Sadly, Bra Ace Mgxashe passed away in his hometown of Cape Town on Sunday 21 July 2013 after a severe bout of shortness of breath. He had always complained to most Africanists close to him that he was not well, but that he would soldier on and among the many projects he had to continue included work on his manuscript of liberation struggle memoirs as a follow up to his book titled “Are you with Us – The Story of a PAC Activist”, published by Tafelberg.
Bra Ace was a journalist for several major newspapers in Southern Africa during his years in exile and when he returned home after the PAC was un-banned in 1990. He wrote boldly about the inner workings of the Party and he invariably disturbed the even tenor of many cadres and leaders with his controversial insights. A kind of maverick you could say, but clearly a man with a dose of opinions on many issues pertaining to the history of the PAC. He was seconded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a scribe and became privy to the securicrats’ evil operations and the many excesses committed by the liberation movement as well. He particularly gave me overwhelming support when I had a run-in with some ANC bigwigs enriching themselves by stealing from the poor in the community of former political prisoners.
I first met Bra Ace in Botswana around 1982 or so when the PAC chief representative introduced us to one another. At the time, I was secretary of the African Writers Association and book editor at Skotaville Publishers. Ace was going to take me to Bessie Head’s place in Serowe for me to complete a series of interviews with South African writers. It was good for me to learn that Bessie Head – a great African woman writer – was also a PAC activist. Mxolisi and I instead had evening long discussions on political treatise and the many frustrations and advantages of working as a writer from exile. But I regrettably could not interview him at the time. He later wrote something that the Botswana authorities were not happy with and he was shunted out of the country.
At some point Bra Ace also attacked then PAC Chairman, John Nyati Pokela, from his embedded journalism vantage point, and made many PAC cadres unhappy. I took it he was an impulsive man and did not give time to critical thought and serious reflection when he articulated his views. In the newsroom they are pressed to meet deadlines and raise the heckles of their subjects through sensationalism in order to sell the newspapers. He could easily have fallen victim to this subjective condition. At heart, he was well meaning with his writings. Blinkered comrades do not understand that among us we have creative talent that cannot be muzzled. This talent needs an open platform within the Party to ventilate their opinion and get feedback in debates and objective discussions. Harnessed properly, this talent becomes your gift to society to be appreciated and acknowledged as true sons and daughters of the nation.
The late Mxolisi rubbed shoulders with reknown leftist academics such as the late Archie Mafeje. He waxed lyrical about the advent of Letlapa Mphahlele in the leadership of the PAC in 2006. I held a contrary view – not about personalities but the way in which desperation and the slide backwards into anarchy were pushing the PAC’s revival the wrong way. We would disagree strongly. His reference was to the experience in exile and the reverses brought about by undemocratic behavior. After a few months he came back fuming when Letlapa disappointed him in a political scheme they had planned for the Western Cape. He could now see the writings on the wall and he broke ranks.
Bra Ace was against corruption and dictatorial tendencies. He is one of those who think the PAC in its current form is beyond redemption. I respectfully disagree. It is not the PAC that is beyond redemption. It is a few lost characters who have stolen the Party machinery. We are going through a reactionary phase of our history of struggle. We unfortunately have the propensity to learn the hard way. Revolutionaries need to learn to be patient and to work hard sharpening their skills in order to serve the African people in a systematic way. They must not follow the four winds. We must not work for instant personal gratification.
My views are informed by Sobukwe’s approach: history will choose its tools. Time is longer than rope. The African Revolution is ultimately going to achieve victory. Sobukwe said we must learn not to be blinded by the dust of the struggle – the glittering golden gates of total liberation were up the road. We must soldier on. Mxolisi Ace Mgxashe trials and tribulations in his life experience is for me a page to read from, to learn from it, and to appreciate his contributions. Another son of the soil has fallen.
By Jaki Seroke