Eulogy at Tando Nyati’s funeral – Lincoln Mali

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Members of the clergy, the Nyati family, members of the his congregation, friends, comrades and friends, I greet you all in the name of our lord, Jesus Christ, Amen. I have an unenviable task ahead of me, to condense 35 years of friendship and comradeship into a few minutes, to capture a 53 year life well lived into a few moments, and represent all of Tando’s friends and comrades, from all of his meaningful life in the time allocated. I also have to speak under pressure as Tando was a harsh critic, about every words, it’s meaning and delivery. I will endeveour to do so without repeating what is in his obituary, but to try and convey to all, Tando’s mission in life. Let me cover my comments on 7 key themes:

1. The early years

Tando was only 13 years old when he attended that history setting mass meeting of students at Newell High School in 1980. This was to be his first direct encounter with the senseless brutality of the apartheid police. He was an early activists, he was captured from that day, to his last day, by politics and the plight of those less fortunate.

2. The young student activist

Three years later at the tender age of 16, he participated in Cosas’ campaign to resist the apartheid department of education’s policy to exclude learners who were over the age of 18, in the campaign against the puppet tricameral parliament and in the UDF’s million signature campaign against apartheid in 1984.

Cosas and the UDF groomed Tando into a well rounded activist. He was a skilled organizer, a good debater and militant with an insatiable quest for knowledge and political theory.

3. The teenage years

In those days, our lives were characterized by violence, police brutality, army occupation, school boycotts, consumer boycotts and detentions. This is when I met Tando Nyati and we became very close comrades and friends. Those times were tough – we were forced to grow up very early and take up leadership roles beyond our school, indeed for the entire community. Tando was at the forefront of all these struggles. We were expelled from our school, Ithembelihle High school, and we were without a school. Fortunately for us, Mrs Thandeka Mbopa took us in, myself, Mlungisi Ncame, Namhla and Onke Mjo. She told us that she did not know us, was not interested in our past, she knew and respected our parents and was interested in our future.

So Tando and I now became classmates at Newell High school, where he was very popular, and much loved. We shared the same class, 10A, and we enjoyed great debates, lots of fun, pranks and being close to all the girls in our class. Tando was popular throughout the school and was known and loved by everyone, from children to the elderly near the school. This allowed us to enjoy the benefits of being associated with Tando.

One of Tando’s favorite activities was visiting former Robben Island prisoners in their homes. We learnt so much from these interactions and Tando absorbed so much of the teachings and values of these stalwarts, he would always quote their statements and remind us of their lessons.

At the same time, we were also friends with Tando Fibi, he drew us closer to the Bantu Christian Church, but Tando was drawn even closer than us. He became a child of that church, and in true Tando style, he was embraced by all within the church.

During our times together, we would place ourselves at the most strategic site in New Brighton, the famous Mbizweni Square. We spent our free time at Tembsie Macelesi’s home at Mbizweni Square.

This Mbizweni square was a strategic site for the following:

  • It enabled us to see and be seen by all our friends and comrades;
  • It gave us the best spot to see everyone and be seen by everyone from Ithembelihle, Cowan and Newell High schools;
  • We spent hours debating every topic under the sun;
  • We had great fun teasing one another and teasing others;
  • We strategized on political matters and
  • Shared stories about our lives, accomplishments and ambitions.

In all these interactions, including speaking Sqari, our unique language; eating amagwinya akwa KK, playing pranks on others, Tando was at the forefront.

He lived life to the fullest, he loved life and loved people. Through all this time of fun, love, life, pranks, Political activism, amagwinya, amantombi, nesigezo, Tando still applied himself to his studies. With great joy and pride, Tando passed his Matric and was accepted at Rhodes University.

4. Making an impact at Rhodes University

I entered Rhodes university with Tando in 1988, to study law and politics. The activists at Rhodes University expected us to arrive at Rhodes University as prominent activists. Tando decided that we should just sneak in and not be known or recognized, in that way we could have fun without any of the responsibilities. For days we enjoyed being anonymous and were able to have lots of fun without any responsibilities. Unfortunately, after days of searching, we were found, what gave us our away was the “Cosas food”, bread and milk – Khaya Mabece saw this from a distance, and instantly knew that these were the missing Comrades. From that day, we were roped into all the key activities of the Black Student Movement and Sansco. Tando was much loved and admired at Rhodes and made many lifelong frosted.

Tando suffered a huge setback, he failed in his studies at Rhodes and was excluded from the university. We discussed this matter at length, and Tando knew where he went wrong – he had always been able to juggle many balls in the air, but this time,he did not focus on his studies. This could have destroyed a lesser man, Tando saw this as a new challenge, to change universities and start afresh, he vowed to learn from his mistake, and he went on to the University of Fort Hare to prove a point to himself – Tando was always competitive, and wanted to achieve success in everything he did.

5. The Fort Hare University years

Thando enrolled for a political science degree at the University of Fort Hare in 1989. When he enrolled at Fort Hare the SRC was banned and in fact all political activity was banned. He was part of a core group of SANSCO acitivists who campaigned clandestinely for the unbanning of the SRC until an above board structure could be set up. He was part of a group of comrades who mobilized students towards the unbanning of the SRC and the election of a new SRC committee in September that year. This was to give better space for an above board operation of SANSCO.

