Ewe, le nto kakde yinto yaloo nto.
Thina, nto zaziyo, asothukanga nto;
Sibona kamhlope, sithi bekumelwe,
Sitheth’ engqondweni, sithi kufanelwe;
Xa bekungenjalo bekungayi kulunga.
Ngoko ke, Sotase! Kwaqal’ ukulunga!
Le nqanaw’ umendi, namhla yendisile,
Nal’ igazi lethu lisikhonzisile!
On the occasion of the wreck of the troopship SS Mendi on 21 February 1917, which carried African servicemen who sailed to Europe to assist Allied Forces in their struggle against Central Powers, SEK Mqhayi penned a soul stirring poem Ukuzika kuka Mendi. The majority of the men on board were from Grahamstown area and their single-minded resolve was to fight for good over evil.
Mqhayi begins his poem with calmness that conceals the shock of the grotesque death of the troops. For those who were close to Mzwandile Poswa, a giant slipped away unnoticed.
Tswai as he was affectionately known, threaded and shafted with intelligence, wit, style, unpredictability, with a caustic eye for detail and a stinging sense of the ridiculous. The last born son of Kuku Sylvester Poswa and No-Might Shiela Poswa who were blessed with 10 children.
He was born on 25 March 1965, in Grahamstown at the same year the Rhodes University in installed a computer, the first university in South Africa to do so, and the African National Congress established its headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania. He was a bright spark at Samuel Ntsiko Primary School and at Archie Mbolekwa Higher Primary he proved his prowess.
At a tender age he prodded his contemporaries to wage the struggle against the wrath of apartheid, landing a role as a chairperson of the Albany District Congress of South African Students (COSAS). Tswai was charming, charismatic, selfless and courageous and this manifested itself in the manner he waged the struggles alongside those who dreamt of a free South African in Grahamstown and the Albany District.
Tswai was among the band of fiery young minds whose commitment to education was unquestionable and was in the forefront of popularising COSAS’s Education Charter campaign. Also, Tswai helped organise tutoring programmes to help school students to catch up with their studies.
He was there when COSAS played an important role in the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF). But together with other young lions at the time were betrayed by the system which refused to introduced sport and education reforms, resulting in the South African Council of Sport in 1983 adopting the position that there could be no normal support in an abnormal society. COSAS resumed the school boycotts in 1984. In 1985, the country was under the grip of widespread and escalating political violence, leading then Prime Minister, PW Botha, to declare the State of Emergency in July of that year.
COSAS was banned in August 1985. His belief in fighting to the bitter end the appalling weight of apartheid and racial dehumanisation landed him in the dungeons from 1986-1988, detained without trial, when the police’s Special Branch scoped him while a student at Nombulelo Primary School. He was actively involved in student politics through COSAS alongside Tony Yaka (Former Chairperson of Cosas), Pamela Yako, Nomfundiso Kulati, Mzimasi “Taroki” Ncapayi, Lindile Bavuma, Teach Land, Luntu Neer (Mdana), Ndumiso Madinda and Potose Lesoro.
It was triumph of the human spirit incarnate as he enrolled at University of Fort Hare, the citadel of black intellectuals, where he was more inspired to charge onward with the liberation of the African people. The struggle heightened under the banner of the South African National Students Congress (SANSCO) which was preoccupied with transformation of tertiary institutions into “Peoples’ Campuses” and made a clarion call for the formation of committees of peoples’ power at all levels.
He left Fort Hare with a bag full of revolutionary dreams and went on to study at Rhodes University. Tswai was at the epicentre of history when NUSAS and SANSCO convened a weeklong talkathon at the Rhodes University, where about 600 black and white students from various tertiary education institutions converged to deliberate the formation of a non-racial student body from 1-6 September 1991.
After the week-long debate grappling with a vision of a new, all-encompassing student movement, it became clear that the students were not only fashioning a new struggle in student politics but were in the process of unity, crafting a new South Africa of their imagination. At the tail end of the gathering, the South African Student Congress (SASCO) was formally launched on 6 September 1991.
As the secretary of the local branch of SASCO at Rhodes University, Tswai continued with the tradition of militant student politics and set the stage for discussions on transformation of higher education and institutions which later birthed #FeesMustFall movement. He too, was a fallist of his time.
Growing up in Grahamstown he enjoyed the jazzy sounds of Diamond Black and Quiz Quiz band. He marveled at the music of Nkululeko Jury Mpehlo who used his music prowess to raise awareness on the brutality of apartheid with songs like Ziphina iinkosi zethu (Where are our chiefs)?, Lizofika ilanga lenjabulo (The day of joy will come) and Kwakukudala ngoko (Gone are those days).
On the pop front, he danced to Brenda Fassie. Tswai was alive to the possibility of the dawn of a new South African when she belted her song of enchantment Black President – foretelling a new South Africa. By this time Tswai was a seasoned campaigner and was nominated to serve in the structures of the ANC soon after its unbanning and formed part of the core leadership. Tswai was lured to East London, which was pregnant with opportunities at the time. While he spent time theorising about the land question, the Border Rural Committee in 1995 gave him a chance to wrestle first hand with land restitution.
In post-apartheid South Africa, he was entrusted with a number of roles and responsibilities. His first order of business was a post at the Border Rural Committee in 1995. While at BRC he dealt with issues of empowerment of communities and land restitution which saw the settlement of the precedent setting Cata claim in 2000.
Tswai later joined the global audit, tax and advisory tax, firm KPMG as a consultant and later moved to a prestigious job with the American Embassy. His last government stint was with the Department of Housing in Bhisho. As a businessman he led Performance Unlimited firm and was partner at the Eastern Cape Publishing proprietors of Eastern Cape Today newspaper and IQula Publishing a subsidiary of Harry’s Printers. All the business ventures he participated in benefited from his acumen and streetwise candour.
In 2002 he married Dr Mandisa Poswa nee Jona and they were blessed with two children. He was a devout husband and committed family man.
Tswai was highly intelligent, quick-witted and did not suffer fools gladly. Tswai brought a touch of elegance to men’s fashion as he was a trendsetter who set East London ablaze.
When his son and a cousin came of age he caused a stir when he led them to a helicopter to ferry them to Alice from a Grahamstown initiation school and made headline news in 2015. He could be seen in pictures draped in all white while the initiates were covered in white blankets. He provided unprecedented leadership as well as intellectual and financial resources to the building of the Nondlwana Methodist Church in Mdantsane where his funeral service took place on 28 February. He was laid to rest at the Cambridge cemetery.
He was a larger than life character whose infectious personality always shone through, a true gentleman to the very end. Throughout his lifetime he touched so many lives – and being such a humble man, all done without any thought of recognition.
The last stanza in the Mqhayi epic poem surmmarises how his family, friends and comrades feel;
Awu! The finest of Africa was busy dying!
The ship couldn’t carry its precious cargo,
It was echoing into the inner circles,
Their brave blood faced the King of Kings.
Their deaths had a purpose for all of us
How I wish I could be with them,
How I wish I could stand with them on resurrection day,
How I wish I could sparkle with them like the morning star.
Let it be so!
Lala ngoxolo Bhungane, Mthimkhulu, Makhulukhulu, Zikode, Mashwabada inkomo nempondo zayo, Izinzipho zimnyama ngokuqhwayana, Ngelengele, Mahlub’ amhlophe.
- Written by Phenyo Lekoma