BRIEF PROFILE OF THE LATE CDE THEMBA ‘LEFTY’ SOLWANDLE
20 AUGUST 1946 – 06 NOVEMBER 2007
By Nelvis Qekema
AZAPO National Political Commissar
Malcom X’s illustration of the difference between what he calls a House Nigger and a Field Nigger may be of great help in understanding the personality of Cde Themba ‘Lefty’ Solwandle. He says when the Master is sick the House Nigger exclaims, ‘We’re sick’, while the Field Nigger prays the Master dies. When the Master’s house catches fire the House Nigger tries to put out the fire, while the Field Nigger prays for stronger winds to blow and fan the fire.
A man of few words, who spoke loudly and clearly through his constructive deeds, Lefty dedicated his entire life to serving the people. As a result of that patriotic service, he found himself having to duck racist police bullets and was detained and tortured time and again by the notorious Special Branch. Sis’ Rita (his wife) and the children had to resign themselves to a situation where the husband and father was seldom at home.
His last job before he was arrested was as a Fire Brigade soldier. Again, the choice of job reveals a man with a large heart who was prepared to take life-threatening risks for the sake of the people. As a loyal and dedicated member of the Black People’s Convention (BPC), his Black Consciousness (BC) and Malcom X came to heart. During the 1976 upheavals the entire country was on fire as the BC militants set alight every property that was a symbol of oppression and apartheid. In the normal course of his duty as a firefighter, his white bosses expected Lefty to go and quell the revolutionary fires. That wasn’t to be. On the contrary, he would go and approvingly watch the apartheid buildings and cars burning; and even went to such lengths as starting some of the fires. Instead of a firefighter he had become a firelighter on the side of the struggling masses. In 1977 he was arrested for sabotage and convicted in 1978 after a long trial. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for 5 years and released in 1983.
You would have expected a man who did not see his children grow to shy away from anything that had the possibility of throwing him back in jail. With amazing conviction and commitment, Lefty joined the Port Elizabeth branch of AZAPO as soon as he was released! The organisation wasted no time in showing confidence to such a selfless cadre. He was elected the Projects Director. Under his leadership the organisation established a number of community development projects. Our mothers were organised around a sewing project, while other unemployed people got involved in the manufacturing of candles. This explains why Lefty was taken aback by today’s attitude of always waiting for the state to do everything for us, when we could have taken the initiative in the spirit of self-reliance to do some of the things ourselves.
His service to the community was disrupted by the eruption of the unfortunate and senseless feud between the UDF and AZAPO. Once more, Lefty’s selflessness came to the fore. At the time when AZAPO members were besieged, he relocated his ever-understanding family and made his house available to AZAPO members who had lost their homes to destruction by fire. His beige and brown Colt had virtually become the ‘official’ car of AZAPO. In times of distress and despair, his terse and forceful voice coupled with his ox-strong physique served as a source of inspiration to all of us.
The Special Pension Act of 1996 was meant to recognise the contributions of veterans in the struggle. Never meant to rest, Lefty became the first Head of the Special Pension’s regional offices in Port Elizabeth. At the time of his untimely death, he was invariably ensuring that the interests and livelihoods of the struggle veterans were not lost in the many priorities of the government.
AZAPO pays tribute to this brave and selfless son of the soil. May his soul rest in peace, as he joins the rest of the martyrs like Steve Biko, Abram Tiro, Mapetla Mohapi, Abu Asvat, Muntu Myeza and many others.