Ayanda Kota: the passing of a South African revolutionary

by May 10, 2024Amandla 92, Obituary

It was Ayanda’s generosity of spirit, selflessness, humility, unwavering commitment and love for the people that inspired us and will continue to inspire future generations.

Dear Comrade Babalwa, Ayanda’s children, Mandisa and Ayanda’s other sisters and family members, comrades of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), the Makhanda Citizens Front (MCF), and Zabalaza for Socialism, we mourn the loss of our comrade and friend, Ayanda Kota. We already miss him and feel the terrible vacuum he leaves in our movement.

We will not abandon his legacy. We will intensify our commitment to his struggle against mass unemployment and the capitalist system which underpins it. We will continue to journey with the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) and the Makhanda Citizen’s Front (MCF) to ensure that they flourish into movements that fulfil his unwavering commitment to organising the poor and downtrodden: to be their own liberators.

It was Ayanda’s generosity of spirit, selflessness, humility, unwavering commitment and love for the people that inspired us and will continue to inspire future generations. His life, cut so cruelly short, reaffirms that people from humble origins can rise and achieve extraordinary things. He became a towering figure in the movements of the poor.

It was Ayanda’s generosity of spirit, selflessness, humility, unwavering commitment and love for thepeople that inspired us and will continue to inspire future generations.

Committed to United Front politics

Born in the Black Consciousness movement, Ayanda learnt to identify the real enemy and would never broker collaboration with the ruling class. As one of the earliest critics of the ANC government, Ayanda distinguished between the ANC leadership and its ordinary members, a huge percentage of whom are poor working-class people, just like the members of the UPM.

Building unity in action was the mantra by which he strategically lived out his political life. In Ayanda’s eyes, no successful mass action campaign or mobilisation was ever just a UPM initiative. He would reach out to a wide range of forces to draw into battle.

Ayanda believed in united front politics, but he never relinquished the responsibility of leadership. Here I am not not referring to any fixation on being ‘The Leader’. I am referring to ideological and strategic leadership. The battle of ideas was an important terrain for Ayanda’s politics. He was inspired by many revolutionaries. He was a Fanonist, Bikoist, Cabralist, Neville Alexanderist, Maoist, Trotskyist, Luxemburgist­—and the ‘ist’ of many other revolutionaries who shaped his constantly evolving thought.

From black consciousness to eco-socialism

Sometimes, it is important to set the record straight: Ayanda was black-conscious in his thinking even though he had left the Black Consciousness movement in its different components. He believed in the slogan ‘One Azania One Nation’. He believed that it was the black working class that would still need to lead the struggle to overcome oppression and usher in a liberated nation. South Africa, 30 years after the end of Apartheid, was not free.

But Ayanda’s black consciousness was not one of identity politics, so in vogue today. He resisted the reduction of so-called ‘whites’ to the tagline ‘liberals’. He saw many liberals in the new black middle class and had little time for them. On the other hand, he could discern those who came from the ruling class but had committed class suicide. He readily worked with them. For that, ironically, he was cursed for being in bed with liberals.

For Ayanda, post-Apartheid South Africa was the continuation of racial capitalism, which saw wealth concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority and the vast majority of the population impoverished. Ayanda despised the Motsepes as much as he despised the Ruperts.

Based on his understanding of the workings of racial capitalism, Ayanda’s black consciousness evolved into a revolutionary socialist consciousness. He recognised the system of capitalism as the real foundation for the oppression and marginalisation of people in South Africa and the world over. This is why he aligned with a range of socialist organisations in South Africa and beyond, eventually finding his home in Zabalaza for Socialism.

Ayanda despised the Motsepes as much as he despised the Ruperts.

His concern for nature and the planet, in the context of the unfolding climate emergency, meant that, as early as 2011, at COP 17, he called for the renewal of socialism on an eco-socialist basis.

