MESSAGE FROM THE PATRON OF THE TMF, THABO MBEKI, AT THE FUNERAL OF ADV NATHANIEL MASHILO MASEMOLA: 13 NOVEMBER 2021.

The esteemed Masemola family; and,

Fellow mourners:

It was with great sadness that my wife Zanele and I heard the news that Advocate Nathaniel Masemola, Bhut’Nat to us, had passed away.

I first met Bhut’Nat and his late first dear wife, Sis’Thelma, 50 years ago in Lusaka, Zambia. This was when I returned permanently to our Continent, Africa, having spent about eight years in Europe at University and other training facilities. I was returning to Lusaka to join the Headquarters of the African National Congress, the ANC.

Of course, Lusaka was not just any town or city in Zambia. It was and remains the Capital City of the Republic. When I arrived the Republic of Zambia was only in its 7th year of independence. And yet Lusaka struck me as an already established, decent, well ordered and clean Capital City and clearly not some nondescript backwater of a town.

It did not take long for me to find out that the municipal manager or chief executive officer of this City, the Town Clerk, was one of our own, the black South African, Mr Nathaniel Masemola. To add to the pleasant surprise, because I had not imagined one of these black South Africans managing a city, I came to know that here we were also speaking of an old member of our movement, the ANC!

It was indeed a matter of great pride that even as we continued our struggle to liberate our country, and sought the support of the independent African States in this regard, at the same time we were also making a meaningful contribution to the success of these sister countries, as did But’ Nat through the successful management of the Capital City of independent Zambia.

In this context I recall a friendly discussion that some of us had with Town Clerk Nat Masemola. We suggested to him that the City Council should devote more resources to improving the roads in what were called high density areas, the townships, and not just focus on the roads in the low density areas, the suburbs. But’ Nat agreed with us that this was indeed desirable.

However, he gave us a short lesson in the management of municipal finances and development of urban areas. He pointed out that the relatively highly developed infrastructure in the low density areas represented an important part of the asset base of the City. One of the tasks of the City Council was to protect the value of this asset and not allow it to depreciate because of lack of maintenance. A pothole in the middle of a paved street anywhere posed a serious challenge because it meant the beginning of the destruction of the wealth represented by the road as a whole and therefore had to be filled as quickly as possible.

He explained that this was why the City Council was indeed attending to the maintenance of the paved roads in the low density areas, appearing to be uncaring about further improving the roads in the high density areas. What was needed was a bigger municipal budget and therefore also a decision by Council that it would indeed devote a larger part of the increase in developing the infrastructure in the high density areas.

I am mentioning this episode because it immediately communicated the message to me that here we were talking to a Municipal Manager who was approaching his important job with the required professional competence and therefore that the further development of the Capital City of Zambia was in safe hands – the safe hands of a member of our liberation movement!

In this context I thought that though Advocate Masemola might have acted on his own to help independent Zambia by managing Lusaka, this was consistent with ANC policy. Already in 1962, the ANC had sent a group of senior nurses from South Africa to the then independent country of Tanganyika. This was in response to an appeal sent to the ANC by the then head of government of Tanganyika, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, that they needed this nursing expertise both to manage the existing public health system in the country as well as further expand it to meet the health needs which the colonial system had ignored.

It was in these ways, as demonstrated by the selfless contributions made by such of our liberation fighters as Nat Masemola, the nurses who went to Tanzania and others in other fields, that we lent a hand in the important process of the development of the independent African States.

It was not a surprise that after he left Lusaka and Zambia, Bhut’Nat focused on the broader challenge of the economic development of our Continent as a whole, including the matter of strengthening what were seen as the building blocks towards integrated Continental economic development – the Regional Economic Communities.

This was consistent with the well-established Pan-African posture of his movement, the ANC, whose South African antecedents in the 19th century visualised the liberation and unity of Africa as a whole, and not just South Africa.

The 1960s became the decade of the independence of the majority of the African countries, leaving behind those still dominated by the Portuguese and the white minority regimes in Southern Africa. Accordingly, when the Organisation of African Unity was formed by the independent States in 1963, it was confronted essentially by two strategic tasks. One of these was to help ensure the socio-economic development of the now independent African countries, and the other was to strive for the realisation of the goal of the total liberation of our Continent from colonial and apartheid rule.

Obviously, Nat Masemola’s organisation, the ANC, had to focus on the latter national and Continental objective. At the same time some of its members joined our African sisters and brothers to contribute to the success of the former, the socio-economic development of liberated Africa, as well as preparations for the management of what would be a similarly liberated South Africa.

Bhut’Nat was directly involved in two of these three historic endeavours.

