Programme Director, AZANLAMVA Secretary-General Cde Mbulelo Ketye;
AZANLAMVA Chairperson, General George Biya;
AZANLAMVA National Office Bearers;
BCMA Last Secretary-General, Cde Mpotseng Kgokong;
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words on the occasion of the 42nd Anniversary of the AZANLA Day. You invited me to speak, and so I will speak.
Birth of the Chosen Army
Allow me to choose my theme from an undisclosed but obvious source. “Many are called, but few are chosen”. That is the theme I propose to navigate this afternoon. I will not explain the connection of my talk to the theme. I leave that to you. As I talk, also find a place for yourself in my talk.
As we remember the AZANLA Day, we should not forget that there was a mother who was struggling to give birth to her child. She was pregnant for more than nine months, while she spent several more months in labour. It is difficult for a man like me to explain what labour is; it is even more difficult for a man to try and explain labour to other men.
Labour is best explained by a woman when she confronts a man who is ill-treating and abusing her child. You should see her with her dress pushed into the sides of her underwear. Anybody who knows village and township life knows that you have to vanish out of sight when a black woman is in that mode. Like a hen defending its chickens, this woman is ready to defend her child with her life. She is unstoppable in that mode. Listen to her chanting to the abusive man: “Ndachopha ndedwa egazini! (I was alone when I squatted over blood!). In that sense, she is telling the man he has no right to abuse her child and undermine the purpose for which the child was born.
If it is a fellow woman abusing her child, you would hear her chanting a woman-to-woman line: “Inimba mayibenye, bafazi! (Let empathy be the same for every child!).
By this, I am telling you that the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) could not be given birth to at the appointed time because the forces of doom wanted to make sure that the child was aborted. The BCMA was supposed to have been born in Kenya in Afrika. But that could not be. Throughout all this time, the mother of the child BCMA was in vicious and prolonged labour. In the end, it was born in London on distant lands. They wanted to stop or abort the child’s birth because they feared that a Queen would be born; a King would be born; a Warrior would be born; a Liberator would be born. This had to happen because this was a Chosen Child.
When they thought they had killed the pre-1977 movement (BPC, SASO. etc.), they had no idea that the spirit of the banned BCM organisations would dwell and propel forward the new institutional manifestation in AZAPO, which faced the same fate of difficulties and postponements in being born.
Let’s leave that one for a moment and come to the people gathered in this huge hall. The people gathered here today were trained to defend lives. They were trained to do so by taking lives. They were trained to bring about peace. They were trained to bring about that peace through waging war. That was so because the people gathered here today know the doctrine of contradictions. They know that out of confusion you get clarity. These are (former) AZANLA Combatants. This is AZANLA – the Chosen Army.
The Eritrea Birth Place and the Founding
We are talking about an army that was born in the mountains; an army that was born in the heat of a war in distant lands. I am paying tribute to General Hlomani Mabasa. AZANLA had to be born in Eritrea during the times of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea was fighting for national self-determination. The Steve Biko Unit was assembled to Eritrea to study the art of war and how to form and run an independent and self-reliant people’s army. This study was not conducted in a university lecture theatre or air-conditioned boardroom. The Steve Biko Unit members – Military Supremo Nkutšoeu Skaap Motsau and General Mabasa – had to do their practical learning on the mountains fighting a war in distant lands just to be able to give birth to AZANLA. They were not fetched with BMWs, Mercs or Rolls Royces from the airport. They were bundled and dumped on the back of a military truck. That bumpy and rough ride delivered them into fighting in a war as part of their learning. The Mikoyan MiG fighter jets were flying over their heads and dropping bombs all over the place.
That is how the Chosen Army was given birth to. Not in luxury environments, but on the mountains during a live conventional war. While soldiers of armies that are called find truckloads and stockpiles of weapons and ammunition ahead of them, it was not the case with AZANLA – the Chosen Army. AZANLA was started with no arms. They had to venture out and raid police stations of the enemy and confiscate the arms they needed to fight the war. We were not armed by others; we armed ourselves! The Steve Biko Unit had to use the skills they acquired in the Ethiopia-Eritrea War to make the explosives that were called the “Steve Biko Bomb”. We made our own bombs. That was because AZANLA is a Chosen Army. It is a Chosen Army of God; a Chosen Army of our Ancestors; a Chosen Army of Biko; a Chosen Army of Black People.
