Social justice fighter killed

A gallant fighter for social justice, robbed of his life untimely due to social injustice and a government unable to protect his life writes LUKHANYO MANGONA.

On Sunday November 27 last year I was in a bus to Wynberg. I was sandwiched between a window and two chatty women.

As I sat there enduring the irritation of these noisy two, a call came in from Nontsikelelo Dlulani, the head of Equal Education (EE). After the pleasantries Ntsiki delivered devastating news: “Lumkile Zani died. He was stabbed last night in Mandela Park. I am still not sure of the details of how he died”. Just as she said those words the irritation caused by my fellow travellers was quickly replaced by a sharp pain through my heart.

Lumkile Zani was born in 1979 in KwaMavuso village in Alice, a stone’s throw away from the University of Fort Hare. He was the last born of Tutu and Nontombi Zani. He was a nomadic school learner like most of us who grew up in the region because firstly our parents were constantly on the move for economic purposes and secondly, we would be sent out of the province with the hope of a better education. He attended schools in Alice, East London, Zwelitsha and later in Cape Town. Zwelitsha is particularly interesting because it is currently the headquarters of provincial education in the Eastern Cape.

Nearly two decades after attending school in Zwelitsha, he was co-head of Eastern Cape EE and would lead a group disciplined yet militant equalisers in a civil disobedience action by holding a sit-in in the late MEC Makhuphula’s office.

Zani’s nomadic schooling finally led him to Cape Town where he joined Kwamfundo High School in Khayelitsha under the then deputy principal Mr Bonani in the late 90s. Nearly a decade later, he and his group of Equalisers would lock horns with principal Bonani over the poor state of education at that school.

He cut his political teeth at Kwamfundo High where he was an active member of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and later became a member of the student representative council. He was in the matric class with Pastor Joseph Diamond – businessman turned pastor and Jongi Nokwe, the former Springbok sensation. I paid Pastor Diamond a visit at his house and he remembered Zani and he had fond memories.

Pastor Diamond recalls that one of their achievements was to initiate a Khayelitsha SRC structure and although they realised it had no legislative teeth they could at least create space where individual schools could compare notes. Eight years later, Zani would be part of a team that helped EE get off the ground.

When I contacted Lumkile Zani’s longtime friend and former colleague at EE, Mbulelo Manong, said of him: “Lumkile came to Cape Town in the late 90s to further his schooling. His passion was to study journalism so he could tell people’s stories and hence would later join EE. He loved cooking, later worked in the hospitality industry as chef. He is one of the most honest individuals I have ever come across.”

Zani joined EE in early 2008. At the time he was full-time in the hospitality industry and in his off days he would work for EE; thereby rekindling the activism he had practised eight years before at school.

I later joined EE towards the end of 2008 and joined an intimate team consisting of the late Yoliswa Dwane and Doron Isaacs (co-founders), Joey Hasson, Lumkile Zani, Nokubonga Yawa and Lwandiso Stofile. It was an energising activist environment and I immediately gravitated towards Joey and Lumkile.

Taking nothing away from the other members of the team, as a trio we seemed keen to take the organisation to the community. We operated as the legs of the organisation. From a principal who posed a challenge to organisational work or a local education stakeholder posing a threat we would be there to iron things out.

Lumkile was particularly instrumental because he possessed dispute resolution mechanisms. He believed everything can be resolved amicably. He would later tell me that when he was posted in the Eastern Cape such a skill was crucial because of political volatile of a rural province.

One of the critical works Lumkile did at EE was the mobilisation of the parent sector in the Western Cape. Parental involvement in EE’s work was always important to Lumkile and he saw a political significance of this involvement. We had no research skills with Lumkile but once we accidentally came across a research paper from Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University on the importance of Parental Involvement in Education and Lumkile devoured the paper for days and this subject would become his obsession for days. Sis Daphne Erosi, one of the early days activist parents at EE on and now community liaison officer tells us that “Bhuti Lumkile taught me discipline and respect and passion for education. As our head of department Bhuti Lumkile helped us to create an activist parent through mobilisation of the community to involve more parents, painting of schools and most importantly active participation in school governing bodies”.

Another important role Zani played in EE was to set up and run the Eastern Cape chapter of EE. Together with Daniel Linde (now a public interest lawyer) they co-headed EE in the EC in 2014 and 2015. Linde paid a moving tribute to his friend at his funeral in KwaMavuso last Saturday: “Lumkile was not afraid of anyone or anything. He wanted to push people to do the right thing and to build themselves up. When he saw the government was not providing quality education to poor South Africans, he challenged his comrades in EE. He said it was not enough to march, learners must go from poor schools and occupy Dale College and say ‘why do we not have proper classrooms like this.’”

Zani is survived by his two twin sons, Phiwe and Chule, his sister Lumka Zani and thousands of EE members who have become his adopted family since 2008. What is puzzling to the Zani family and to many of his comrades is the mysterious and unresolved circumstances around his death. By the time of publication the local police station had still made no meaningful inroads in resolving the murder. The irony cannot be lost that a man who has spent more than a decade of his life fighting against injustices faced by the working-class communities will be a victim of those injustices he was fighting against.

• Mr Mangona was a friend of the late Lumkile Zani and former member of EE. He now runs MaTS Tutoring Services which specialises in maths and science tutoring.

Lumkile Zani