DATE: 20 May 2017

Thank you, Director of the Programme

Mama, Mrs. Vilakazi

Amaphephethe ephelele

Ngibingelele ubaba Mfundisi


I thank the Mphephethe family for offering me the opportunity to share a thought in remembrance of Professor Herbert Vilakazi, I wish I could say, uncensored. I consider myself lucky to have been mentored by him and there is a group of us who were activists of the African Renaissance in 1995 to about early 2000. The latter part of my contribution contains a tribute from one of us.

It is a singular honour, and a privilege to share in remembering uMphephethe.

I hope to do this sharing, this remembrance, in a deserving manner possible within the time limits.

I beg your indulgence, for a short detour…

We are taught that in the liturgical calendar the first Sunday of November is dedicated to the All Saints Sunday/Solemnity/Feast of All Saints, a Christian festival to honour all saints, known or unknown. The festival or celebration stems from the belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and the living. We commemorate the faithful departed – we draw strength from the knowledge that God has been faithful to those who have gone before us and perhaps we can hold Him to His promise.

In this context (amongst others) remembrance -

Leads to taking action: I am referring to purposeful action and often repetitive action. Mphephethe had no patience for inaction and indolence. His clarion call for the creation of a new South Africa was – “to the countryside” was not heeded by all of us!!! We helplessly apologise Mphephethe – we completely missed the message of your call. Here, he was not referring to ill-conceived projects but clinically analysed processes that could stammer the widespread crisis of poverty and its causes, unemployment, and inequality which causes the disturbance of the mind and soul.

Further remembrance results in the continuation of faith: faith that the intended goal, insurmountable as it may seem, will be achieved. We saw this demonstrated by Mphephethe in his belief that the HIV/Aids virus will be defeated through orchestrated and concerted effort. He went into this area of work and spared none of his energy. Putting his reputation at risk. His unique characteristic clarity of thought and erudition, shined. And still does!!!

In addition, remembrance leads to active intervention: Mphephethe had a gift, and that was to teach even in the most awkward spaces, as demonstrated by speakers at his funeral. A simple game of soccer could be a class in communal effort or lack thereof. Or at best psychoanalysis. He had an ability to breakdown complex scientific matters for an unsophisticated mind to fully comprehend even the nuances of the subject. In the mid 1990’s he ran a series of columns in the Sowetan newspaper dealing with various subjects. It caught my eye that at one time he inquired into whether the topical issue of brutal assault and/or death by stabbing were recent phenomena as reported at the time or viral because of reporting these matters to the authorities. The article amongst other matters, convinced us that proper and progressive education will always be an answer to our collective misery. I must say that the article did not shy away from outlining the roots of brutality such as the dehumanization of generations of Africans evident at all levels of our society.

Ntokozo Zungu (my schoolmate currently serving at the Durban Metro) when paying tribute to Mphephethe says: “Eleven years before my birth (his birth), a politically conscious and empathetic young South African lived in the United States of America together with his parents. To be exact, it was 1958. He was fifteen years old. And his name was Herbert Vilakazi. He still is. And will forever be. He is irreplaceable. Mentoring many of us he was true to the letter that he wrote to Dr. Martin Luther King, when he pleaded with him to take cognizance of how badly were Africans treated in the south. Incisive the message as it was, it never incited violence or any form of extremism. That’s the gentleman who lived in Herbert Vilakazi. I am glad to have associated with him”.

Mphephethe, in more ways than one would remind us of the dangers of reckless statements and in that we should always be preoccupied with the needful!!

As we remember uMphephethe, we should not forget his infectious laughter when you have done well!!

Thank you!!

Bheki Gumede

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