REMEMBERING TEBOHO STANLEY “RYDER” MOFOKENG- A GENTLE GIANT WHO AGONISINGLY WALKED A NARROW UNITY PATH TO THE BITTER END AND PAID THE ULTIMATE PRICE. IN THE WAKE OF UNITY AND RENEWAL CALLS HE HAD ALL BEEN THE EMBODIMENT OF UNTIL HIS FATEFUL HOUR, WHAT ARE THE SALIENT FEATURES OF HIS LEADERSHIP, CAN WE DRAW LESSONS FROM IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CURRENT PHASE OF STRUGGLE?
By Thabang Matlole
Just as the curtain closed and the new year was making its entrance, the resultant spirit of the new year that underscores fresh start and optimism capturing all and sundry in anticipation of the year ahead- Teboho Rider Mofokeng, ironically, a soul whose positivity and optimism radiated in the room and all spaces he was at, a gentle giant whose aura and energy would easily rub off on those who were around him- was no more and would not be part of this new beginning! What a tragic way to starting a new year? It was the year 2008 and the period of unpredictable and dramatic events had pointedly begun. A barely seven months earlier, he had been in Roleleathunya, the home of the SACP stalwart and the party’s former General Secretary, the late Albert Nzula- to bid farewell to his fellow former REC comrade, Thabang “Trosky” Lekhobane who had decided to unexpectedly, bow out following a crash that claimed his life, in that one fateful winter night of June in 2007.
While he and his comrades were still reeling from this pain and trying to reconcile themselves with the loss of one of their own, at the political front, the developments were not going to pause in solidarity with their grief or wait for them to regain their strength. Predictably as it was to be expected, December had fast come knocking as did indeed the moment of truth! This was a month which would decidedly prove to be a future defining season for the country! The historic event, the ANC’s National Conference, in the northern region of our country was poised to take place in the beautiful Limpopo’s capital, the great Polokwane as some have seminally referred to it, owing to the significance of this watershed moment. As we would all know and remember, the new leadership would be elected and a new period of sweeping changes in the ANC and indeed in the state, would intricately coincide thus marking a new era in the movement and in the state, thus redefining the political landscape as we know it.
As the saying goes, all the rest is history! You may correctly be wondering what significance does this exercise of underlining these historical timelines serve and how does the reflection on the developments around that period benefit us, especially in relation to the intended purpose for which this article was written? Better yet, what lessons can we draw from this poignant period during which we would lose such an important figure in our beloved Region and (the Free State by extension), particularly in remembrance of this great son of Xhariep. Before I answer this legitimate question, allow me to respectfully indicate to you that Comrade Rider was born in April, which has markedly proven to be a special period in our country’s revolutionary calendar in that, it is a month associated with distinct events that have profoundly turned history on its head and established enormous landmarks in our country’s history of liberation.
To mention but a few, it is during this month that we lost one of South Africa’s most beloved sons, Martin Thembisile Hani about twenty-eight (28) years ago! This great son of the soil needs no introduction in terms of his role and standing in the liberation struggle, hence I would not regurgitate his significant stature in the country’s revolutionary struggle, and indeed his role as a symbol of hope and courage in the people’s united quest to overthrow the beleaguered and illegitimate white minority regime. We also lost another heavyweight in the form of the longest serving ANC President, comrade OR Tambo- a giant whose unapparelled leadership set an enviable standard that we mere ordinary folks and those who are in any leadership role at all levels of his movement alike- would have to aspire to if we are at all worthy of being associated with this iconic name.
We also lost a great combatant and operative of the ANC’s armed wing, when the apartheid regime executed a selfless patriot and revolutionary, the young Solomon Mahlangu more than four decades ago during this very month. Also, perhaps more importantly, it was also during this month that the country held the first democratic elections in which all citizens were able and allowed for the first time, to partake in determining the future of their country in an inclusive process. Because last month marked a month in which this inimitable figure was born, it was befitting that we make some recollection about what he stood for, as we strive to preserve his legacy while we also seek to gather strength and inspiration during this period of turbulence and uncertainty, thus we try to share our shaky ideas in reviewing the life of this gentle giant who walked the narrow unity path until his untimely passing on.
