Members of the families of Bopape, Dlephu and Motloung;
Members of the PEC and REC;
The Executive Mayor and Councillors;
The leadership of David Bopape zone and branches present;
The leadership of the Leagues, MKMVA and the Alliance;
Fellow comrades and members of our movement;
I would like to convey my sincere gratitude for being given the opportunity to shed some light on the life and unique contribution of one of the outstanding fighters for the liberation of our country, the man who played a cardinal role in the radicalisation and transformation of the ANC into a militant and revolutionary mass movement.
The origins and humble begins of David Bopape
Ntate David Wilcox Hlahane Bopape was born on 22 September 1915 in Houtboschdorp (Makotopong) near Polokwane. His parents, Levi and Jeritta Bopape, were farm workers. His father fought against Germany during World War I. His uncle, Filipus Bopape, gave testimony to the 1917 Native Land Commission on the impact of the 1913 Land Act on Africans living in rural areas.
Ntate Bopape trained as a teacher at Botshabelo Training Institute in Middleburg and went to start his teaching career in 1936 in Tzaneen where he taught Physical Science, English and Agriculture. He moved to Brakpan in 1940 where he got a teaching post at Berlin School and joined the Transvaal African Teachers` Association (TATA).
Bopape becomes a tireless campaigner and organiser
The first campaign Ntate was involved in was called the Teachers` Salary Campaign, of which he was the Secretary in 1940 and 1941. Shortly thereafter, he launched the "Blanket Campaign" to raise the salary of teachers to five pounds a month. Teachers were encouraged to wear blankets as a demonstration that they could not afford to buy decent clothes.
Bopape joins the Communist Party and becomes a leading African Communist
Through his trade union campaigns, Ntate Bopape came into contact with the leaders of the Communist Party of South Africa, specifically Moses Kotane. He immediately found the non-racial and non-sexist politics of the CPSA appealing because he was a radical. Like many in his generation, he saw no contradiction between his religious beliefs and his communist convictions. He subsequently joined the Communist Party in 1940. He was one of the key African intellectuals within the Party and later joined the editorial staff of Inkukuleko, the Party newspaper.
Two years later, in 1942, Ntate Bopape joined the ANC under the leadership of Dr. A.B. Xuma. Shortly after joining the ANC, he became the Secretary of the Anti-Pass Campaign in 1943-44. He also played a key role in the Alexandra Bus Boycotts of 1943-44.
He got in trouble for leading several community campaigns such as the campaign against the criminalisation the brewing and sale of African beer in the townships. He also took up housing issues on behalf of the Brakpan communities. He was expelled from the teaching profession after he rejected the instruction from the Education Department that he must resign from the ANC and Communist Party.His expulsion as a teacher brought the schools to a halt in the Brakpan area when 7000 residents took to streets singing "No Bopape, No School" in August 1944!
Longest serving Transvaal ANC Provincial Secretary and prominent figure in the formation of the Congress Youth League
In 1944, he was elected the Transvaal Provincial Secretary of the ANC. In the same year, he was elected to the first NEC of the Congress Youth League as one of the founders together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Anton Lembede, AP Mda, Willie Nkomo, etc. His role as a leading member in this special generation of freedom fighters has not been adequately appreciated. This underscores the point that young people who have won the confidence of ANC members have always been given responsibilities to lead the mother. "Generational mix" cannot be demanded, it must be earned through hardwork, political discipline, demonstrable maturity by younger generations.
After his expulsion, Ntate Bopape became the first full-time Provincial Secretary, of course without a salary. In order to earn a living, he formed a real estate business partnership with JB Marks.Uncle JB Marks was the President of the African Mine Workers Union, the militant union launched at the conference convened by the Transvaal ANC PEC in August 1941. Marks went on to become the Provincial President of the Transvaal ANC in 1950 and later Treasurer-General in 1969.
