Comrade Mandla Makupula was born in the old Tsolo location, Duncan village. He is the son of Mgijima Darius Makupula, u-Mdlangathi, and Evelyn Sizakele Makupula (nee Mancoko), u-MaMpinga. He is the only son in the family of six girls. He started his primary education at Mozana Bantu Community School, e-Tsholomnqa.
When the family moved to Mdantsane, he resumed his education at e-Quleni Lower Primary and Langelitsha Higher Primary. He completed his upper secondary education at Wongalethu High School, e-Mdantsane. He qualified as a professional teacher at the University of Transkei, now Walter Sisulu University of Technology, majoring in mathematics and science in his basic degree.
The rise of the phoenix
Makupula is of the generation of young people whose political consciousness and maturity caused them to respond to The Year of the Spear as declared by OR Tambo in his 1979 speech. Simultaneously, Makupula could not escape the influence of workers’ struggles led by the South African Allied Workers Union (Saawu) under the leadership of Comrades Thozamile Gqweta, Wanda Ndwebisa, Thobile Mseleni, Bangumzi Sifingo and others.
Saawu and the popular workers’ slogan of “An injury to one is an injury to all” groomed Cde Re-Ma to fight side by side with the oppressed and exploited masses of our country. During this period, he drew political inspiration from the lengthy Wilson Rowntree strike and Mdantsane bus boycott in the mid-80s.
In that period of his life the ANC launched a strong campaign to reorganise its underground work and intensified mass mobilisation as part of implementing the Morogoro Conference strategy and tactics. Cde Re-Ma was among those targeted for political education, hence he was brought into political classes that included trade union recruits while he was still at high school and university. His class included such comrades such as Wanda Ndwebisa.
On campus and beyond
In 1982, he began his university life as a science student at the University of Fort Hare, but was expelled in August that year after a feisty battle against the imposition of Ciskei rule over Fort Hare. The following year he enrolled with the University of Transkei (Unitra), still pursuing his mathematics and science studies.
At Unitra he became steeped in student political activism; immersing himself with Azanian Students Organisation (Azaso) and South African National Students Congress (Sansco) programmes, the mobilisation and building of internal progressive structures, and establishing a progressive student representative council (SRC).
In 1984 there was a total clampdown by Transkei head Kaiser Matanzima to make sure that such an SRC did not operate. Because of the political maturity and discipline of Cde Re-Ma, the activities of Azaso continued unnoticed by the Transkei regime. In 1985, the year that Cde Bathandwa Ndondo was gunned down in Cala, Cde Re-Ma and other comrades were active in implementing Azaso policies.
Because of the repression, Azaso operated under the banner of South African Tertiary Institutions Sports Council (Satisco), a structure that was mooted and established in 1986, and a decision was taken to affiliate to the Eastern Cape Region and Satisco meetings would be held at Rhodes University. Cde Re-Ma became active in rugby and that created an enabling environment for him to attend Satisco meetings. Later, Azaso affiliated to the Natal region and meetings were then held at Natal University.
Cde Re-Ma was part of a think tank that led the anti-graduation campaign, as a sub-committee of Azaso and Sansco. It must be recalled that to avoid police brutality, the campaign could not be publicly discussed — it had to be done within underground structures. Cde Re-Ma played a very critical role in making that campaign a success.
Along with comrades like Mpati Mgqaliso, Sparks Mzamane and Phambilli Jizana, Cde Re-Ma immersed himself in deeper underground operations, including ensuring safe passage of cadres en-route to join MK in exile, while maintaining strong mass mobilisation work for Azaso and later, for Sansco.
Cde Re_Ma took a keen interest in issues of national interest, resulting in his active involvement in the mobilisation for the “save the patriot” campaign, focusing on the release of political prisoners on death row, as well as being among those who organised the reburial of the King Sabata Dalindyebo at the Sithebe Great Place.
