Robben Island Museum (RIM), paid homage to the late Govan Mbeki on Tuesday, 09 July 2019 at an evening’s memorial lecture. The programme for the night included guest speakers such as former Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, who spoke about the influence that ‘Oom Gov’ has on his fellow comrades who were also involved in the struggle movement in South Africa. The evening was also attended by one of the only two remaining Rivonia trialists, Denis Goldberg, who was active in the struggle against apartheid and was co-accused along with Mbeki and imprisoned for 22 years.

The Govan Mbeki Memorial lecture is a part of a series of annual lectures to provide a platform for the accumulation for multiple ex-political prisoner voices in the RIM narrative. In this way RIM will slowly gather momentum in multiplying the voices that emerge from the island. This series was launched in 2018 to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.

Under the theme “Govan Mbeki the Political Philanthropist”; the lecture picked on his role as political organizer, critical journalist, educator, an author and a senior politician in both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. 

Govan Mbeki joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the 1950’s and remained a communist and a firm believer in the superior morality of socialism to his last day. He threw himself into the work of linking the struggle for socialism in our country with the struggle for the national liberation of black people by cementing strong relations between the SACP, the African National Congress and the trade union movement.

Keynote speaker Retired Chief Justice, Moseneke dove into an insightful timeline of Mbeki’s life and how he left a positive legacy on all of those around him. “In 1941 Mbeki was elected as the Secretary of the Transkei Voters Association, a position he held until 1948. He left Transkei in 1953 to take up a teaching post in Ladysmith, and then later in Post Elizabeth. The same year he joined the new South African Communist Party, and continued to educate locals in political awareness. He was approach by the Communist party and offered a position to head the newspaper, the ‘New Age’, which was eventually banned in 1950 in Port Elizabeth. Besides his work at the New Age Govan Mbeki was actively involved in underground political awareness and held educational classes in the local townships. He also wrote for two leftist publications, one being a paper edited by Ruth First.

Moseneke goes on to recite a preface in Mbeki’s book ‘The People’s Revolt’ where friend and fellow activist, Ruth First accounts for her time with one of ANC’s most prolific and thoughtful leaders, “Govan Mbeki had a sharp mind, intolerant of the foolish and faint hearted, but in between the meetings and drafting of circulars and resolutions, the stern disciplinarian becomes a gentle and considerate friend.”

Co-accused, Denis Goldberg graced the stage to share a few words about Oom Gov, “Govan Mbeki was capable of mobilising thousands of people to fight for freedom. Freedom doesn’t fall from the trees. We need to think of the thousands that fell to the Apartheid government that sacrificed their lives for the struggle and the many years of political imprisonment; we need to remember those who were prepared to die for our country’s freedom.”

The evening continued with more talks by ex-political prisoners who shared their experiences with the struggle movement and their time on Robben Island.

“As a World Heritage site it is really important for us to create a space where we bring together ex-political struggle heroes to share their experiences on how they shaped our country. Govan Mbeki, was a big political role model, journalist, teacher and author; and it was enlightening to hear from a first account experience, from Deputy Chief Justice and Mr Goldberg, about the influence Mbeki had in our political history,” says Morongoa Ramaboa, Robben Island Museum Spokesperson.

To stay up-to-date with new developments and announcements at Robben Island Museum please visit their website or visit their social media pages.

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