When revisiting the lives of figures that have touched our lives, like comrade Rider who pointedly left an indelible mark, it would be common cause that we are tempted or inclined to narrate their biography, as this easily enables us to obviously cover in a succinct fashion, their life story from their upbringing, up to when they departed. With the celebration of this giant’s life, I intend departing from what would ostensibly be a tempting practice and with your permission, allow me to betray this temptation and dwell mainly on his important contribution in the herculean task of building Xhariep as we know it and by implication, his contribution in the ANC’s Free State politics broadly.
It is my hope with this exercise, that a sense of renewed energy will be triggered in honouring this selfless patriot who never sought accolades and perhaps somehow, we shall learn and take notes from how he prophetically led as well as internalized in deeds and words the message of unity, which is sacrosanct, let alone imperative to sustainably safeguarding the ANC’s continued existence. It is also my wish that those who would have heeded the call by the ANC’s clarion call that they will all without fail, resolutely labour to undertake this painstakingly difficult and yet necessary process of “unity, renewal and reconstruction” as a vital injunction to the survival and continued existence of the movement, but also importantly to the attainment of the ideals of the National Democratic Revolution. We can therefore in this tribute summarise his role in the process of unity and renewal in two-fold:
1) at the level of his beloved movement and
2) in terms of how this found expression in the context of government
At the level of the ANC, it would take a whole article dedicated towards his role and contribution in the anti-apartheid-colonialism struggle but for purpose of this review, we will just touch base with a few, in term of some of the events that strongly suggested and substantively proven that he led a life of a unifier and a true cadre the ANC needs today more than ever before.
In the message of support as the then Deputy Chairperson of the ANC-Smithfield Region to the ANC Youth League’s 1st Congress in Mofulatshepe, Rietpoort Hall, he challenged the League’s delegates to equip themselves in their preparation for the future role in ANC leadership. He spoke at length about the importance of ANC unity and how young people are central to struggles for social change. He challenged the Congress to revisit the extent to which the Nationalist Party had used education as a political instrument of continued racial oppression and subjugation and what should be our response at the time in changing this reality- a task with benefit of hindsight- we admittedly did not apply ourselves adequately to. He was an ANC cadre who relished at any task of contributing to the strengthening of the ANC, no matter how menial or lacking in prestige that role was. To demonstrate this point, despite having led in a collective that had steered the ship in difficult conditions, this did not make him feel entitled to be elected into the REC which was being elected in the same day, just about a Kilometer away from the League’s congress Venue, let alone did he identify a position for himself.
He did not believe in the force of intimidation or coercion as an instrument of support mobilization or to win respect through instilling fear or by maneuvering his way with the intention of making his fellow comrades to hero-worship him, a very common phenomenon in the Mass Democratic Movement today. Instead, he believed in the power of winning over his followers including those who did not agree with him, in the realm of the battle of ideas. His stature and eloquence were the qualities that made him stand out from his peers and easily made him to command followership. He embraced with all his heart, the intellectual fervor to analyse society and developments, and was a thinker who immersed himself in literature and valued that dearly that he inspired many of us in the Youth Movement to “inquire why things are the way they are” as Che Guevara gives counsel to young people of Cuba. He influenced most of us in the Youth Movement to study the Cuban revolution, for he was an admirer of Cuba and her people in their struggle for self-determination.
My former comrades in the ANC Youth League and indeed those who served in the ANC at the time- will remember how for the first time, a tendency of winning the conference through block voting took place and yet despite this unpleasant and foreign tendency- he still accepted the call to serve with those who had won the Conference through the unusual methods of privileging quantity and numerical strength over superior logic. For, to him it was never about amassing titles and positions but to serve his country and her people. When his organization in the Region had now officially become embroiled in devastating factions that had been haunting the entire Province for years, as the Chairperson of Xhariep Region at the time post the realignment process in 2000, he reportedly asked one of his RWC comrades to go and preside over one of the Branches that had been a hostile place for his REC.
