Tribute to Vusumuzi Johnson Nyathi

(Picture: Jaki Seroke. Johnson Nyathi, front: second from right in blue jeans, poses with other veterans)

This is an attempt to profile an outstanding fallen hero. Like many similar attempts it is too little too late. Like all other times we wait until our heroes are gone, before we testify about their greatness. In the process we continue to cede revered spaces to charlatans who merely present passing acts which will have no space in the annals of history.

The loss to the PAC family is unimaginable. His biological family first lost him to the struggle for land repossession against settler colonialism represented by the surrogate apartheid state system.

This Africanist was beautiful inside and out, a genuine lover of his motherland. When death stirred him in the face he did not blink. He took the bullets for many in his broad shoulders; even when the apartheid killer machine fired its best shot, like a true African warrior he refused to surrender his soul to them: “Much pleasure then from thee; much more must flow and soonest our best man with thee doe goe” (Death be not proud)

Johnson Nyathi (known as “Emperor Saga” during the Bethal Trial) was born in Krugersdorp in 1945. Like many of us he joined the PAC at a tender age in 1961. He responded to the clarion call by Potlako Lebalo in 1963: “The year of the Destiny “. The cross-border raid, lead to the confiscation of documents including membership registers. Nyathi’s name was in those lists and he together with many Africanists were rounded up and taken in. He was sentenced to two years served and served it at Kroonstad.

Fast forward to another clarion call by Zeph Mothopeng in 1975: “The cattle is boiling”, Johnson Nyathi responded again and was detained in December 1976 in what the enemy dubbed the final assault on the PAC. This culminated in the Bethal Trial and as many as more than 150 members were listed as state witnesses.

During interrogation which claimed the lives of four comrades, Johnson Nyathi was thrown out of the window from the fourth floor of the Krugersdorp police station. An SAP policeman who was coming to work, noticed Nyathi who was unconscious in a pool of blood down in the street. He called an ambulance without knowing the intentions of the security branch. He was taken to Leratong hospital. The nurses there tried to hide him as the security branch followed him there. After realising that there were too many witnesses, they pretended to be asking him questions. He was paralysed from the waist. He never fully recovered from this brutality. Part of his death is attributed to injuries sustained during that time.

He was accused number 14 in Bethal and was sentenced to ten years. On his way to Robben Island, the Security police fetched him and charged him again with ” attempting to escape from lawful castody “.Whilst we mourn this great son of the soil; let us take comfort in the belief that Africanists revolutionaries will celebrate his life on the other side. Masimkhulule with his favourite song:

Bonwabil’abafayo befele’mathafeni
Befeli’zinfungo befele’dabini
Bonwabil’oLumumba noo Limbede phezulu
Basenzel’amagwatyu basikhomba phambili…

Salute JJ

Rest now your time has come. Painful though parting be, we bow to you as we see you off to distant clouds. (Emperor Saga)

Izwe Lethu!iAfrika

By Sthembele KhalaBethal Trialist(Accused number 6) and former Soweto Students Representative Council member in 1976.