While armies that are called find readily available food, it was not the case with the Chosen Army. AZANLA Combatants had to grow their own food in accordance with the principle of self-reliance. The sparing of food was such that it was not unusual for the Combatants to skip some meals. While the soldiers of armies that are called sleep on double-beds and queen-beds, it was a common experience for the AZANLA Combatants to sleep in open spaces and use rocks as their pillows. Because the instruction would have been that you won’t make movements during the day to avoid detection by the enemy, you would have to absorb the day’s heavy rains until well over sunset.
As I pay tribute to General Mabasa, he has to tell us here and now if he intends to betray the history of his rich contributions and sacrifices so that we kill him right here. We may have to do that to protect his rich contributions and the revolutionary history of the Chosen Army. We don’t want any anti-climax. I pay tribute to General Mabasa, a man for whom I would not have hesitated to jump in front of a moving train if he commanded me to do so. Mabasa is the Founding General of the Chosen Army known as AZANLA. They trained the AZANLA Combatants and deployed them in Azania to fight alongside the Azanian Masses. They set up Guerilla Cells and initiated some skirmishes against the enemy.
The Libya Birth Place and the Take-Off
If General Mabasa was the Founding General, General George Biya was the Take-Off General. General Biya had to undergo advanced infantry training in Libya to be able to take-off where General Mabasa left-off. That is the era when we saw the Chosen Army growing wings and flying to continue the assault against the enemy.
It was General Biya and Commander Mzwandile Isaak Mcoseli who were on some mission when they were ambushed by the enemy forces on 21 June 1990. They crossed the Ramatlabama Border into the side of Azania in what was then known as Bophuthatswana Homeland. They had to use their fighting skills to turn the ambush into a fighting opportunity for themselves. They fought back and held the enemy forces at bay in that Ramatlabama Battle. Commander Mcoseli was wounded when he was moving from one position to another as they were trying to retreat. General Biya was later captured by the enemy forces. I had the honour of attending the funeral of Commander Mcoseli at the Great Daku Hall in Gqeberha. I can recall that during the body-viewing session I told myself I was never going to miss the opportunity to record history with my mind. I generally don’t do body-viewing, unless it is necessary. I paused and stood over his coffin and spotted the wound that probably took his life. The bullet penetrated between the nose and the eye. An attempt was made to push cotton wool into the wound. I wondered if the bullet was still in his head, or it had crushed the back of his skull as it bulldozed out of his head. It didn’t matter. The Chosen Commander had fallen. I attempted a Military Salute with my numb body. I still thought that wasn’t enough. And I added a Black Power Salute.
As the face of the lifeless body of Commander Mcoseli was flashing past as I was marching towards my seat, I went down memory lane. I remembered how neat the brave Cde Zwayi (that’s how we called him) was. During the 1985-6 Feud between UDF and AZAPO, Cde Zwayi would also be helping with cooking and sweeping the yards spaces clean. No wonder that the Chosen Army gave him the position of Chief of Logistic in exile. When he skipped the country he had a gap on his front upper teeth. In exile they got him dentures to cover the gap. For some reason, when I viewed his lifeless body I thought the formation of his mouth hinted that he had lost the dentures.
The Libya Birth Place and the Advancement
If General Mabasa was the Founding General, and General Biya the Take-Off General, General Pitso Hlasa had to be the Advancement General. I pay tribute to General Hlasa. He had to undergo Commando training in Libya for him to be able to lead the Advancement. This was a difficult era because the war-stopping negotiations were looming on the horizons. The Chosen Army had to summon all the available strength and skill to advance the War of Liberation.
Back in 1991, it was reported in newspapers that the Chosen Army was engaged with the combined enemy forces in a “bloody six-hour gun battle”. It was on 6 March 1991 at the AME Church in Mahwelereng. AZANLA Commander Morakenyane Thabang Cobra Motlolisi and Combatant Mashapu Malatji engaged the enemy forces in the Mahwelereng Battle in that holy place. A called army of occupation with no God saw nothing wrong in violating the sanctity of the holy place. Combatant Malatji was hit by hostile fire and fell during the skirmish. Commander Motlolisi had vowed to fight on. He kept on throwing everything he had against the enemy forces until he began to run out of ammunition. Unlike Combatant Malatji, Commander Motlolisi had the choice to depart through hostile fire or friendly fire. He chose the latter. It was at that critical time that he signaled to the enemy forces that he was surrendering. When they were about to force him into one of their police vans, he accessed his last hand grenade and detonated it, thereby killing himself and some enemy soldiers. That was a Chosen Commander.