Ntate David Bopape and Uncle JB Marks built the Transvaal ANC into an influential and stable province that played a central role in the revitalisation and radical transformation of the ANC in the 1940s and 1950s.During their decade-long leadership of the province, the ANC grew in influence and size across all the townships and rural towns of the Transvaal to become the second biggest province and most influential in shaping radical ideas and strategies of resistance, often in healthy competition with Natal and the Cape provinces.
Ntate David Bopape`s skills and capabilities as an effective organiser and an efficient administrator were acknowledged by Xuma and Calata in the 1940s as well as Chief Luthuli and Sisulu in the early 1950s. Bopape organised and established branches of the ANC in the towns and villages all over the Transvaal, travelling to the Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern Transvaal by bicycle. Although he was never directly elected to the National Executive Committee, he was a pillar of strength for Headquarters, often coming in to help on national campaigns.
He was regularly assigned national tasks in his capacity as the Transvaal ANC Provincial Secretary to organise the Votes for All Convention, Defend Free Speech Convention, Potato Boycott, Defiance Campaign and Congress of the People. He defied banning orders to travel to different parts of the country such as the Western and Eastern Cape to mobilise for the Congress of the People. These were the days when the ANC was very good at using the skills and talentsof all its leaders from different provinces to assist in strengthening the movement in weaker areas. This approach strengthened the unitary and national character of the ANC and undermined regionalism and tribalism. Today, ANC members are too worried about "ubuyaphi", "otswa kae"?
Ntate David Bopape held a record of being the longest serving Provincial Secretary of the Transvaal ANC who served for an uninterrupted period of ten years (1944 - 1954). He was forced to resign due to banning orders. This is record that has been difficult to break.
In all the major campaigns, Bopape always appeared side-by-side with Tata Walter Sisulu, the first full-time Secretary General of the ANC, who also earned an income as a real estate agent. During the 1952 Defiance Campaign, Sisulu and Bopape were arrested together in Germiston after burning their passes. They were fellow Treason Trialists together with other 156 leaders of the Congress movement during the marathon Treason Trial of 1956.
Bopape after the banning of organisations and imprisonment of leaders
After the banning of the ANC and SACP in 1960, he was arrested and subjectedto banning orders made it difficult for him to participate in any political activities. And yet, he insisted that the people should be mobilised to resist apartheid with everything at their disposal.
He is one of the people who refused to leave the country for exile after the movement was banned and argued that "one cannot organise membership from exile or organise in fear of death Remember the highest sacrifice to the struggle is death. Secondly, there is no suffering in exile. The leadership would organise food and other necessities for the camps. At home, you suffer".With the benefit of hindsight, we can disagreewith him about this mistaken view that life in exile was easy. However, many leaders who held the view such as his remained in the country to constitute the backbone of the underground machinery that gave serious political leadership to mass struggles and provided safe houses for MK operatives in the subsequent years when the struggle regained momentum.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he continued to do underground work of the movement working with other banned or restricted ANC leaders such as John Nkadimeng, Martin Ramokgadi and Joe Gqabi.
In the early 1980s, he focused his energy on the church and community struggles. He became as a Preacher of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tsakane and Chairman of Maropeng Resettlement Committee which sought compensation for the people who were forcibly removed from Old Brakpan Location. In that capacity, he fought pitched battles with younger activists and members of the ANC after the ANC was unbanned and re-established legally. He always argued that the real ANC was the one of Chief Albert Luthuli and Tata Walter Sisulu.
On a personal note, I had an opportunity to interview Ntate David Bopape about his life and times in early 2001.Cde Maurice Chauke organised a visit for Ntate John Nkadimeng and myself to go and see Ntate Bopape at his house here in Tsakane. I remember how thrilled he was to be briefed by myself about the state of Gauteng province. There was a very lively discussion among the two stalwarts about how they worked systematically and methodically in fromthe 1940s to build the ANC into a powerful movement. They relived the debatesabout the Freedom Charter, the Defiance Campaign, the debate and decision on the adoption of armed struggle and laughed about Bopape`s refusal to leave for exile. Ntate Nkadimeng admitted that Bopape was a very gifted speaker and articulate intellectual who could make the meeting to change its decision once he made his point.