As was the case with others of our compatriots and comrades, such as Dr Bax Nomvete and Prof Stan Sangweni, he worked at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and what later became the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

The UNECA played and continues to play an important role in helping our Continent to respond more effectively to its socio-economic challenges. Of course, COMESA, like other Regional Economic Communities such as SADC of Southern Africa and ECOWAS of West Africa, are exactly what Africa describes as the necessary building blocks for its integrated socio-economic development.

We can therefore see why it was important that an ANC freedom fighter, Nat Masemola, should work within these institutions.

The importance of this work in terms of the perspectives of the ANC was further confirmed after the liberation of South Africa. I refer here, among others, to the role our post-apartheid government played in the adoption by the OAU and the African Union of the African socio-economic development programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

Bhut’Nat also played a central role as a trustee and a director in two important agencies established by the ANC during the years we were still in exile. These were the Luthuli Memorial Foundation (LMF) and the Luthuli Memorial Trust (LMT). 

For one thing the ANC leadership was very interested that our movement, and the people as a whole, should not forget the name of that great leader, and former President of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, and should continue to draw inspiration from the example he had set. It was clear to our leadership that exactly people such as long standing members of the ANC who had served under Chief Luthuli’s leadership, such as Bhut’Nat, were exactly the people who should lead the organisations established to uphold and profile the name and example of Albert Luthuli. 

The decision was also taken that properly to honour Chief Luthuli, the LMF and later the LMT should participate in the process of preparing for the day after the defeat of the apartheid regime.

At the beginning of the year 1962 the ANC dispatched the very first group of young people to study abroad. This particular group went to the Soviet Union. The ANC had decided that it was necessary to prepare for the day when South Africa would be governed as a democratic country. It therefore started the process of sending young people to other countries to study and gain the expertise in various fields which the new democratic order would require.

Both the Luthuli Foundation and the Trust focused exactly on this matter. They worked to get scholarships for the education and training of yet other young South Africans. The work they did included providing additional training for those who had studied in the socialist countries, to prepare them to engage successfully with the professional and academic milieu they would find in South Africa.

Nat Masemola’s intimate involvement with our movement’s preparations for the birth of democratic South Africa did not end there. He was directly involved in the process to answer the question – what kind of South Africa do we want – and therefore the composition and drafting of the Constitution which would define the new South Africa.

In January 1988, Nat Masemola wrote a letter to then President of the ANC, O.R. Tambo, responding to matters raised with him concerning ANC preparations for the negotiations on the constitution which would take place whenever as South Africans we would get together to discuss an end to the apartheid system. He said:

“By the time this note reaches you I will be in Lusaka for the meeting of lawyers. It is marvellous to be part of the process of thinking together with others on the legal and constitutional framework for and the foundation of a free, independent, dynamic and proud South Africa.” 

And indeed, Bhut’Nat served on the ANC Constitutional Committee including as it represented the ANC in the 1993 negotiations which led to the adoption of the Interim Constitution.

In our first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC emerged victorious, with one of its biggest majorities being in the Limpopo Province. That political transition meant that as the governing party, even acting within the coalition arrangements prescribed by the Interim Constitution, among others the ANC had to attend to the matter of creating a new democratic State. 

Having joined the ANC Youth League in 1946, recruited by OR Tambo and others, and having actively participated in the processes which led to the ANC democratic victory in 1994, and therefore its accession to State power, Nat Masemola could not avoid and walk away from the task to help build the post-apartheid, democratic State.

He got involved in this work in the province of his birth, Limpopo. He chaired the Committee which prepared for the birth of this post-apartheid Province and later served as Secretary to the very first democratically elected Cabinet of the Province. Just to give an indication of the challenges he and others would have faced in this regard, they had to integrate into one whole the four apartheid-created fragments these being the erstwhile white South African region, and the Venda, Lebowa, and Gazankulu former so-called homelands.

Nat Masemola and his comrades did indeed succeed to put Limpopo on the right path as it joined other parts of our country which together would hopefully evolve into a maturing democracy which would reconstruct South Africa so that it truly belonged to all who live in it, black and white.

In his well-known poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, the English poet, Thomas Gray, wrote:

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

As we say our final farewell to Advocate Nathaniel Mashilo Masemola, I experience a sense of unease that we could say of him, a lifelong, steadfast and eminent patriot – here a flower did indeed blush unseen!

Happily, however, it could never be said of him that this flower wasted its sweetness on the desert air!

Comrade Nat Masemola retired from active political life 55 years after he joined the ANC, having made his own indelible contribution to what was done to liberate our country and people.

Zanele and I convey our sincere condolences to the Masemola family.

May Bhut’Nat Masemola, a stalwart of our struggle for liberation, rest in eternal peace.

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