Obituary | A life dedicated to the freedom of the people

2020-02-12 12:00

Last week, our nation suffered a terrible blow with the passing of struggle stalwart Derrick McBride, a revolutionary firebrand and soldier of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

Derrick leaves a legacy of unparalleled bravery and commitment to the freedom struggle of the poor people of South Africa.

Those of us who are left behind must continue to nurture and preserve his great legacy for generations to come.

After leaving Johannesburg in the early 1970s to seek better opportunities in what was then Natal, Derrick found himself battling apartheid’s racial discrimination as forced removals began to take place.

As part of the Group Areas Act, which drove all “non-whites” away from privileged areas, Derrick and his family were removed from Durban’s city centre to the dilapidated and crime-infested area of Wentworth, south of city.

It was during this time in Wentworth that his revolutionary prowess became pronounced as he confronted the system head-on, inspiring his son Robert to join the struggle in the process.

An episode that remains in the Edendale community’s consciousness was the dramatic rescue of MK commander Gordon Webster, who was under heavy police guard in the Edendale Hospital in the mid 1980s.

As a nation, we must be grateful for such giants in the ANC and their dedicated service to the masses of our people.

Determined to free their comrade, Derrick and Robert were involved in a shootout with the police to free Webster. This and many other acts of revolutionary valour singled Derrick out as one of the most committed and brave cadres of our movement.

Similar acts of bravery were part of his life after his arrival in Wentworth, where he recruited and trained many cadres. Comrades in Durban south and surrounding areas recall how Derrick used his family grocery store as an underground enclave for the activities of the ANC and MK, which put him at odds with the apartheid authorities, and eventually saw him arrested and sent to Robben Island.

Those who spent time with him on Robben Island recall a principled and fearless revolutionary who never hesitated to speak his mind.

He was the kind of person who knew his worth, and was prepared to fight to the bitter end to safeguard his beliefs and principles.

Sivuyile “Mikki” Xayiya, a fellow inmate, says: “He completely refused to be governable at Robben Island. Defiant to the hilt with a short fuse to match. He couldn’t understand or accept why comrades allowed themselves to be subject to prison rules. In him, young comrades found someone who matched their temperament and impatience. Robert’s genes are no doubt a direct replica of his father’s – brave and uncompromising.”

Bryan Rostron, author of the book Till Babylon Falls, which is about the revolutionary life and times of Robert McBride, confirms that Derrick resented the fact that coloured people were separated from white people in his church, while black people were barred altogether.

“When being prepared for his confirmation, he was asked if there was anything he disliked about church, and Derrick replied: ‘The colour bar.’”

Even on Robben Island, he challenged the conditions under which the political prisoners lived, and championed the ideals of human rights and dignity for all.

According to another author, Laurie Lambert, Derrick was concerned in his early days on the island about why his comrades had not yet “sprung” Nelson Mandela, and he demanded to see the leadership of the ANC.

In his revolutionary mind, there was nothing that could stop an army of dedicated comrades from carrying out this revolutionary act.

As an operative who had been involved in various missions in the movement, the task of breaking Mandela out of prison would not be a far-fetched dream for him.

Let us continue to carry the torch of freedom and democracy so that the legacy of Derrick does not die.

There are many lessons that can be learnt from the life and times of Derrick, including his actions regarding political commitment and honesty, robust political engagement, fearlessness, and his general revolutionary foresight and leadership.

Rostron writes extensively about how Derrick carried Robert beside him to instil in him virtues of resistance to oppression, discipline and an unrelenting drive to fight for freedom.

These, he believed, formed the basis of a strong and disciplined revolutionary.

As a nation, we must be grateful for such giants in the ANC and their dedicated service to the masses of our people.

For his part, Derrick’s energy, humility and intellectual prowess have contributed immensely to the freedom struggle of the South African people as a whole.

Even in his last days as a freedom fighter, he continued to call for accountability and discipline, as well as respect for the values that define our democratic society.

Let us continue to carry the torch of freedom and democracy so that the legacy of Derrick does not die.

We must draw valuable lessons from his life and commitment to the struggle, and instil in our young people a sense of responsibility, pride and respect for our founding values as a movement and nation.

In particular, we must embrace and advance the ideals that Derrick held dear throughout his life, including the passion to impart knowledge, to learn, to struggle and to defend the gains of our revolution.

– Ayanda Dlodlo, minister of state security

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March 29 2020