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In Defence of Strini Moodley the Klipgooier

Featured Image: Late Black Consciousness leader Strini Moodley. Photo: umtapo centre

By BO Staff Writer

“Even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins” – Walter Benjamin

The annual Strini Moodley memorial lecture by the Umtapo Center in partnership with the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) was given this year by the largely discredited Vice Chancellor of the untransformed University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen.  Predictably, Jansen gave a dour talk which had nothing to do with ending racism or transforming the university but instead rallied against the revolutionary students of our time as mindless nihilists burning things down unnecessarily at great cost. In Jansen’s eyes the problem in not the exclusion of black students from accessing education but the students themselves are the problem. This is consistent with how he has run UFS and everybody who has paid even the scantest of attention should know this. Jansen is a certified agent against transformation and decolonisation. UFS remains a den of Afrikaner herrenvolkism and white supremacy. At his university, his white faculty members can join gangs of marauding racists in beating up black students and he would deny it. It was the same Jansen who organised a secret deal with the Rietz racists that secured their escape from punishment after treating poor black workers as subhumans. Under Jansen, violence against black people was institutionalised and student activism banned on the UFS campus. That is why so many are happy to see him leave.

The question that was in the minds of those who had known Strini Moodley as a revolutionary to the end of his life was precisely why would  the Umtapo Center, an institution set up by Moodley himself, choose to be addressed by someone who is decisively against transformation? To many, this seemed like a slap on the face of Moodley who had rejected compromises and even dialogue with the enemy and its agents. It seems that the Umptapo Center is involved in a process of packaging Moodley to fit into the post 1994 pliant timid acceptance of white rule and land theft under the nebulous ideology of peace without justice. The Umtapo Center seems hell-bent at presenting Strini as another Nelson Mandela, a kind of Bhuddist Monk and not a radical revolutionary who brokered no compromises with the enemy and its agents.

Strini Moodley belongs to the post 60s generation of militants who formed Black Consciousness and entered Robben Island high on Black Power and shocked both the prison system and the older political prisoners like Nelson Mandela. When the young BC revolutionaries were done with Robben Island, it was transformed and prisoners were treated with a measure of respect instead of the humiliation that had been accepted up to then by people regarded from the outside as revolutionary leaders. Moodley is one of the main figures who, together with Steve Biko, founded the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. He subsequently spent six years in Robben Island for his revolutionary activities.

An important factor of Moodley’s revolutionary life is that he rejected the post 1994 settlement. He rejected the negotiations with the enemy and was part of the leadership of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) which led a process of boycotting the first elections of 1994. The argument presented for the boycott position was that the whole process gave legitimacy to a sell-out settlement. This diagnosis is of course correct, even if with hindsight questions can be asked about the correctness of the tactic of boycott itself. However, this attitude gives one a good sense of how Strini saw the post 1994 settlement. In the last interview he did before he passed on, which is published in Biko Lives!: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko, he called for a revolutionary overthrow of the 1994 settlement so as to end white rule now managed by the ANC. This is what he said:

“From my point of view it’s a good thing that BC [Black Consciousness] was written out of the struggle. Because if was written in, then we are part of the problem. Now we’re still part of the solution”.

Umtapo is trying hard to write Moodley into the history of the struggle from the perspective of the ruling party and apologists of the “rainbow nation” like Jonathan Jansen. This is a betrayal of the memory and legacy of the uber revolutionary who was prepared to pay the highest price for his belief in revolutionary change. The vilified students with their militant struggles are the more deserving heirs of the memory and legacy of Strini Moodley and it’s time that the fighting young people of our country get better acquainted with who Moodley was. Mercifully, at the annual lecture a few of those who intervened during the question and answer session defended Moodley’s sterling revolutionary legacy and denounced Jansen as a servant of white supremacy. This happened to the chagrin of some board member of Umtapo who even ventured to say that Moodley would have been happy with Jansen. Even familial relations were mobilised to try and project Moodley as a liberal at home with the likes of Jansen. This kind of distortion needs to be resolutely rejected and to this end the true legacy of Strini Moodley must be defended and elevated.

University of the Free State rector Prof. Jonathan Jansen during an interview on October 2, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa. Image by: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lisa Hnatowicz
University of the Free State rector Prof. Jonathan Jansen. Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lisa Hnatowicz

Moodley was a radical black consciousness revolutionary. This is evidently true as can be gleaned from all his interviews and actions. In one of the wide ranging interviews with John Carling he clarified several points which gives us his exact position. On the ANC he was clear that he and other BC militants rejected the “go soft” position of the ANC elders. Furthermore, they were animated by the ANC Youth League of Lembede and Robert Sobukwe with its radical programme of action which in turn was before the adoption of the Freedom Charter. The fact that the Freedom Charter was at variance with the programme of action led to Sobukwe is the main reason for Sobukwe leaving the ANC and forming the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) in 1959. Moodley told Carling that, “(t)he older history of the African National Congress was one of more wanting to talk to the enemy, wanting to go and meet the Queen, and put a memorandum to them. It was wanting … not to free the country, but actually to become part of the system that’s already existing.”

