A comrade, unifier and true patriot


Rev. Dr Makhenkesi Stofile – South African struggle stalwart, diplomat and the sports minister who led the 2010 Soccer World Cup – was ushered into the next realm in rousing fashion at his Fort Hare University in Alice in the Eastern Cape this week. Friend, colleague and deputy Minister of Finance MR MCEBISI JONAS delivered the following tribute at a recent memorial service in his honour.   

In many respects Cde Stof passed away at the wrong time. As a sports fanatic second to none, he will be upset that he left us during the Rio Olympics, and missed the epic Mr Wade Van Niekerk and Ms. Caster Semenya getting their golds. I’m sure Stof will have by now found a satellite TV or more likely was actually at the event using his spiritual powers to urge our athletes to greater heights.

He also passed at the wrong time in the sense of where we are at as a revolutionary movement. More than ever, we need Makhenkesi Stofile – that exceptional and selfless leader – to rescue our glorious movement from where it has been going astray.  There can be no denying that our country is at a crossroads on many fronts, and many of the gains we have fought for over many decades are at risk.

Comrade Stof came from humble beginnings, growing up on a farm in Adelaide. Testimony to the remarkable individual he was and the inspirational family he came from, Stof broke the generational cycle of farm work, to become one of the most intellectually powerful and iconic heroes of our struggle.

Stof’s family recognised the need to get their son educated, and sent him to Port Elizabeth where he studied at Newell High School in New Brighton where he excelled both academically and on the sports field (particularly at rugby).

Cde Stof was not satisfied just having a matric. He dreamed of attending university, and went to work in a factory to save enough resources to enrol at Fort Hare. It was here working in the factory directly experiencing oppression and exploitation that his class consciousness was shaped. Seeing the direct connection between national oppression and class oppression, it was inevitable that he would join the African National Congress (ANC), which he did in 1958 just before it was banned.

When he had enough savings from working in the factory, Stof put himself through university, studying for a BA and Theology at the University of Fort Hare. During this time, Stof worked tirelessly not only on his studies, but on recruiting students and community members from around Alice to the ANC. He used his love of sport and his role as rugby player, coach and administrator with the Victoria East Rugby Union (VERU), to politically educate community activists and connect the student struggle with the broader community struggle. To date, most of those who passed through Fort Hare during Stof’s time still marvel at his influence on their consciousness and political education.

It was here at Fort Hare studying Theology that Stof developed his quite unique philosophical blend of Christian humanism and Marxism, which he then developed further when he did his Masters in Theology at Princeton in the US. He saw no contradictions in this, and spent countless hours reasoning and debating with scientific Marxists who saw religion as the opium of the masses, as well as the more moderate Christians who didn’t believe in armed struggle, or the need for a working class-led revolution.

Similarly, Cde Stof didn’t see any contradiction in being both philosophical and action-orientanted. In this unique way he was an ideological pragmatist. He was a critical thinker who never accepted the obvious and the apparent, but always wanted to understand the underlying determinants. But he didn’t get stuck in theory or at the level of ideas. He made sure his ideas and vision always found expression in action. He was truly an organic intellectual. His theory emerged from the lived practice of struggle, and his ideas drove the everyday struggle of the masses. In the recent past Stof confided in many of us his frustration that our revolution has lost its way. In particular he was concerned that we have a crisis of ideas about our present predicament and where we are going in taking the country forward. He understood more than any of us, that the exercise of state power was not an end in itself.

He was truly an organic intellectual. His theory emerged from the lived practice of struggle, and his ideas drove the everyday struggle of the masses.

Cde Stof embodied the importance of organisation as a principle. He lived by the premise that individuals are subservient to the organisations they serve. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Stof dedicated his whole life to building organization and made huge personal sacrifices including numerous detentions and time in Middledrift Prison. He served his beloved ANC in various capacities, including as part of the underground structures, serving with stalwarts such as comrades Makalima,  Masala, Plam, Malgidi, Gqwetha, Wabena and many others. Cde Stofile was particularly close to President OR Tambo, and served as a direct and most trusted communications link between the President and the underground structures in the Border Region.

