The end of an era - A tribute to Cde Govan Mbeki, by Jacob Zuma, 8 September 2001, Port Elizabeth

During the past week, the entire country has been united in mourning the fall of a giant of our struggle. Messages of condolences have come from all over the world, giving a comprehensive account of the life of Isithwalande Govan Mbeki.

We are gathered here today to pay our last respects and to celebrate the life of this departed hero.

Oom Gov was, no doubt, one of the most outstanding thinkers and strategists of our liberation movement, and indeed, his passing on closes an important chapter in the struggle for freedom and democracy in our country.

It is truly the end of an era, given how the life of Oom Gov was intricately interwoven with the history of this country. He was born in 1910, the year of the Union of South Africa. In addition, Oom Gov passes on just as the ANC is preparing for a celebration of its 90th birthday next year, while he celebrated his 90th birthday last year.

Comrades and friends, Oom Gov has played his role and made his contribution to the liberation of this country and its people, and contributed to the laying of foundations for a stable and prosperous society.

His record speaks for itself. He was a rare breed of a freedom fighter, making an invaluable input in developing ideas at the level of strategy and tactics of the African National Congress. He was one of the few political intellectuals who combined theory and practice successfully.

But he was also much more than a revolutionary intellectual. During his lifetime he set a sterling example of dedication to the rural poor and the working class of South Africa. A disciplined and hardworking member and leader of the ANC and SACP, Oom Gov devoted his life to the struggle for the liberation of his people.

Oom Gov worked in different organisations from organising peasants in the Transkei to organising teachers and workers in the urban centres. His extensive work among peasants in the Transkei resulted in the publication of the remarkable book: "South Africa: The Peasants Revolt."

The taking up of arms by the peasants in Pondoland provided him with rationale for the adoption of the armed struggle later.

Oom Gov was a born educator, and his love for imparting knowledge, for the sake of bringing about fundamental change was unequalled. For him, knowledge was a spear to be used to fight oppression. As part of the process of building the organisation, and ensuring an informed cadreship, he organised political study groups in Port Elizabeth, which ensured that the movement became vibrant.

When time demanded he also organised and strengthened the underground structures of the movement. In this regard, his insistence and punctuality and disciplined proved to be extremely vital for the ANC. In the process he developed and produced many cadres who are national leaders today in government and in the ANC. He had a way of instilling dedication and inspiration to volunteers and cadres of the ANC, which in turn earned him an enormous amount of respect in the ranks of the movement.

His role as a revolutionary intellectual has been recognised throughout the world. For his contribution to the analysis of the South African economic and social formation, the University of Amsterdam awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997. After his release from prison in 1987 he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare.

If there is anything we should learn from Oom Gov, it is the importance of writing and recording our history. During six decades in the struggle, he has left a formidable legacy of producing a substantial body of writing as both a journalist and author.

After leaving Fort Hare with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Psychology, he published a book of essays, titled, Transkei in the Making, in 1939.

Journalism and theoretical writing became one of his principal spheres of political activity after he founded Inkundla Yabantu (the People`s Forum), a fortnightly tabloid that opened up its pages to African intellectuals of every political persuasion.

After shifting base to Port Elizabeth from the Transkei in the mid-1950s, he served as the Eastern Cape editor of Advance, New Age and the Spark, weekly newspapers that were successively banned by the apartheid regime. He also founded and edited Isizwe, a Xhosa language popular newsletter that circulated in the Eastern Cape during the late 1950s.

While in prison, he turned disadvantage into advantage, and produced a book entitled, Learning from Robben Island, which is a collection of essays ranging from political economy, organisational development to an analysis of the apartheid state.

Oom Gov was greatly admired and loved by all the cadres of the movement, young and old. He was a man of firm views and ideas, an independent thinker who resolutely stood for what he believed in.

Oom Gov was a source of inspiration to all, particularly we, the younger generation. To us, Oom Gov belongs to the leadership that had the last authority on the matters of strategy and policy of the ANC. When Oom Gov, Cde Walter Sisulu, Madiba and others of that generation spoke, we knew there was nothing else for us to say. The ANC had spoken.

With our long stay on Robben Island, we the younger generation, also regarded them as fathers. To many of us therefore, in Oom Gov we lost a leader, a comrade, a revolutionary intellectual, a teacher and an organiser.

If we feel the sense of loss so much, we understand how much the family grieves on losing such as a pillar of strength. To Mama Mbeki, whilst you were a revolutionary in your own right, you still had to be strong enough to see your sons leave the country and go into exile, while your son languished in prison for 23 years.

You have led a difficult life, but the resilience and bravery you have shown in the face of adversity is to be admired. To your children, our brother and sister, Moeletsi and Linda, as well as our President Thabo Mbeki and the rest of the family, your loss is the country`s loss.

To sister Linda and brother Moeletsi, you have shown a lot of strength and courage and survived your own harassment and that of your parents as you were growing up.

To Cde President, I know how you feel about this great loss of your father who meant so much to you. You have shown extra-ordinary fortitude to rise within the ranks of the African National Congress, to become its President, and that of the country, despite the difficulties of your childhood, where your father was taken away and imprisoned, while you also suffered intense harassment and hardship. You took a decision that a permanent solution to all of this would be to put all efforts into the struggle for liberation.

Up to this day you continue working for the betterment of the lives of the people of this country, having to deal with numerous difficulties and constraints.

Personally, I feel a great sense of loss as well as due to the time I spent on Robben Island with Oom Gov and other comrades. Most importantly, due to working closely with you Cde President for close to 30 years, at both strategic and operational levels, I also began to seem Oom Gov as my father too. We have survived many hurdles together, Cde President, during those years, we have shared views and have always been in agreement on all issues.

We have also always complemented each other.

Due to working with you closely, I therefore felt quite privileged on being present and sharing the first telephone contact between you and Oom Gov in Harare in 1987, after his release from prison. As Oom Gov spoke to us, it truly felt like a father speaking to us as his sons. Those are some of the memories we will treasure forever about Oom Gov.

Comrades and friends, since the beginning of his political life, Oom Gov was a fervent believer in the absolute necessity of transforming our society to create a better life for all in South Africa.

We should therefore take comfort in the fact that he lived to see the freedom and democracy that he so gallantly fought for. We should also appreciate that he was able to serve this country, as Deputy President of the Senate, after the first democratic elections. In this way, he assisted with the consolidation of our new system of co-operative governance that enhanced our constitutional democracy.

Comrades, as the ANC in Government, we commit ourselves to continue working for the achievement of the ideals that Oom Gov represented. The creation of a better life for all will continue to be at the top of our agenda.

In conclusion, we know that the heroic example of selfless dedication set by Oom Gov will continue to inspire generations to come.

Many years from now, long after our children and even their children have left this earth, after several generations have handed over the torch of freedom - after the passage of many decades - young South Africans will speak with pride and admiration of the founding mothers and fathers of this nation. They will speak of one Govan Mbeki.

Sithi lala ngoxolo Zizi! You have fought a good fight. Ayafa amaqhawe kodwa ziyasala izibongo!