Community mourns death of activist

Activist Themba Nobatana died of a heart attack.

The community is mourning the death of activist Themba Nobatana, fondly known as Mzala, who passed away of a heart attack on Monday May 18.

Themba was born in February 1966 in Gugulethu.

He began his youth activism in the Scout Movement at 1st Gugulethu.

This is where his leadership qualities sprung up.

Themba was also a lead drummer in the 1st Gugulethu Scout Troop band.

A proud activist and leader from the dusty streets of Gugulethu, he was a vibrant formidable member of the youth movement.

He became part of the 1980 school boycotts, when he was still at primary school at Intshinga Primary.

This is where his political light started to shine, under the stewardship of Kent Mkalipi/Oupa Lehulere and Whitey Jacobs. This is also the time when Congress of South African Students (COSAS) leaders like Nyami Booi and Shepherd ‘’Shepi’’ Mati took him under their wing.

Themba went on to Sizamile High School where he became a feisty student leader at the tender age of 14.

At Sizamile, he played a pivotal role as a student activist, under the banner of Cosas.

The theme of “Student-Worker Action was implanted in Themba from his interaction with Shepi and Nyami and this was what defined Themba’s political ideology throughout his life and time as an activist.

It was also at this point that Themba carried the torch for the leftist Marxist programme.

He held a firm conviction that our revolution for freedom should be led by workers and that post liberation, workers should be in charge of running the state under the banner of socialism.

In mid-1985 Cosas was banned and the apartheid regime made it extremely difficult to organise openly.

A plan was hatched to establish an underground student forum to keep the momentum going. This is when the Joint SRCs structure was formed under the leadership of the late Lolo ‘’Tall’’ Mkhonto.

At the core of this leadership were Themba, Nikita Vazi, Sthera Ndaba, Shula, the late Patrick Thulo and others. This group was at the centre of mobilising both parents, teachers and students around the famous province and countrywide school boycott of 1985.

This was a watershed moment in student politics because it was during this period that Themba shone as an astute thinker and negotiator whose power of persuasion ensured that parents, teachers and students alike supported the call for a school boycott as well as rent boycotts.

This was centred around the correctly held belief that there can never be normal schooling in an abnormal society and that students were community members first before they were students. Hence the importance of the student-worker alliance.

Cosas mobilised under the slogan “Each One Teach One”. Themba was one of those who were involved in organising programmes to ensure that education continued during the school boycott.

As a youth activist outside school, Themba was instrumental in the formation of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO).

He represented the Western Cape at the ANC Youth League’s first national conference on South African soil in 1991 KwaNdebele.

In the late 1980s, Themba was one of the first group of his generation to go and study at the University of Cape Town (UCT) with the likes of Sthera Ndaba, the current Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, Lizo Ngcokoto and others. This was at a time when UCT was still regarded as a white, elitist institution.

UCT was chosen deliberately to use it as a site of black student activism. The old Cosas comradeship between Themba and Lizo emerged again as they literally shook the then vice-chancellor Stewart Saunders who was forced into an unplanned retirement. It is also at UCT that Themba continued with his student-worker action mobilisation and ensured that black workers were treated with respect by the administration and more importantly, that black students were afforded a deserving opportunity to study at UCT.

He fought vehemently against financial and academic exclusion of black students at UCT.

As if to complete his political profile, Themba was enlisted into the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and trained by Andile Apleni.

He served the ANC in various capacities and was prominent as a policy specialist under Jeff Radebe at the Shell House ANC headquarters in Johannesburg. This is where he excelled behind the scenes, drafting many of the ANC’s key policies.

He came back to Cape Town and worked in the office of the then ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni in Parliament. He served a short stint as the head of office for the then MEC Mcebisi Skwatsha in 2004.

In 2013 he left Cape Town again to work at the Department of Human Settlements in Pretoria, where he served as the chief director responsible for the governance framework, a befitting job function given his policy background.

He met his untimely death while still in the employ of the department. He leaves behind his wife Nomava, his children Noni and Lukhanyo, his brother Siphiwo and sisters Neliswa and Luleka.

Hamba Kahle Themba Nobatana.