Bennie Bunsee: A Pan-Africanist with a legacy of selflessness

Bennie Bunsee
Bennie Bunsee


Bennie Bunsee was born in Chesterville, near Cato Manor, Durban, on October 22 1935 and passed away on October 10 2015 in Cape Town after an unsuccessful heart operation. He was part of a family that shared a long history of political activism, with three generations producing highly committed struggle activists.

In reflecting upon his memory, I consulted his family and his comrades. All agreed he was an independent and critical thinker and an erudite socialist who devoted his entire life to developing people in Africa and the diaspora to achieve unity and peaceful development on the continent.

He joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in the early 1960s and was part of the first group that went to China for military training with other PAC stalwarts. Bunsee was influenced by the ideologies of Robert Sobukwe and, later, Steve Biko. He was an original thinker, a respecter of ideas and editor of the political journal Ikwezi, which he funded and produced single-handedly. The theoretical journal provided perspective and insights on African nationalism, socialism and Pan-Africanism.

More importantly, he was not a self-serving man and, in exile, participated in other international struggles.

Marc Wadsworth, UK editor and comrade, wrote: “He was a champion of black workers and blazed a trail as leader of Asian strikers at the Mansfield Hosiery Mills in 1972, and the Imperial Typewriters strike in 1974.

“The Black Sections of the Labour Party held him in awe. Four Black Sections members who went into history books and entered the all-white UK House of Commons used Bunsee’s political brilliance in the Black Sections’ policy document in The Black Agenda in 1988 as a call to action.”

He was an avid reader, loved books and created a public archive that was open to researchers and students. He was one of South Africa’s outstanding scholars on African history.

Keabetswe Magano, a student at Wits University who visited him during a mentorship programme, said: “The level of insight he had on African history could surely constitute a whole course on African studies at any university. His love for Africa, books and ideas will live on through his family members.”

One of South Africa’s finest revolutionaries and an unsung hero, Bunsee was principled in his political beliefs, had staunch morals and great integrity. Although he expressed hardline opinions, he was fearless and fair in sharing his views about the broad political landscape. He was not afraid to speak truth to power.

Richard Sizani of the PAC met him in London in 1986 and said: “This made him a controversial figure but none dare challenge his stature as an accomplished journalist, researcher and a committed Pan-Africanist.”

The elders in his family reflected on his youth before he went into exile. They said he grew from humble beginnings, a respectful and brilliant young man who shared a close bond with his siblings and cousins who recalled how emotionally distraught they were when he decided to leave the country. He was extremely close to his late brother’s family in Manchester in the UK while in exile. Upon his return, his family recalled that he had a deep sense of caring and compassion towards his extended family, always showing love and support, especially during difficult periods.

In the 1990s, he served as PAC parliamentary caucus research officer and media liaison officer to the then justice minister, the now late Dullah Omar.

Family members in Manchester were deeply saddened and distressed when they heard the news of Bunsee’s passing. Several of them were willing to travel but were unfortunately unable to make suitable arrangements to be here in time for his funeral ceremony.

In bidding farewell to Bunsee, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke captured the sentiments of family, friends and comrades when he said: “My heart is heavy. Do find rest after a life of remarkable revolutionary stoicism. You so trusted for a lifetime that sharing and humanness will, in the end, triumph over greed and barbarism.”

Bunsee’s ashes will be flown to Varanasi, India, by a family member and released into the Ganges River. Hamba kahle!

Udit is Bunsee’s niece

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