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Mandela, Mattera and Duarte and our own contribution to...

Defend Truth


In remembering Mandela, Mattera and Duarte we should reflect on our own contribution to South Africa

These three people, whose work and lives converged on Mandela Day, should give us all pause.

This week saw a reflection on three notable South Africans: deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, who was buried on Mandela Day, which observes former president Nelson Mandela’s legacy, and the death of prolific poet and political activist Donato “Bra Don” Mattera. They all played a critical role in shaping our constitutional democracy.

Mandela was the lion-hearted founding member of the militant ANC Youth League and the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe who, in his seminal “I am prepared to die” speech, said: “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom.”

Mandela was famously imprisoned for 27 years and after his release became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

Duarte’s legacy is a complex one, ostensibly premised on the anti-apartheid ideals that Mandela and others in the liberation movement espoused, and their stories intersected when she became his personal assistant on his release from prison until he was elected president of South Africa. She also worked with liberation heroes such as Albertina Sisulu and Beyers Naudé, and was an activist in the Federation of Transvaal Women and the United Democratic Front.

Tributes to Duarte highlight that she was a formidable ANC loyalist. However, as far as my memory can tell, in the end it was shown that her loyalty to the ANC was to a fault, as she defended the indefensible, such as former president Jacob Zuma’s refusal to appear at the State Capture inquiry, and casted aspersions on the judiciary as an allyship with nefarious former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Duarte’s funeral and Mattera’s death interestingly converged on Mandela’s birthday. Mattera, a lauded poet and towering figure of political struggle and activism, was a proponent of black consciousness, and a founding member of the Union of Black Journalists, the African Writers Association and the Congress of South African Writers.

In one of his most notable poems, titled Azanian Love Song, Mattera laments:

“Like a straight pine
I point my finger at God
counting a million scars
on my dreams
and somewhere in the ghetto
a child is weeping;
a woman writes her legacy
on leaves of despair.
Like a weeping willow
I drop my soul
into a pool of fire
somewhere in a dark sanctuary
I hear the sound of a freedom song…”

These words beautifully describe our country’s struggle and they echo in my head as I grapple with South Africa’s complexity, which has not left us unscarred.

These three people, whose work and lives converged on Mandela Day, should give us all pause to reflect on and decide what we want our own enduring contribution to the country to be remembered as. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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  • This past Saturday 23 July is the second time in the past month that Exclusive Books at Hyde Park, has had your previous week’s copy of DM for sale.

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