A MOTSAU MEMORIAL EDITION
In the wake of the falling of the great Azanian Revolutionary Nkutśoeu Skaap Motsau, AZAPO Voice Editorial Collective is paying homage to this legend by this Memorial Edition.
TRIBUTE BY AZAPO NATIONAL CHAIRPERSON NELVIS QEKEMA
In a typical “Jobs Lament”, we bow our heads as we curse the Friday, which is framed as 28 June 2019. We say “let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months”.
That Friday was the day when Nkutšoeu Skaap Motsau breathed his last. We could say that Friday orphaned the children of the Azanian Revolution. Motsau, who was Secretary for Defence and Operations of the exiled Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA), died on Friday morning of 28 June in a Cape Town hospital. He had been mainly bed-ridden since a near fatal accident on the 19 July 2005 that left him quadriplegic. He was 66 years old.
AZAPO remains sceptical about Motsau’s mysterious car accident. He lost the control of his car at a curve as he was driving out of Sharpeville. Inspection of the car after the accident showed that the left front wheel had no bolts and the shock absorber was loose. Muntu Myeza, Sabelo Phama and Kgalabe Jeff Masemola died under similar foul circumstances.
He amazingly accepted his new personal challenges like a soldier receiving a medal of bravery. At his 2013 60th birthday anniversary, he took to the podium and asked if we knew what it took to take care of a person like him. He told us he has to be “loaded” into the plane; and soon passengers panic because of the smell of him relieving himself in both liquid and solid forms. That interferes with his dignity, yet there isn’t much he can do about it. An air host walks by and asks not him, but his wife Nosiphiwo what he will need. He has to be fed. He has to request someone to scratch his itch. But they scratch the wrong place with the incorrect amount of pressure. He has to be stripped naked and washed like an infant. That interferes with his dignity, but there’s nothing he can do about it. He has to be turned in bed, or he would develop sores that may take six months to heal. He needs a person to stand watch and chase away a pestering fly that does everything on his face.
Through hard work, Motsau managed to get himself a wheelchair that cost about R55 000. But it was not adequate for his needs. He needed the R300 000 one he could not afford.
In a no-punches-pulled 2017 letter to Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula, he protested that the Department of Military Veterans “bought me a R50 000 wheelchair which was similar to mine that was condemned by the occupational therapist as no longer suitable for me”.
Motsau added: “Any further beating about the bush… only serves to accelerate the deterioration of my health. In simple language, these days only hasten my journey to the grave. That is why, honourable Minister, I now put this matter before you”.
Sadly, Motsau had assumed the status of the “Unknown Soldier” who is buried in “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. That is a monumental Tomb through which the Americans symbolically honour the soldiers who remain unidentified. But the Azanian masses knew Motsau because he was knowable and identifiable.
George Carlin covers the ground where he states that, “As soon as someone is identified as an unsung hero, he no longer is”.
Motsau joined the Steve Biko-inspired Black People’s Convention in 1972 and attended its founding Congress in the same year in Hammanskraal near Pretoria. In 1973 he became the youngest and second Black Consciousness activist to be incarcerated on Robben Island after Mosibudi Mangena.
He was released in 1979, and in 1982 he was called to exile and appointed to the BCMA’s Secretary for Defence and Operations, a position which made him the Chairperson of the Military Affairs Committee (MAC). The position meant that he had to consolidate the military efforts of the Azanian National Liberation Army (AZANLA). He was sent to Eritrea as part of a Unit to learn the skills of building and running a guerrilla army under the tutelage of the experienced and independent Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.
Because the BCMA and AZANLA enjoyed no official recognition from the OAU and United Nations, this guerrilla army had to be self-reliant and mainly based inside the country. In the recruitment and training phase, Motsau had to lead the mission to establish bases inside the country. Together with the incumbent AZAPO President Strike Thokoane, they opened a military base in the QwaQwa mountains known as Mont Aux-Sources.
He was again in the forefront in the offensive phase as AZANLA mounted military raids from the safety of the Lobatse Mountains of Botswana. Commander Mzwandile Mcoseli died in battle as they faced the combined forces of the SADF and BDF in 1991. Commander Morakenyane Motlholise was in an AZANLA Unit that kept the SADF and SAP at bay for a reportedly “six-hour gun battle”. He died when he pretended to surrender and detonated his last hand grenade and took along with him enemy soldiers.