Moodley’s position, quite clearly, is consistent with Biko’s political approach of refusing to dialogue with the enemy. Moodley spent most of his time in Robben Island, locked in a cell adjacent to Nelson Mandela. That is where he formed a clear impression of Madiba as a compromiser – a value he detested palpably. He explains the two attitudes towards white authority: the ANC attitude was one of reconciling with ones situation, the Black Consciousness attitude was one of rebelling against the situation. Here Moodley explains the prison condition and how they dealt with it:

“When we arrived on Robben Island, 95% of the prisoners were sleeping on a mat and given four blankets. No pajamas. No underwear. And prison outfits–pair of shorts, pair of longs, a short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, a jacket and a jersey. That was all. And a pair of prison shoes. That’s when we thought now a new war begins. We have got to change the conditions here. Ours was, obviously, an aggressive approach. We entered upon hunger strikes. We refused to work. We refused to be locked up. We did all those kinds of things, which was very different from the way in which Nelson Mandela was doing it. So from the point of view of political philosophy, and from the point of view of strategies to deal with the prison authorities, we dealt with them very separately, very differently. That is how my initial kind of belief that I’m coming to meet a real revolutionary, each day I found this is not a revolutionary. He is more the reformer, from my point of view.”

The image of Moodley as the dialogue man presented at the Umtapo lecture is at variance with what Moodley himself had expressed and to this end what we know of him. Moodley’s shock at Madiba’s compromise for the sake of jailer’s peace speaks volumes. Here he describes events that occurred while he was Madiba’s neighbour on the Island:

“… this young 17-year-old came to open up the doors and said, “Good morning,” and I never greeted. I felt I had no obligation to greet prison warders. But he opened Nelson’s door, and said, “Good morning, Nelson,” and I freaked. I went straight to Nelson and I said, “But how can you allow this little white boy here to call you Nelson? He must either call you Mr. Mandela, or Sir. You can’t allow him to call you Nelson. He’s a little kid.” And he said, “Oh, come on my boy, don’t worry about that. These are little things. We’re in prison now. We’ve got to take them in our stride.” I just thought no, that’s something I would not be able to deal with that kind of thing, because this is my leader. I can’t have some little white boy calling him Nelson”.

Today Strini is presented in the Gandhian satyagraha and Madiba mould. In fact Moodley explains how one of the main points of disagreements he had with Mandela was on the homeland leaders and system. In this respect Mandela was reconciliatory while Moodley and his BC group has branded them as collaborators with the oppressive system. Moreover, the BC group had expelled the homeland leaders from the definition of “Black” – homeland leaders and other collaborators and cowards were deemed “non-whites”.

Strini Moodley was a proud Klipgooier to the end of his life. This is how we must remember him. He left us a legacy of courage, of ethical revolutionary resistance, of courage in the face of impossible odds, of standing for principles at whatever cost. This is the legacy we must defend. Lets hear how Strini disregarded the apartheid Minister and earned himself the name Klipgooier (stone thrower). It must be remembered that the 1976, June 16, rebellion is known as resistance by “Klipgooiers”. The children of Soweto didn’t have bullets so they used rocks to break down the monster of apartheid. Here Moodley recalls the day Kruger visited Robben Island:

“There was another occasion, this character Kruger came to Robben Island to visit. I think he was the minister of justice or something. The warders came into the section and said, “All of you must shine your shoes, and put on your jackets and dress up smartly, and you must stand at attention with your prison spoon in your pocket, and your card in your hand, your prison card, and stand to attention.” So I said, “Why must I do that?” And they said, “The minister of justice is coming,” and I said, “To hell with it. I must stand to attention for the minister of justice, you just got to be crazy. I’ll never do that.” Kruger duly came in, and I just lolled on my bed reading a magazine … while Kruger came past and he looked in at me, and he asked them, and they said, “No, don’t worry about him, he’s one of those klipgooiers,” which [meant] stone-throwers. I was curious, so the moment he passed my door, I got up and I looked and there was Nelson standing at attention. I just thought, whew, I certainly didn’t come to Robben Island to see all my dreams, my vision of a great revolutionary shattered like this”.

Umtapo must decide if they want to honor Strini Moodley or if they want to do a Madiba and Ghandi memorial lecture.  Any use of Strini’s name to bolster the rainbow nation and legitimise agents of white supremacy, such as Jonathan Jansen, must be resisted completely.

Umtapo is busy murdering the memory of Strini Moodley, the gentle giant of the Azania revolution and a splendid Klipgooier.

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