When asked by this RWC colleague, how he should approach the BGM in that Branch, he simply retorted: “nothing out of ordinary” other than what the constitution directs us to do “because the organization is important than our individual desires” he continued. In an organization afflicted by a cancer of ructions and factionalism, it would have been an easy way out for him to instruct his fellow RWC comrade to factionally organize a platform constituted by a select few or factionally aligned members and report that as a legitimate forum, with all the outcomes ratified as such. In very strange and unexpected circumstances, the PEC in 2006 decided to disband the REC led by comrade Ryder and arbitrarily put in place an RTT which would be amenable to the dominant agenda of the day. Despite this RTT being one sided and not inclusive of all the divergent views, Comrade Ryder subordinated himself to the organizational discipline and silently walked away from public eye.
This takes us to the point in terms of which I have already categorized as our second aspect of his contribution, that is to say, his role in the construction of the progressive developmental local government system. In ANC Today letter from the President, June-July 2006 edition, carrying the title “The revolutionary tasks of Mandarins”, former ANC President- President Thabo Mbeki indicates that in terms of our constitution the ANC led administration is enjoined to discharge the responsibility to among others;
heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and,
build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.”
Former President further charges that this Public Administration requires, in the fulfilment of these fundamentally important tasks, a skilled, educated and dedicated leadership cadre. He further states:
“It needs at its head its own ‘Mandarins’ – the skilled managerial leadership without which it cannot function as one coherent machine, loyal to the Public Administration principles specified in our Constitution – as well as the overall leadership of the national democratic revolution.” Having proven himself as a servant of his people, comrade Rider was identified as one of these revolutionary mandarins to lead the establishment process of Xhariep District Municipality as the 1st Executive Mayor of this newly found entity, a responsibility he reluctantly accepted after rigorous process of persuading him to resign from his professional job he had been happily serving at as an Educator, despite the appeals and glamour that come with the new position for which he was earmarked. Comrade Rider had envisioned a Region that is self-sustainable and capably empowered to provide necessary services in the fundamental task of changing the lives of the people in this District for the better.
As the great Latin American thinker and Cuban revolutionary, Jose Marti warned: “To govern well, one must attend closely to the reality of the place that is governed,” comrade Rider relentlessly pursued the establishment of our District, cognisant of this important undertaking. He and his colleagues in the inaugural council, will be remembered for having fought hard for the sovereignty of the District and to this effect, building the Municipal Headquarters. In his inaugural speech, he strongly believed that while the construction of the N1 which passes through the District was of an important developmental benefit in the broader context of infrastructure development, it however had undesirable consequences for the District which bore devastating results for our District. He believed that the road took economy out of the towns, especially those that are lying on this route as road users were no longer spending their cash in these towns.
He, together with his comrades in the council, campaigned tirelessly for Xhariep to be declared a nodal point. When he was finally removed through politics that had become rife in his Region, where he was not ousted for poor performance or incompetence but for nefarious factional ends, he continued to serve and avail himself in the service of his people away from the limelight. Despite having endured an onslaught and brute of factions and having subjected himself to the discipline of his movement, he became a target and paid dearly with his life. Pursuant to the disbandment of the REC and after he had vacated the office as the Executive Mayor, we saw our District fall behind and derailed from the strategic direction it had been geared towards. With his departure, a new enemy was birthed and has been unabatedly growing in leaps and bounds. This enemy is in the form normalised poor provision of services to our communities.
This enemy comes to the fore, in the form of rampant corruption which deprives our poor District and communities, of the basic services they so dearly need. Comrade Ryder would not have been a saint but the hallmark of his leadership was centred on good governance and was mindful of the need to deliver services to communities in the District, a task he took seriously an ANC deployee in government. Thus, we dare declare that he was truly a gentle giant who agonisingly walked a narrow unity path to the bitter end and paid the ultimate price. In his memory, comrades in his Region should unite in pursuit of renewal and reconstruction to ensure that his vision for a self-sustainable District that has achieved economic growth through infrastructure development, that has created economic opportunities for youth owned enterprises, empowerment of women, that has created jobs and provided quality services and more is achieved. I challenge all generations of activists from our Region both in the youth movement and ANC broadly, wherever they are-to find one another in seeking answers to the difficult questions about the Development of their Region.
Thabang Matlole is the former Secretary of TJ Mrwetyana Branch and former ANC Youth RWC member and he writes in his personal capacity.