The fighter vs the talker

2013-12-14 00:00

NANA Mnandi, who currently works in the KZN Legislature, recalls Harry Gwala receiving an invitation to visit Nelson Mandela in prison. Mnandi accompanied him as the chairperson of the Natal Midlands Women’s Organisation and they were joined by Durban struggle activist Linda Zama.

Gwala chose to call on Govan Mbeki in Port Elizabeth before proceeding to the meeting. He was irritated by the summons and that there was no prior briefing as to what the meeting was about. He wanted to discuss this with Mbeki (the father of former president Thabo Mbeki).

Mnandi said both she and Zama were overawed at their first sight of Mandela, never expecting him to be so tall. He spoke to them, setting them at ease, while Gwala waited patiently. Ever the ladies’ man, Mandela asked them if they were married and expressed surprise that they were single. “He told us that there must be something terribly wrong with the men in the ANC,” Mnandi recalled with a smile.

She said he took them on a tour of the house, before they settled down to business. “He cut to the chase and told us he was very concerned about the ongoing violence in the Midlands and asked why we were not talking to the IFP. He said to Gwala, ‘Why are you not sitting down with Shenge [Mangosuthu Buthelezi]’.

“The name Shenge made Gwala very angry and he shook his head vigorously, indicating that this was not going to happen,” Mnandi said. Mandela explained he had started talks with the IFP and Gwala told him that he did not understand what was happening on the ground; people were dying.

Mandela said to him: “Mphephethwa [Gwala’s clan name], we are the leaders. We cannot say that people must take up arms against one another.”

Gwala retorted that people were not taking up arms, they were defending themselves and Mandela needed to understand this.

Mnandi said she also felt upset at what Mandela was telling them, she knew of people who had been killed in her area and they were not the ones initiating the violence. “Mandela concluded by asking us to make a commitment towards peace. He asked us to go back and talk to the structures.

“As we were leaving he asked if I could help him since I was from Pietermaritzburg. He said there was a young girl from Imbali, her name was Khanyisa, I can’t remember her surname now, she had been writing to him in prison and had not replied to his letters nor written for quite a while. He wanted me to look for her and find out why she had not written and to let her know that he had organised a bursary for her to study. When I got back I located her family only to find that she had not written because she had died. I could not bring myself to tell Madiba this and later he became the president of the country and the opportunity never arose,” Mnandi said.

She recalled that Mandela paid several visits to the violence-torn Midlands and that his relationship with Gwala remained adversarial.

In October 1993, both men were embroiled in a blistering row in Edendale. Mandela wanted Gwala to resign from the NEC and Gwala accused Mandela of being dictatorial.

A month later both men were pictured smiling at each other at the Pietermaritzburg airport.

In July 1995, Mandela spoke at Gwala’s funeral. In a rare concession to his old rival, he said: “During the period of negotiations nobody understood more than Mphephethwa did, that the results of negotiations would depend not so much on our negotiating skills, as on the actions of millions of our people. Mphephethwa did not see any contradiction between negotiations and the need to build the forces of liberation. And he was right. For, in the final analysis, it was the people in motion, who cleared the deadlocks and pushed aside the apartheid regime.”

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