Eulogy by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of SAFTU to the memorial service of #PatrickMkhize

The Master of Ceremonies, Cde Virginia Magwaza
Chief Mourner, Thandi Mkhize, the wife of our beloved Patrick Mkhize
The children of Patrick Mkhize, Tracey and Leon, and the entire Khabazela family National Office Bearers of SAFTU and other leaders of our federation
Lybon Mabaso, President of the BCM and the entire Azanian liberation forces Desmond D’Sa and the entire leadership of SDCEA
The Wentworth Development Forum
All the friends of Patrick Mkhize and every comrade and mourner
Aphele emqaleni – izikile inqanawa, litshonile ilanga emini! Lithule lithe cwaka ikhalipha nengqondi yakwaKhabazela, ulele akasaphenduli naxa sikhwaza igama nezithakazelo zakhe. Ingqondo ebukhala okomkhonto ololiweyo lichule linexesha iyekile ukusebenza! Waqhawuka ujingi abantwana bedlala! Yalala inkomo isengwa!
Sinyembezana isizwe sempula zikalujaca siqhokrwe edoloweni, siyakhala isizwe sabamnyama silahlekelwe yintonga yasekhosi! Silapha sisesigqeba sibaliweyo ngenxa yenyikatya yokufa esijongene nayo kwilizwe liphela!
We gather here at Austerville Hall and across the country, continent and world, to bid farewell to one of the sharpest minds in the struggle for total emancipation of workers and the working class. We are here to say goodbye to a man who grew so big in each of our hearts and minds, and who occupied every space with incredible love and loyalty to the cause.
We are here today to speak to the family of Patrick Mkhize to try to convince them to accept what has happened. But we find ourselves needing to be consoled, perhaps as much as his own family, for we regard ourselves as his brothers in arms. We are the children and Patrick Mkhize was our most reliable father, whose words to us will continue to inspire generations of workers to come.
We are duty bound to express our deepest condolences to you comrade Thandi, your children and the entire family of oKhabela kaMavovo. Even though we are crying and cringing from unbearable pain we do not underestimate your pain as the family who have lost a husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather and child.
I have heard countless times comrades declaring that the passing of other comrades to be untimely. Just think about this to understand the debt and the meaning of that today.
SAFTU is a new workers’ federation that will only celebrate our fourth year of existence next April. It is in the building stage as it seeks to reconstruct a trade union movement deliberately weakened by the ruling elites in service to one of the world’s most wicked capitalist classes – a group that was until the early 1990s happy to endorse the apartheid crime against humanity and oppose our demands for one- person, one-vote in a unitary state.
Because of the political U-turn by the main liberation movement – as predicted by Patrick Mkhize and his allies at that time, away from the aspirations we all held – we are now trying to build something new from the ashes of the old. Our proletarian movement, one that had been reignited by brave organisers very close to Austerville, at the Durban docks in the early 1970s, was from the 1990s fragmented and divided, as the African National Congress turned rightwards, to serve the interests of a capitalist class that can oppress and exploit the working class with even more effectiveness, as judged by the much higher rates of inequality, poverty and unemployment we now suffer.
SAFTU is perhaps the most diverse labour organisation in our country today. The federation is constituted by unions with complete different organisational and political experiences.
For a moment I want to leave aside the organisations and instead think about how leadership personalities handled the dynamics at play. Individuals have their own characters and personalities, ambitions, politics, weaknesses and strengths – which are challenging to manage, as you can imagine.
Khabazela was one of the individuals who agreed to build a new federation based on the political principles of independence, internal democracy and militancy. He was leading a small, start-up union that had – before his elevation to the position of the General Secretary – been stagnating, and going nowhere.
It is considering his critical role in THORN and SAFTU that you will understand how difficult a moment this is, to say goodbye to a comrade who in that short period of time proved himself to be one of the most valuable soldiers in the battle that has just began. In the statement announcing his untimely passing SAFTU said
Patrick Mkhize was indeed a scarce breed! He is an embodiment of the truth, honesty, passion, trustworthy, reliable family man, love, and efficiency. The only way to build the organisation was to tell everyone the truth as it is. Mkhize was so forthright and straight forward in his approach. Above all. Patrick Mkhize was a militant and deeply-learned Marxist/ Leninist and atheist who believed earnestly in the working class’s power. He hated the working class’s exploitation with passion and had committed his entire life to build not just independent, democratic and campaigning federations but died without fulfilling his dream of uniting the working class to establish its own political formation for itself. He was consistent, so predictable and unapologetic about his beliefs. The enemies of truth hated him with passion for that. The backward and conservative bosses will be relieved. Still, the workers who are members of his union THORN and SAFTU their federation are devastated to lose such a reliable ally and leader par excellent.
Patrick Mkhize was dearly loved and deeply respected by his comrades in SAFTU, many of whom have only known him for the past four years of building SAFTU. THORN had a membership of mere 3000 when SAFTU was launched with presence only in KwaZulu Natal.
