Hundreds pay respects to Kgosana

09 May 2017 | Story Yusuf Omar. Photos Michael Hammond.
PAC Western Cape provincial leader Kenny Bafo, at the lectern, and PAC stalwarts paid tribute to Philip Kgosana at UCT on 26 April.
PAC Western Cape provincial leader Kenny Bafo, at the lectern, and PAC stalwarts paid tribute to Philip Kgosana at UCT on 26 April.

It’s not often that heroes of the past are honoured while they’re still alive. UCT’s Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) branch, which renamed itself after Philip Kgosana last year, was relieved they’d done so before the anti-apartheid stalwart died on 19 April this year.

So said branch chair Khululwa Mthi, speaking at a packed memorial service for Kgosana on 26 April 2017 in Jameson Hall. Kgosana, a Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leader in the province and an international struggle icon in the 1960s, fled South Africa after being arrested by the apartheid regime.

Speaker after speaker extolled Kgosana’s coolness under pressure, retelling how the then-23-year-old UCT student, sporting short pants, came to lead 30 000 people who marched from Langa to the Cape Town CBD on 30 March 1960.

Sabelo Mcinziba, representing the UCT Association of Black Alumni (UCTABA), remarked that UCT historically had a “difficult relationship with vibrant student leaders”.

Mcinziba addressed the crowd, many of whom have been politically active at UCT and other campuses in recent years.

“As UCTABA, our support for you has gone without question but not without questioning,” said Mcinziba. “Through mutual appraisal and accountability, we have pledged to reconsider some of the strategies while we remain steadfast to the goal of decolonisation at this university.

“We draw comfort in knowing that even though Ntate Kgosana’s life took some moderation in particular courses of action, he remained unapologetic in championing the wretched of the Earth in this country and remained committed to the struggle for land and dignity for our people.”

When Kgosana was a UCT student, he was not allowed to live in the university’s residences. Instead, he lived in the township of Langa.

“What Ntate Kgosana and many others fought for when they were here, it seems as if it is still with us,” said Lindokuhle Patiwe, referring to the much-publicised accommodation challenge at UCT. Patiwe, a PASMA UCT member, was chairing proceedings.

‘Our democracy has not reformed the idea of the university’

The buzz escalated just before Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price took to the lectern, as a few hundred PASMA members, mostly from UWC and CPUT, joined proceedings in a whirlwind of song and dance.

“I think that it is appropriate that we are able to unite in celebrating this life while mourning the death and thinking about the significance of this for all of us,” said Price.

If Kgosana had pursued his studies at UCT, he might have enriched himself, had a family, perhaps a business, he said.

“But he chose a path that led to serving others his whole life.”

Masixole Mlandu, UCT student and a leader of the PAC youth in the Western Cape, spoke on behalf of the PAC.

“We are not just in the business of remembering,” said Mlandu. “We are in the business of reconfiguring. Part of reconfiguring is to ask ourselves, have we done enough to resist?”

Mlandu quoted Milan Kundera, who said that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

“We ask ourselves what it means to still pay tribute to legends of the PAC while we are still dispossessed [of the land]. How do we find new ways of remembering [while we are still dispossessed]?”

The musicians maintained a careful balance between celebratory and sombre tones.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, UCT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for research and innovation, reminded the audience that in the days that Kgosana was a student, black students had to apply for special permission to study at whites-only institutions.

“Like black students who get accepted to UCT today, Ntate Kgosana was not an average student,” said Phakeng.

Despite his academic prowess, Kgosana had to leave his studies “because the political project at the time needed him full-time”, she said.

The question was, said Phakeng, how much had UCT changed since the days of Kgosana and his peers?

“The sad thing is that our democracy has not changed the apparatus of the state nor has it reformed the idea of the university. While 1994 provided a solution to end apartheid, it did not reconstruct society.”

Lessons to be learned

PAC veterans and leaders then took to the stage to pay tribute to their fallen comrade.

Keynote speaker Sabelo Sibanda urged the young activists in the crowd to do some “stocktaking”.

“Lessons not applied are lessons not learned,” Sibanda said. “We are here tonight because there are lessons to be learned.

“Do you have a vision for this country? Do you have a vision for Africa? [Philip Kgosana] decided that his relevance was with the people he came from. What is your relevance namhlanje [today], maAfrika?”

Sibanda pointed to a PAC logo. “This is a symbol of pride,” he said. “This is a symbol of greatness. This is a symbol of the future of this continent of Africa. This is a symbol of the freeing of the land of our ancestors. This, maAfrika, is the symbol of the end of white supremacy. There is no other who can challenge the end of white supremacy in this country besides the PAC.”

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