A TRIBUTE ON HIS DEATH
BY HIS FRIEND AND COMRADE
China Matsipa, yes China Matsipa.
My dear brother, my bosom friend, my comrade, my colleague, my fellow revolutionary,
my fellow mischief maker, minder of my children- Yes China you are all of these things
and many more than I can ever mention.
It’s been a journey of 55 long years, filled with youthful fun and jolly laughter, a journey
of adventure and adversity, a journey of growth and wisdom until the grey hairs and
bald pates crept on us and our grand children began prancing around our knees.
Whether by chance or providence I do not know, but we have been tied together at the
hip, like Siamese twins. It is a pity one of us had to go and I’m sad China that it falls to
me to say goodbye. We however, have to accept that the world is a dangerous place,
no one leaves this place alive.
Champion Jack Dupree, the blues crooner of our time taught us about friendship in a
most evocative and plaintive dedication to his friend called,
The Death of Big Bill Broonzy, he says,
“we made a promise between the both of us,
He promised if I was to die first he would make the blues of Champion
and he told me that if he died before me I had to make the blues of Big Bill,
so, I hated to see him go,
and it’s fortune that I had to be the one to make the blues of Big Bill,
and I know it hurts me to my heart,
but I’ll try”
Today I have to make the blues of China and it hurts me to my heart, but I’ll try.
When China joined me at the Medical School Alan Taylor Residence my friend was the
late Foxy Phukubye. In addition to being very smart this Foxy chap was the most
mischievous and streetwise fellow known to mankind. Although he was a B.Sc.
graduate and a medical student he was a township smart incarnate.To his credit he had
found me wandering in the township minding my own business and contemplating how
to overthrow the white government. He took me by hand and frogmarched me to
Medical School. In all fairness to him
I did not get all my mischief from him; after all I had come to Medical School via a 3 year
prison sentence for sedition myself.
In comes this China young man with spindly legs, big head, slit eyes set deep in his
forehead and with a wry smile that hid mischief. Perhaps it was the rebellious streak in each of us, or the mischief or the inquisitiveness that drew us together, but before long
we were an awesome threesome. We stamped our presence on the Medical School
and the Alan Taylor Residence and beyond in the whole of Durban. We consumed
everything that was consumable and drank life to the lees. It was at this time that
Dennis Madide gave China his name on account of his small eyes.
While Foxy had this exuberance and joy d’vivre, and I was always a rebel with or
without a cause, China had this studied and deliberate demeanor. It is no surprise that
he ascended the very pinnacle of academic life to become a professor. My wife and
children, who are his biggest admirers, say he is so natty in everything that he even has
a designer walk and manner of speaking.
In those early days I was still smart especially in Maths and sciences I established a self
styled Academy in my room where I offered Maths and Science tutorials. Among my
most avid students were China and Klaas Mogotlane. When Klaas was already a
professor, he always told anyone who cared to listen about how this academy helped
him understand basic physics and chemistry. Later when we were joined by another
gangly and argumentative youngster from the Eastern Cape called Steve Biko our
Academy transcended Maths and science and evolved into a most intense school of
philosophy and politics. It became a crucible of intellectual cut and thrust and a cauldron
for brewing ideas and igniting a revolutionary renaissance that was to set our country
ablaze. China was integral to those seminal marathon debates that raged between Biko
and I as we wrestled with the problems confronting black students and black people as
a whole. He was integral to the crystallization of B/C and it’s propagation, including
conscientization and the numerous confrontations we had with the regime. In fact his
name featured prominently in the Frelimo trial in which I was imprisoned for almost 10
years . It is thanks to him and his comrades that B/C gripped the imagination of the
entire oppressed nation and propelled the seismic changes that occurred in our country.
So as we lay China to rest let us doff our hats to this gallant patriot and his comrades.
Like many of our compatriots we felt seriously betrayed by the ruling class. The poor
leadership in our country, the disdain of the ruling elite for our people, the grand larceny
and the many other misdeeds are revolting in the extreme.
But we are not defeated, we remain standing and fighting.
As Ulysses says:
“Tho much is taken, much abides, and tho
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I cannot thank China enough for being part of my life. In the dark days of security terror
when my family was ostracized he stood by their side with material and emotional
support, at the risk of personal danger. He sent me a trumpet on the Island to lighten my
ordeal. He even bought me two suits and a pair of ill fitting shoes on my release from
prison. He buried my parents and I his.
That’s what a call friendship made in heaven!
It was people like him and Gees Abram and that taught me the true meaning of
comradeship in the face of danger and away from the glaring cameras and cheering
To his children. He loved you dearly, he raised you well and gave you values and tools
to navigate your way through life. Mourn him and grieve to your heart’s content and for
as long as you desire.
But let me leave with these words from the Bible, John 12; 24
“Except a corn of wheat falleth into the ground and die,
It abideth alone;
But if it die,
It bringeth forth much fruit.”