Major-General Mxolisi Petane died earlier this week. Picture: Etienne Creux
I first met Comrade Mxolisi Petane as a fellow soldier of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) soon after my arrest for terrorism in August 1987 while in Section 29 captivity in Pollsmoor maximum security prison.

Isolated from other comrades in a section for non-political prisoners, I needed the inspirational strength of his example of combat resolve to face the enemy interrogation without losing control. 

Our engagement not only reinforced that resolve, but taught me some useful techniques to divert focus from what was done to body and mind during interrogation.

We met again in D-Section on Robben Island in 1988 where Petane was the political commissar responsible for political education (Mrabulu) in the communal cell we shared with about 34 other comrades.

Apart from this, I was also part of a closed group where he specialised in teaching military history of wars of resistance in South Africa. 

One particular skirmish, the battle of Zwartkopjes of 1845 in the Transoranje region, did not initially fit the bill given my previous school history references that it primarily involved a confrontation between the British army and Boer inhabitants in which the former were the victors.

He taught us the decisive role the Griquas played in that victory long before the British army arrived.

It is that same political commissar who in 1995, now a colonel in the new SA National Defence Force stationed at the Western Province Command at the ironically named Castle of Good Hope, who offered strategic guidance on dealing with integration into state security structures. 

I had at the time recently been integrated from the ANC’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS) and later National Intelligence Agency into the new Crime Intelligence component of the SAPS in the Western Cape.

He and I also provided strategic advice on integration to Irish Republican Army (IRA) commanders who faced similar challenges after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

But it was at his son’s umgidi in Gugulethu a few years ago that I met a different Comrade Petane, the father. True to his commissaresque attention to historic detail, he introduced me to his son in full political profile as part of his son’s now extended history and community.

Whether advising on counter-interrogation, teaching the history of wars of resistance, or including me in a team advising IRA commanders on integration, or as father introducing his son to me, you never treated me with narrow nationalist prejudice as a “coloured” comrade of a different political pedigree.

True to your mission as commissar, your regard for me and others as cadres of equal revolutionary standing despite the divisive history of sectarian politics of identity in the Western Cape, always exemplified the principled letter and spirit of our movement’s tradition of non-racialism. This consistently upheld, manifest in both principle and deed, until your passing.

It was an honour to have learnt from you.

Hamba kahle, Commissar General Mxolisi Petane.

* Major-General Jeremy Vearey is a senior police officer in the Western Cape.