SONWABO PAPER NGXALE MEMORIAL LECTURE DELIVERED BY AZAPO NATIONAL CHAIRPERSON, CDE NELVIS QEKEMA, AT THE AZAPO EASTERN CAPE PROVINCIAL CONGRESS HELD IN MAKANA ON 16 JUNE 2018
“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905)
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.”
Our gratitude has to go to the Eastern Cape Province of AZAPO for immortalising the name of Cde Sonwabo Paper Ngxale, who would have turned 55 this year, by naming itself after this intellectual giant of our time.
It is right that you could do that, for Afrikan Spirituality consistently tells us that Cde Paper did not die. He lives on because life is a constant that does not die, but merely changes form to live forever. Just as water changes form to ice, and steam to water, life changes form from physicality to Spirituality, and Spirituality impacts on physicality.
Cde Paper could just be saying to us, “Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there. I did not die. I am a thousand winds of the Azanian Revolution that blow”.
I know that Cde Paper could be telling us this. I grew up with him. He is my peer. We lived together in the same vicinity in Kwazakhele in PE. His home and mine are just a few streets from each other. We played together. Together with the likes of Cde Mzimasi Mabongo and the younger Boyboy Mahlakahlaka, we would visit one another’s home and debate politics till dawn. As young as we were, we were ahead of ourselves and grappled with complex philosophical and political economy questions. Sometimes we would painfully box ourselves into philosophical streams like Existentialism, Empiricism, Stoicism, Structuralism, Constructionism or Determinism.
I remember vividly that at some stage I believed I was a “Stoic”. I am not even sure that our grasp was sufficiently strong, but it was strong enough for kids who defied the structural lack of educational resources. Our sheer cognitive curiosity and intuitive zeal propelled us forward. However, it was after being cornered by the likes of Cde Paper in our nocturnal debates that I drifted to being a “Determinist”. The onus was on you to defend your philosophical standpoint. That forced us to frequent the library and read as much as we could about our philosophical preferences and those of others to be able to debate with confidence when we regrouped. It is important to note that these were informal political and ideological debates. We did not have to wait for the official ones sanctioned by AZAPO because we knew the value of self-cultivation. You could not survive in that highly competitive and critical setup without regularly equipping yourself with information and knowledge.
Every boy of our age had no choice but to play football in the available spaces for communal taps, which were called “gap-taps” in Kwazakhele township. We called those contests something that sounded like “chaylence”. It is only much later that we came to know that we meant “challenge”. In senior football circles the name “Paper” was reserved for the most talented and skilful players. His dribbling wizardry earned our Comrade the football nickname “Paper”, which remained glued on him even long after he had stopped playing competitive football. Like everyone with the nickname “Paper”, we sometimes affectionately referred to him as “Maphepha” (papers).
While he proved himself a “Paper” that was a gifted but bootless dribbler on the field of play as a youngster, he later converted that energy to become a vociferous reader of the paper he also wrote on meticulously.
At school Cde Paper was an all-rounder that excelled in Maths and Science. His teacher Miss Thonjeni moulded him so well in those subjects to the extent that in 1983 he matriculated as the top student in Maths in the Eastern Cape. The Evening Post of those days ran the story and carried a picture of him. You can imagine what appearing in a newspaper meant for a youngster of our time. Unfortunately, the story was good and bad. The bad part was that a plea was made by Miss Thonjeni for bursaries to be available to help academically shine a bright star in the black community. That was never to be, for Cde Paper spent 1984 and 1985 out of educational activity due to lack of financial support.
Flattery is out of the question because the man has metamorphosed into a form of life higher than this one. However, it can hardly be an exaggeration to refer to Cde Paper as a genius. His grasp of complex and abstract subjects transcended the average level. His analytical mind and eloquent articulation was just breath-taking. His mastery of the English language positioned him to repeat what had already been said and still receive a standing ovation for what the audience would consider to be new and fresh. He hid his organic sophistication behind the camouflage of his unpretending humility. He looked ordinary and intellectually absent until he opened his mouth. Cde Paper was never the one to announce his arrival. He chose his moments, and spoke only when there was a need to do so. When he did speak, he spoke with astonishing sense and productive impact that solved the matter at hand and closed the discussion.
Granted that background, we never stopped wondering why Cde Paper, with all that sophistication, was never seen in the company of a girl. And so we would tease him that the domain of love needed more than Marxism. Of course, we were young. But we had already developed a naughty eye, and acted on its command.
I recall that in 1982 some Robben Island Black Consciousness (BC) prisoners were being released. They included the likes of Cdes Nceba Mfuniso, Mbuzeli Erds Dukumbana, Mbuyiseli Mahlathi, Lulamile Mathe and Ngcola Hempe. Their release added oomph to the efforts of Cdes Ngcobo Nguna and Fezile Tshume who were working hard to revive the institutional presence of BC in the Eastern Cape by forming AZAPO. There was a profound secrecy to these efforts, such that only targeted individuals were drawn into the fold. Cde Mzimasi Mabongo and I were fortunate to be among those.