Christopher Reeve, who was in a similar but privileged quadriplegic position like Motsau, could have been talking about Motsau when he said that “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
TRIBUTE BY MEDIA VETERAN MATHATHA TSEDU
For Skaap, With Love and Supreme Respect
I was in Gaborone, Botswana, for a meeting about journalism but it was at a time when Skaap was standing trial in Lobatse for running a military training camp in the mountains of that country without permission.
I had determined that I would make sure I go and see the comrades and offer some solidarity and some reading material as well as other necessities. I had no idea how far Lobatse was, and it didn’t matter, I was going to go.
So, as soon as the meeting ended I got into a car for a drive that proved longer than I had imagined. In fact, I almost missed my flight as we arrived back in Gaborone just in time for me to check in. But I am running ahead of myself.
At the court security was tight, the Botswana police were treating the case as a major security threat and assumed, correctly, that the group standing trial with Skaap were militarily trained. I got in and sat at the
the back listening to evidence; it was just 30 minutes before the lunch break.
As the court adjourned, I moved forward before the accused were whisked out of the courtroom and called to Skaap. He turned and with that broad smile, shouted “WaPapa, Comrade Mathatha, what a surprise. Have you come to see mapanditi?’.
The police were now blocking me from getting closer but Skaap would have none of it. “This comrade is from home and is just greeting, he is not a soldier.” I was allowed to approach and hand over the reading materials and some food items I had brought along. All the comrades were very happy to see me, but it was Skaap who looked through the books and profusely thanked me for them.
I am sure he ate the food, but for him the books were the most important part of my consignment. And that, as former BCMA Chairperson and AZAPO President Mosibudi Mangena says, was because Skaap was a ferocious reader.
The next time I saw him he was in Harare, living at the house which was the main office of the BCMA and where recruits either from home on the way to training, or on their way back to South Africa after training, would be housed. He lived in a little backroom, and besides Mpotseng Kgokong, was the only senior leader living there with his wife and with his men and women.
Skaap was not the leader that told his charges what needed to be done, he did it with them, and that is why when a training base was opened in the QwaQwa mountains for internal training of guerrillas, he was there himself. And when the group had to beat a hasty retreat when they realised the enemy might have spotted their base, he walked with everybody else from QwaQwa to the Botswana border.
When the BCMA and AZAPO decided that hostilities with the apartheid regime would only cease once a true people’s government was installed, he led a group of guerrillas into the country, and ensured internal training continued even up to 1993 when another group was arrested in the Polokwane area.
He was himself even arrested in 1993 and found with some pistols. All these point to the character of Skaap, who would not flinch from his position as long as he believed it to be right. And for him, the decision by the ANC to disarm or stand down hostilities prior to any publicly available agreement, represented the height of selling out.
But once the ANC took over, Skaap accepted their incumbency in the State and an incident at the reburial of Onkgopotse Tiro at Dinokana illustrates this point. The new flag was hung over the area where the function was to happen and this irked one George Biya, another AZANLA hot head, and he climbed on a pole to pull the national flag down. When Skaap realised what was happening he scolded George in front of all the people saying “that flag is for the State. It is not an ANC flag so get down and leave that flag alone.”
Ordinarily, it would be difficult to imagine Skaap doing this, but that just goes to show the complex character that he was.
TRIBUTE BY FIRST AZANLA GENERAL HLOMANI MABASA
I trained with Cde Skaap in Eritrea. When we were there, we met many Fighters who were confined to wheelchairs. Our attitude changed completely about the wounded. Armed with what we learned from Field Marshall Jozib Bros Tito, we were prepared for anything. We lived, swam and shared experiences with the battle-hardened Fighters of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.
That is why Cde Skaap survived such conditions for some time. We trained in a battle field. We witnessed the amputation of Comrades by various landmines. I remember that we used to call an antipersonnel landmine by the name PNM, which stood for PETROS NKUTŠOEU MOTSAU.
When I looked at one of his pictures, it just brought back memories in the battle field where we used to climb mountains carrying PKM machine guns. Sometimes his ankles would get swollen such that his socks wouldn’t fit him. He would simply give them to me. There were days where we wouldn’t leave the bunkers because the Soviet fighter jets used by the Ethiopians would be bombing outside. Yes of course, in the Northern Sahel we toyed with death on a daily basis.
Awat NE Hafash Amort ne Tselai Wudkit imperialism! Awat NE kedan!
One AZANLA! One Army!
