Address by Nelson Mandela at the funeral of Harry Themba Gwala

1 July 1995

Comrade Chairperson:
Members of the bereaved family;
Leaders of the ANC, COSATU and the SACP;
Comrades and friends.

Comrade Themba Harry Gwala (Mphephethwa) is no more. And as the cold truth of this reality dawns on us with each passing day, our loss becomes the more difficult to bear.

Mphephethwa's stout heart has stopped beating. And our ranks have been robbed of the company of a unique revolutionary, an honest comrade whose tongue was as sharp as his agile mind.

The untimely and sudden death of Mphephethwa has not only robbed his family of a caring father, uncle and grandfather. Indeed, his departure from our midst is a great loss to the ANC, the Tripartite Alliance, the people of KwaZulu/Natal and the rest of South Africa. Mphephethwa has left a void that will be difficult to fill.

For over half a century, UMUNT' OMDALA traversed uncharted paths with a single-mindedness and devotion that were unique only to him.

Mphephethwa was always at the forefront of efforts of the ANC, the SACP and the trade union movement to organise and mobilise the people for their liberation. When the ANC was banned and a solemn call to arms was made, Mphephethwa organised for Umkhonto We Sizwe. He continued to strengthen the ANC underground leadership until he was arrested in 1964 and sent to Robben Island.

Released in 1972, he immediately began where he had left off. That was the most difficult period of our struggle for liberation. A cold front of fear was sweeping across the country. The brave could only whisper about the ANC.

But still, the confidence of Mphephethwa in the oppressed masses, as the true makers of history, was unshaken. He worked among the people until he was arrested for the second time in 1975 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The fact of his disability, as a result of the motor neurone disease he contracted later, did not deter Mphephethwa. Instead, his fortitude increased with each day. To him, the mission of liberation knew no obstacles. When he was released, he again threw himself into the thick of things.

It was precisely because of the recognition of Mphephethwa's tenacity that the African National Congress awarded him its highest honour, Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe.

During the period of negotiations nobody understood more than Mphephethwa did, that the results of negotiations would depend not so much on our negotiating skills, as on the actions of millions of our people. Mphephethwa did not see any contradiction between negotiations and the need to build the forces of liberation. And he was right. For, in the final analysis, it was the people in motion, who cleared the deadlocks and pushed aside the apartheid regime.

When the day of freedom dawned, Mphephethwa was appointed Chief Whip of the ANC KwaZulu/Natal Caucus. In a sense, he was a guardian of ANC policies in the caucus.

The name of Mphephethwa is inseparable from the growth of the trade union movement. He joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1942 and filed through the ranks until he became member of its Cetral Committee. He understood that an injury to the ANC, the SACP or COSATU was an injury to all of them.

To recount the history of Mphephethwa is to invoke the obvious, yet easily distorted and forgotten truth: and that is that KwaZulu/Natal is one of the crucibles of the freedom struggle; it has contributed its fair share of heroes and heroines; it has produced outstanding leaders of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance. The millions who inhabit this province have always seen themselves as part of South Africa, contributing to its wealth, shedding blood to see to its liberation, striving for peace, and enriching its culture as part of a united nation.

Comrade chairperson;

In history, each individual makes his or her unique contribution. But that contribution is reshaped by the input of others to become unrecognisable on its own. Yet some contributions stand out as monuments, precisely because the individuals responsible do not fear to differ; they do not wilt at the slightest sign of divergence. Mphephethwa was such a personality.

He was brave and blunt in dealing with the defenders of apartheid. But he was equally honest and blunt in raising issues within the ranks of the liberation movement. You would know where Mphephethwa stood on any question. No one was to him beyond reproach.

Personally I was fortunate to cross swords with him on many an issue, both in prison and outside. I would naturally insist that I was right; as Harry would definitely insist that he too was right.

But the abiding lesson from all this is that none of us emerged from such debates the poorer in knowledge; in appreciating issues from different angles; and indeed in forging an enriched understanding of struggle. Such is the unique strength of the ANC.

This is a legacy he leaves all of us, especially the youth. And as he departs, we will all do well to ask ourselves the question, whether we were as forthright to him as he was to us; whether we are as honest as he was.

If Mphephethwa was sometimes too blunt, it is because he knew that enemies of the people were spending sleepless nights to plot the undoing of their organisations. If he was at times too harsh, it is because the system he opposed had treated him with such inhumanity and disdain.

Mphephethwa was a great "political teacher" who taught generation after generation of struggle. Many of today's leaders drank from the deep well of Mphephethwa's political wisdom. But such was the nature of his teaching, that the products of his education, would themselves develop into political giants in their own right; using the tools he gave them to develop independent thought and analysis.

Mphephethwa's ideas were informed by actual struggle. He took an active part in the activities of his ANC Dambuza Branch. He did not say that as a Member of the National Executive Committee he was above his branch. He could submerge into the masses and yet be at the head of them.

It was because of this that Mphephethwa was loved by millions of our people. He was an attraction to the people as he was also attracted to the people. In joy he would burst into loud laughter and in pain he would agonise with the people. He paid a special attention to the problems of the youth and the poorest of the poor. Mphephethwa knew that INKUNZI ISEMATHOLENI.

Mphephethwa fully embraced the strategic moment that political liberation had brought. He immersed himself in his legislative tasks, searching for the best ways to consolidate democracy and improve the conditions of the people. Until his illness made it difficult, I was working with him on a project to build a school and a clinic in the Midlands Region. He had assumed this responsibility with a passion only typical of him.

Comrades and Friends;

Th greatest enemy of the people of KwaZulu/Natal is political violence. There are too many orphans and widows. Fresh graves litter the hills and valleys. Families are torn apart. Now is the time to change all this. Nothing, absolutely nothing, must be spared to ensure that life, limb and property are protected.

The lion of KwaZulu/Natal may roar no more. Yet he is today joining the ranks of Tambo, Mabhida, Kotane, Luthuli and other leaders. He is joining the great generals who fought at Isandlwana; Mavumengwana, Tshingwayo and Dabulamanzi.

And there, he will proudly tell them that their efforts were not in vain. The land is at last in the hands of the people. We are starting along a new road to build a better life. There may be obstacles in KwaZulu/Natal. But guided by the spirit of these leaders, we shall surmount them - so that the people of this Province and the rest of South Africa can truly know peace and prosperity.

To Mfana, Linda, Lindiwe and other members of the family: Please, know that we are with you at this difficult moment. Your loss is our loss.

The valleys of a thousand hills may no longer echo to Mphephethwa's booming laughter. They may no longer reverberate to his skilful oratory. But buried as Mphephethwa may be in their womb, his spirit lives on among us.

Farewell Mphephethwa! Rest in peace!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation