Thami ka Plaatjie writes that Clarence Makwetu carved a niche for himself, and his party in the annals of the struggle for liberation.

I took a road trip to meet Clarence Mlamli Makwetu in Cofimvaba in October 2008. The vast expanse of Eastern Cape countryside was inviting

Crossing Igqili (Orange) River, I am reminded of the many historic wars waged on its banks. Passing Jamestown, I reflect on the Poqo fighters from this tiny town who were sentenced to terms on Robben Island. Ntlonze Hill in Queenstown was the scene of combat between Poqo fighters and the racist police. Most of the Poqo fighters fell, others were hanged.

Their remains are among those that are to be interred. This would have brought great joy to Makwetu as he used to speak fondly of friends and fellow combatants with whom he spent time in detention before they were hanged. Makwetu idolised Albert Shweni, who led a daylight attack in Paarl.

We are to meet for an interview about Makwetu’s desire to have his story written, and he has given me the privilege of telling it.

I reach his cabbage farm, Gwatyu, with its vast, planted lands stretching in all directions.

Makwetu, or Zikhali as we came affectionately to call him, looks too formal for a farmer. He wears a white shirt, grey trousers and polished black shoes. He instructs his workers, most of them women, and we walk to a nearby tree for our interview.

Makwetu relates his life story with easy and occasional sadness, anger and pain at the loss of those with whom he waged the Struggle.

He was born in Hoita, Cofimvaba, and speaks of his memories of the place, of the strict missionary schooling in Lovedale and the politicisation this ensured. He mentions an intelligent classmate he longs to meet again, if she is alive. Her father insisted she leave school, although she had been promised a bursary, given the distinctions she had earned for all her subjects.

Makwetu tells how he left the Transkei after a brief stint in Port Elizabeth as a casual worker in the late 1940s. He made the hazardous journey by train to Cape Town, where Africans were not allowed.

In Cape Town he was received by Chris Hani’s elder brother, with whom he was friends. He had a stint in a factory that made children’s toys, but left work after intermittent pass raids by the police.

He soon became self-employed, selling an assortment of goods. The Langa Flats where he was living soon became a haven of Africanist politics. This was given impetus by the arrival of Robert Sobukwe in 1959. The Africanist agitation in the youth league was gaining momentum in Cape Town.

Pallo Jordan’s uncle, Templeton Ntantala, was a leading light among the Africanists in the Western Cape. Makwetu was inducted into Africanist politics just before the Defiance Campaign.

In 1955 the Freedom Charter was adopted. The Africanists quarrelled with it, paving the way for the breakaway that Makwetu supported. After the PAC was banned, Makwetu was detained more than four times. He was later sentenced to serve five years on Robben Island. He was linked to the Poqo uprising since he was the leader of the Western Cape PAC. Robben Island exposed him to the PAC’s national leadership. Selby Ngendane was the most senior leader and internal battles in the PAC soon flared up.

An uneasy peace was brokered after the arrival of Nyathi Pokela and later Zephania Mothopeng.

On his release, Makwetu was banished to Pondoland by the Matanzima regime. The banishment order was signed by a former PAC national leader, Tsepo Letlaka, who had defected to the Bantustan regime and become its minister of justice. During the 1976 uprisings, Makwetu was detained and interrogated for his alleged underground activities.

He was detained again and spent two years in prison. On his release in 1978, he was detained again.

“It was during my detention in Pietermaritzburg that I saw a poster, through the small window in the police cells, advertising the death of Steve Biko. I wept.”

When Mothopeng was released, he sent word to Makwetu to ready himself to lead the internal PAC.

At a conference in Bloemfontein in 1990, Makwetu was elected the inaugural president of the Pan Africanist Movement, with advocate Dikgang Moseneke as his deputy.

He steered a large, militant, intellectual and influential executive committee. After the unbanning of the PAC, he was elected deputy to Mothopeng in December 1990. He gently navigated the PAC through the negotiations process, with its youth wing rejecting the negotiations as selling out the birthright of the African people.

Makwetu was the quintessential Christian gentleman.

He was thoughtful and caring, but possessed a sharp tongue when he had to defend the cause of the African people. He was tall and had regal mannerisms.

You carved a niche in the annals of our Struggle. Your name will not perish.

Lala ngoxolo, Zikhali.

Mqoco, Butsolo Bentonga, Jojo, Mbizana, Tiyeka, Mabomba!

* Ka Plaatjie is adviser to Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and head of ANC Research.

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

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