TRIBUTE BY AZANLA GENERAL PITSO JAPHTA HLASA
I first met Cde Skaap on my arrival at the AZANLA training base in QwaQwa in 1986. He was instrumental in my military training, and he was largely responsible for my growth in the AZANLA Forces. I rose through the ranks of the Army up until the rank of Commander General mainly through his influence.
He was my Commander and my mentor. Most importantly, he later became a father figure to me; a son he never had. I learnt so much from him. He taught me how to be a Commander. He taught me how to talk as a military person, and how to issue instructions and commands. He sharpened my driving skills. He took me through defensive driving and endurance training. He groomed me to endure all sorts of conditions.
I operated with him under difficult, testing and dangerous circumstances. I owe everything positive I became to his teachings. I can say he was my life coach. I am indebted to him in so many respects. He literally took care of my family in the 12 years that I spent in jail and continued to do so after my release. He did this with the support and blessing of his wife, Cde Nosiphiwo. I thank both of them for the unconditional support they gave me and my family.
TRIBUTE BY BCM LAWYER CDE ORENG CYRIL MOROLO
Cde Skaap was a true revolutionary my Tower. I remember the time when former AZAPO President Mangena requested me to travel to Harare to fetch Cde Skaap. That was a risky undertaking because he was declared a persona non-grata by the UN. He could therefore not be issued with a free pass to return home.
He was also a “fugitive of justice”, and a warrant for his arrest had been issued in South Africa under Terrorism and Sabotage.
I drove to Harare to fetch him. He could not travel without his bodyguards. I had to pick all three of them up. They were armed to the teeth with all sorts of weapons. Mind you we had to drive about 600km to Beitbridge border post, via Mvuma-Harare road.
It was the most terrifying trip I ever undertook in my life. As we approached Beitbridge, my hair began to rise. But I was comforted by Cde Skaap’s humour. It is usually never easy to enter the battlefield fearlessly. It is just like facing an Apartheid Roadblock without any escape route. The only option available was to face the enemy head-on. The armed AZANLA Commanders were ready for an onslaught show down. Everybody was ready, as we were not prepared to go down without a fight.
Fortunately, an alternative plan jumped into my mind. I therefore managed to rescue the situation. One day I will tell the story of how we avoided the possible onslaught.
After exiting the border, as I was driving a BMW M5, it took me less than 1hr 30 min to reach Polokwane. Thereafter, I sighed with relieve that our mission was victorious. I regained my freedom and travelled safely home in Atteridgeville. It is an unforgettable experience I encountered with Cde Skaap. A true revolutionary to the core.
Let’s pick up His Spear and Soldier On.
TRIBUTE BY AN ANONYMOUS FRIEND
The multi-faceted personality of Cde Nkutšoeu Skaap Motsau should be found somewhere in the mixture of such adjectives as audacious, brave, bold, courageous, calm, composed, defiant, daring, ebullient, fearless, gentle, humorous, irrepressible, jovial. He was a keen leader who led both from the front and from the back; depending on whatever the circumstances called for.
From his formative years as a teenager, right till the day his life system caved in at aged 66, a synoptic view of the political escapades of Skaap paints a picture not only of adventure, but also of a life lived so much on the epicentres of danger zones that fear itself was in the process left no choice, but to retreat to the back seat.
A well-built specimen of a man that was physically fit and blessed with, in Skaap’s words, “a strong bone structure”. It has been a continuous source of frustration and pain for many of his Comrades and friends to come to terms with the fact that Skaap was to remain physically grounded this side of 2005 as a result of that mysterious and debilitating encounter.
But not even the paralysing accident could extinguish his selfless determination to do good for the least of God’s children. From the physical discomfort of a wheelchair, medically certified a quadriplegic, Skaap continued to agitate for a final push towards total emancipation of the downtrodden. He wrote speeches and even honouring invitations to go and address meetings, including giving motivational talks to HIV infected patients.
Despite his acutely paralysing encounter, he neither wallowed nor indulged in self-pity. He would always have readily packed words and unforgiving phrases for any Comrade who would say or insinuate anything remotely sounding sorry for Skaap.
He insisted right to the end of his life that any living being, so long as breath is still drawn by the lungs, has both dignity and something useful to offer to society.
To have been blessed with the opportunity to brush shoulders with him pre- and post-19 July 2005, has to some of us been both invaluable and enriching an experience on how to deal in calm with life-altering setbacks, without allowing your spirits to be subdued, dampened or depressed.