Ayanda’s major concern was the precarious parts of the black working class. In the first instance, the 13 million unemployed, who for Ayanda were not an underclass but potentially the most militant part of the working class. They were the ones who have “nothing to lose but their chains”­—the real gravediggers of the bourgeoisie.

The demands for a basic income grant and free basic services were the immediate issues around which their revolutionary consciousness could be enhanced. To catalyse the movement of the unemployed, in 2010, Ayanda staged a three-person demonstration, lying down on the road in front of Parliament, demanding decent work or a living income grant. This was to be the impetus towards the building of UPM and the Assembly of the Unemployed, launched in Makhanda in 2013. These were centred on the Right to Work and the demand for a million climate jobs.

He also saw the organising of farmworkers and small-scale farmers as critical. So, he gave his efforts to building the Inyanda Land Rights Movement and the Rural People’s Movement in and around Makhanda. In Ayanda’s view and praxis, the landless of the countryside were the ‘cousins’ of the urban unemployed.

A socialist practice

Ayanda led without wanting any privileges for himself. He sacrificed position and income, always favouring the Collective. He understood how money divided organisations and chose to promote others ahead of himself. He should have led the MCF in the Council­—he declined, fortunately for those in power.

Ayanda knew that UPM and MCF cannot wait on government to deliver services to the people. In a period of extreme poverty and exclusion their immediate needs have to be addressed. Soup kitchens, repairing broken infrastructure, tending to the needs of children were integral to winning the confidence of an alienated and disillusioned people. Responding to social needs, coupled with mass direct action, is an important method of rebuilding the popular mass movement.

Ayanda was deeply critical of the bureaucratisation of the labour movement. Only after the Marikana massacre, the emergence of Amcu as a militant mass trade union, and Numsa’s break with the Alliance did he see the strategic possibility of building alliances with the trade union movement. He strongly warmed to the possibility of uniting social movements and trade unions in a movement for socialism. 

Ayanda fought against the scourge of xenophobia or Afrophobia. He understood that the scapegoating of foreign nationals, falsely blamed for unemployment and poverty, diverted attention from the real agents of poverty, unemployment and inequality­—capital and the capitalist state.

Ayanda hated sexism and the oppression of women. Patriarchy and capitalism needed to be simultaneously fought. He pushed UPM to lead struggles against gender-based violence and struggled to build a stronger role for women in the leadership of UPM and MCF. 

Building organisation

Ayanda did not just die. He was killed by the collapsing public health system, strangled by budget cuts, neglect and looting. He was convinced that the struggle against austerity was the most important fight for the workers and the poor to unite around. That’s why he played a leading role in forming the Cry of the Xcluded, to lead the struggle against austerity.

Although Makhanda (Grahamstown) was the immediate terrain of struggle, Ayanda sought to build national movements. This is why he took the initiative to form the Assembly of the Unemployed. It is why he readily took UPM into the Democratic Left Front in 2008 and the United Front formed by Numsa, following its break with the ANC Alliance.

Sick as he was, he took part in giving birth to Zabalaza for Socialism in December last year. Leaning on Babalwa, he took the long walk each day from the Wits Residence to the Conference venue, to help shape our socialist cadre organisation. He even had time to participate in the caucuses, shaping the leadership of this new movement.

Ayanda saw Zabalaza for Socialism as the logical extension of the social movements he had devoted much of his short life to building. He believed that the working class needs its own political movement, which can direct the class struggle for democratising the society on a socialist basis. Such a movement must be able to unify the everyday grassroots struggles at work and in the community with the struggle for state power­—participating in elections. It must unify the oppressed and exploited layers of society around a programme for the reorganisation and transformation of this society.

The irony that one of the most significant fighters against neoliberalism was killed by neoliberalism is not lost on us.

Our pledge, as we bury our comrade and friend, is that we will do all we can to unite the oppressed and excluded to bring into existence a movement for socialism that can fight the system of capitalism in all its forms.

Hamba Kahle dear comrade and friend!

Hamba Kahle Ayanda Kota!


Brian Ashley is a member of the Amandla Collective

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