The ailing man who rose from bed to greet his friend

When 74-year-old ailing Simon Phakama Mkalipi heard Govan Mbeki had been released, and that he was going through New Brighton, he got up and walked. Blind for more than 28 years, he found it difficult at first. But the thought of being reunited with fellow treason trialist Mbeki, "gave him strength – it drove him on", said Mkalipi's wife, Maria Mkalipi.

Mkalipi may not be quoted – like Mbeki, he is a listed communist. He met the man he regards as his leader on Sunday when Mbeki returned triumphantly to Port Elizabeth's townships after a short trip to Johannesburg. It was, as Maria Mkalipi says, "a joyous reunion of comrades in arms. "You see my husband has what is known as an inner vision. "He said he could see Mbeki very clearly," said Maria Mkalipi. "He now realises that freedom is just around the corner. He is now very hopeful that his other leader, Nelson Mandela, will soon be home."

Mkalipi's meeting with Mbeki was brief but, according to his wife, a much longer appointment has been fixed for the two ANC stalwarts. But Mkalipi has not lost his power to enchant and inspire people with his vision of an undivided South Africa, free of racism and exploitation. He was unbanned in 1968, after being confined to KwaZakhele for five years. Today he is a patron of the Port Elizabeth region of the United Democratic Front.

Mkalipi was born in 1913 in Grahamstown and came to Port Elizabeth in 1939 where he worked for a cigarette company. He joined the ANC in 1943. He was active in the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and led several marches in Port Elizabeth in protests against Pass Laws, the Group Areas Act and increased rents and bus fares.

Mkalipi was in Kliptown when the Congress of the People adopted the Freedom Charter in 1956. That year he defied an order not to attend a prayer meeting in Grahamstown and was sentenced to eight months-imprisonment. One December afternoon, while serving his sentence, the security police arrived with a warrant for his arrest. He was taken to Port Elizabeth where he was told he was charged with of high treason.

In the Northend Prison he joined many former ANC leaders like Professor ZK Mathews, Cannon James Calata, Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Vuyisile Mini, Caleb Mayekiso, Florence Mayekiso and Frances Baard. He was flown to Johannesburg and locked in the Fort. Every day, during the preliminary period of the marathon treason trial, he would be handcuffed and escorted to the Drill Hall to join his colleagues. The state lost the case in 1961 and all 156 accused were acquitted It was in 1958 during the trial that Mkalipi became blind. Maria Mkalipi claimed her husband was pushed and fell on his forehead while serving his sentence in Grahamstown.

Canzibe Ngxiki, another ex-Robben Island prisoner, was the first former colleague to meet Mbeki on Friday morning. When charged with furthering the aims of the ANC, Ngxiki, called on Mbeki and life prisoner Raymond Mhlaba to give evidence in his defence in the Cradock Regional Court. Ngxiki forced his way through the crowded hotel lobby and entered Mbeki's suite. After seeing him he said he was convinced that Mbeki still had a major role to play in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Also making a pilgrimage to meet an old friend was Mayford Mfazwe, 59, a veteran ANC campaigner who has spent about 20 years in banishment after serving a five-year sentence on Robben Island. "People are very excited about Mbeki's release," Mfazwe said.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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Mono Badela
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