by Nelvis Qekema
25 February 2016

Death deprives, impoverishes, isolates and pains. So we feel in AZAPO and the Black Consciousness Movement with the untimely death of Cde Ngcobo Nguna (63) who passed on at his New Brighton house on 22 February 2016.

You could say he was born to do nothing but wage struggle alongside the masses, for he knew no life other than that despite the lingering real threat of death. He seemed to have understood Martin Luther King’s authoritative words that, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live”. He chose to suffer and die for the restoration of the humanity and dignity of black people in the country of their forebears. He found dedication in Steve Biko’s inspiring words in dismissing “fear for death” as “a highly irrational thing”.

It follows that he would have been in the forefront of the struggle to bring the flames of the June 16 Uprising down to Port Elizabeth while he was a student leader at Kwazakhele High or SECS (Secondary School) as it was better known. Together with the likes of Mbuzeli Erds Dukumbana and Saki Macozoma, they used the philosophy of Black Consciousness to ferment the black anger into positive liberatory action. From the student protest at SECS, the whole PE and the Eastern Cape were soon to be besieged by the conflagration of the revolution.

While Dukumbana and Macozoma were to be picked up to serve time on Robben Island, the elusive Nguna evaded the apartheid police and regrouped with other BC activists like Topsy Madaka, Mkhuseli Jack, Fundile Mafongosi and Wantu Zenzile to influence the establishment of COSAS in PE. Some of these activists like Jack had already been members of SASM – a BC organisation that was behind the June 16 Uprising. Nguna was quite irrepressible and prolific because he cooperated with other activists like Thozamile Botha and Moki Cekisani to form and launch the BC-inspired Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) on 30 October 1979. It is this radical PEBCO that saved Walmer township from forced removals. With the re-emergence of the ANC through the UDF in the early 1980s, Nguna tried in vain to defend the removal of BC and “Black” from PEBCO with the result of its renaming to “Port Elizabeth People’s Civic Organisation” (PEPCO).

While he was employed at OK, he was highly active in trade union politics through the vibrant MACWUSA. It is at this trade union where he befriended and recruited into AZAPO shop steward Zolile Tshisa who was later to be the first victim of the feud between UDF and AZAPO.

With the deserting of BC by organisations like PEPCO, COSAS and AZASO, Nguna and the late intellectual giant and poet Cde Fezile Tshume, worked hard to establish AZAPO in the Eastern Cape. Needless to say, the ground proved dangerous for this venture taking into account the prevailing ideological shift and the brutal police harassment at the time. So Nguna and his Comrades went about their business secretly and carefully choosing the recruits at the initial stages. After conducting rigorous political education classes for the recruits, of which I was one, on 24 February 1983 the first AZAPO Branch in the Eastern Cape was launched in PE. Nguna was unanimously elected the Chairperson. His PEBCO activism resurfaced when he led an AZAPO onslaught against the forced removal of the residents of Kleinskool.

As old as he was, Nguna got actively involved in the establishment of the AZAPO student wing AZASM. The police had ensured he be jobless by either blocking his employment or forcing his sacking at some of the jobs he got. He used this time effectively to recruit and organise. His Kwazakhele home would be full with students starving for BC and political direction. In no time he had recruited tens of students including prominent leaders of COSAS like Fundile Mafongosi and Sonwabo Paper Ngxale. In September 1983 AZASM was launched in PE.

The rapid growth of AZAPO in PE and its spread to other parts of the Eastern Cape was bound to cause tensions as it was shaking the bastion of the ANC. Indeed, the feud between the UDF and AZAPO broke out in 1985. It was messy, deadly and an unfortunate occurrence in history. It resulted in the necklacing of black activists and the burning of their homes. While Nguna escaped the necklace, his illustrious recruit Sonwabo Paper Ngxale did not.

Fezile Tshume, with whom Nguna founded AZAPO in PE, was assassinated by the aprtheid dark forces in a cold blooded murder in which his throat was slit. While Mbuzeli Dukumbana with whom he fermented the PE version of the June 16 Uprising had served time on Robben Island, in 1985 his turn to land on Robben Island had arrived. But he was later acquitted on appeal.

Cool, calm, collected, soft-spoken, diplomatic, inspirational, influential, visionary, attentive, revered, brave; are some of the words that could be used to describe Nguna’s personality and leadership. His wife Nobantu and their two children should find solace in the fact that their loss is the loss of the nation as a whole.

Hamba kahle Mthembu, Mntande, Zondwa Ziintshaba.

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