Tribute to a Workerist, a revolutionary soul ...

2017-08-31 06:01
OPINIONThembile Ndabeni

OPINIONThembile Ndabeni

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There are people who were jailed in Robben Island for the same cause Nelson Mandela and his crew were jailed for, and Dr Neville Alexander is among them.

It is not only the African National Congress that fought for the liberation of South Africa.

It is also not only MK members that took up arms against the Apartheid Regime. It is only that the ANC and its allies had access to resources and other necessary logistics.

By the way the African Resistance Movement (ARM) of Dr Alexander, John Harris, Fikile Bam and others was more radical than the MK.

Within a short space of time and not being big in numbers, they took direct military action against the enemy. Short-lived as it was as a result of arrest, the ARM made a mark within that short space of time.

Dr Alexander hailed from an educated family in Cradock. Classified as a Coloured by the South African government, his father David was a carpenter. His mother Dimbiti Bisho, a school teacher, was a descendant of Ethiopian slaves.

Just like many Africans he had Christian Missionary backing for his education. Dr Alexander was educated at Holy Rosary Convent in Cradock and matriculated in 1952.

He studied at the University of Cape Town for six years and obtained a BA in German and History, Honours in German and an MA, also in German.

He gained his PhD at the University of Tubingen in 1961.

Dr Alexander was one of those members who served a term in Robben Island. What is amazing is that he was an intellectual and scholar but militant to the extent of taking up arms.

Also surprising is the fact he was perceived as a Workerist or Trotskyite. Workerists are known for being theorists who fantasize about a working class revolution. May be he was following Leon Trotsky himself who was not just a theorist but a practical revolutionary that was trusted by Lenin to head the army.

After his release from jail he formed the Workers Organisation for a Socialist Africa (Wosa). As a dynamic political activist not trapped in ideology he was instrumental in the formation of the National Forum (NF), an organisation formed as a response to the dummy tri-cameral parliament of 1984 established by the South African Constitution of 1983.

He wrote books and many articles to advance of his views. He was also a chairperson of the Pan African Language board (PANSLAB), meant to promote languages.

I had an opportunity to meet him for an interview in my studies. That was after I had read a book titled One Azania, One Nation, No Sizwe, which did not have an author.

Meeting him for the first time, he confirmed my suspicions that he must have been the author of the book.

He spent his entire life in this politically diverse Western Cape, making enormous contribution to our diverse province and country, until he passed on.

I was wondering if he could have been offered a better position in government rather than only working for PANSALB.

It hit me that, firstly, he hailed from non-ruling party circles, where there was no scramble for positions.

Secondly, a thinker of his calibre and magnitude had realised how important language was as a step towards de-colonialization. He is one of the unsung heroes, an intellectual from the other line of thinking, but still on the left of the ideological spectrum.

He said once: “… to reflect on the first principles that motivate us in our struggle for a humane world order, one where every child and every adult has more than an outside chance of fulfilling his or her human potential. Today we have to formulate these principles in a new language, one that will find readier access among the youth, to whom, as we say so beautifully but so ineffectually, the future belongs”.

Professor Jonathan Jansen said of Alexander: “A great scholar, a principled activist, a generous humanitarian and a formidable intellectual...”


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