Resurrection of an exemplary Pheli boy

If you wonder, and are troubled by what resurrection might mean, do not worry too much it is happening in our lifetime: the ebullient Ronnie Mamoepa lives – his memory is kept alive in the pages of the soon-to-be launched book with an uncanny title, Ronnie Mamoepa: Like the Dean – Tributes.

The tributes, encapsulated in a 200-plus page book, are published by the Skotaville Academic Publishers, an entity headed by Dr Mothobi Motloatse, its editor-in-chief and publisher, and compiled and edited by Busani Ngcaweni, a senior research fellow at the University of Johannesburg and visiting adjunct professor at the Wits School of Governance.

Great human lights from all walks of life populate the pages of the compilation, all, in different ways, in honour of Mamoepa and his contribution to the reimagining of a new democratic South A-frica – seven years after his death.

The tributes express awe and amazement at Mamoepa’s contribution to the country’s political tapestry – a journey that started when he was a tiny young lad, forced into it by the desire to change and tame the brutal oppressive and unjust system that engulfed the motherland during the heady years of apartheid.

I use the concept of resurrection delibe-rately. It conjures up something more profound in human life, which is that whatever oppresses, or whatever causes harm and injustice to others, this will be tampered by a countervailing force represented by light and hope to dimi-nish the darkness of death and hopelessness, turning darkness of human life into justice and light.

Which is why the ancient writers describe the phenomenon in these terms: “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress… the people walking in darkness have seen great light; and those living in the shadow of death a light has dawn.”

What inspires a young person to engage in acts that are far beyond his biological years and human maturity in keeping with their young age, is a conundrum best left to psychologists to answer, yet Mamoepa, in part, and in his short life, attempted to answer the question for us by dedicating his life to the ethos of social justice.

First, Mamoepa’s widow, Emily Audrey Mamoepa, an executive director of the Ronnie Mamoepa Foundation, ends her tribute with the following words: “So let us honour Ronnie’s memory not with sadness, but with action. Let us commit ourselves to continue his work, to standing up for what is right, and to making the world a better place for all.

In doing so, we ensure that Ronnie’s spirit lives on – a guiding light for future generations to follow.”

Second, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke in the foreword reflects profoundly on these words: “Ronnie Mamoepa and I came from the veritable crucible of progressive ideology and resistance known as Atteridgeville or Phelindaba if you like.

Our village was deeply intolerable of oppression… and he knew that doing nothing about his oppression and that of others was not an option.

So, to speak, he was part of the present generational relay race to combat to the end the inhumanity and wrath of those oppressive arrangements… Like me, as a tiny child activist from Atteridgeville, he had to spend time on Robben Island.

He served time, came out and became an even more formidable opponent of apartheid. Prison helped to harden the resolve to overthrow the unjust regime.”

Various voices, from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s to several Mamoepa’s political colleagues and friends, including journalist and editor Mathatha Tsedu, all totalling 35 contributions, eulogised the life and times to describe the firebrand communicator of government’s messages that Mamoepa was to the end of his life – doing his work with much dedication and unending stamina, almost unparallel in its intensity.

The book of tributes is important in every sense: it ought to remind us of the ancient scripture language, the language of analogy, surreal in many ways, only understandable if it is peeled off its -literal meaning.

The essays or eulogies are about to resurrect Mamoepa’s life, to excavate it from its tomb, so that akin to the ancient scriptures, we can with confidence say of him, “he is alive; he lives among us even though he is dead.

The tomb is empty, and Ronnie has overcome the darkness of the grave.

In the pages of the essays and tributes, he lives and will enjoy eternal life with generation after generation schooled on his life of dedication and justice.

  • The book launch takes place at the Gramadoelas restaurant, Market Theatre, Johannesburg on May 4.


  • Mdhlela is acting news editor of Sunday World, an Anglican priest and former editor of the South African Human Rights -Commission journals

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