September 26, 2011.
A road in Kimberley has been named after the late Phakamile Mabija, an anti-apartheid activist and member of the black consciousness-aligned South African Student Organisation (Saso), at a Heritage Day ceremony on Saturday.
Members of the public and the Mabija family attended the renaming of Jones Road to Phakamile Mabija Drive in the centre of Kimberley.
MEC for sport, arts and culture Pauline Williams lamented the absence of the white community at the event.
Mabija, who died in police custody during apartheid, was a member of the Saint James Anglican Church in Galeshewe. He was 27 when he died in 1977 after being taken to then Transvaal police station in Kimberley for interrogation for alleged involvement in the stoning of buses at the time.
Vincent Diraditsile, speaker of the Sol Plaatje municipality, said Mabija died under mysterious circumstances before he was scheduled to appear in court the following day.
“He died after falling from the sixth floor of the police station. The community and his family never ceased in their demand for the truth surrounding his death.
“Our history is important to us and we need to reflect on the principle he stood for, which is equality, justice and honesty,” said Diraditsile
Phenyo Mabija said honouring his grandfather was long overdue.
Comment: It is not everyday that a story from my hometown makes it onto this here blog. But this is an important story not entirely because of the renaming of Transvaal Road and Jones Street to Phakamile Mabija Drive.
It is important that liberation soldiers like Mabija are remembered and formally entered into the consciousness of the nation-state.
Mabija was a young teacher who was arrested by security police and taken to the main police station located on the now renamed Transvaal Road.
He was beaten in detention and then thrown from the 6th floor to his untimely death at the age of 27.
The TRC documents describe the events that led to his arrest and subsequent assassination in this way:
"Phakamile Mabija was detained on 27th June 1977 after an incident, when busses were stoned by African and Coloured commuters during a bus boycott in Kimberley. Phakamile was due to appear in court on 8th July 1977 under charges - under the Riot’s Assemblies Act."Robert Sobukwe was the lawyer who handled the Mabija case. An inquest was held and is described in TRC documents:
An inquest into the death was held in August until September 1977. The verdict was that Mabija died of multiple injuries following a jump from the 6th floor window. Nobody was found responsible for the death. The Magistrate was JH Booysen, his assessor was Professor JA Oliver.I have no doubt in my mind that Mabija was assassinated. The facts in the case do not support the official lies that emerged from the inquest.
The day that Mabija was assassinated my parent's shoe store (Gigi) and our home was "raided" by the state security police. My mother remembers that security police with English accents (not Afrikaans) went through every shoe box in the shop and searched every single room of our house.
Colonel DuPlessis, the man in charge of the Security Police in Kimberley, confirmed to my parents that the agents who came to arrest Mabija were from Pietermaritzburg in the former province of Natal (now KwazuluNatal).
"They looked everywhere except the kitchen," she told me this morning when we talked about the Mabija case.
"They berated us for being Indian and associating with kaffirs. They went through our linen and asked us where the money came from to finance such a lifestyle," moms added.
Till this day we are not sure what the security police were looking for.
My father was questioned for hours but was not arrested. When the security police left our house my parents were informed that Phakamile Mabija was dead.
From that day on his name has lived in my consciousness. Just a few days ago I was editing a piece that describes the brother's life.
When I think of how young he was it breaks my heart. He had barely lived. His hopes and his heart extinguished before he even had a chance just to be.
He was a small handsome young man who wore large frame spectacles. He was a respected youth leader and educator and church leader. And his politics was no doubt influenced by black consciousness leader, Steve Biko, and the leader of the PAC, Robert Sobukwe (his lawyer).
The past is never solved in its entirety. The guilty parties who killed Mabija are not known and no-one has confessed. The official record stands in contradiction to what is known by those who were associated with Mabija and those who soldiered against apartheid.
The renaming of the main street that runs through Kimberley (this includes Jones Street) is a welcomed gesture no doubt - what remains is that Mabija be known and recognized beyond Kimberley for his struggle contribution.