In three years, Mkhize
drove the union’s growth to over 10 000 members with a presence in Gauteng, Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
Let me spend just few minutes to remind you of the love Mkhize had for the federation. In four years, he missed only one meeting of the National Executive Committee. I remember how troubled he was that circumstances beyond his control made him miss that session. When the NEC took a decision that required unions pay a levy, his was the first to pay that levy in full. When the NEC decided that every union must submit audited financial statements in line with the principle of self- sufficiency, transparency and anti-corruption, THORN was the very first union to submit its updated statements. When we asked unions to sign a contract committing themselves to provide information on a six-monthly basis, Mkhize was the first to do so. When the federation decided to go to the streets and campaign in 2018, his union THORN was in the forefront, sparing no efforts and providing maximum energy. When we asked union to mobilise for the 07 October 202O unified labour strike, he pulled the biggest crowd under the COVID-19 regulation, despite the small size of his union.
I remember so vividly that when I dropped a message complaining to the NEC of the time and resources we are spending to remind unions of their own obligations to confirm attendance to meetings, and in the process showed how another union (SAPU) responded to every letter with names and contacts of the people to attend meetings, Mkhize called me to apologise.
The history of South African labour movement building is littered with countless examples of organisations becoming overwhelmed by these dynamics, as they seek to build themselves into a coherent force capable of remaining true to the founding principles.
Thanks to Mkhize, SAFTU is not about to fall apart. Devastated as we are, we will soldier on and do exactly what Khabazela taught us. I listened to a teary President of one of our unions declaring that it’s over with SAFTU. But we stand here today, Khabazela, to declare that we will not betray your legacy. We won’t allow your union you have worked so hard to build to die. We won’t surrender SAFTU’s political independence – which you exemplified – to any employer or political party.
And we will make further gains with the comrades you taught us to respect so much, in your combined work and life experiences: as socialists, and within working-class communities struggling for housing and services, and among environmental justice allies whom you were so close to in SDCEA, and in the youth you showed such concern for as witnessed in your combination of black, red and green politics, and in the anti-racism movements of our day – as we think back to the proud legacy of Black Consciousness – and in your family’s own circles of activists pursuing total social liberation.
Patrick Mkhize would be not allow us to cry and mourn but would insist that we celebrate his life. Sicela uxolo Khabazela we have been crying every day since we heard of your passing on your very birthday, the 25 December 2020. It was a nightmare to substitute happy birthday with Rest In Peace, and Rest in Power, Khabazela! It is natural to cry when we feel so much pain.
But Khabazela would remind us that the battle is on and is intensifying, for crying endlessly when facing such a merciless enemy won’t help. He would have urged us to pick up his spear and forge forward. He would have reminded us of our own slogan – “Don’t Mourne! Mobilize!
Mkhize would have reminded us that we should spare no energy to ensure that we do not go back to the ‘normal’ after the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the pandemic struck, ‘normal’ South Africa had world-record levels of inequality, worker fury, and corporate-state corruption. Our pollution levels including CO2 emission have been at the world’s worst levels per capita per unit of output; only Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic have higher levels among countries with 10 million people.
The need for a Just Transition to a decarbonised economy in which workers do not suffer losses is as great as ever, but no serious efforts appear imminent from the austerity-oriented government. Mkhize was on the frontline of the battle to change this power dynamic at his death, joining SDCEA to replace Engen’s explosion-prone refinery with a labour- and community-centric strategy for detoxing South Durban.
The lockdown from the end of March led to a net 1.7 million people losing their jobs as of September, with further losses likely due to renewed lockdowns, and millions more leaving the formal labour force. There are now a staggering 11.1 million unemployed South Africans. Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the third quarter of 2020 showed the latest expanded definition of unemployment at 43%, the highest level in the industrialised world, and in the country’s modern history.
And here too the figures reflect race and gender inequalities; the rate for Africans is 47.4%, while for whites it was around 6% (pre-Covid-19). For African females it is 51.4%.
These are the cadres Mkhize knew could be organised if only labour would reach out deeper into the precariat, into the youth and women who protect our communities and environment, and into a political force ultimately able to overthrow the neoliberal version of nationalism that replaced the apartheid version.
With the ANC government now intending to slaughter thousands of workers jobs in the public and parastatal sectors, with Section 189 notices already issued for workers at SABC, PetroSA, and Denel, and with Eskom embarking on the process of downsizing so as to prepare for unbundling and privatisation, Mkhize’s memory urges us to leave no stone unturned. We must mobilise every working-class formation in places like Wentworth, to ensure that our class begins a new, more coordinated struggle to mobilise and defeat the cause of all this mayhem – the racist, patriarchal and ecocidal capitalist system itself.
Hamba Khabazela kaMavovo siyakukhulula Hamba akubizile amawenu!
Goduka Ngunezi,
Mumbo ombulazi,
Nina enadla umuntu nimyenga ngendaba,
Sibi side esimajembelezana,
Sibi side esimaphandla esaphandl’abeNguni bavungama, Nina bengwaz’ emabhudle,
Eth’ isabhudla yabuye yaphinda yabhudla Malala amahle,
Nin’ enalala nomunwe,
Navuka nakhwif’ilanga.
Nzalo kaSambela,
Nina bakaSidaphudaphu ngokubadaphunela, Nzalo kaLuzalo!
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