In the early 1990s, he was central in the formation of youth organisations in the then Transkei and became part of the Transkei leadership of the ANC Youth League until early 1995, when he became an ANC regional executive committee member, and subsequently the regional chair in 1998, until the unification of the Kei region and Lusikisiki region into OR Tambo region in 2000.
In 1996, he was also deployed in the new councils as administrator in the then Kei district council, now known as OR Tambo district. He became the Transkei executive leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1996 before he became part of the provincial leadership.
Rubbing shoulders in the Border region with political giants such as Joe “Papa Joe” Mati, Malgid “Ramba Liyathwethwa” Ntlebi, Dubs Msauli and many others, Cde Re-Ma learnt that being a grounded ANC political activist is essential to attaining the correct political and socialist analytical framework, hence he became steeped in Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Once graduated in the national question political landscape, he was recruited to join the SACP by Cde Skenjana Roji.
Cde Re-Ma subsequently became one of the few comrades who could simplify the complexities of historical and dialectic materialism nge-siXhosa, bring it down to the level of our daily toils, troubles and struggles, offering scientific approaches and solutions.
The worker, ANC and SACP cadre, and democratic government leader
Cde Re-Ma’s trade union involvement is rooted in the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and he was one of the Sansco members recruited to Sadtu while still at university. At the time Sadtu had a programme of recruiting final year tertiary and teacher college students into its membership. When he began teaching at Nozuko Secondary School in the early nineties he was already a Sadtu member. He was subsequently elected as a zonal chairperson for Zone 1 of Sadtu, which encompassed schools in Ngangelizwe Township, Mbuqe, and Ikwezi on the eastern side of Mthatha.
He led in most of the early campaigns of Sadtu, including improvement in conditions of service for teachers, gender parity, legal recognition of Sadtu and free public quality education. As a zonal chairperson he had the privilege of sitting in strategic meetings of the regional national education co-ordinating committee, where he made valuable contributions in that area. Comrade Mandla was affectionately known as “the principal”, in recognition of his love and passion for teaching Marxism.
After unbanning in the 1990s, Cde Makupula became part of the SACP and ANC interim leadership cores and participated in building the structures of the movement. He was elected and served diligently as the secretary of the former Transkei region of the SACP, which was formed from the amalgamation of the Border, Transkei and Eastern Cape regions of the party. He was also elected to serve as the regional chairperson of the ANC and then as its secretary, and continued his selfless service for the struggle.
Cde Re-Ma rose through the ranks of the SACP and was elected to the Eastern Cape provincial executive committee as the provincial secretary. He carried out his duties with consistent loyalty to the working class, and was elected by way of unanimous co-option by the 12th congress central committee of the SACP to serve as its member. He was re-elected by the 13th and 14th congress of the party in 2012 and 2017 respectively.
In 1999 Makupula was elected to the Eastern Cape provincial legislature. He served successively as the chairperson of the portfolio committee of the office of the premier, public works, and education.
On November 1 2010, he was appointed and has since served as the MEC for education in the Eastern Cape. He turned around a department that was placed under administration by national government. Under his tutelage the matric class of 2017 improved the Eastern Cape National Senior Certificate results by a whopping 5.7%, from 59.3% in 2016 to 65% in 2017. The number of bachelor passes also increased from 19% in 2016 to 23% in 2017, representing a 4% increase. The number of candidates obtaining distinctions also improved from 2.1% in 2016 to 2.7% in 2017.
In 2010, he tied the knot with Gugu Mdilane, and they were blessed with six children. He fell ill while on duty at the departmental Heritage Day celebrations that were held in Aliwal North. He was rushed to St Dominic Hospital, where he passed on in the late hours of October 7 2018.
He is survived by his wife Gugulethu and six children, and leaves behind his sister and nephews.
It’s only at times like these that we realise we have never said thank you enough, we have never applauded and appreciated enough; we wish for that last moment to say “thank you dear comrade, thank you compatriot”.
Lala Ngoxolo Mdlangathi
Hamba kahle Sbonda, Principal
Hamba kahle Mkhonto