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January 2019, Week 4

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 		 [ During the the famous series of battles around Cuito Canavale in
Southern Angola in 1987-8, Wiseman, with his ability to monitor the
South African communications, worked as a radio operator with the
Cuban and Angolan forces defending the city.] [https://portside.org/] 

 REMEMBERING A SOUTH AFRICAN FREEDOM FIGHTER CALLED ‘YAHABIBI’  
[https://portside.org/node/19201] 

 

 Jeff Klein 
 December 26, 2018
Mondoweiss
[https://mondoweiss.net/2018/12/remembering-african-yahabibi/] 

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 _ During the the famous series of battles around Cuito Canavale in
Southern Angola in 1987-8, Wiseman, with his ability to monitor the
South African communications, worked as a radio operator with the
Cuban and Angolan forces defending the city. _ 

 Colonel Jali, 2012., Photo: Jeff Klein 

 

I just learned that my old South African friend Jabulani Jali died a
few months ago.

We had first met in Lusaka, Zambia during the 1980s when I worked for
the African National Congress (ANC) at its headquarters in exile.  I
knew him then as “Wiseman Goldenway” and I did not learn his true
name until years later. Wiseman/Jabulani, like all ANC activists who
were not publicly known in South Africa, had adopted a nom de guerre
to protect his family back home.
 

Pretoria, 2012.
Photo: Jeff Klein
But he was known by another name too.  As we moved around Lusaka, we
often met fellow ANC members who greeted him as “Yahabibi.”  How
that nickname came about tells something about the life of my friend
– and also attests to the close ties between the freedom struggles
in South Africa and Palestine.

In the late 1980s I was helping to organize a number of projects in
Lusaka, focusing on technical collaboration with various ANC
departments.  My own work was mainly with the uMkhonto we Sizwe
(Spear of the Nation, commonly referred to as “MK”), the armed
wing of the ANC.  (My route to working for the ANC was rather
circuitous, from New Hampshire, to Boston, Nicaragua, and then
eventually to Zambia – a story whose details are perhaps better told
another time.)

Wiseman/Jabulani was the chief operations officer for MK military and
clandestine communications in Lusaka. I didn’t learn his full story
until much later when I visited his South African home in 2012. ANC-MK
members were extremely reticent about personal details and one
didn’t ask too many questions in those days.

Jabulani grew up in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, the child of a
“colored” mother and an ethnic Zulu father.  In 1976, like other
black South African youth, he was caught up in the SOWETO uprising,
sparked initially by changes in the Apartheid policy that would have
imposed Afrikaans as the main medium of instruction in “Bantu
education.”  In 1978, he joined thousands of others who made their
way out of the country to join the banned ANC.  Given a choice
between school or MK, he chose military training for the armed
resistance to Apartheid, which was swelling in those years.  That’s
when he became “Wiseman Goldenway.”
 

“Wiseman” (left) with Ronnie Kasrils and another MK fighter in
Angola, 1980s.
Photo: Ronnie Kasrils, “Armed and Dangerous”
Wiseman/Jabulani was sent with 100 other ANC recruits for military
training in the Soviet Union in 1978.  He travelled secretly under
the assumed name of “Cristiano Monteiro” from Luanda, Angola via
Moscow to a military camp at Perevalnoye, near Simferopol in Crimea.
 This was an international camp for Russian, FRELIMO (Mozambique),
SWAPO (Namibia), ZAPO (Zimbabwe), Palestinian/PLO and Lebanese
recruits.  The different nationalities shared the same high-rise
barracks, with each group occupying its own floor.

Wiseman/Jabulani apparently had a lively and outgoing personality then
as later when I knew him in Lusaka.  He recounted how he became
especially friendly with the Palestinians at Perevalnoye,

_“It so happened that in the mess hall we were all mixed together so
I became friends with the Palestinians.  I learned some Arabic. Two
guys knew English — they taught me some Arabic, mainly swear words.
All the time they were calling me ‘Ya Habibi, Ya Wiseman.’ So our
people picked up that Ya Habibi and they thought it was a name.  I
knew what it meant, ‘My Loving Friend’  but all the ANC people
began to call me Yahabibi._

_My Palestinian friends were ‘Nasir’ and ‘Muhammed Ali.’
 Those weren’t their real names. Muhammed Ali was tall and black,
so he was called after the champion boxer.  When we were ordered to
‘fall in’ according to our groups, the Palestinians — they are
real anarchists — would take me out of my company, put Muhammed Ali
with the ANC and put me in his place with the Palestinians. ‘Inte
— you are — Muhammed. Ali,’ they told me. My commander knew they
were changing us and the Russians knew too.  They laughed about
it.”_

Wiseman/Jabulani completed an intensive 10-month course in
“signals” – that is, military communications. When he returned
to Angola he became a trainer and specialist in radio for the ANC
camps and also with the Angolan army (FAPLA, the Peoples Armed Forces
for the Liberation of Angola) in their fight agains U.S.-backed UNITA
guerrillas and South African Apartheid invaders.

