Kitso Michael Dingake never lost Faith in the Future

Cde Kitso, your son Tebogo, daughters Gosego and Thembi, grand and great-grand children, nephews and nieces, former president Thabo Mbeki, ambassadors, president of the ANC Veterans League, Comrade Vicki Ya Toivo, distinguished guests, comrades, and friends,

I hope that you, like me, are exhilarated by the warmth and fellow feeling that envelops this celebration. It is a gathering that reverberates with laughter and joy.
However, there seems to be something more to this event – something that is energising. I wonder what is it that brings this about.

All of us present here in one way or another are bound together as a family whose roots lie deep in the struggle for freedom. 
It has been a long hard road we have travelled. We are still far from our journey’s end, for that will only happen when we have created a society based on equality and everyone enjoys the inherent right to human dignity.  Though both of us have been in the struggle – Kitso from 1952 and I from 1953 – we only came into face-to-face contact in 1962/63 in the underground. 

Since then, you Mike have always been there to shield me from danger, to stand by me. And Kitso, I hope I have also been able to cover your back. For that is the true measure of comradeship born out of sharing the trenches in the struggle for freedom.  Such is the nature of the friendship that developed between us.

We met at a time when the Sharpeville massacre had taken place; the ANC and the PAC had joined the ranks of the SACP as illegal organisations; our movement had turned to embrace the necessity of an armed struggle.

It was a time when torture in detention became the norm. Comrade Solwandle Looksmart Ngudle became the first to be murdered in detention on 3 September 1963.  Babla Saloojee endured the same fate in September 1964. 

It was a time when freedom fighters had to live with the reality of the death penalty – when, in 1964, Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayingo and Zinakile Mkaba went to the gallows singing freedom songs, and  Mpumelelo Washington Bongco told the judge who was about to sentence him to death: “You are going to hang Bongco, but you will never hang freedom”.

I recall these memories to honour the dead and to remind ourselves that comrades like Mike chose to be in the struggle with no expectations of any rewards and with the full knowledge that torture, imprisonment and death awaited us.

But do not be deceived by Mike’s demeanour. Yes, he has a gentle voice; his laughter is more often a soft chuckle rather than a throaty bellow; his personality exudes calmness. Before any of you associate these three attributes to sainthood, beware! Remember that Madiba described a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.

These characteristics in Kitso are wrapped in a quiet strength, a determination and resolve whose quietness can so easily deceive you. I have often wondered about the source of this inner strength that he shares with so many comrades I have had the privilege to work with, to learn from and with whom I have been able to share a life.

A friendship forged in struggle was not without its lighter moments. There have been times when we failed each other. 

I was living in a backyard in Doornfontein when my wife and I were arrested on 5th July 1964. Early the next morning, Mike dressed himself like a night watchman, and was about to enter the yard when the domestic worker of the front house urged him to run, to disappear because I had been arrested. Mike had come to warn me that I was in danger and should take evasive action! 

I imagine this was not the only time he was involved in a failed mission. But in that, he is in good company.

There was a time when the prison authorities allowed priests to come and preach to us while we were out from our cells into the corridor of what is now referred to as B Section. The first time this happened the priest asked who among us were Catholics and Billy Nair shouted, “Mandela”. So, Madiba had to attend the Catholic service. The next time a priest came and asked who among us were Anglicans. Before anyone could respond, Billy shouted: “Mandela”.

Books about Madiba say he went to the services of all denominations as a personal and conscious act. They don’t know that one day Madiba took it up with us and protested that we were making him do so. To which Billy replied: “You brought us to prison, now you pray for us.” 

 So, yes, Madiba did attend all the services. But the jury is still out about whether his prayers helped us attain democracy.

What is incontrovertible is that the regime committed a cardinal error by putting us all together in one prison. We were able to help pick each up, hold out a helping hand when one faltered and to strengthen our resolve.

Ours was a friendship forged in the furnace of indescribable pain that we underwent under torture during detention. And Mike had the misfortune that even after he was sentenced and began serving his sentence in Robben Island, he was whisked away by prison authorities and handed over to the Security Branch who once more subjected him to torture.

No matter what they did to Mike, it is that inner strength that kept him true to the struggle. It is commitment that enabled him, especially during the worst of times, to look beyond the brutality and the inhumanity of apartheid, to look beyond that darkness and see to the sunlight of the tomorrow we dreamed of.

Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi death camps, captured this spirit, when he wrote that “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual world; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.

Mike never lost faith in the future.

