Titus Mafolo’s Tribute to Tiego Moseneke

1st June 2023



BY Titus Mafolo – 31 May 2023; University of Witwatersrand.

Master of Ceremonies; Mrs Koketso Moseneke, Children of comrades Koketso and Tiego Moseneke; Justice Dikgang Moseneke; Comrade Mighty Moseneke; The Rest of the Moseneke family;


Ladies and Gentlemen:

Tiego Moseneke, an embodiment of passion with an essence of excellence!

Today, as we have done many times since his untimely passing, we are honouring Tiego Moseneke – a husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and comrade – who was intelligent, wise, eloquent and passionate about everything he did. Undoubtedly, we can describe comrade Tiego in many thousand positive ways, and all of them will fit.

Indeed, it was with passion and excellence that he managed to rally many young people to the clarion call of the struggle for freedom. It was with passion and excellence that he converted multitudes of students to the cause of liberation. It was with passion and excellence that he reminded everyone of the meaning of sacrifice as we honoured the memories of our illustrious dead. Who can forget the clash of hot debates at various campuses? None, because comrade Tiego approached those debates with passion, excellence and insightful knowledge.

When many of us spoke, people said: “He/she spoke well”. But, when comrade Tiego spoke, they stood up and chanted: “Let us march! Siyaya ePitoli!” This is because speaking to his people seemed to set his mind – all his faculties – aglow! But it was not just in speeches that we saw Comrade Tiego’s passion and excellence. He struggled with passion and excellence; he studied with passion and excellence; he worked with passion and excellence; he engaged his colleagues and friends with passion and excellence. Because he did all these with some true quintessential brilliance, the sages and saints of Africa will agree when we say: comrade Tiego Moseneke was an embodiment of passion with an essence of excellence.

On the day comrade Tiego departed, comrade Popo Molefe phoned me asking that I should try to locate comrade Tiego with regard to some work that he had agreed to do in the previous meeting to prepare for the marking of the 40th anniversary of the United Democratic Front (UDF) which is in August this year. The particular work was given to him because we wanted to gain from his legendary passion with an essence of excellence. When I could not find comrade Tiego I advised that we should wait until in the morning. But, unfortunately we were to be greeted with the tragic news.

In that last meeting where he participated, it was the same Tiego we have known for over four decades. He was clear, erudite and very constructive in his input. All of us lament his passing, among others, because we know that as we discuss the challenges that face our country at the moment, we need interventions of people of the calibre of comrade Tiego Moseneke.

Before reflecting more on the person of this great comrade, let me briefly try to sketch some of the challenges of today, which the indomitable intellectual prowess of comrade Tiego would surely have assisted in confronting. We all know the many and recurrent cases of fraud, corruption and malfeasance that have disfigured our nation. I will not burden you with the statistics and examples of these many sordid acts. We all know them. What I wish to highlight is the state of our socio-political-economy which symbiotically feeds into all these cases of malfeasance.

We are faced with a serious socio-political-economic and moral decay which define society at large. This includes many organisations, companies and institutions – both in the public and private sectors – such that these have not only put debilitating constraints on every part and sector of South Africa, but have poisoned the minds of many functionaries who operate on conscious corrupt calculations for their own self-interest.

Indeed, we know that human nature has presented us with a suite of emotions that encourage adherence to rules and norms. Sometimes rule-following is derived from religious and traditional beliefs. Other times, people develop behavioural norms because elders in society practise them. Because generally, humans are instinctively conformist, they tend to look around for guidance. If those who are regarded as leaders behave in particular ways, they invariably influence many in society. Of course, there may be others who question normative behaviour, but in most cases, there would be intuitive mechanical following of those regarded as role models.

This is the tragic outcome that we see in our country today. Because corruption and malfeasance have gained such nauseating traction – in both private and public sectors – practised by those regarded as leaders of society, people everywhere find ways of doing the same, even if is at local and minuscule levels. The results are a society with perverted morals, debased ethics and degraded values.

Of course we will always pray, and indeed our religious bodies and institutions have a historical duty to continue interpreting the sets of sacred texts in ways that transmit moral sanctions over the rest of society. Yet, we should always remember what Julius Caesar told Brutus: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars; but in ourselves that we are underlings’.

