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`Tell them this is not the freedom we anticipated’

Published Oct 25, 2021

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This is an edited version of a speech delivered by former death row inmate and freedom fighter Mthetheleli Mncube as a tribute to his fellow MK operative Mzondeleli Nondula at his funeral, in the Eastern Cape, last week.

“It is a very sad day for me as I stand here to pay a tribute to a true revolutionary soldier of MK and a dear brother to me. I am both humbled and privileged by the request to address you today; however, I must admit I always imagined I would deliver a speech at Mzondeleli’s retirement, not at his funeral.

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Today is no ordinary day. Today we are gathered here to pay tribute to an unsung hero, a fallen soldier. Where does one begin? Being neither a poet or great writer, mine is to borrow from our own hero, a giant of his time Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela, who gave this fitting tribute at the funeral of our beloved father OR Tambo:

‘A great giant who strode the globe like a colossus has fallen.

A mind whose thoughts have opened the doors to our liberty has ceased to function.

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A heart whose dreams gave hope to the despised has forever lost its beat.

The gentle voice whose measured words of reason shook the thrones of tyrants has been silenced’.

People of the world here lie before you a man who is tied to me by an umbilical cord which cannot be broken. We say he has departed. But can we allow him to depart while we live! “

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To Sisi Fezeka Nondula and all the relatives of Mzondeleli, past and present. to the departed and the surviving Commanders, Commissars and the gallant fighters of our glorious People’s Army Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and to those men and women who lie in lonely, secret and unmarked graves here in our land buried by the de Klerk regime.

To those cadres that we buried in exile and we know their graves but for some odd reason cannot be returned home to their families, I want to say, we will never forget you.

Something very tragic happened while we were on death row, Mzondeleli’s mother died of a heart attack. I got the news during my visit and I was asked to pass the sad news to Mzondeleli. I said no I can’t do it; a family member must be the one to do that. I came back from the visit with a heavy heart. Days passed by and I could not tell Zondi, each time I saw him I could tell he did not know anything.

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A week later he got a visit from his late elder brother who broke the news to him. After that visit Zondi came straight to the door of my cell with tears on his face and he told me that his mother had passed on and was buried.

Seeing him in that state left me paralysed and speechless as I could not hug and comfort him. Mzondeleli blamed himself for the death of his mother and he never recovered from that trauma until he took his last breath.

Years later, Zondi had to bury all his brothers within a short spell of time. I hope now you do understand what this man went through all his life. To our Generals and other senior officers, do you now understand what this man suffered?

I do not have words to describe the grief and pain I feel at his loss. I am still hurting so much, I am so shattered by his death and accepting that from now onwards, I will be referring to him in the past tense.

For a moment when I heard of his death, I angrily posed a question to God. Why Lord? Why take someone who has suffered so much in life? The response that came to my mind was God’s answer to Job, when he was overcome with grief and questioned God. God said:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have an understanding. Have you ever commanded the morning, since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place? Have the gates of death been revealed to you or have you seen the gates of darkness?”

Indeed, we are simple creatures and therefore we cannot question the Creator. Ours is to believe that Mzondeleli had completed his mission on earth and God called him home.

I am one man who does not tap dance around the truth. This is the man we failed in the Defence Force, this is the man we treated with cruelty, and we chastised him throughout his life in the Defence Force.

This is the man we once demoted in the Defence Force; this is the man who died without an office since he was transferred to Pretoria from Oudtshoorn. This is the man we failed to provide with a decent military house here in Pretoria, he was cramped with other soldiers in a small dilapidated house called Inkandla, and that’s where he spent his last days.

To the ANC, you too, failed him like many of us. Many of us are now retired, but not peacefully. How can you retire peacefully when you are still hungry and without a decent pension? Many MK and APLA combatants are still battling to make ends meet.

I heard that a big funeral is planned in Mdantsane stadium by the ANC and the Army to bury him with all the respect he deserves, though you did not give him the same respect when he was still alive. A wise man once said; rather give a man a carnation on his lapel than a great wreath on his coffin.

Mzondeleli died without a house of his own, he was a widower and I am told with no children of his own, I think that was as the result of severe torture that he was subjected to. He never even owned a car. All these are the results of what we call Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No one understood that. We never received counselling at all, to date.

Sisi Fezeka and to many families who lost loved ones during the struggle, to Commanders, Commissars and gallant fighters of MK and APLA, may we find solace in knowing that ours was not for personal gain, neither glory nor distinction, but for the noble cause of our time, the liberation of our people.

We fought a good fight, and beyond fighting, there’s forgiveness and peace. And above all, let us take good care of each other and appreciate one another as our ranks are shrinking all the time. Tomorrow there will be no one of us left, not even our legacy.

Mzondeleli Euclid Nondula, I am very proud that we, as members of MK, have succeeded in fulfilling the mission of the ANC under the leadership of OR Tambo.

Our loss is heaven’s gain; may OR Tambo, Chris Hani,Harry Gwala, Winnie Mandela and many others meet you at the heavenly gates. Send our regards to them. Tell them that the glorious Black, Green and Gold Movement that they gave their lives for is no longer the same.

Tell them that MK soldiers are humiliated, starved, killed, called horrible names and that leaders of our former enemies are instead given flowers, hugs, kisses and seats in places of honour.

Tell them this is not the freedom we anticipated. Tell them the struggle continues”.

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