The ANC Veterans League is still reeling with shock and disbelief at the passing away of South Africa's poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile, affectionately referred to as Bra Willie by both the young and not so young.
Some of us who lived, worked and interacted with him in Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and later in South Africa, drank deep from this fountain of inestimable knowledge.
Come with me then and let us delve into the not so distant past, where cherished memories were forged.
We all recall that 1976 witnessed the student's uprising that became a turning point in the history of South Africa. Another South African poet laureate, Mazizi Kunene, refers to those enthusiastic, determined, committed and passionate young students as the children of iron, the fearless bees of the night, the wrath of the volcanic mountain, the abiding anger of their ancestral forefathers.
I remember vividly when these young comrades, abo-Qiniselani as we called them, talked about their first encounter with Bra Willie. They said that on their arrival in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, they met this well read, articulate, insightful Comrade who slowly but eloquently articulated the virtues of being patient, patriotic and tolerant of other people's views and opinions.
He had a twinkle in his eye and was unassuming, they added. In animated tones these young brave comrades talked about the stories Bra Willie shared with them, including when and how he left the country, where he lived and studied, the severe winter storms in New York where he obtained his masters degree in Fine Arts, students and members of society he interacted with on his travels and involvement in anti-apartheid demonstrations as well as solidarity work. He prepared us psychologically for the long haul, they intimated.
On my way from Zambia to Tanzania, I met Bra Willie at our ANC Office. I was struck by his passion for education, for youth development, his knowledge of the world, African politics, African literature and his commitment to the fight for the liberation of Southern Africa.
Like he did with other ANC students, as if this was an induction course, his emphasis was that of increasing the number of well read, articulate, and committed intellectuals in our glorious movement.
He harped on education which he said was as important as the armed struggle. If, he maintained, we do not increase our intellectual base within the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe, how are we going to confront a well resourced and modern South African army which is armed with the latest technology to defend the apartheid regime.
He also prepared us for our future stay in foreign countries where the majority of us studied and acquired further knowledge.
The first year is definitely not going to be easy, he warned. However, you'd have to adjust as there is no other alternative but to acquire knowledge, come back qualified, prepared to serve the ANC and the people of South Africa.
You will always dream being at home in your own environment, being with your friends, engaged in intellectual discussions of how when South Africa is liberated, you will walk the streets of Pretoria and help in transforming society as articulated in our ANC's Freedom Charter and yet when you wake up, you'd find yourself sharing a room with a foreign student and being far away from home without any contact with your family and friends. And yet you'd still be left with years of toil and tears. Never give up. Knowledge is power, he assured us.
Bra Willie, Thank you for the induction. What we experienced was indeed hard work and tears. We have survived the heavy and rough winter storms. We have grown taller. We are tolerant of dissenting voices, Yes, we are focused, able to research and always self critical of our actions and committed to the noble values of our glorious movement.
We are not complaining but lament the fact that you left us at a time when we are commemorating the ANC's 106 anniversary, when we had just concluded the successful ANC's 54th National Conference, including the Conference of the ANC Veterans League, which you were also a member.
A lot of work still needs to be done by the Veterans League. It is early days, but the future is upon us. We cannot escape change, for change is the essence of life.
As members of the Veterans League we have to work very hard to earn the respect that we deserve. We have nothing to lose and should not be afraid but be critical and propose solutions to our leadership.
As ANC Veterans who are custodians of its values and traditions, we are however confident that the new leadership, led by comrade Cyril Ramaphosa will work towards the restoration of the dignity of our glorious organization.
We reject the politics of factionalism. We will support all efforts by the new leadership to build a strong and united ANC that will relentlessly fight corruption in all its forms. Nobody should be above the law.
We support the call by the 54th ANC conference that the Integrity Commission must be independent, well-resourced and its findings binding.
For us to regain the confidence of the masses, leaders of the movement should meet our criteria as set in our policy document:" Through the eye of the needle."
When facing difficulties and new challenges, we should not be afraid to self correct and self introspect.
We are ready and prepared to put our shoulder to the wheel with the aim of reigniting hope among our people and restoring their confidence in our glorious organization.
As ANC Veterans, we will never lose sight of the selfless sacrifices of Comrades like Bra Willie, including thousands and many nameless and faceless comrades who gave their lives for the democracy we are enjoying today.
Bra Willie, comrade commander of a ready smile, we will not disappoint you and the South African society. We stand ready to serve!
Dr Snuki Zikalala
President of the ANC Veterans League