The adopted building approach was to gradually establish political cells in the townships of PE. This movement was to be secret and subtle for fear of being crushed by political rivals. The aggregate of those efforts led to the official launch of the Port Elizabeth Branch of AZAPO on 24 February 1983 at the New Brighton St Patrick Presbyterian Church in Mtimka Street. A small hall behind the main church building was used. It was in the evening. Cde Fezile Tshume was attending to the door to ensure no undesirable person intruded, while Cde Mbuyiseli Mahlathi presided over the meeting, which elected Cde Ngcobo Nguna as the Chairperson of the very first AZAPO Branch in the Eastern Cape.
After that official launch, AZAPO went on the offensive in terms of recruitment and public profile. Town hall meetings were organised where there prevailed heated debates between proponents of the Black Consciousness Movement and the Charterist Movement. It is at these meetings that we spotted the likes of Cdes Paper and Fundile Mafongosi both of whom held leadership positions in the local COSAS Branch. Their open association with AZAPO led to their expulsion from COSAS.
That move by COSAS gave impetus to the efforts of AZAPO to establish a Branch of its student wing AZASM. Indeed, by September 1983 an AZASM Branch was launched with Cde Xolile Byna Festile as Chairperson, Cde Mbulelo Ketye as Deputy Chairperson, Cde Paper as Secretary, Cde Fundile Mafongosi as Organiser, and Cde Mzwandile April as Treasurer. Cde Paper was a student at Kwazakhele High, which was commonly known as SECS (Secondary School). Around September 1984 COSAS initiated a school boycott demanding the recognition of the SRCs by the apartheid government. Cde Paper was in the forefront in articulating the position of AZASM against that boycott. AZASM opposed the boycott on two grounds: first, it was not necessary to lose an academic year considering that the boycott was imposed on the eve of exams; second, the student movement did not need the their SRCs to be recognised by an illegitimate government before they could be effectively operational.
The opposition by AZASM to the boycott was to add to the brewing up of hostility by UDF against AZAPO in the Eastern Cape. The UDF had started implementing the ANC’s campaign to “make South Africa ungovernable”. That included the establishment of Street Committees and Amabutho. These structures were later to be used to intimidate anyone who did not subscribe to the politics and campaigns of the UDF. Black people were forced by Amabutho young activists to drink bottles of cooking oil and eat raw meat for daring to violate a consumer boycott. AZAPO was affected. But hell broke loose with the introduction by UDF of the necklace method of killing and the burning of the houses of the councillors that were correctly deemed to be sellouts. However, AZAPO voiced its opposition to the killing of black people simply because they did not toe the imposed political line. AZAPO preferred conscientisation and persuasion of the black masses rather than to kill them.
The mutually destructive feud between the UDF and AZAPO eventually broke out in May 1985, and spilled over to 1986. It was characterised by the burning of homes and the necklacing of AZAPO members to force the them to denounce AZAPO and join the UDF. Stadium rallies were places where sellouts and persecuted AZAPO members were displayed.
At the height of political hostility and peril, Cde Paper was elected to be the Eastern Cape Provincial Chairperson of AZAPO in 1985. This was made possible by the unfortunate fact that his poor family was struggling to raise the funds to take him to university. Mind you, that this was the Eastern Cape’s brightest Maths and Science student who matriculated as early as 1983. Some limited bursaries at some universities were accessible only if you were of the “correct” political affiliation, of which Cde Paper was not.
By mid-1985 AZAPO members had, for safety and security reasons, moved to Rev Mzwandile Maqina’s house in New Brighton where it was easier to ward off unceasing attacks by the members of the UDF. The situation had become so bad that even MK guerrillas were now activated to liquidate AZAPO members. One MK member was arrested after hurling a hand grenade at the house in Masangwana Street where about 200 members were either sleeping or walking around at night. The attack was foiled by an alert Cde Juicy Peter who wrong-footed the advancing Mk guerrilla by charging at him.
Even during that Beirut-like environment, the struggle had to continue. A young and gloomy Cde Paper kept the top leaders of AZAPO at the edges of their seats at a National Council he chaired in 1985. Leaders like Cdes Muntu ka Myeza and Adv Imrann Moosa were quite flabbergasted by a young Cde Paper’s capabilities.
As if to cover himself with political insurance, in the Frank Talk Journal (7 July 1985) Cde Paper wrote about the wilderness created by the mutually destructive feud:
“The gravity of the situation cannot be recorded with a pencil but can only be understood when you live in constant fear of being executed. It can only be understood when one takes into account the loss of life and property accompanying the feud. What is left for you and I is to make the sacrifices of all those who paid the supreme price to see AZAPO surviving worthwhile.”
