A young heart

Almost on the stroke of midnight last Sunday, a giant of the liberation struggle — but also a top-class mathematician and a trained traditional healer — drew his last breath. Lieutenant General Andrew Masondo, or ”Comrade Dillinger”, as he was widely known, finally succumbed to long illness.

The great body of Umkhonto weSizwe fighters who joined the ANC in exile after the June 16 Soweto uprising and its aftermath will remember him as the man who always forced them to tie their boots properly.

As commissar between 1977 and 1985 he was entrusted with the responsibility of motivating the liberation army, ensuring that its morale remained high in spite of the hardships it had to endure in the harsh conditions of the bush camps and the nostalgia caused by the great distance between fighters and their beloved country.

Robben Island interns will remember him as a stubborn man who had endured spells of solitary confinement because of his unbending spirit of defiance and resistance.

The Young Lions who poured out of South Africa into Angola and Tanzania in the mid-1980s when he was national commissar will remember him as the amiable grandfather with a large and young heart, but a disciplinarian who made them learn the Freedom Charter by rote.

The entire body of the ANC and its leadership will remember Masondo as a man who was prepared to serve the movement in any position. A man for all seasons, he straddled different generations of the liberation movement.

But his focus was on the youth, believing that they would have to bear the brunt of the armed struggle against the apartheid regime.

As chairperson of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems of South Africa’s (IKSSA) Vlakplaas Project, he aimed to transform the notorious training centre for police death squads into a National Centre for Traditional Healing and Reconciliation.

He was also a board member of IKSSA, set up by MPs and NGOs to promote indigenous knowledge, the Liliesleaf Trust and the strategic committee of the Freedom Park Trust.

Masondo was schooled at Saint Angsgurs Primary School in 1946 and passed through two institutions closely associated with other ANC leaders of his generation: Saint Peter’s Secondary School in Rosettenville, from which he matriculated in 1954, and Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape, which he entered in 1955.

After graduating from Wits University with a BSc (Honours) in applied maths, he returned to Fort Hare, lecturing there between 1960 1963.

On Robben Island, he obtained a second BSc (Honours) in mathematical statistics.

He joined Umkhonto weSizwe in 1962 and became a commander of its Victoria East group. In 1963 he was arrested, tried and sentenced to 13 years in jail for his guerrilla activities.

On his release, he went straight into exile, attending a brigade commander’s course in Moscow.

Joining the South African Defence Force after democracy, he oversaw the integration of the defence force until his retirement in 2001.

A traditional healer by training, Masondo contributed extensively to indigenous knowledge systems. His contribution can be seen in the ”Seek a Cure” campaign concept paper he developed for the IKSSA Trust.

The entire ANC feels deep sadness at the death of this giant soul and distinguished veteran of the South African liberation struggle.

The country owes much to his undying commitment to a free and democratic society at peace with itself and the world.

Andrew Masondo: born October 27 1936, died April 20 2008

Siphiwe Nyanda is an ANC national executive committee member

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