In the words of the Japanese Activist Yuri Kochiyama, let all of us who knew and interacted with him pledge today to honour the legacy of our Skaap as “A great man who was a curse to those who stole from Black People. An epic of a man who personified heroic action. A stark representation of an epoch, because he did play a central part in the starting point of a new period that gave rise to striking events in the continuous struggle and history of his people. [Skaap was] also a phenomenon, because his very personality represented a rare fact, or an exceptional person. A fountain head, which we used as a source of stream from which emanated strength, hope and courage”
As Kochiyama concluded of Brother Malcolm, let our lasting legacy of Cde Skaap be our remembrance of his infinite and undying love and care for his Black Race”
Long live Cde Skaap!
TRIBUTE BY AZANLA COMMANDER IN CHIEF AND AZAPO HONORARY PRESIDENT MOSIBUDI MANGENA
A HERO IS DEAD
In the early hours of Friday, the 28th June 2019, Nkutsoeu “Skaap” Motsau took his last breath at a Cape Town hospital. He was 66 years old. Until last month, he was the Chairperson of the Azanian National Liberation Army Military Veterans Association (AZANLAMVA). His death marks the end of many decades of political activism and service to his country and its people.
I first met Nkutsoeu in the second half of 1974 when he landed on Robben Island after being sentenced to five years imprisonment under the Terrorism Act. He was arrested for having read a poem that the apartheid regime deemed subversive and terroristic. He replaced me as the youngest political prisoner on the island at that point and the two of us were the only Black People’s Convention (BPC), members on Robben Island.
Motsau was totally ungovernable, fighting the warders at every turn and going on hunger strikes when the system punished him. The solidarity we had as prisoners would force the entire prison to go hungry until he stopped. In any case, there was no way the prisoners would eat when the youngest member of the population was boycotting food.
As the only other Black Consciousness comrade on the island, the task of persuading him to end hunger strikes and reduce his confrontations with the warders fell on my head. The two of us would talk for hours before he would give in. He saw the warders and the prison system as the physical manifestation of oppression and that they should be confronted all the time. He thought I and the other prisoners had become tame and domesticated freedom fighters. But the many long talks we had in prison solidified a friendship and comradeship that endured until his death.
When other Black Consciousness activists arrived on Robben Island, such as Eric Molobi and Amos Masondo, the two of us received them and oriented them about prison life. We were later joined by the SASO/BPC nine in early 1976, just ahead of the flood of the fiery and militant June 16 “klip goeirs”. These younger lot made all of us look meek and docile.
Although he was born on the 20/06/1953 in Sharpeville and raised there, he was banned and banished to Phuthaditjhaba Township in QwaQwa after his release from Robben Island. At the time, the regime was banishing released political prisoners to their “homelands”. Despite me being banished to Mahwelereng, my Lebowa “homeland” in Limpopo, and prohibited by the banning orders from communicating with each other, we found a way to keep in close touch.
When the leadership of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA), which I had joined in Botswana in 1981, was recruiting a Secretary of Defence, I had no hesitation in vouching for Nkutsoeu. Being the complete cadre for freedom that he was, he immediately fled into Botswana with his young family in 1982.
He was a voracious reader who ploughed into revolutionary and guerilla warfare material and helped to draft the BCMA military programme. He received his military training from the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front in 1985, after being smuggled into their liberated zone via Sudan. The training happened in the midst of war and he had to run for cover during bombings by the Ethiopian Air Force. He later accompanied recruits and facilitated their training in Libya.
He was a gutsy commander who led from the front. He camped with his fighters in the mountains in both Botswana and South Africa. He combined this with a wicked sense of humour that would have us cracking up with laughter at his many jokes.
After the attainment of democracy in 1994, he served in the national leadership of AZAPO for many years. We worked together once more when I was a member of parliament and he an officer in the AZAPO parliamentary office. We stayed in the same house and travelled together to work and between Gauteng and Cape Town.
Nkutsoeu was a hell of an inspiration. After he rolled in his car and broke his neck in 2005 and became a paraplegic, we all thought he would stay at home and live on a disability grant.
But he insisted on returning to his job in parliament and asked me to help him acquire a software that would enable him to manipulate his computer by voice and eyes. Through this, he did his secretarial work in the office and balanced the books perfectly. He often chastised able bodied people for their poor appreciation of the needs and capabilities of people with disabilities.
Motsau devoted all his adult life to the struggle for freedom and the service of his people.
TSAMAYA KA KHOTSO MOTAUNG!
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