The executive mayor of Mangaung, Thabo Manyoni, took some time to reflect on the life and times of a Mangaung-born leader whose meritocracy, selflessness service to the downtrodden and exemplary leadership qualities bear eloquent testimonies to his professional and political conviction.
On April 23 this year, Manyoni delivered the first annual Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture, on the day that Fischer would have celebrated his 106th birthday.
As part of the city’s “20 Years of Liberation” celebrations, this memorial lecture recognised the sacrifices that were made by people like Fischer, who lived a life aimed at promoting social cohesion and social justice during a volatile period in South Africa.
Through this lecture, the city also hopes to remind the youth, particularly of Mangaung, that Bloemfontein is the birthplace of an icon who can and should be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Helen Joseph and other struggle veterans.
Delivering the lecture to an audience made up of Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, the first citizen of the Free State, renowned academics, students and Mangaung residents at large, Manyoni emphasised that, for South Africa to become a nation that was envisioned by the fallen heroes, every citizen of the country needs to be involved in the national mainstream of political, social and cultural activities benefiting South Africans.
“It will only take leaders of the likes of Bram to encourage our people to reach out to one another, to join hands, to share their knowledge, experience and expertise towards making South Africa our motherland, a truly united society where [we] all care for the well-being of others, where [we] all relate on the basis of mutual respect and recognition,” Manyoni said.
“Nation-building and a non-racist and non-sexist society are but some of the ideals that were envisioned for South Africa by those who fought against the apartheid regime. They are some of the ideals that South Africa’s democracy was born out of, and perhaps we need to be reminded of the vision that all fighters against the apartheid regime were striving for -if not in memory of the slain, then for the generations that will come after us.
“An insurmountable legacy was left by Fischer and his peers, one which we need to continue with and not throw to the wolves. It is true that a lot has been achieved in the past 20 years, but more work needs to be done. ”
Manyoni has previously said it was time to acknowledge this legacy and the responsibility it placed on everyone to work together to lighten the burden on people less fortunate, whether in South Africa or elsewhere.
“Our voice is not loud enough. Instead we are saying: everyone for himself. I don’t believe those great men who sacrificed so much for our freedom were thinking this. They felt they needed to do something to change the status quo and we need to follow in their footsteps.
“The country, its people and its leaders had a responsibility to live up to the potential that was born out of the fight for democracy. This responsibility comes not only from the country’s economic power on the continent, but also from the faith placed in the liberation struggle by Africa’s people,” Manyoni has said.
“Fischer’s sterling contribution to the struggle for freedom was different to those of many of the other people who waged the struggle against oppression and apartheid. In the main, Africans joined the struggle because they were the primary casualties of its nefarious policies. They were on the receiving end of its harsh and dehumanising policies and laws, so standing up and fighting against their own oppression was a natural thing to do. In the case of Fischer, his fight and struggle against oppression was based not on the fact that he was affected by it — far from that.” Fischer was one of the inner racial and class power elite of the Afrikaner establishment by virtue of his Afrikaner birth. “So why did he abandon his upbringing to fight alongside oppressed Africans for their own freedom? It was not his own freedom that was at stake — his was given both by birth and by profession. He could have risen very high in the echelons of white South Africa to assume any office that his heart desired,” Manyoni said.
As a famous and successful mine lawyer he wined and dined with the mine magnates of South Africa and the world. As a descendent of an aristocratic Afrikaner family, all imaginable political and legal avenues were wide open for him. “This hardcore Afrikaner was very proud of his heritage and language, but broke ranks to take sides with the oppressed people. He had nothing to benefit from fighting against apartheid since he was himself privileged,” Manyoni said.
“It required a great sense of duty, abiding faith in his choices and the firmness of the baobab tree to abandon a privileged heritage and the high industrial and mining class and its obscene wealth to suffer the fate of the poor. Fischer left the plush legal offices and their attendant prestige and pomp and became a fugitive from the law as an underground operatives of the ANC. Fischer must be remembered and the naming of the Free State Airport in his name was a crowning reminder that here once lived a brave and a courageous man.”
Manyoni said this quest was not only the preserve of the giants of society, and that everyone had to do what they could to reverse the ills of poverty and inequality.
“I don’t think that the struggle heroes ultimately thought South Africa would be where it is today, but because they had a vision they felt that, bit by bit, they would reach that destination.”
This article forms part of a larger supplement which can be found here. The supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers and the content has been signed off by the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality or the advertiser.