Ordinarily, the death of any human being is a tragedy. There is however a deeper tragedy in the death of a revolutionary and there are a number of reasons for this.
Being classified as a revolutionary presupposes a number of things. It presupposes that you have taken the decision that, your life is no longer your own and that it is now dedicated to a cause far more supreme than your personal aspirations.
It presupposes that you have decided that you will consciously deny yourself some of the benefits (material and otherwise) that you would have ordinarily enjoyed as someone who simply wanted a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
It also presupposes you have taken a decision to put your life and livelihood at risk because, by choosing the path of revolution, you are essentially choosing the path of death and other kinds of dangers.
A cloud of sadness has enveloped the land of Kgosi Galeshewe. The great Chris Matlhako has ceased to breathe.
Comrade Matlhako, as he was affectionately known, joined the liberation struggle in his teens and I don’t think at the time of doing so, he fully understood the implications of this monumental decision.
He joined the struggle when the only reward for one’s involvement was detention or death. Because of his activism, he attracted the attention of the apartheid security branch.
This resulted in him suffering constant police harassment, detention, and brutal torture. In April, 1985, aged only 18, he was brutally tortured by the apartheid security police and had to be hospitalised.
As a political activist, he served our people through the various structures of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), the South African Students Congress ( SASCO).
The United Democratic Front (UDF), the Galeshewe Youth Organisation (GAYO), the Young Communist League (YCL), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the African National Congress ( ANC) and the trade union movement.
In all his various political roles, he served our people with loyalty, dedication, diligence and honesty. One of his major political contributions was in helping to lay the basis for the establishment of the first democratic government of the Northern Cape, in the aftermath of the 1994 general elections.
He served in the first democratically elected Northern Cape Provincial government, under its first premier, Ntate Manne Dipico.
Those who worked with him in the public service, talk glowingly about his role in helping to set up the first cabinet and governance systems for the Northern Cape provincial government.
During the same period, he also helped to build solid relations with the governments of among others, Namibia, Sweden, China, Botswana and Cuba.
As a person, he was deeply intellectual and had a profound appreciation for the value of ideas and their capacity to propel society into higher dimensions of development.
His political peers and interlocutors testify to his fascination with and grasp of the ideas of theoreticians and philosophers such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Fredrich Engels, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Rene Descartes, Amilcar Cabral, Ernesto Guevara, Augustino Neto, Frantz Fanon and many others.
As a student of dialectics and the materialist conception of history, he was a committed reader and saw his travel across the world as part of sharpening his outlook and grasp of the laws of social development.
He was a prolific writer, who wrote on literally any subject that concerned the human condition and more particularly, the oppressed of the world.
In fact, over time, he produced a body of high-calibre political literature, including aspects of native anti-colonial resistance of the 19th century in the Northern Cape.
I believe his body of written work can form part of the ideological and theoretical training of today’s younger activists in the Congress Movement.
He was not just an internationalist in theory, but also in practice. He didn’t just shout the slogans of international solidarity and anti-imperialism from the comfort of conference podiums. He actively and physically supported the struggles of the oppressed peoples of the world.
This is why it was not surprising that, as soon as the news of his passing became public, a flood of messages and tributes from literally across the world, started streaming in.
These were messages of condolences and tributes from progressive governments and movements across the world. From the Afrikan continent, the Middle East, especially the people of Palestine, the Caribbean, especially the people of Cuba, Latin America especially the people of Venezuela and North America and Europe.
Today, we stand in the towering presence of the legacy that he has bequeathed to us. A life from which we can learn valuable lessons about the struggle for a world that is free of the oppression of man by man.
But also, a life from which we can learn what it means to be human in a world in which the hegemonic value system is one that wants us all to be believe that, for everything to have value, including human relations, it must first be measured in monetary terms.
To me and many others of my generation, Comrade Chris Matlhako was both a big brother and political inspiration.
For us, his life teaches us that, as a leader of our people, you must never allow the occupation of state or political office to tamper with your connection to ordinary people.
This is why, in spite of his global stature, each time he came home to Ga-Kgosi Galeshewe, you would see him in his All Star sneakers, sitting with ordinary folk at one of the street corners.
Something that the Guyanese revolutionary intellectual and scholar Dr Walter Rodney, describes as ‘Groundings With My Brothers’.
This is also why he didn’t go around demanding to be respected by people, especially those younger than him. In fact, he is one of the few of whom it can be said the title ‘Grootman’ was not thrust upon him, but he earned it.
His life teaches us that, as a leader of our people, you must take an active interest in the development of your own community and in particular its young people.
If you walk around the streets of Ga-Kgosi Galeshewe and speak to young people, you will hear many stories from young people who were inspired by him to never give up on themselves or their dreams.
These young people will also tell you how he used whatever little influenced he had to open doors for them. I too count myself among the many younger people of Ga-Kgosi Galeshewe, who benefitted from his magnanimity and generosity of spirit.
His life teaches us that, as a leader of our people, there must never be a yawning chasm between what you claim to stand for and what you actually practice.
However, for me, the most enduring lesson that his life teaches is that, the honour of leading our people comes not from the fact that we occupy political office, but rather from the moral authority that we hold in society.
Grootman, as I used to refer to him, leaves us at a time when the project of national liberation is facing an unprecedented moral crisis and coupled with this, a growing sense of disquiet among the masses of our people.
This moral crisis and disquiet among the masses of our people, are some of the things that troubled his soul deeply. Logically, his life compels those of us who still believe in the sanctity of the national question, to ask ourselves searching and discomforting questions, about our own commitment to the national liberation project.
As we bid farewell to our dear Grootman, we are filled with immeasurable gratitude for how profoundly he touched each of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that, many of us are better people today because of him.
For all that he has done for us as a people and the oppressed of the world, we owe him an incalculable debt of gratitude and honour.
It is of men like him that our elder freedom fighter and poet, Ntate Donato Mattera, was thinking when he wrote:
‘Salute the warrior
Motionless on the battlefield
Shorn of life
Yet living evermore
He who gave his last
Gave his sacred best
That we might be free
Carrying our load
He wrote our destiny’
Our heartfelt condolences go to the family, friends and comrades of Ntate Comrade Chris Matlhako. May his name live on forever! Hamba kahle Grootman yaseKasi!
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