Ms Constance Mhlwatika and members of the Barayi Family;
Premier David Makhura;
Your Worship, the Mayor of Merafong;
President of COSATU Cde Zingiswa Losi;
Chairman of the SACP, Cde Senzeni Zokwana;
President of the NUM, Cde Joseph Montisetsi,
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Today we are here to honour and celebrate the life of a former activist and a leader who gave the best years of his life in service to the cause of our liberation.
Comrade Elijah Barayi was born on 15th of June in 1930 in Lingelihle also known as Cradock in the Eastern Cape. He was one of eight children of working class parents. He was born at a time when the world was still recovering from the after effects of the First World War, which ended in 1918 ~ with little knowledge that armed conflict was about to escalate again with the onset of the Second World War in 1939.
Despite growing up during a time of conflict and turmoil, Comrade Elijah Barayi still managed to complete his primary education at Lwana Primary School and his junior certificate at Nuwell High School. He then matriculated at Healdtown Institute in 1949.
Like most of us Comrade Barayi is a child of his environment. His family was part of the African Community in Cradock where the political and spiritual sustenance and guidance was generously provided by Canon James Arthur Calata.
Canon James Arthur Calata was a consummate activist against racial discrimination in all its forms and wherever it manifested itself. He was a formidable leader of the African National Congress who served as the President in the Cape Province and at national level where he served as the Secretary General.
He served in both leadership positions at the same time. In those days each province of the ANC was led by a President hence the national President was referred to as the President General, the National Secretary as the Secretary General and the National Treasurer as the Treasurer General to distinguish them from the leaders of the provinces.
His leadership was most profoundly felt within the Anglican Church where he led the struggle for transformation by fusing the Gospel with the effort to free Africans from oppression.
From his sermons and exemplary life the church learned that to be a good Christian one should not wait for the world hereafter whilst such other worldliness renders you useless to your neighbours. But to be your brother’s keeper here on earth, is to serve the noble teachings of the scriptures.
All of this dedicated life of service made Canon Calata a target of the racists and the Special Branch of the South African Police. He was detained countless times including in the wake of the Congress of the People on the 5th November 1955. He was thus one of the 156 leaders who were to face high treason charges in 1956.
Comrade Elijah Barayi was a protégé of Canon Calata and never spared himself in taking the struggle of his mentor and the oppressed to a higher level.
Comrade Barayi joined the ANC Youth League in 1952 and promptly established a reputation as an efficient organiser and a highly capable speaker. This in itself also drew the attention of the Security Machinery at the time and he was arrested in the early 1950s for his participation in the Defiance Campaign.
His commitment to our struggle was evidenced by his resigning from secure employment at the Department of Native Affairs, because he felt that they were at the very centre of administering apartheid. Thereafter, there was no turning back.
He left the Eastern Cape to take up employment as a clerk at State Mines in Brakpan by day and at night he was an organising secretary for the ANC. Consequently, he was detained during the 1960 State of Emergency and held for six months.
Following his move to Carltonville in May 1973, Comrade Barayi joined the ranks of mineworkers in the mines and rose to become a personal assistant by 1976.
Having witnessed the conditions that mineworkers experienced underground, he became active in establishing the trade union branch at Blyvooruitzicht gold mine in Carletonville. In 1981 he became a shaft steward at Blyvooruitzicht.
He gave himself to the struggle of workers with the same vigour that he had served with in the ANC Youth League in his youth.
When the ANC was at its weakest, following the Presidency of Pixley Ka Isaaka Seme, Zacharias Mahabane was elected as the President General to try and revive the ANC. His Secretary General in this effort was none other than Canon Calata from Cradock, who is the guiding light that influenced Comrade Elijah Barayi in an abiding way.
Canon James Arthur Calata organised a special conference to celebrate the ANC Silver Jubilee in December 1937 with the theme: “Re-organisation of the ANC”.
Calata made observations on J.B. Marks and Moses Kotane during the conference when he noted that these two communists were brilliant and loyal ANC members. A coordinating committee was formed with J.B. Marks the secretary and Mweli Skota the Chairman. Calata was, therefore, one of the first leaders of the ANC who worked with leaders of the Communist Party of South Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1982, the National Union of Mineworkers was formed with Comrade James Motlatsi elected as President, Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa as General Secretary and Comrade Elijah Barayi as its Vice-President. In fact, the first ANC member that Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa met was Comrade Elijah Barayi. In May 1985 he led 9000 miners at Bly-voor-uit-zicht on strike in protest against the dismissal of two shaft stewards.
The NUM was an affiliate of CUSA, one of the many Trade Union Federations that were at the time involved in the unity talks aimed at uniting all trade unions under one Federation. When CUSA quibbled and filibustered over semantics such as insisting on ‘anti-racism’ in place of ‘non-racialism’ as a precondition for their continued participation in the unity talks, Comrade Barayi led the NUM out of CUSA to join other unions which united to form the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
In December 1985 at the launch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Comrade Barayi was elected the first President of the Federation. From the onset, he launched COSATU as a fighting federation and was immediately criticised by those leaders who sought to steer COSATU away from political struggles. His general political attitude was simply that workers should not be reduced to paralysis by embracing a legalistic approach to the struggle.