Sadly, Cde Paper “paid the supreme price” on 15 July 1986 when he took a risk to visit his ageing and ailing mother at night. He was on the run not away from the enemy, but from his own sisters and brothers in the struggle. He was captured not by the forces of the enemy regime, but by those who claimed to be “freedom fighters”. While the detention and brutal torture by the white settler-colonial regime could not puncture his life, the “freedom fighters” made haste to achieve what the enemy failed to do. In that way, the “freedom fighters” denied Cde Paper the honour of dying in the hands of his enemies like the Libyan revolutionary Omar Al-Mukhtar who waged a 20-years guerrilla warfare against Italian colonisation of Libya. In the 1981 film Lion of the Desert, Mukhtar can be seen washing his hands and praying before being executed in public on 16 September 1931 to demoralise and intimidate the Libyan Mujahedin. I do not know what Cde Paper said when he was attacked, shot and necklaced by the “freedom fighters”. But a proud and fearless Mukhtar (73) can be seen chanting words like: “Thank you Lord for allowing me to die in the hands of my enemies”.
Frank talk Volume 3 of 1989/90, of which Cde Adv Imrann was part of the Editorial Collective, paid tribute to Cde Paper by rebuking the phenomenon of political intolerance and self-hatred:
“Comrade Ngxale joined the ranks of those who paid that supreme price. While the circumstances of his death are a mad commentary on our imperial times, in his death he bequeaths a legacy to the living: we should never do to ourselves what the enemy would do to us.”
I have to say, even when the going gets tough and my weary legs refuse to carry me uphill, Cde Paper’s words ring loudly in my ears: “What is left for you and I is to make the sacrifices of all those who paid the supreme price to see AZAPO surviving worthwhile”. He is commanding all of us to make worthwhile the sacrifices of those who died in the course of making AZAPO a formidable organisation with the real capacity to liberate black people. We dare not fail them. Our duty is to make sure they did not die in vain.
Spare a thought for Cde Paper. If he did not love black people he would not have been in the struggle. If he did not hunger for the reconquest of the land and liberation of black people, he would not have been a member of AZAPO. If he was not a member of AZAPO, he would not have died in the manner he was murdered. He most probably would have been alive today. One is merely dissecting Cde Paper’s cry.
Perhaps we are overthinking the whole thing. What if Cde Paper got a bursary that would have taken him to a university away from the circumstances of his death? Consider the fact that Cde Paper eventually gathered some meagre funds to take him to Ongoye or the University of Zululand in 1986. Ongoye had accepted him. He boarded a train in the early year of that murderous 1986. He was to disembark in Bloemfontein and board a treacherous exchange train that was to take him to Durban. That exchange train delayed for almost 24 hours. He eventually got to Ongoye a day after the registration process had closed. Every mishap and misstep was making sure to deliver him to his murderers. His time had come. His forced return to PE was the beginning of the last chapter of his life on earth.
As if his treacherous death was not enough, the “freedom fighters” who murdered Cde Paper vowed that he would not be buried at his home. In the realm of Afrikan Spirituality, it is critically important for the deceased to be returned home and make their final departure from the court of their home. Every true Afrikan understands this necessary cultural process. His funeral service had to be hurriedly conducted from where the feud-displaced members of AZAPO were based in Grattan Street in New Brighton. It is a sad irony that the “freedom fighters” would not allow Cde Paper’s mortal remains to be buried from his home, yet the rejoicing enemy allowed him to be buried anywhere for as long as their dirty job was done.
The murder of Cde Paper was therefore double as painful. Did Cde Paper’s murderers consider the pain that his ailing mother and family were going through? Perhaps the internalised racism and the resultant self-hatred forbade them to have that human touch. They were the well-done products of the system of white racism. Because they were made to hate themselves, they also hated everything that looked like themselves.
Cde Paper’s discipline and commitment to the liberation of black people was unbelievable. Nothing could intimidate or deter him from his noble mission. He demonstrated the level of discipline that was narrated to me by the former BCMA Secretary for Defence and AZANLA Commander Cde Nkutśoeu Skaap Motsau. He told me if an AZANLA guerrilla was assigned a military operation, they could not advance an excuse that the mission could not be executed because a train delayed them at the rail crossing. He said they would deal with you until you learned to cross the rails before the train came. Cde Paper always had the discipline to cross the rails before the train came. Cde Paper’s dedication found expression in Mukhtar’s statement of commitment: “I will not leave this place until I achieve one of the two highest levels; martyrhood or victory”.
AZAPO will remain forever indebted to Cde Paper’s late parents Mr Wilson Zenzile and Nofezile Ngxale the daughter of Mtshawulana; and the broader families of amaCirha and amaKheswa. It is worth mentioning that the late former COSAS President Wandile Zenzile from 1980 to 1982 was the son of the brother of Cde Paper’s father, which makes Comrades Paper and Wantu, brothers. Our gratitude extends to the communities of Cradock and Alice where Cde Paper’s parents are originally and respectively from. We thank them for lending us a solid and grounded Son of the Soil in Cde Paper. Our gratitude covers Cde Paper’s late younger brother Cde Andile (guerrilla name, Mandla) who, following Cde Paper’s tragic demise, joined the AZANLA Forces and underwent the highest level of commando training in Libya.
We remain stubborn in our conviction that Cde Paper is “a thousand winds that blow”. You cannot stop the wind from blowing. You cannot kill the wind. Let the “thousand winds” blow through every one of us. Let the “thousand winds” blow in Azania and give us strength to fight for the reconquest of our land and total liberation.