However, this was vantage Bopape, a man who stood by his decisions even 50 years later. How many of us today take decisions that we can stand by and defend few several decades later? Expediency and populism rule the roost.
Instead of a conclusion: lessons for our generation
Fellow comrades, the question we need to ask ourselves is what lessons can our generation of ANC members and leaders draw the lives of men and women of courage and conviction like Ntate David Bopape, Uncle JB Marks and Tata Walter Sisulu who were willing to forego their professions and businesses in order to serve the cause of the people.
I want to suggest the following five themesas lessons for the current generations:
Firstly, we need to understand the truth that the ANC was built by ordinary men and women who had a mission and purpose. They understood that every generation has to identify its mission, fulfil or betray it! They did their best to leave a proud legacy of a strong movement and a free country! "Freedom in our lifetime" was their battle cry from the 1940s until 1994. They were educated but were willing to sacrifice professional life in pursuit of freedom in their lifetime.
Secondly, those of us who are celebrating the centenary of the ANC today are inheriting the ANC that was built through the sweat and blood of our people. We, current leaders and members of the ANC, are the ones who are destroying the ANC. Often, they look at our conduct and conclude that this is the ANC of David Bopape, JB Marks and Walter Sisulu. We must ask ourselves the question: what is our mission and purpose? How do we overcome unemployment, poverty and inequalities and achieve socio-economic development for all our people in our lifetime? How do build the kind of ANC that has the capacity and capability to serve the people and wield state power in their interest?
Thirdly, in order to rise to the occasion and provide society with an inspiring calibre of leadership that will follow in the footsteps of earlier generations with commitment to serve the people, sense of purpose and clear mission, stature and skill.In order to realise this, we need to dedicate the next decade to the development of cadre who meets the requirements and has the attributes demanded by the new phase of the struggle - moral conscience, competence, integrity, discipline and commitment to serve. Political education and academic training are very central to improving the quality of cadreship and leadership we must give to South Africans over the next decade. Society is getting impatient with our inability to use state power to rapidly transform their conditions and bring about fundamental socio-economic transformation and sustainable livelihoods in our lifetime. In the past, most of our leaders got their political and theoretical and organisational training in the SACP, trade unions and ANCYL, while professional and academic training was seen as a critical area of leadership development. Literacy classes and political classes were compulsory through night schools in order to produce principled leaders. Where do we train our leaders today? What kind of leaders do we produce today?
Fourthly, we must invest in the massive education and training of ANC members, especially the youth of the ruling party. We need to rebuild the ANCYL into a powerful organisation that will attract and develop the best young people in our communities. The first condition that we must put for young people who want to join the ANCYL is that they must be ready to go to school and acquire the relevant skills that will improve their leadership potential. Secondly, young people must be sent to political classes so that they understand and internalise the ways of the ANC. With skills and political training, the radicalism and energy of the youth will be positively directed towards useful purposes.
Lastly, in the past there was no contradiction between being a good and principled ANC leader and earning a living out of a profession or business. Today, the issues of conflict of interest and corruption are real because we control state power and huge public resources. How do we build a culture wherein none of us can ever use our positions in the organisation or state for personal gain or abuse state institutions in internal party processes, especially leadership contests. On the other hand, we must not depend on the ANC deployment in order to earn a decent livelihood. This dependency on deployment is the source of current fights among our members who have no skill, profession or source of income. We need to encourage ANC members and leaders to develop themselves and earn honest income independent form the ANC. This will ensure that we all come to the ANC to serve, not to be deployed or given tenders.
Let us grasp the moment! Let us ensure that the ANC enters the first decade of its second centenary as a movement that is on the road to renewal and fundamental transformation of our society into a truly national democratic society!
Long live the militant spirit of David Bopape!
Forward with renewal to reach another hundred years!