He chaired the internal leadership core of the ANC in 1990 just after the unbanning, with comrades like Marion Spargs and Silumko Sokupa. Here he was tasked with integrating and building unity between the various structures of the ANC and mass democratic movement. In 1991, Stof was elected onto the NEC of the ANC, and in 1994 was elected as one of the top five as Treasurer General under Tata Mandela. And it was not only the ANC that Cde Stof built.

He was central in building the National Sports Congress in the early 1980s, as well as forming the SA Council of Churches. He was also the first secretary of the UDF in the Border Region, serving with Steve Tshwete, and played a vital role in mobilizing churches, NGOs and community-based organizations behind the struggle. He also played a key role in the international arena, where he successfully led the isolation of apartheid sport.

Cde Stof was also a great statesman. As the Premier of the Eastern Cape from 1996 – 2004, he oversaw the establishment of an integrated Provincial Administration, amalgamating the systems of the Transkei, Ciskei, and Cape Province administrations, complete with their different loyalties and political affiliations. It also involved addressing the hopelessly skewed racially-based allocation per capita for pupils and imbalance in resource allocation between the east and west. This Stof did with distinction, and by 2004 had built from nothing and chaos, a working administration, with functional systems and delivery capacity. Stof’s term of administration also saw the establishment of the new port of Ngqura, our two Industrial Development Zones, and key road projects including the Kei Cuttings on the N2, the Keiskamma Pass on the R72, and the Ugie-Maclear Road (which unlocked the forestry sector growth and the Steinhoff investment).

Cde Stof was then appointed Minister of Sport in 2004, where he led the 2010 Soccer World Cup process with Cde Danny Jordaan. A large part of the success of the 2010 World Cup can be directly attributed to Stof. After 2009, he was deployed to a senior ambassadorial post in Germany, where he continued working tirelessly for his beloved Eastern Cape, facilitating key investments in the automotive and renewable energy sectors.

In bidding farewell to Cde Stof, a true revolutionary, it is important to reflect on what he stood for, and how we can infuse these values and principles back into the movement. Stof was a unifier.  He was not a factionalist who sought division at the expense of the greater organization. He never purged anybody, but drew back into the fold those who had contested leadership positions against him. He always defended the Alliance on the premise that the Alliance was key to ensure the primacy of the working class in the struggle.  He was deeply saddened by the state of affairs in COSATU, and the current unity of the Alliance. Stof was a mobiliser. He believed in a strong civil society and strong democratic institutions which could hold the state in check. Part of his view that the state needed strong partnerships with business, labour and civil society was behind his idea of establishing ECSECC. He believed in non-racialism and was a true democrat. He believed in critique, and that no individual was above scrutiny. And most importantly, Stof believed that the masses could not be passengers in our programme of social transformation. He viewed the struggle as an organic connection with the masses, and took direction from what the collective decided. He was deeply disappointed with the recent phenomenon of the politics of individuals which he referred to as the cult of personality.

Stof believed that the masses could not be passengers in our programme of social transformation. He viewed the struggle as an organic connection with the masses, and took direction from what the collective decided.

Stof was humble. Despite his seniority in the movement, he always took time to listen and learn from others. He believed that the vanguard role of the ANC is not bequeathed by God or ascribed by birthright as in traditional leadership. He believed leadership was earned through theory and praxis and the extent to which one provided a unifying vision around which people are mobilized. And Stof was never a tribalist, He was deeply proud of his Pondo heritage, but decried what he saw as the emergence of regionalism with strong tribalist underpinnings.  Stof always emphasised that ours is a national struggle, anchored around a national agenda. And “political federalism” was a serious threat to national unity.  For our liberation project to succeed, he would argue, we needed national leadership not merely provincial leaders playing a national role.

In paying farewell to Cde Stof, I would also like to pay tribute to the Stofile and Siwisa families who made him the grounded hero and icon that he was. His progressive principles were also visible in his approach to parenting. This is why Stof leaves behind two vibrant, independent young professionals in (his daughters) Mathahle and Sive. In particular I would like to thank his wife (Nambitha) and his mother (Mambamba) for the sacrifices made and the unwavering support to Stof even in the most difficult times.

This address has been edited for clarity and published with permission from Mr Jonas.

Disclaimer: The late Rev. Dr Makhenkesi Stofile was our Editor, Mr Siphiwe Mpye’s Father-in-Law.

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