During the the famous series of battles around Cuito Canavale in
Southern Angola in 1987-8, Wiseman, with his ability to monitor the
South African communications in English and Afrikaans, worked as a
radio operator with the Cuban and Angolan forces defending the city.
The Apartheid military was fought to a standstill at Cuito Canavale
and eventually they withdrew their troops from Angola as part of an
agreement that led to the independence of Namibia.

The prospect of an independent Namibia as well as the tightening of
international sanctions – the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive
Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986
[https://www.congress.gov/bill/99th-congress/house-bill/4868] over
Ronald Reagan’s veto in October 1986 — spurred the South
African’s government to negotiate seriously with the ANC for a
transition from Apartheid to majority rule.  But the interregnum
between the release of Nelson Mandela from Robbin Island and the first
democratic national elections was more violent and turbulent than is
usually recognized.

Part of the fraught negotiations during this period were for the
integration of MK fighters into the new South African National Defense
Forces.  In 1994, Wiseman, now Jabulani Jali, was commissioned as a
Lt. Colonel.  After the first free elections in South Africa, the
head of MK, Joe Modise — “Comrade Commander” as we knew him (or
simply “JM” to distinguish him from Joe Slovo, who was  “JS”)
— became President Nelson Mandela’s first Defense Minister.
 

Jabulani Jali receiving his SANDF Commission in 1994
Photo: courtesy of Jali family
When I was eventually able to visit South Africa in 2012, Wiseman, now
Col. Jali, was residing with his family in a formerly Afrikaaner
neighborhood of the capital, Pretoria. Under Apartheid, no black South
Africans were allowed to live there.  Jabulani’s neighbors were
also mainly military men and they were all keenly interested in the
situation of the Palestinians. They recalled bitterly how the Israelis
were the principal Apartheid sanctions-breakers during the 1970s and
80s, supplying South Africa with banned weapons and military know-how,
including missile and nuclear technology.  When I spoke with them
about the Palestinian experience, more than once the comment was
“That sounds like our history.”  It’s no accident that the
South African BDS movement is among the strongest anywhere.

Jabulani and his friends also spoke about how the new democratic South
Africa fell short of the hopes many of them had for post-Apartheid
society.  The right to vote in a non-racial country was no small
achievement, but economic power still remained with the old
white-owned corporations, now with a sprinkling of black faces in the
board rooms.  Poverty, substandard housing and disastrously high
unemployment are still urgent problems in the townships, despite the
political emancipation that was achieved with the end of Apartheid 24
years ago.

This was highlighted when we visited Atteridgeville, a township near
Pretoria, for Youth Day on June 16.  Youth Day is a national holiday
now, memorializing the beginning of the SOWETO uprising and it is a
celebration second in importance only to Freedom Day, which marks the
date of the country’s first non-racial democratic election on April
27, 1994 that made Nelson Mandela president of the country.

Local youth led the way in Atteridgeville, with a message of “Back
to Basics” calling for more government support for education, job
creation, improved public services and decrying government corruption.
 Here the young people still idolized former ANC Youth leader Julius
Malema, despite his expulsion from the ANC for his fiery populist
rhetoric, strident attacks on the established party leadership – and
his sometime veiled threats of violent protest.
 

Youth Day, Atteridgeville, 2012. 
Photo: Jeff Klein
Col. Jabulani, now a respected elder from the SOWETO movement and a
revered MK veteran addressed the young militant crowd of young
demonstrators: “I’m old now.  People of my generation laid the
groundwork for you young people, who have grown up in a democratic
South Africa.  But the work of building a truly free and just country
has a long way to go.”  He added: “The future is up to you.  The
torch is yours to carry.”  The young crowd cheered.
 

Jabulani Jali with a young militant wearing a T-shirt picturing Julius
Malema, Atteridgeville 2012.
Photo: Jeff Klein
During the ride back to Pretoria, where once only whites were allowed
to live, we talked about the larger significance of the Soweto youth
rebellion – and not just for South Africa.

It was hard to disagree with the words I read the next day, in City
Press column by Sibongile Mkhabela, director of the Nelson Mandela
Children’s Fund:

_“The 1976 uprising was a wake-up call to all sectors of society.
 It gave new meaning to the spirit of resistance, the civil rights
movement and black power among communities in South Africa and
elsewhere — including that bastion of white supremacy, the United
States…   We have not yet reached the end of our journey.”_

But, sadly, my friend Jabulani/Wiseman, — who gave his entire life
to the freedom struggle — will not live to see that day.

Rest in peace Yahabibi.
 

_[Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time
Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action.
He has a blog [http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/]. Other posts by Jeff
Klein [https://mondoweiss.net/author/jeff-klein/].] _

_Thanks to the author for sending this to Portside._

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