We are proud to credit him and his peers in SANSCO for many ground breaking achievements which include the removal of the university’s lily white administration, setting up branches of the newly unbanned ANC in Alice, facilitating the merger of SANCO and Nusas into SASCO as well as working tirelessly for the transformation of tertiary institutions. One of his proudest moments was serving in the university’s committee which organised Oliver Tambo’s glorious return to be conferred the deserving title of Chancellor in 1992.

We were all so proud when Tando was elected to be on the National Executive Committee of of SASCO. Tando participated actively in the programs of the mass democratic movement which led to the monumental victory which ushered in a democratic South Africa in 1994.

As usual Tando was full of life at the University of Fort Hare, he was part of many activities at a social, political and cultural level. He was highly popular and could be seen equally having fun at a party or leading a march.

It was with great personal pride and satisfaction he earned his degree and later did his honors, he had lived up to the promise he had made to himself.

6. Finding true meaning in life

When most people leave university, much is expected from them, to join corporates, the civil service, sports bodies, politics or to run a business. It’s also expected that one marries, settles, raises children and retires. Tando tried this route, we all encouraged him to pursue this path- but throughout, we found Tando restless, he just could not follow any of these paths. When he left jobs, when he divorced from Phumeza, when he refused to go to interviews set for him or on to business ventures offered to him – we would be frustrated with him. We just could not understand why he just can’t follow the path set for him, paths that many of us followed, what was wrong with him? We each took turns to talk to him, sometimes we would talk to him as a group, sometimes tease him and mock him, but you all know- Tando he was no pushover, he was stubborn, highly intellectual, smart and loved a good debate.

Then Tando started to talk to us about joining the church and told that he was saved. We all took turns to mock him, and warned him that God is not something to play with. We told Tando that this can’t be one of his many “projects”. He kept on telling us we did not understand, that this was his calling, that this was his true mission in life, this is how he would live his life. I would probe more about his faith, how he would support himself, and how he would live, but Tando answered all my questions with a smile – his faith was deep and strong.

7. What lesson is God teaching us about Tando’s life ?

The most profound lesson for me is that Tando’s life was no mistake, it was always God’s plan to use the most unlikely among us to spread his message. When I reflect now, I realized that through the scriptures, God has always used the least of us (by our definition) to carry out His plans. It’s also clear to me that most of those chosen to spread the gospel were mostly reluctant participants at best as implementers and vehicles for God’s message to His people. Some wanted nothing to do with their assignments because they did not think anyone would listen.

In this case God chose the naughtiest among us, the smartest dressed pantsula, the most popular to be his messenger. Tando was destined for greatness, he could have occupied any role he wanted, but those roles were not part of God’s plan. To make matters worse, Tando has a terrible stutter, but God chose him to eloquently articulate his word.

God chose Moses, Saul, Rahab, David, and others like Tando to do his work.

We all had plans for Tando, but the most important plan was God’s plan. Tando lies here without a powerful title, he lives this earth without wealth, he has no material possessions to bequeath to his children, nor does he have any mansion to show for his experience and expertise.

Tando is an embodiment of God’s words in James:5:2

“Listen my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? “

Tando leaves us as poor man in the eyes of the world, but he leaves rich in his faith and will inherit the Kingdom God has promised us.

8. The last message about Tando

We are all gathered here and across the country to bid farewell to someone we dearly love – our friends, family members, his children, his comrades, those who studied with him, those who grew up with him, and those who worshipped with him.

  • We all claim him as ours – Tando belonged to all of us, yet he belonged to none of us – Tando belonged to God;
  • Tando was a pantsula through and through, yet he spent so much of his time with ama Ivy; he belonged to all of us, yet he belonged to none of us- Tando belonged to God;
  • Tando was a committed political activists, yet he had strong and deep relationships with apolitical socialites
  • He belonged to all of us, yet he belonged to none of us – Tando belonged to God;
  • Tando was a born again Christian and a much loved Pastor by his congregation, yet Tando was loved, respected, and admired by thugs, criminals, and drunkards and sinners. He belonged to all of us, yet he
    belonged to none of us – Tando belonged to God;
  • Tando loved his children, grandchildren, and his family both here and in Limpopo, yet he had friends and comrades across the country; He belonged to all of us; yet he belonged to none of us – Tando belonged to God; and lastly
  • Tando was one of our best intellectuals, highly read, an articulate debater, but he was never far from the militants, was always involved with amabutho, and underground structures. He belonged to all of us, yet he belonged to none of us – Tando belonged to God.

Tando had the qualifications, the intellect, the political nouse, the skills and experience to be a great success in life, yet God chose a different path for him. Tando could have been a company executive, a mayor, a lecturer, a teacher, a businessman or a politician- God had a different plan for him and Tando obeyed and accepted to serve.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Tando did not take the paths we proposed to him, he did not choose the roles we had in mind for him, he followed God’s instructions and left everything behind to follow God.

9. Conclusion

In Luke 14: 8-11, we are told the story of humility

“8 When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

We were all given the same education, grounding, skills and expertise, Tando chose the humbling path of being a pastor. God has now come and said, “Tando, move up to a better place”. Through this live example
of Tando’s life, God has, once again, showed us that those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Hamba kakuhle Gambu, Memela, Msuthu Nontuli, Ngwekaz