The memory of an AZANLA Platoon marching at the Maokeng Stadium is shining in my mind. I can see the Commander of that Platoon marching towards AZAPO Deputy President Nchaupe Mokoape to hand over a message from AZANLA Commander-in-Chief Mosibudi Mangena who was based in Harare in Zimbabwe at the time. I can hear my Deputy President chanting that “sisayinde ngegazi” (we signed with our blood). I remember how enthusiastic we were to think that we could march from the stadium to the cemetery that was quite distant. But we accomplished that march.
I pay tribute to General Hlasa, that Advancement General who kept the boots of the soldiers of the Chosen Army on the ground and advancing. Like I said about General Mabasa, if the three Generals are about to betray their rich contributions and sacrifices in their leadership of the Chosen Army, let them take us into confidence so that we could kill the whole three of them. If they stand in one line, one behind the other, one AK47 bullet would be enough to separate them from their rich contributions and sacrifices. We want to remember only the good from them.
We have talked about the Chosen Army being given birth to on the mountains of distant lands. But this Chosen Army of Biko was so great that it could not have been given birth to in one day. This Chosen Army knew that it could not work for it to engage the enemy forces in bases as far as Sudan, for instance. Anyway, AZANLA was not recognised and never given any support by bodies like the OAU and UN. We were On Our Own. Even Zimbabwe that hosted us had to do so under diplomatic pretences and turned a blind eye to some of our activities that went beyond the conditions of our stay. It is against this background that the Chosen Army had to develop the capacity and military discipline to establish bases behind the enemy lines in Azania. When they directed their binoculars looking for AZANLA in some Sudan, we were behind them. We had our military bases on the Qwaqwa Mountains (Mont-Aux-Sources). We had our bases in places like the caves on the Sekhukhune Mountains or (Donkerhoek Mountains). During the “verification” process of Military Veterans, the authorities maintained that it was impossible to establish any military bases in those remote areas. As a result of that disbelief, some of our AZANLA Combatants were disqualified.
Let’s Rediscover Our New Mountains
The importance of the spirituality of the mountain in Afrikan culture can hardly be overemphasised. Like the sun, the mountain is a source of life and spirituality. In times of severe droughts, Afrikans were known to hike to the mountains to pray for rain. They would chant, “Ayine!” or “Mayine!” (Let it rain!). It would be raining before they had returned to their homes in the villages. It is these spiritual mountains and rivers that the Chosen Army would resort to in times of need.
It is the same spiritual mountains that Fidel Castro and the 26 May Movement resorted to escalate their military efforts. They left the Mexico bay on the Granma yacht. “Granma” means “Grandma”. They were therefore in Grandma’s safety. There were 82 soldiers on Granma. Ernesto Che Guevara tells us that they took 7 days to the shores of Cuba. It was a difficult situation of hunger and diseases. They spent a further 2 days on the ground with some soldiers fainting. It goes without saying that they suffered heavy losses in their fighting with the Batista’s forces. Out of the 82, only 20 survived. That was when they remembered the Sierra Maestra Mountains to which they retreated. That was to be the place from which they would march to victory. Later, Castro was to remark that he would have needed only 10 or 15 committed soldiers rather than 82 if he were to start all over again.
Earlier, in 1934 and 1935, Mao Tse Tung and the Red Army had suffered such heavy casualties by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces. Mao had been recalled and replaced by Zhang Guotao to lead the Red Army. When things were not going the way of the Red Army, a decision was taken to embark on the historic Long March, which was a dangerous journey of about 10,000km. It was a journey of strategic retreat from the southeast to the northwest of China. It was during those setbacks that Mao was Chosen again to lead the Red Army and the Party. There would still be divisions as one section of the Red Army went its own way in defiance to Mao’s leadership. Mao held on and marched on to the planned destination of Shaanxi in the northwest. They navigated and crossed 18 mountains and 24 rivers. They started the retreat with 86,000 soldiers, and only 8,000 of that number survived from Mao’s side. As such, the Red Army had its own mountains in its 10,000km Long March which was to be the new path that would lead them to victory.
If the Red Army crossed 18 mountains on that Long March, it looks like the BCM and the Chosen Army need to find new mountains on its own Long March. We need to find new Qwaqwa Mountains and Sekhukhune Mountains because the struggle continues in new and different ways for the Chosen Army.