 1952, during a transport strike that was part of the Defiance Campaign;

l The Cradock Four: Matthew Goniwe,  Fort Calata,  Sparrow Mkonto  and Sicelo Mhlauli were abducted at a police roadblock on June 27 1985, murdered and burnt. Their charred bodies were later found on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth;

l Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, probably one of the most well-known anti-apartheid campaigners; and

l Thabo Mbeki, anti-apartheid activist, international scholar, the first Deputy President of a democratic South Africa under Mandela, serving from 1999-2008.

September is a month for celebration, providing a great opportunity to reflect on our history and share the accomplishments of men and women whose record is one of service, dedication and commitment to helping improve the state of humankind.

It is also a time to look to the future with renewed determination, commitment, dedication, innovation and vision and ensure everyone responds to the needs of the 21st century.

We pay tribute to our heroes and legends who had the foresight to know it was not enough to confine any South African to a small circumscribed life in a segregated nation, and the strength of mission to undo that racist structure.

These courageous legends knew there was no greater calling than service to the people of South Africa.

It is from their example that we learn how to respond in the face of today’s needs and those going into the future.

Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole