EULOGY BY PREMIER SIHLE ZIKALALA DURING THE SPECIAL OFFICIAL PROVINCIAL FUNERAL SERVICE OF MEC MUNTUKAYISE BHEKUYISE NTULI , ESIKHALENI COMMUNITY HALL, EMPANGENI, 21 JANUARY 2021
The fateful evening of January 16, 2021 compels us to believe the unbelievable and to say and to say what is difficult to say. As we bid farewell to this great giant of our revolution MEC Bheki Ntuli, we still find it difficult to accept that he is no more. It is difficult to say that an ever jovial, energetic and passionate servant of the people is no more. To say Mphemba is no more akushokeki, and one wishes it was but a dream that we would be woken from.
How to believe that a person who is always everywhere, crisscrossing the province serving the people who are traumatized by accidents; how to believe that someone who is always there to deal with crime and violence is no more! How to believe that someone whose presence and warmth was felt even in somber moments! How do we say goodbye to someone who was able to comfort, bring a smile, and trigger a laugh during our solemn moments and times of grief. Though, it is not easy and unbelievable, we say Farewell Cde Bheki Ntuli, Fare Thee Well Cde Mphemba.
Describing today’s “new normal” where friends and comrades can’t join in the singing, where communities can’t risk sharing tears in flesh, KwaZulu-Natal born poet, Sandile Ngidi, recently captured the unimaginable pain and trauma of our epoch where he writes:
“The stubborn heaviness in our shoulders. The bloodshot eyes, now we know, our lives are being irrevocably torn apart. Those who are ill, dying and dead, are familiar names. Family. Friends. Beloved ones. Death is no longer a metaphor. The nightmare. The nightmare. The nightmare.”
The reality of this nightmare has struck closer home. It has robbed our nation of a modern-day sage who was a gift from our ancestors to show us that we vulnerable mortals can defy death and become gods of life and everlasting hope.
And so, with heavy hearts, we are gathered here Esikhawini to bid farewell to the death-defying special son of our province, MEC Muntukayise Bhekuyise Ntuli, affectionately known as Mphemba, whose untimely demise dealt the province a heavy blow.
To the Ntuli and Zulu families, the pain is made the more unbearable because their deep wounds have not completely healed. Just over a year ago, this fallen patriot and the Ntuli family, were burying a bone of their bones, a flesh of their flesh, their son, Nkululeko Ntuli.
For our government and the African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal, the blow is made more severe by the fact that Mphemba took his last breath on the day we laid to rest our struggle icon and veteran, Mama Thandi Cecilia Memela. And we are still bleeding, since not long ago, we laid to rest his close comrades and members of our Legislature that we worked with – Cde Ricardo Mthembu and Cde Mluleki Ndobe.
In Mphemba the province has lost a dedicated, devoted and humble servant of the despised and the downtrodden. We have lost a peace ambassador and champion of the poor and the working class who put people first in the implementation of service delivery.
Like a duck whose feathers remain dry despite being immersed in water, Mphemba transcended devastating violence and bloodshed which was prevalent in the province in the eighties and the nineties by forging peace and tolerance with his political adversaries.
Like a Chief Albert Luthuli, he knew that the road to freedom goes via the cross. He accepted that he could not call himself a freedom fighter if he was not prepared to die for freedom.
In his life, he became an epitome and personification of forgiveness.
Each day, his big, magnanimous heart was strengthened as he remained focused on his passion to escape any seed of hatred and conflict in our province. Mphemba lived forgiveness, and this made him to live freely without the burden of hatred.
Fidel Castro reminds those who join the struggle, or those who pursue the National Democratic Revolution in our case, that: “A revolution is not a bed of roses.” Instead, “A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past”.
Still, we can venture to say that it is probably Che Guevara who best describes Mphemba where Guevara says, and I quote: “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
Cde Mphemba surrendered himself and his being to the cause of liberation to free his country and its people from the yoke of apartheid and discrimination. Through his passion and dedication, he carried all tasks assigned to him with passion and great dedication. As part of workers’ struggle, he became one of the outstanding and committed shop stewards of the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU).
As part of the ANC, Cde Mphemba was always assigned the most delicate, the most difficult, and the most challenging tasks, tasks which he always executed diligently and without complaining. When the ANC was still banned and it deployed Cde Willies Mchunu to lead the establishment of the ANC structures and eventual launch of the then Northern Natal Region, Cde Mpemba played a critical role in the establishment of self-defence units which helped to protect the people who were under vicious attacks in the violence orchestrated and sponsored by the apartheid regime.
His participation in the struggle earned himself enemies who went all out trying to kill him. He survived several assassinations attempts on his life and lost four family members in quick succession in 1995. This includes his mother who was brutally killed during the attack on his homestead.
Political violence in the 1990s pitted children against parents, sibling against sibling. It eradicated family bonds and kinship in its wake, leaving behind a trail of death, destruction and sorrow.
Mphemba and his brother Comrade Jabulani “JJ” Ntuli, a victim of the violence too, were politically matured to want peace for everyone. They understood that there were causalities from all sides, and that mistakes were committed by both the perpetrators of violence and those defending themselves from it.
Asked by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) how he felt by the nightmare he had been through as an ANC activist and COSATU shop steward, Cde Bheki Ntuli responded as follow:
“What really affects me is that I wasn't just the only one who was affected. This affected people whom I loved very much - members of the ANC, SACP, COSATU and my mother, because of me, and my family - I'm from a very big family and my brothers left their houses because of me, because the Ntuli name had the [bad] legacy because of me. The last person who died was a Ntuli person. They killed him even though he was an Inkatha member, but they killed him because of the name Ntuli.”
Asked about his wish, Mphemba said to the TRC:
“What I will ask you to do is something which is not for me personally. It's something for everyone who was affected because of the political violence…Some people from IFP were tortured, because even ANC members also protected themselves by attacking IFP members. So everyone was affected.”
Undeterred by these painful events visited upon his family, Mphemba continued his noble fight for the liberation of the country from oppression and repression because he placed the goal of liberation and love for his country above his own safety and comfort. Since 1996, Cde Mphemba worked in the Peace and Stability structures, and when he became part of the Provincial Leadership he was assigned to chair this subcommittee on peace.
Mphemba was and outstanding organiser. In areas where there were no ANC structures, he would smoothly infiltrate and establish ANC structures. Thanks to his organisational acumen, the establishment of the ANC in Northern Natal is due to the dedication, sacrifices, and suffering of dedicated activists like Cde Bheki Ntuli.
For Cde Mphemba the struggle was not about positions but the service to the movement and the people. He never fought for positions. Despite being the Regional Chairperson, he accepted not being sent to the Legislature and was happy to remain with the movement and do important organisational work. Even when he was deployed in Parliament and later our Legislature, he never saw himself to be better or wiser than others.
As the Chairperson of the Legislature Portfolio Committee on community safety and Liaison, he crisscrossed the length and breadth of the province assisting in building peace and stability in the province.
Unbeknown to him, his passion for peace and unity was preparing him for his future portfolio which he executed with great aplomb and determination. We need more people like Mphemba who adhere tenaciously to the principles Batho Pele when it comes to service delivery.
Having worked all his life to improve the living conditions of the deeply rural and impoverished Northern KwaZulu-Natal, it was one of the best decisions that we took to make him MEC Champion for Operation Sukuma Sakhe for the Zululand district.
He had started to improve stakeholder engagement and to champion the review of the current model of OSS with a view to make it more impactful in addressing the basic needs of poor, rural communities. We will continue to consult and engage Members of the Executive Council and our Legislature on initiating OSS awards and naming one after MEC Ntuli for his tireless efforts in improving service delivery to meet the basic needs of the poorest of the poor.
As MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Mphemba was instrumental in building physical bridges that linked families and villages that once were political enemies during the height of violence. His Department will attest that he wanted his Department to be known for service delivery, especially infrastructure roll out which is key to job creation, rural development, and black economic empowerment.
In our Legislature, we will miss him as a natural democrat and an unfailing reconciler. He was trusted by all political parties and his circle of friends transcended his comrades in the ANC to key leaders of the IFP and other political parties.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has lost a seasoned cadre who exceptionally led its Peace and Stability Sub-Committee for more than twenty years. And as MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, he was a crime fighter par excellence who had a plan to drastically reduce levels of crime, political killings and taxi violence that threatened to derail investor confidence in the province.
He crisscrossed the country and going as far as reaching hostels in Gauteng to fight crime and forge lasting peace.
As Chairperson of the Multiparty Political Intervention Committee in the KZN Legislature, Mphemba was passionate about advancing multiparty democracy and political tolerance.
We can say it without any fear of contradiction that Mphemba was always seized with the question of unity, stability, and development in KwaZulu-Natal. He perfectly understood that divisions was the enemy of progress in a province that lost so many people to violence in the eighties and nineties. He despised factions not just in the ANC, but also in other political parties because he knew that divisions and prolonged strife can only be a cause of suffering and a nightmare for the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
Born and bred in Brighton, Mtubatuba, he was raised in a loving family that inculcated respect and the idea that everybody is somebody. And so, it was naturally easy for Mphemba to establish rapport with all stakeholders and earn their respect.
He had a special relationship with traditional leaders and religious leaders in KwaZulu-Natal. These stakeholders will attest that they respected him and trusted him. He was always consultative and valued views from everyone.
When he became MEC, he was not shy or embarrassed to consult his predecessor, much younger than him, to ensure that under his leadership, the Department succeeds in honouring previous commitments to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. For him, success was for all the people of KwaZulu-Natal, but if there was any failure in meeting the expectations of the people, he owned up and said the buck stops with him.
Mphemba loved people and his source of happiness was seeing others happy. He was never about positions, rank, protocol, or status. When he found our people singing and dancing to ingomabusuku or maskandi, he fitted perfectly with them. He was in sync with their dances and was in harmony with their tunes.
When he was with the faithful in church, he led in song and sang to the heavens from the depth of his heart. The smiles and laughter of ordinary people nourished and sustained him. The small triumphs of his people, of the downtrodden, fired him up and gave him hope that our future will be better than our past
Although Mphemba was older and senior than a number of us in the PEC and in our government, he was always humble, attentive, and welcoming. He could never use his seniority, struggle credentials, or achievements to elevate himself above any member or decisions of our organisation.
In him, we have lost a principled comrade and a caring brother that we could trust, that we could confide in and seek advice. We have lost a leader who was a friend of all comrades in the ANC, not only those that he agreed with politically or ideologically.
Our people have lost an avowed opponent of patriarchy and gender-based violence, a leader who fiercely criticised those who practised and supported such nefarious acts.
He wanted the women of our country to enjoy the fruits of freedom by travailing and traversing the valleys and streets of our country and province without fear of being attacked or harassed.
He was working around the clock to reduce crime and Gender Based Violence in identified hotspots like Inanda, KwaMashu, and Plessislaer.
We pay tribute to him for remaining a ferocious and fearless fighter of note who worked tirelessly to reduce taxi violence and road fatalities that left a trail of death and destruction in the province.
The carnage on our roads was a sore point for him, and he leaves us at a time when he was seized with the task of changing the mind-set of drivers to reduce fatalities on the KwaZulu-Natal roads.
He was at the forefront in the battle against Covid-19, currently wreaking havoc and devastation in the province, country-wide, continentally and globally. He personally conducted roadblocks to ensure that road users and commuters adhered to Covid-19 protocols and regulations.
Such was his dedication and determination to slow down the spread of the pandemic in the province. Nothing would be more befitting to his memory than for all of us to embrace the preventative measures to be safe from the pandemic.
We will not forget his instrumental role in forging unity and reconciliation among various student formations to promote the culture of peace and tolerance at the University of Zululand.
We implore our young student leaders from various tertiary institutions to keep Mphemba’s memory alive by ironing out political differences in an amiable and amicable manner. We implore them to make the best use of the educational opportunities that our democratic government under the ANC is offering so that they can liberate themselves and our country from poverty and inequality.
Mphemba was a conqueror, his sense of humour and natural laughter were weapons he used to defuse tense situations and consequently endeared himself to all he met and interacted with.
His revolutionary love and legacy will always be etched in our memory. Like him, we must never fail to extend the olive branch and building bridges with our political opponents. Inside our own organisation, we must sit with comrades we disagree with, correct each other, and smoke the peace pipe so that we can be effective in advancing development. Mphemba knew that an ANC that was perpetually at war with itself cannot best serve the needs of our people.
We send our deepest condolences to the family and hope that they will find solace and consolation in that Mphemba was a good ambassador who relentlessly fought for peace and unity until the end.
We echo the words of the scripture found in the gospel of Matthew 5 verse 9 which proclaim: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.”
Indeed, we were blessed and honoured to have uMphemba as the peacemaker in our midst.
We can only pay forward his legacy by doing our best to be like him. To work tirelessly for the unity of the people of KwaZulu-Natal and the unity of his organisation, the ANC.
We can only honour his memory by never forgetting about the everlasting gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We can only say we have emulated him by remembering that no matter how huge our differences, no matter the pain that we have endured, ultimately it must be about serving the common good and fulfilling the dream of a better life for all.
If we succeed in achieving justice for the poor, if we succeed to defeat hunger, poverty, and inequality, then indeed we will say the pain that Mphemba and his family went through was not in vain.
We would have erected in our hearts a shining and a lasting monument to his legacy.
We would have turned our nightmare into our moment of hope, rebirth, and triumph.
Knowing his conviction and his passion of serving our people, if Mphemba was to speak to us today, he would apologise. He would say I’m sorry comrades that I left you with such mountainous tasks on your shoulders. But you must solider on with the struggle.
At the break of dawn, we will pick up your spear Ndlela ka Sompisi and forge ahead with the task of liberating our people from the shackles and indignity of poverty and want. We will defy death and bind the wounds our nation. To heal all, as you would have wished, we will defy the nightmare of death and water the seeds of peace, forgiveness, and love which you planted.
Hamba kahle Mkhonto!
Hamba kahle Mphemba, Bhele elihle
Wena owaphemba ngebele abanye