Tribute to Langa activist Zola Magodla

Thembile Ndabeni pays tribute to activist Zola Magodla who passed away on June 10.

Who makes history?

South African revolutionary Harry Gwala unapologetically said history is not made by individuals, but by a collective.

Even great leaders were made by the collective. That is a collective Zola Magolda was part of.

Zola, an activist who lived in Langa was 75 years when she died on June 10 after a short illness. Her funeral was held a fortnight ago.

Zola Magodla was a true leader.

I am now reminded by the freedom song the late comrade mama Nelly Jibiliza used to sing. It goes, “ekuseni ngoMgqibelo sokhulul’ uMandela”.

Mama Jibiliza would be hard at times. It would take Zola to make us understand and compromise with mama Jibiliza.

Of the United Women’s Organisation (UWO) and the Women’s Front (Front), the bigger and more popular one was UWO.

Zola belonged to the small and unpopular Front.

The popular UWO was presented to other UDF affiliates as the authentic Charterist women’s organisation.

In the 1980s in Langa, Zola was the most visible member of the Front. Her activism saved us from drinking from the bitter cup of poison, hatred and propaganda against the Front, and other related structures like the Release Mandela Campaign.

She saved us, especially as the youth, from growing with myth and distortion about our own comrades because they belonged to other formations of the same United Democratic Front.

She could talk, but she was not a talkative person especially in the meetings. As a result, you will never hear her promoting the Front over the UWO, as her counterparts would do.

I remember how antagonistic her counterpart from UWO was, who was older than her. But she would be calm, following her name, Zola, which means to be calm. She would still give her due respect, addressing her as mama. That was a demonstration of how she was brought up. That was being, on one hand, an ambassador of her parents/home to those who did not know them. On the other hand, this was a confirmation of well-upbringing to those who knew her parents.

She won us, not only the youth, but other affiliates as well. She went further, removing the curtain that was there between the Langa residents and the hostel dwellers or migrant labourers.

The struggle against Apartheid was fought from four fronts: mass mobilisation, underground work/operation/struggle, armed struggle and international solidarity.

She was part of mass mobilisation, excelling in all its respects, conduct, mobilisation and organisation as stated and demonstrated above.

The cherry on top was her warm accommodativeness. She did not only organise the hostel people but also created a conducive environment for us as youth and other structures to organise and operate there.

Therefore, the two other pillars, underground and armed struggle became consolidated in the so-called hostel areas. The late old man, comrade Lusaneni is one example from that community. The late Joe Mkhuhlwa is another, just like tata Lusaneni. Tata Dyosini was there as well, and tata Mahamba, a trade unionist. I cannot mention all of them, but just a few. I cannot leave out Nandi Ralawe.

Underground and armed struggle work better in the hostel/informal settlement. The people who lived there were not suspected but were perceived as “toe gesluit”. That naivety of the enemy proved that it was the one that was “toe gesluit”.

It went along with one of the strategies and tactics applied in fighting the enemy, superiority over the enemy. No one was caught in her underground operations (political and military). Though Langa had a lot of so-called hostels it did not experience the war with “witdoeke” especially in 1985.

That was M-Plan in action with Zola being one at the centre. She indirectly participated in the last pillar of the struggle, international solidarity, through her mastery of the other three, making her a full package of a comrade.

The overwhelming support the ANC had in 1990 was a result of the spadework and consolidation Zola did in the 1980s. Her home was the home of the activists. We used it as a venue for meetings even during the “state of emergency”.

We held get-togethers there and other comrade/organisational/ struggle-related activities. Her mother was still alive. The old woman did not mind her house being the headquarters of the struggle. What a risk by these two wonderful women that would have affected the entire family?

As taught in the struggle you did not do it for gain, and Zola knew that.

She was unlike “oomavukengceni” who are basking in the glory of the struggle they were never involved in. How did they do it? Ask them.

But the late Brenda Fassie would help us understand, through her song “kuya ngokuth’ ungubani, uhlala noobani, uhamba kwiindaw’ezinjani”!

Some faked political credentials! History as the fair judge, fearing and favouring no one, will judge them one day, alive or post-houmous, their kids will live with that stain!

Brenda is there again to help “ngamaxoki-ngamaxoki!

The late comrade tata Xhamlashe once said in a meeting in 1985, “after achieving the freedom we are fighting for, people from nowhere will come and take it from us, who fought for it”. I looked at the old man with amazement. Those are “oomavukengceni” I am referring to. Zola did not go out and fight for position, entitlement, nor did she challenge “oomavukengceni”!

It is unfortunate that one freedom song used to be sung by the comrade that was close to her, Noluthando, “abhaliwe amagama amaqhawe yaz’elakho uzakufika likhona, kuzakuba mnandi xa sihleli noTambo sithi kuye amabhulu ashayiwe”, was never really realised.

Ukuba bekufundwe lo magama nelakhe ngeliphezulu ngenxa yegalelo lakhe!

Though Zola’s selfless contribution in the struggle did not make her benefit as “oomavukengceni”, liars, hypocrites, the cold-blooded heartless beasts, and opportunists did, beside her health condition, she passed on as a warm human being and real a comrade until the end.

Zola Magodla was buried last Saturday.

∎ Thembile Ndabeni is a self published author of “Weep Not: Decaying Society” and a resident of Langa.