He urged workers to rise and mobilise against any injustice visited upon them and promised that the trade unions would employ services of lawyers to represent them in the event that their actions led to arrest or dismissal.
Part of his exact words were: “to the South African government, I say: your time is over… we do not apologize for being Black. We are proud of it. As from today we do not apologise for being Black. We are proud of it. As from today Mandela and all political prisoners should be released. PW Botha you have failed in your duties to release Mandela”.
He then proceeded to demand that the government of PW Botha should abolish the pass laws. He gave them six months to comply with this demand or face the threat of COSATU embarking on a pass burning campaign. The Government relented and introduced the bar-coded green Identity Document and amended the pass laws accordingly.
He also stated, that disinvestment would work towards the dismantling of apartheid if it was fully applied and pressure was brought to bear on South Africa by the United States of America and Great Britain.
In 1986, when the nationwide state of emergency was declared, he was detained for two weeks and then restricted to the Carltonville Magisterial district. He defied his restrictions and he was thus arrested for breaking the orders.
In the process of him being arrested, the Police broke his arm and he spent his tenure in prison with his arm in a white cast made of Plaster of Paris. His indomitable spirit of defiance did not take this lying down. Upon his release, he emerged from prison with “Hands off Cosatu” written on the white cast on his arm and thus launched a defiance campaign. By 1987 he was back evangelising and mobilising our people on the struggle for worker’s rights.
After the unbanning of the ANC, many of our comrades who were in jail or in exile came home and some were elected into positions of leadership at the 48th National Conference of the ANC on home soil in 1991.
But, Comrade Elijah Barayi retired from COSATU at the age of 61 in 1991. In 1993, he retired from his work at the mines and following a short illness, he passed away on 24th of January in 1994, leaving behind his wife, Nontobeko and their children. At the time of his passing on Comrade Barayi was at number 35 of the ANC national list of parliamentary nominees.
The challenge that the passing of the old guard presents to us who are left behind is to ask ourselves if we are living a life that is worthy of the sacrifices they have made or whether we have traded the gains they have made for a life of self-advancement with no patriotic pursuit.
Comrade Elijah Barayi, is an exemplar of the kind of leader who rose at a time when we in the liberation movement held ourselves to a higher standard of leadership and service. When he was President of Cosatu, he was surrounded by a team of individuals of the highest calibre of leadership such as Comrade Chris Dlamini who was the Deputy President and Jay Naidoo who was the General Secretary, Comrade Makhulu Ledwaba, Comrade Sydney Mufamadi and leaders of the affiliates.
This was a time when activism was the central thrust that drove the execution of a clear program of action that was derived from a command structure that championed thought leadership. This was back in the day when the movement was led with plural thought and unity of command.
In the face of such an exemplar, we find ourselves faced with the reality that we are more than what we have allowed ourselves to become.
We owe Comrade Barayi, not a monument of stone, but a living monument of young and old alike that live the values that he exemplified in what was a life well lived.
These values centre around three pillars:
- Patriotism that is based on a genuine love for the people of this country and the continent.
- For instance, Bishop Z. Siwa of the Methodist church once delivered a profound sermon in which he explained the negative impact of the invention of a mirror. He stated that before the invention of a mirror human beings could only see beauty in others. So today some leaders and public representatives look into the mirror and fall in love with what they see _ or: a politician may even refer to what he sees in the mirror as the ‘people’, thus substituting himself for the real people. It is important to see beauty in others.
- A love for freedom that is backed up by conscious activism.
- The ability to hold those entrusted with office in all spheres of life accountable for how they lead those who have called upon them to serve.
- These values are not new. They reflect solidarity based on the principle: An injury to one is an injury to all. Comrade Barayi worked with and led workers who lived this principle.
- We remember Comrade Motsamayi who, having lived for 2 years without a job following the mass dismissals of 1987, got a job in an andalusite mine in Limpopo but once he learned that he and his fellow-workers had been employed to replace workers who had been dismissed for demanding better wages and working conditions he immediately mobilised the workers to strike or embark on industrial action in support of the demand for the re-instatement of the dismissed workers. The success of their strike would result in them losing their newly-found jobs.
That was an act of solidarity! The opposite is what transpired between two friends who faced the danger of an attack by a
lion _ one friend suggested to wage a frontal attack on the lion and proposed that the other friend should wage an attack from the rear. However, the other friend started fastening his boot-laces in preparation to run away and informed his friend that he intends to outrun him so that the lion can feed on him. This is not solidarity!
They reflect what was agreed upon at the Congress of the People in Kliptown on the 26th of June 1955 when our people adopted the Freedom Charter.
They reflect the spirit of what we distilled into the South African Constitution when it was adopted in 1996 and they reflect the desire that is articulated in the Africa we wish to live in by 2063.
They reflect service, dexterity, perseverance, commitment and courage.
What is new is that the political and socio-economic terrain has changed, but even under such conditions, it is the values of cadres such as Comrade Barayi that are the beacons that can help us navigate to the best expression of ourselves as the offspring of freedom fighters and activists.
Let me leave you with the words of James Baldwin in his book “The Fire Next Time”:
“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate”
I thank you.