Roland was much more than a youth or community activist, says the writer. Picture: Supplied

You think you know somebody - until they die. I have often found myself in the position where, at a funeral or memorial of someone I considered a close comrade or friend, I found out things I did not know.

It was the same this week as I sat at the memorial for Roland Jethro, an old comrade from Hanover Park, who passed away last Sunday.

At the memorial on Wednesday, and in my interactions with family and friends, I realised that there was a lot that I did not know about him.

But I was also reminded of a lot of things that I had forgotten about him. That happens if you have known someone for more than 35 years.

I have always known Rolie, as we have always called him, as a complex person, but I suppose most of us are.

Rolie was a member of the Hanover Park Youth Movement in the early 1980s and we were close friends for a period, even dating two sisters in the area at some point.

But he was much more than a youth or community activist, as many of the people who delivered tributes on Wednesday confirmed.

He was a teacher, an “eco-socialist”, as Zelda Holtzman described him, a member of the progressive Western Province Mountain Club, an avid fisherman, and he loved spending time in nature, especially in the company of young people.

His cousin, Michelene Fortuin, reminded us of a tragedy that had befallen Rolie when he was 20 years old. His brother had been stabbed by gangsters in Hanover Park and subsequently died of his injuries.

This impacted on Rolie tremendously, and I remember walking with him from one end of Hanover Park to the other to visit the two sisters in question, and he would be armed with knives and small axes in his haversack, to use if we were attacked.

He offered me one of his weapons, but I politely declined because I have never been prone to any kind of violence.

Rolie was not a violent person, but living in gang-ridden Hanover Park and with the loss of his brother to violence, meant he considered violence a way of dealing with the problems in the area. Through his community activism, Rolie, like many of us at the time, got drawn into underground activities of the then-banned ANC and its military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe.

After a life of service to the community, he died disappointed with the organisation that he had admired and served for most of his life, which seemingly turned its back on him.

I watched ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs sit through several comments of criticism about the ANC at the memorial.

It must have been difficult to be surrounded by comrades, knowing that many of them had given up on the organisation that brought us liberation but then went off the rails.

If the ANC wants to have a realistic chance of regaining the Western Cape, it will have to think about the way it has neglected people such as Rolie, and by extension, the communities they represent.

All of us have changed over the years, but it was clear to me on Wednesday night that there are many people who still treasure the values that we grew up with in the Struggle.

Many of those people have lost faith in the ANC, as speaker after speaker related at the memorial.

It is difficult to know everything about anyone, because people share different parts of their lives and personalities with different people. I don’t know anybody who shares everything with all their friends.

I hope that Rolie’s death will help all of us to reflect on where we come from and where we were hoping to go as a nation.

It might help us get back on the path that we are supposed to be on.

May his soul rest in peace.

* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media, which tells the story of marginalised communities. 

** Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus