by Selinathi Botha and Anna Majavu
Gaokx’aob (Chief) Jessica Walton, the Makhanda chief of the !Uriqa clan that falls under the //Are-ma//Eis (Links Royal House), has died.
Fondly known as ‘Chief Jess’, she was just 46 years old when she died recently after a short illness, leaving behind her husband, Lynley Snowman, and two children, Donica and Bevan.
Walton, who went to high school at Mary Waters and later in Kirkwood, attained her chiefdom in 2021 and was one of only two female chiefs in the Eastern Cape in Links Royal House.
At a memorial service in Albany Road’s Recreation Hall on 29 March, members of the clan and the Paramount Chief Crawford Fraser (Gaokx’oab Kai Anib) came from as far away as Kouga to pay their respects to Walton. The memorial was also attended by Makana Mayor, Yandiswa Vara.
The spokesperson of Links Royal House and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), Wayne Petersen (Gaokx’aob Xammi), said Walton’s death left behind a huge hole in the traditional community in Makhanda that she led.
“We had only two women chiefs and now we are left with only one. Chief Jess had a smile that can light up a room. Her bubbly nature and enthusiastic approach made you feel that you are not alone in your pursuit. There are not a lot of leaders like her” said Petersen.
Walton was a nurse at Brookshaw Retirement Home for years. A former colleague described her as “a very, very kind lady, very respectful. She would find a way to solve the problems of others. You could go to her with your child’s problem and she would find a way to help you through”. Walton also fostered children in need.
Makana council speaker, Mthuthuzeli Matyumza, praised Walton’s work over the past 10 years. “We worked well together. She was even a councillor candidate at one point. Our office has committed to continuing to support the Royal House. This is indeed about culture” Matyumza said.
Andile Nayika, the project facilitator at Action for Accountability (A4A), also worked closely with Walton for many years. “She introduced A4A to many other active citizens. She went out into the Albany community and held civic action team meetings in her home” said Nayika.
“Those dark issues that are not often given enough attention, we shared with each other, resolving not to put our tools down” Nayika added.
He added that Walton had recently attended the opening of the new water testing facility at Rhodes University and continued working even when she was feeling ill.
Speaker after speaker took to the podium to remember Walton. “She was Makana’s legend. She was someone who was always there for everyone. As we are gathered here, chief Jess and our ancestors are gathered here with us” said one speaker, while another speaker said that Walton had also been a strong opponent of corruption in Makana municipality. Another speaker said Walton had loved her husband and children dearly and that Walton’s dream had come true when her daughter graduated.
As the memorial service drew to a close, a clan member broke Walton’s stick and gave the pieces to her husband. “A funeral for us is a highly spiritual transition”, Paramount Chief Fraser said, explaining that the breaking of the stick meant that Walton and those still living were severing ties. This was necessary in order for Walton to rest in peace, and for her loved ones to live in peace, he said.