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Joseph Mkwanazi: Tribute to a great man

A Pan Africanist leader in exile for many years

Motsoko Pheko

2013-01-09, Issue 612

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The graves are full of great men who never became great because they did not give themselves responsibility. Joseph Mkwanazi, affectionately called ‘Kwani’ by many who know how he has lived his life, gave himself responsibility

Joe Mkwanazi recognised that the national liberation struggle began when all African kings of South Africa such as Dingane, Cetshwayo, Hintsa, Moshoeshoe, Sekukuni, resisted British imperialism and colonialism. Mkwanazi followed in the footsteps of genuine freedom fighters of this country that rekindled the liberation struggle in another form in 1912. These were pioneers like Pixley ka Isaka Seme, John Dube and Sol Plaatje. These leaders recognised that the primary contradiction of the liberation struggle in this country was ownership of land and its mineral wealth. Joe Mkwanazi never lost focus on this fundamental issue of liberation.

When the Union on of South Africa 1909 excluded Africans as inhabitants of their own country; and the Native Land Act 1913 allocated 93 percent of this country to European colonial settlers, Plaatje wrote: ‘At the beginning of May 1913, no one knew that that year would see the last day of territorial freedom of Africans of the Union (South Africa). But on June 19 the same year, the law had been enacted and was operating in every part of the Union.’

It was therefore men like Dube and Plaatje who went to England to talk to King George V about the land dispossession of the African people. In this petition they, among other things, said, ‘That the natives (Africans) should be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers and on the same conditions, as the white race.’

Joe Mkwanazi was born in 1928. He grew up in the rural areas of KwaZulu Natal. He knew from experience that land dispossession meant economic castration and strangulation of Africans that was manifested in poverty, ignorance and disease of a dispossessed people. In 1994 when he became Member of the Kwa Zulu Natal Legislature from the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), he raised the land question both inside this Legislature and in public.

But what happened in May 1996? The Parliament of so-called ‘New South Africa’ delivered a constitution which entrenched the fruits of the Native Land Act 1913. These are the bitter fruits that turned Africans into reserves of cheap native labour and diggers of platinum and gold for others. This situation haunted Joe Mkwanazi immensely, till his journey to eternity.

It is one hundred years since Plaatje, Pixley ka Seme and ‘Mafukuzela’ Dube and others tackled the land dispossession of the majority African population of this country. But section 25(7) has been cleverly used to replace the colonial Native Land Act 1913. Mkwanazi believed that land dispossession of Africans in this country must be faced head on. It may be painful to do so, but out of pain there is healing for this nation, instead of waiting for a time bomb that will damage the stability of this country. It is no wonder to me why Joe Mkwanazi would rush to go to eternity before the dawn of 2013. He chose not to see the 100th anniversary of African land dispossession in this country. He left us on 31st December 2012 at 11.19 a.m.

Joe Mkwanazi never stopped raising the land question even when he was ridiculed or sidelined or ignored as a freedom fighter. Mkwanazi did not enter the politics of this Azania (South Africa) to play to the gallery, but to stand for truth. Jesus Christ Himself has said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall liberate you.’

Joe Mkwanazi loved education. He sacrificed everything for the youth to acquire education. He was determined that if his party became the government of this country, all the children of the poor would receive free education that would be diversified to provide all skills this country needs. Indeed, there can be no creation of jobs without first creating skills and professions this country needs. Mkwanazi believed in an education that is tailored to the needs of the Azanian nation.

I worked in various capacities with Joe Mkwanazi in this country, in Swaziland as well as in Britain. He was a man of integrity. He was also a very generous person. He gave more to the liberation struggle without expecting anything in return. I remember talking to him after he became a member of the KZN Legislature. He said, ‘M-Afrika, I am surprised. I never expected any salary from here. These people are paying us. We, Freedom Fighters, just got used to doing our work without pay.’ Joe was reliable, honest, brave, loving people.

Joe Mkwanazi did everything he laid his hands on, with tenacity of purpose and pertinacity of will. Indeed, the purpose of life is a life of purpose. It is not what one gathers, but what one scatters for the benefit of others, that tells what kind of life a man has lived. As an African proverb puts it, ‘An ant-hill that was destined to be a giant- hill will ultimately become one, no matter how many times it is destroyed by elephants.’

Hamba kahle M-Afrika! Izwe Lethu!

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