Akkie Qono grew up in Daveyton, Soweto and matriculated at Orlando High School. That school featured prominently in the Student Uprising of 1976. His daughter Zandile takes great pride in saying that, “He joined the ANC in 1948 and was drafted into the Defiance Campaign of 1952.”
Nelson Mandela was the volunteer-in-chief of that campaign which deliberately broke apartheid laws and challenged the police to arrest the volunteers.
When the ANC was banned in the 1960 state of emergency, Akkie Qono was detained for five months. “Upon his release, he was instructed by Moses Mabhida to leave the country to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
He underwent military training in France, Algeria, USSR and Tanzania.” Following this high-level training he was sent by the ANC to Zambia and Angola as a Commissar in the military wing of the ANC, UMkhonto we Sizwe. In 1980, ANC president, Oliver Tambo assigned him as the ANC Chief Representative in Senegal. He held the status of an ambassador.
Akkie was married to fellow anti-apartheid activist, Sinthie Mary Qono.
Zandile's father was part of the generation of the Mandelas, Sisulus and Tambos. “They were his seniors in rank but his peers at the same time. He was driven by the prospect of the attainment of freedom for all South Africans. He dedicated his entire life to help achieve this," says Zandile.
One of her father’s personal instructions from President OR Tambo was to coordinate the meeting between the Afrikaner delegation and the ANC in Dakar in the mid 1980’s. “I didn’t have the opportunity to ask him about that, unfortunately. It was only recently that I was made aware of those talks and the significance thereof,” she says.
Continuing these recollections, “I remember my father’s military boots which he wore when he would visit military camps around the continent. For some reason I was petrified of the boots when they were off his feet. They used to make me cry hysterically.” One day he made her stand on them while he walked around holding her hands. “It became our little moment from then on. Walking on my father’s boots as a little girl was the best feeling in this world.”
Recognising that her parents worked for democracy, reconciliation and nation building she realizes that there are many challenges but notes the progress that has been made, “We are a young democracy. The effects of colonialism and apartheid cannot be changed overnight.”