Although the decay is all-round in our society, it is more glaring in the political space, because at appearance level, politics seems to be dominant. I am referring to the dominance of politics not in the Marxist concept of Base and Superstructure. Although the decay to which I am referring includes both the mode of production and the relations of production.

At the political level, since the Democratic Breakthrough of 1994, political institutions, parties and others have undergone rapid and radical changes. The clear example is the representativeness of our legislatures from national to provincial as well as local government structures. Even political parties and organisations have changed radically. My own organisation, the ANC, to which comrade Tiego belonged, has also seen some transformations, including many episodes of political decay, what the leadership characterise as ‘alien tendencies’, using the Chinese saying that ‘when you open a window for fresh air; even flies come in’. Yet, we know, as a matter of fact, that the many examples of political decay in our organisations as well as in state institutions, cannot be attributed, solely, to the flies that came in after the early 1990s open window that allowed fresh air.

At a broader political level, we have seen, since 1994, the emergence of new social and political groups, some of which are not necessarily accommodated in the current formal political system. We have also seen the mushrooming of many NGO’s with different, diverse and even issue-based focusses and agendas some of which may need closer scrutiny. Discussions of all those bodies will need its own focus.

But political decay also comes when established political systems, institutions and parties seem unable to adequately accommodate new realities and challenges, especially those of the youth. Indeed, have we fully addressed the issues raised during the ‘Fees Must Fall Campaign’, which included, not just greater access to education but the restructuring of the curriculum? Again, when the education system does not appropriately equip young people with the requisite skills that help them to be integrated into the modern economy so that they can make their own contributions, they are then cast aside into the margins of society. They would then be disaffected and thus become the potential source of instability with their actions constituting elements of societal decay.

Part of this societal decay is also characterised by the horrifying criminality – rapes, femicides, robberies, drug abuse and violent deaths whose annual numbers equate those of countries at war. Many people in townships, informal settlements and villages have no choice but to adjust to the sordid existence of brutal criminality and violence, where the police, either are not sufficiently, timeously and effectively responsive, or, are themselves part of the criminal acts.

Indeed, by not adequately understanding the challenges of the moment, we may unintentionally be helping with the emergence of reactionary tendencies in our society. About a century back, Antonio Gramsci said: The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. In our situation, what are these morbid symptoms which appeared even when we are in the Democratic order? Does this not suggest that, even if we are made to believe that we have reached our nirvana, we are in reality still in the interregnum, especially in socio-economic transformation of the country and hence the appearance of morbid symptoms that manifest themselves through delinquent and infantile behaviours in politics, economy, communities and society in general.

The interregnum may also be seen in the socio-economic reality of South Africa. If we move from Sandton to Alexander or any village in South Africa, we will think we are in different countries. Or, indeed, these are two different countries! What starkly demonstrates this two-countries’ description is the different economies of these places. Sandhurst, Camps Bay, Morningside, Hillcrest, Houghton, Waterkloof, Bantry Bay, Clifton are in a different country to Soweto, Kwa-Mashu, Langa, Mamelodi, Ntabankulu, Msinga, Dipaleseng, Tswaing, Makhuduthamaga and others where the majority of black people reside. Again, the high levels of poverty, the ever increasing levels of unemployment, the inordinate wealth of the few in the sea of poverty with millions of people defined by degradation – all these and more point to serious elements of societal decay.

In the main, this situation that brings about societal decay is also because we have failed to transform our economy in a manner that it can serve all the people of this country. Accordingly, South Africans live in two completely different economies. The one which caters for the minority population in South Africa is an economy that is developed and structurally integrated into the advanced global capitalist economy and contributes the major wealth of the country.

The other economy whose main participants are black people, is what is usually called the ‘Third World’ economy and operates in the townships, villages and informal settlements. This is a fragile economy that is structurally and sectorally disarticulated. There is a serious dearth of capital in this economy; it lacks basic infrastructure and has no internal critical systems, structures, institutions and resources to put in motion a self-sustained process of growth and development. It is parasitically attached to the main economy, with black people as nothing but consumers of goods.

Yet, there has not been serious, coordinated and sustained efforts to ensure that this poor economy that defines black lives, is sufficiently empowered, capitalised and developed such that it can be fully integrated into the main economy. Coupled with the high levels of unemployment, poverty and general breakdown of family units and community structures, all these lead to moral and societal decay in many areas where black people live.

