Kebby Maphatsoe, steward of military veterans
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OPINION: Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus pays tribute to MKMVA leader Kebby Maphatsoe who was buried over the past weekend.
Kebby Emmanuel Ramaotoane Maphatsoe (Mosia Motubatsi) was laid to rest this past weekend. And while he may be gone, this fierce freedom fighter will certainly not be forgotten. It is worthwhile reflecting on who this gentle giant was and to ensure that his work and contribution are always remembered by this generation and known by generations to come.
Known to all his friends and comrades as Kebby, this son of the soil was born on December 31, 1962. Interestingly, the month of December may have played an important role in comrade Maphatsoe's life because ironically, he was born a year later after the MKMVA was established on December 16, 1961.
Comrade Kebby was born to Everista Mota and Victoria Maphatsoe. He was the seventh out of nine children. He went to primary school at Kgugamashiu and later in 1976 attended school in Evaton at Leema Mokotuli Primary School. For his high school, he proceeded to Lebone High School, in Lesotho, where he finished matric (Grade 12). After completing matric, Kebby worked as a clerk at Chiawello Clinic.
His life, like so many young people of his age, was shaped by the racist oppression of the apartheid regime. The events of the student revolt of 1976, and the subsequent heightened resistance to apartheid, deeply impacted the political consciousness of the young Kebby Maphatsoe.
As a student, he was involved in the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and was also a member of the Soweto Youth Congress.
Because of his political activism, and outspoken opposition to apartheid, he was targeted by the apartheid regime and was forced to eventually leave the country of his birth, and to go into exile. In exile, Kebby formally joined the ANC, and became a member of the liberation army of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He underwent training in Angola and also received specialized training in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the former Soviet Union and Cuba.
Throughout the time that Kebby was in exile, in the MK camps in Angola and Uganda, he was known as a highly committed soldier of MK, with a clear and unwavering political consciousness. Kebby returned from exile in 1992.
His life, and political activism, was shaped by a deep concern for his fellow MK veterans. He became the leading champion for MK veterans, and military veterans, in general.
In December 2007, Kebby was elected onto the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC at the 52nd National Conference at Polokwane. He used this position to advance the cause of MK veterans.
Kebby was always very clear that while MK liberation fighters had played a central, critical, role in the liberation struggle and the subsequent achievement of democracy, they have not received the recognition that they deserved.
He was deeply concerned that the integration process of MK liberation soldiers into the SANDF was SAPS was flawed and unfair to them. He made it his duty to address this issue and to correct it.
In this regard, Kebby was an ardent supporter of instituted re-ranking processes, for what became known as the Non-statutory Forces within the SANDF and SAPS.
He always ensured that MKMVA, once it was formed, gave its clear support for, and was centrally involved in, ensuring that these re-ranking processes would eventually succeed and that justice will finally be done to MK veterans who dedicated their lives to the achievement of our liberation.
Kebby’s commitment and insistence that MK liberation soldiers must receive their full dues in the democratic dispensation that came about after the April 27, 1994 elections, led him to play a leadership role in the formation of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Association (MKMVA), that was formed by MK veterans. He was always clear that MKMVA was formed by, and for, MK veterans in order to advance their own cause, and the rights that they are entitled to.
Similarly, Kebby played a central role in pushing for the establishment of the Department of Military Veterans (DMV), and also the overall representative structure for military veterans in South Africa, the South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA).
Together with MKMVA, Kebby also played a central role in the drafting and eventual adoption of the Military Veterans Act, Act Number 8 of 2011, that legalised the rights that military veterans are entitled to.
The adoption of this Act, and the establishment of the Department of Military Veterans (DMV), during the administration of then president Jacob Zuma, represented great strides in the struggle for recognition, and full dignity, of MK military veterans, and military veterans in general.
In 2014, Kebby was appointed by Zuma as deputy minister of Defence and Military Veterans, a critical part of his responsibilities was the Department of Military Veterans.
He remained deputy minister of Defence until 2019.
After the 2019 national elections, Kebby returned as a MP and was a Whip with specific responsibility for the portfolio committee on police.
Kebby remained throughout his life a remarkably humble and loyal member of the ANC.
He was deeply committed to forging principled unity in the ANC. No matter what the challenges, he always continued to implore his fellow MK veterans to similarly remain loyal to the ANC.
Thus Kebby accepted with discipline and dedication the Resolution of the 54th National Conference of the ANC that unity must be forged in the ranks of all MK veterans and also convinced the rest of the MKMVA leadership to accept the Resolution and to advance it's implementation.
Together with the senior leadership of MKMVA Kebby worked diligently, together with the peace and stability sub-committee of the ANC NEC, to ensure that the preparations for a unity conference of MK veterans were put in place with integrity and democratic representativity.
Great strides were made and it should be possible to hold an MK unity conference this month, in September, on the basis of that excellent work, to which comrade Kebby made such a leading and definitive contribution.
Throughout his life, Kebby remained fully committed to the liberation ideals and tasks of the ANC.
Under his leadership as president of MKMVA took strong and principled positions in defence of the historical liberation task of the ANC to bring full liberation to black (especially African) South Africans.
Kebby was a true liberation soldier, who understood the meaning of comradeship. He lived this out in his jovial, warm, comradely relations with his fellow comrades.
His unwavering support for president Jacob Zuma, and his pursuit for justice for him and all his fellow comrades, is legendary. In having done so he set an example for all.
Kebby was a man of faith and a deeply religious person. As with everything that he did, his life as a leader in the St John Apostolic Church of Prophecy was characterised by principled dedication.
Kebby passed on quietly in his sleep on Tuesday, August 31, at the age of 59, at his family home in Meyersdal.
Kebby is survived by his wife, Lerato, whom he married in 1995, their five children, Mary, Victoria, Lehlohonolo, Thabiso and Neo, five grandchildren, four brothers, three sisters, and his nieces and nephews.
He will be sorely missed by his family, comrades and friends, for whom his remarkable life will continue to be a source of inspiration and dedication.
Hamba Kahle Mkhonto!
* Niehaus is the spokesperson of the MKMVA.
** The views expressed here are of necessarily those of IOL.