Remarks at renaming of region after Joe Nzingo Gqabi

ANC President Jacob Zuma, Aliwal North, 16 June 2008

Members of the ANC National Executive Committee here present, Members of the ANC PEC, Family of Joe Nzinga Gqabi, Comrades and friends,

It is no coincidence that we are gathered here today to honour and celebrate the life of Joe Nzinga Gqabi on the same day that our country celebrates and honours the 32nd Anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings, a day when the students and the youth of Soweto rose against a tyrannical educational system and triumphed against it.

Comrade Joe Gqabi was closely associated with the students uprisings that erupted in Soweto on June 16, 1976.

He had just been released from a twelve-year sentence on Robben Island in 1975, and soon resumed his work as an underground operative of our movement, gaining the confidence of many young people especially the students who spearheaded those struggles.

He closely worked with the youth them, guided them and taught them about the struggle, the ANC the ideals of freedom and the Freedom Charter.

Where Comrade Joe Gqabi worked at a particular terrain of struggle he always made an immediate impact, and left a lasting legacy.

Hence when Comrade OR Tambo reflected about Comrade Joe's life during his state funeral in Zimbabwe said:

"During these past 30 years which have seen great transformations in Africa and elsewhere, which have seen the decolonisation of the continent. Joe Gqabi has been no onlooker. He was not standing on the touchline. He moved among the youth - an organiser of the Youth League. He moved among the workers. He was himself a building worker and he started and established a building workers' union. That trade union subsequently joined SACTU when SACTU was formed. He has continued throughout to maintain the closest relations with the trade union movement Then Joe Gqabi entered the ranks of the intelligentsia as a journalist and throughout the hectic 50s which all of us will remember, he was reporting for New Age".

This tells us that Comrade Gqabi was a well-rounded cadre, he was an all-rounder, who when given a task did it with dedication and conviction. It was this quality about him that led the ANC to choose him to be among the first four cadres who were selected to go and do military training in China.

He was the youngest in that group.

When Comrade Joe Gqabi completed his training in China in 1962, he was immediately deployed back to South Africa as an uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) underground operative. During that period he successfully executed a number of sabotage operations, until he was captured and sentenced to a twelve-year prison sentence on Robben Island.

In Robben Island he also contributed in developing a vibrant culture of debate that existed in the Island. He was known as a person who did not shy away from a good debate, he differed with many and would not follow the line blindly, hence he was known for not being a "Yes Man' of anyone. With Joe you had to convince him completely, because he believed in the power of persuasion.

On his return he continued with his underground work, and was again arrested for several months. After the June 16, 1976 student riots, Comrade Joe Gqabi was again arrested and charged together with a number of comrades, he was accused number six. The apartheid regime tried to link him with certain events of June 16, but could not succeed as Comrade Joe ran a very disciplined life and always ensured careful planning and preparations. He was acquitted, and soon left the country for Botswana and later Zimbabwe.

The ANC needed a strong person like Joe Gqabi to be placed in a country that was closest to the borders of the newly liberated Zimbabwe, and Joe was an excellent choice to perform that task, of being an ANC representative in this frontline state.

Zimbabwe played a crucial role as a forward area in the infiltration of MK soldiers back into the country. It was for one of the reasons that the apartheid regime hated Comrade Joe so much, such that they attempted to take his life on so many occasions.
They knew that Joe's presence in Zimbabwe so close to their border was a threat to the survival of apartheid hence he had to be eliminated. They feared his skills in organising for the revolution.

They finally managed to kill Comrade Joe on the 31st July 1981, but in their short-sightedness they could not understand that Comrade Joe's life was bigger than just his body, he carried with him an even bigger idea, Joe's life represented the attainment of freedom.

As someone once said "it is better to live and die for a living idea, than to live for a dying idea'. The idea of Joe was an idea that lived and was finally achieved when we went for the first democratic elections in April 1994, while apartheid died in the process.

Many of our people died many gruesome deaths when they were blown away with letter bombs, they were attacked in foreign countries. We have experienced Maseru and Matola Massacres where many of our people fell on foreign soils, Ruth First, Dulcie September, Joe Gqabi and many others died heroic deaths so that we could achieve our freedom. They paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

We must never forget their contributions in our struggle, we must strive to always remember and cherish their memories.

I will like to thank the family of Comrade Joe Nzingo Gqabi for being supportive in his role in the role, especially his wife who fought side by side with him. Without a supportive family structure Gqabi would not have achieved what he did.

I was therefore glad when I heard that Comrades of Aliwal North had taken such a revolutionary decision to honour and cherish the memory of Comrade Joe Gqabi in the manner that you have celebrated him yesterday and today.

By renaming the ANC Region after Comrade Joe Gqabi you have ensured that his name remains forever etched in the memory of our people.

When people who do not know about him pass here will have to ask themselves who was Joe Gqabi, they will learn that he was revolutionary giant of our struggle who paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

As the grieving OR Tambo said, at the gravesite of Joe Gqabi: "The future is bright. The end is glorious; it is peaceful. But the intervening period is dark, bitter and finds its glory in the act of struggle. Joe Gqabi is part of this glory because his life has been exclusively one of struggle for his people, for Africa, for mankind!"

Long Live the Spirit of Joe Gqabi! Long Live!
Amandla! Awethu!!

Issued by:
African National Congress
PO Box 61884

16 June 2008

1153 words