Only three leading ANC members pitched up for an event in Port Elizabeth honouring some of the party’s greatest struggle heroes.
The unveiling of a Heroes’ Acre wall of remembrance at the Zwide cemetery to honour stalwarts such as Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Florence Matomela, Sipho Hashe and Sizwe Kondile, among others, was organised by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
However, Bay mayor Athol Trollip, in his address, acknowledged the work done by the previous ANC administration in initiating the R890 000 project.
“I don’t want to claim any victories as this was the initiative of the previous government,” he said.
“We are coming here to pay respect, it is not a party political thing.”
The families of the struggle heroes attended the event, but leading ANC members were thin on the ground, with only councillors Buyisile Vani (Ward 26) and Siphiwo Plaatjies (Ward 45) and ANC branch leader Mike Xego turning up.
Businessman Mkhuseli Jack was also present.
The unveiling was initially scheduled to take place on September 24, Heritage Day, but was postponed due to bad planning and complaints from the ANC that it had to be discussed within the party’s structures.
Yesterday, a protest at the cemetery threatened to disrupt the event, but it eventually went ahead smoothly, led by Trollip and his deputy, Mongameli Bobani.
The protesters had barred a service provider earlier from erecting a marquee at the memorial site.
The DA’s Nqaba Bhanga and the EFF’s Zilindile Vena led the families in song and Bobani danced.
Speaking at the event, Trollip said: “This country comes from a painful history and the legacy is still here. “Reconciliation is an ongoing problem. “I would like to see more names of other political parties added on this wall.”
“As we heal the wounds of this country, people like Molly Blackburn should be put on this wall.”
He encouraged people to take care of the site.
“You will be embarrassed to visit the Cradock Four memorial site or the Langa memorial site,” he said.
“We need to take care of this memorial site as it reminds us of where we come from and how many people sacrificed so much for the freedom of this country.”
Xego said he had been asked by ward councillors to attend and speak on behalf of the ANC.
“I came here on behalf of the ANC and these people honoured here are members of the ANC . . . we are claiming this as our victory,” he said.
Asked later why they had not attended the ceremony, ANC caucus leader Bicks Ndoni said the party had wanted to first discuss the matter with the new political administration.
“This is a high-profile event in our view and we wanted to plan it accordingly, ” he said.
“We also wanted to have discussions with the new administration as this is a political matter. “They went ahead . . . without respecting the ANC’s views. “The unveiling was just for their political gain. “We made a fair request to them to wait until the matter had been discussed properly by the provincial structures of the ANC.”
It was an emotional day for some of the families as the event took them down memory lane.
Hashe’s daughter, Mandisa, said she remembered her father’s words.
“I remember him saying: ‘South Africa belongs to all. We are fighting for a non-racial struggle’,” she said.
“I am happy that the mayor acknowledged that he is not the one who initiated this process. “As families, we are happy that he took it forward.”
“All the heroes sleeping here have their dependants who need to be beneficiaries of the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association housing projects.”
Pat Kondile could not hold back tears as he read a message on apartheid martyr Sizwe Kondile’s tombstone.
He said it was always emotional to talk about his cousin.
“He was close to our hearts and died at a very young age,” Kondile said.
“He died doing his LLB degree and all those things flood one’s memory. “However, having his name appear on this wall means a lot for the family as it shows that he is not forgotten.”
ANC activist Mzolisi Dyasi asked for the streets of Nelson Mandela Bay to be renamed after the struggle heroes.
“You have offices, boardrooms – name those places after these people. We can’t have our street named after someone from America,” he said.
At the Wall of Remembrance, visitors are able to read about the contribution of all the honoured heroes.