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.