Comrades and Friends;

This and more, is where comrade Tiego Moseneke left his country. We do know that with his passion with an essence of excellence, he tried his best to reverse the socio-economic and political decay of his country. But before talking about comrade Tiego, let me just explain something so that there is no confusion when one refers to socio-economic and political decay. And I will briefly quote Stephen Friedman to make the point. And I trust that many would have seen his article about the concept of ‘failed state’. Friedman says: “Some South Africans have a taste for imported goods – and right now some favourite import for some is a prejudice against states which are not run by whites. One such ‘imported good’ is the concept of the ‘failed state’. After acknowledging the many problems facing the country Friedman says: “Failed State…was a product of the American government’s war on terror, following the September 2001 attacks on that country. Researchers and academics close to the US security establishment began to worry that there were states in Africa and Asia which were not strong enough to curb anti-Western terrorism. They declared these states ‘failed’.”

I agree with Friedman. But that does not mean we must not point out the many wrong and unacceptable things that bring about societal decay. These are wrong things we should and must correct. These are wrong things that many times are arrogantly done in our name. We must, from our different stations in life, oppose all these things that render naught the sacrifices of the many heroes and heroines whose principled struggles defeated apartheid.

Now, let’s talk a bit about someone who was not fake and was not an imported good, but was an embodiment of a passion with an essence of excellence.

Many people tend to mistake those who are endowed with the gift of the gap, as comrade Tiego was, as masters simply of sound bites and zingers. However, here we had someone who approached every topic with insightful and deep content, always giving appropriate and relevant context and of course, using his powerful oratory skills for positive persuasion towards action.

Comrade Tiego Moseneke was intellectually weighty. Undoubtedly, it will be a serious mistake to confuse this characterisation of a colossal intellectual with elegant oratory skills as nothing but rhetorical antithesis. Many great intellectuals, are also gifted public speakers. And comrade Tiego was one such person. As both a learned scholar and sophisticated interlocutor, he could simply make and made, countless necessary contrapuntal turnarounds. He is one of those, like one president, who easily turned around the cynical “Might makes right” to “Right makes might”. And he did this with that passion with an essence of excellence.

At his element, Comrade Tiego would stretch your mind and while you are still mystified by the heavy intellectual jabs, he would assuage your defeated brain with hilarious anecdotes. I am very confident that if he chose, comrade Tiego would have taken a vicious bull-dog to an isolated spot, eloquently spoke to it until it gave approval with loud chants of: “Hou; Hou; Hoor; Hoor; Hoor; Hoor!!

When asking questions, he did so to elicit dialectical truths. We all attest to the fact that we have never heard comrade Tiego addressing issues with rancour or bitterness. He saw issues in their wholeness and in their interlocking universality rather than in isolated locality, understanding very well that to consider problems of one sector, oblivious to those of another, is but to court disaster for the whole.

Tiego was intelligent, wise, principled and good natured. He believed in the need to orient our energies in consonance with the ever-changing world. Those who spent time with him enjoyed this man who lived his philosophy of seeking virtue in self-knowledge, self-advancement and community upliftment. He lit the candle in the darkest moments of many. Through work with members of his family using the SJS Moseneke Foundation as well as the South African Student Solidarity Foundation for Education, he gave life its deepest significance.

He embarked on many projects to leave an indelible mark among his people. This include working in his home township with his comrade, Miles Nzama, on the much-needed refurbishment of dilapidated schools, starting with two of those named after some illustrious grandfathers of our struggle – Sefako Makgatho School and Bud Mbhele School – both of which carry the names of the second president and the fourth secretary-general of the ANC respectively.

Comrade Tiego Moseneke worked for a democratic South Africa that must be different from apartheid. He did this eminently appreciating that the apartheid past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the apartheid past is a place of learning how society can go wrong, not a place of emulating those wrongs. Thus, he saw the importance of using the experiences and lessons of the past to transform our society and create a better and prosperous country, today. Through his passion with an essence of excellence, he imparted these life-long lessons to all of us.

Comrades, friends and family, the humane glory has departed and the intellectual sun that brightened and warmed our dull lives has set. We still shiver in the cold, dark and dim-witted intellectual loadshedding.

Through his passion with an essence of excellence, or call it quintessential brilliance, he taught us that: Stars don’t pull each other down to be more visible; they shine brighter. Tiego Moseneke will continue to shine brighter than the brightest star.

Thank you.

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