Extract from Speech by Oliver Tambo at the funeral of Joe Gqabi (ANC Website
9 August 1981, Harare
Joe Gqabi entered the struggle in his early youth. He was 20 years old when the Nationalist Party came into power in South Africa. It was the beginning of a new phase in the struggle for liberation in South Africa – the phase of fierce opposition to the racist regime whose apartheid policy was an offensive in its own right.
In 1949 the ANC committed itself to a programme of militant struggle involving civil disobedience and strikes… non-collaboration. The response of our entire people was to rise and challenge this new expression of colonial domination.
In 1950 Joe Gqabi found himself a member of the ANC and the Youth League of the ANC. He entered political life, therefore, at a time when the African giant was awakening, making ready to tear asunder the bonds of colonialism which still bound it. He has matured in that struggle.
During these past 30 years which have seen great transformations in Africa and elsewhere, which have seen the decolonisation of the continent up to the point where we have only two countries to be liberated, Namibia and South Africa, aside from the problem of Western Sahara – in that time, 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.
That decade of the 50s saw the intensification of the apartheid system. The brutalities of that system began to unfold. They spread themselves from urban cities to the countryside. And Joe Gqabi was there, telling the truth about what was happening. In the process he was educating the masses on their tasks in that situation and helping to unite them in struggle. He loved his job, which took him to those places where people were suffering most, to the things that were unknown.
Joe Gqabi took himself to the life of the peasants. In 1960 the resistance to the bantustan system resulted in an uprising, a revolt among peasants in the Transkei. It is generally known as the Pondo Revolt. Joe Gqabi was sent to that area and worked with the peasants in their struggle – and it was an armed struggle of its own kind. He remained there until the enemy had completely crushed the resistance, understandably.
But all this was giving him an insight into the nature of the South African situation and building him up as a leader and activist of the revolution.
By virtue of his calibre as a militant, Comrade Joe Gqabi was selected as one of the first four of our cadres to be sent abroad for military training. He was the youngest of them. These four went to China and on their return to South Africa in 1962, Joe immediately resumed political activity, now as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He carried out several sabotage operations.
In 1963 he was arrested in what was then Southern Rhodesia with the group of 28 who were going out for military training. Deported to South Africa he was sentenced and ultimately had to serve 12 years on Robben Island.
This brought him up to 1975 when he completed his sentence. Back in Soweto he was again involved in underground organisation and with the struggle. There was never a fault in his activities. He was in Soweto when the massacres occurred, followed by the Soweto Uprisings, and because of his involvement, in December 1976 he was arrested and was one of the 12 ANC cadres who stood trial in Pretoria during 1977, charged under the Terrorism Act. Because Joe was skilful in his underground operations the regime could prove no offence against him and he was discharged. Subsequently, he escaped into Botswana and from there continued organisation inside South Africa.
Joe Gqabi was capable of making friends across political and ideological barriers, across colour lines. He communicated with ease and effortlessly with generations: young and old. That is why in the Pretoria trial one of the accused was 67 years old, another 20. That is why he was the most effective organiser of the youth – understood them and they understood him.
Joe leaves a record in our struggle which will be surpassed by few. He was certainly a seasoned political leader of outstanding ability.
To say that the enemy has struck us a blow is to tell the truth. He is a positive loss because he was the type of leader who knew how to follow. He was the type of operative who yielded results. He was a leader who in his sector produced results. And it is a test of leadership to be able to produce intended results. Joe Gqabi passed this test with great distinction.
His assassination, however, is not an isolated act. It is, as the enemy himself says, part of a total offensive against the leaders of the ANC, against the liberation movement in all its contingents in South Africa… a bid to destroy all! It is part of a campaign of terrorisation in this whole region; a refusal to acknowledge the independence of African countries; an attempt to defeat that independence. It is part of a struggle for the survival of racism and colonialism in Africa. It is part of an imperialist offensive. Therefore, there will be more Joe Gqabis to bury. There will be more Chimoios, more Kassingas, more Sowetos.
There is nothing bright about the immediate future, because the enemy is not yet about to collapse. But that does not mean anything to Africa. We have not reached this stage of Africa`s struggle in a mere 20 or 30 years. We have been fighting in one way or another from the very beginning of colonial domination, for hundreds of years. We have reached this point: we are near the end – we know it! Therefore come massacres, come Nyazoias, come Sowetos, come Ashdowns, the struggle for the total liberation of Africa continues. We of course in this process have been constant victims of violence. We die in our thousands. In the end we win the war. In South Africa we have died in thousands. The enemy can hardly complain that he has lost thousands.
Indeed, our courageous youth have been blasting the innocent pylons, silent power stations. In return they are dragged to the steps leading up to the gallows. In return you have Matola. But it cannot be like that always. Today, over the heroic corpse of Joe Gqabi, I want to declare on behalf of the ANC that it was Matola yesterday, it is Ashddown in Salisbury today, but tomorrow it will be Pretoria.
We would therefore appeal to the people assembled here, to the people of this country, to the countries represented here, to the world community to be prepared for a situation in which the enemy will be crossing the borders to try to exact surrender and submission from independent Africa.
We stand here, Comrade Prime Minister, while a parliament is meeting in Cape Town, a parliament of a few; while its army is sitting in Angola, occupying African territory after perpetrating untold atrocities. We are here while the people of Namibia are bleeding their way to their independence. This in a way is only the beginning and will be with us for some time, unless the international community and Africa in particular, refuse to sit side by side with racist troops on African independent soil.
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!
His body was exhumed in 2004 and brought toSouth Africafor reburial in Aliwal North. He is survived by his wife Aurelia and two sons, Jomo and Nkululeko.