We live in different times today. What we have achieved only provides us with a platform, a beach-head, to create the future we dreamed of. But to be fit for purpose we need not only renewal but also faith in the future.

That some of us lived to see the birth of democracy; that some are alive even thirty years after we propelled out country into a democracy is beyond the expectations with which we entered the struggle. I am sure that Kitso has his moments when, like me, he pinches himself to check whether he is dreaming or whether he is really alive. For we had vowed that we would never surrender.  Ours has been a journey in which so many chose to live by that vow.

So, Mike, we have assembled here to celebrate a life devoted to service. We have come together to gather strength from you and to know how to pick ourselves up when we falter. Your birthday is doubly auspicious: it was on the 11th February 1990 that Madiba walked out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison with a face marked by determination and his fist raised high to urge us onwards with a thunderous “Amandla”. 

On this your 96th birthday Kitso, we say power to you. Long may you walk alongside us so that we gather strength, for our march to freedom is not yet over. Amandla!

On the other hand, Mavuso Msimang has agreed to return to the ANC after getting assurances from the leadership that the ANC remains committed to renewal and does not allow anyone tainted with corruption to accept nomination as a public representative,

These developments demonstrate the power of the ANC legacy and the lengths that certain individuals will go to appropriate that legacy to gain or remain in power – all in the so-called interest of saving the country.

The ANC VL, remains convinced that our legacy is not up for grabs and that it is only the ANC who can address the challenges we currently face.    In the context of an economy devastated by Covid, a complicated geopolitical environment and waning confidence in democratic institutions,  what should the ANC do in its election strategy to achieve an election victory?

Firstly and most importantly in our minds, the calibre of our candidates can make or break of decisively winning the elections. We can’t afford to have ANC members who have brought the organisation into disrepute on candidate lists for national or provincial legislatures.  This includes individuals who have been mentioned in the Zondo Commission, VBS scandal and Motlanthe Commission from previous elections.

As agreed in engagements between the VL and the Office of the SG, all those implicated in the Zondo and other commissions of inquiry must appear before the Integrity Commission and be cleared by them to stand as election candidates.  We believe that this process should proceed as a matter of urgency.

Also as a matter of urgency, the ANC must take action against former President Jacob Zuma who has violated the ANC constitution and against the Umkhonto  We Sizwe Party who may be illegally using the name of the former armed wing of the ANC.

We support the election process and criteria that have been approved by the NEC. We welcome the press statement by the Eastern Cape PEC which reiterated and set out their process of finalising the lists in their province.  

In addition to keeping individuals who have brought the ANC into disrepute off election lists, we need to put credible people on the lists who can be trusted and will restore the confidence of the public in the ANC. The election process gives the NEC the power to add names to the list and we hope that they use this opportunity to enhance the election lists. As the VL, we have been and will continue to monitor the nomination process. 

Secondly, we have to show that the renewal of the ANC is happening.  In addition to having credible candidates, we need to actively reconnect with the people and focus on the conduct of ANC members. This means being humble, listening to our people, going door to door or reaching out to our constituencies, our community leaders and our stakeholders.

We must have functional and responsive branches with branch leadership that respects their members and members of the community. This includes things that look small like asking branch members to endure long meetings while we wait for sufficient members to arrive to quorate and loud hailing early on Sunday mornings. And big things like addressing unethical and corrupt behaviour in the ANC.

Thirdly, our election strategy can’t be about attacking the opposition. It needs to be about messages of realism and hope – of what the ANC has to offer and what the country has to lose if the ANC were to be voted out of power – or be in power in a coalition with opportunistic partners. 

We need to highlight what is at stake if the democratic and socio-economic gains we have made are reversed.  And show that despite the difficulties we face, we have the experience and expertise to continue to govern.  We trust that this is what will be the focus of the 2024 election manifesto.

Fourthly, now is not the time to make unrealistic promises, especially about government money which is not there. Let us refocus on empowering people to be the forces of change – whether it is clean-up campaigns or holding unresponsive councillors from all political parties to account.  As the Veterans League we are working and want to work on partnering with community leaders and councillors on addressing service delivery issues, especially in dysfunctional municipalities.

Our  VL Constitution requires us to mobilise for elections. As veterans, we want to focus on where we can make the most impact. We believe that this includes being a resource for branches, training younger comrades to do electioneering and reaching out to constituencies which respect us.

If we indicate that we are going to vote and can stand proudly behind our list of candidates others will follow. We can bring stature to the election campaign. We will not de-campaign our movement.