*** Solomon ‘Solly’ Mlayizeni Simelane ***

By Khulu Mbatha

On Saturday, 21 January 2023, we bid our last farewells to an unsung hero, Solomon ‘Solly’ Mlayizeni Simelane, who was a dependable fighter and crusader among giants such as Oliver Tambo, Alfred Nzo, Thomas Nkobi and Johnstone ‘Johnny’ Mfanafuthi Makatini. Simelane was born on the 24th of February 1936 in Barberton, in the Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga and he died a few weeks before he turned 87. Simelane’s quiet single-mindedness allowed him to accomplish noble goals. His steeled dedication and sacrifice of three decades of his life in the trenches of exile made him one of the gallant fighters of our liberation struggle. With his return to South Africa, he did not tire of defending the democracy that so many of our people laid their lives for.

*** ANC veteran, Mavuso Msimang ***

‘Bra Solly’, as we fondly called him, started his education in Nelspruit before moving to Rockville in Soweto. He left school and joined many young men that worked at the well-known United Tobacco Company (UTC) in the industrial area of Croesus in Johannesburg. Commuting between Barberton and Johannesburg had exposed him to many ills under the apartheid system, including the poverty experienced by black people. With a heightened political consciousness, he was among the first cadres to be recruited and joined Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in 1963 which led to his crossing the border into Botswana and proceeding to Zambia and Tanzania. 

*** ANC veteran and Minister of Tourism, H.E. Lindiwe Sisulu ***

Solly Simelane underwent military training in the former Soviet Union and other East European countries. Mavuso Msimang, a veteran who was with Simelane, explained that as a result of the difficulties associated with finding routes to infiltrate cadres back to South Africa, those recruits of MK, popularly known as the Luthuli Detachment, were settled in the hinterland of Kongwa in Tanzania. From 1964 this location in the Kongwa area was used for the camping of soldiers of movements such as the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the Liberation Front of Mozambique (Frelimo). Later, cadres of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the ANC, were settled there.

From Kongwa Simelane was assigned different missions by the ANC. He first left for Egypt to work in the ANC office that was run by Ambrose Makiwane, the first commander of the Kongwa camp, who had been redeployed to head the Cairo office. Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, made shortwaves (SW) radio frequencies available for liberation movements based in Cairo, thus enabling Simelane in 1966 to be a pioneer in making the first air broadcast against the racist regime after Walter Sisulu’s illegal short broadcast inside South Africa on 26 June 1963. 

The June 16, 1976 uprising, occurring after the liberation of Angola and Mozambique, was a game-changer in the struggle against white minority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans were able to intensify their struggle from Mozambique. The ANC was able to send its cadres through Mozambique and Swaziland (now Eswatini). Simelane’s prowess in directing attacks against enemy targets as a commander of a Special Operations Unit was felt throughout South Africa and the world. Jabu Masina, Joseph Makhura, Ting Ting Masango and Neo Potsane, later known as the Delmas Four, inflicted huge damages on the South African infrastructure and police collaborators. As Jabu Masina put it, ‘thanks to Simelane, from now on, the enemy was kept busy’. 

After these successes and following the destructive Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique, ‘Bra Solly’ was once more assigned a new task outside the continent. He was to support the ANC Diplomatic Missions in different countries. He was posted to the USA as Deputy Chief Representative to give support to the Chief Representative of the ANC to the United Nations, Tebogo Mafole and he was to strengthen fundraising for the ANC.

‘Bra Solly’ was a reliable soldier of President Oliver Tambo, to whom he assigned a number of sensitive missions in different countries. He was an exceptional reservoir of knowledge and a selfless revolutionary. He returned home in 1991 to continue serving the people of South Africa.

Lindiwe Sisulu, speaking as former minister of intelligence, said people like Simelane gave it all to make sure there’s democracy in South Africa. He was a resolute leader of the movement who committed his entire life to the struggle against apartheid and colonialism. He lived in the shadows of the struggle to supply vital information to the ANC for its own survival. How are such leaders honoured and recognised by the democratic state? This question, raised by Sisulu, needs to be addressed by all – the ANC, the department of intelligence, and society as a whole. The absence of the national and provincial ANC leadership was conspicuous. 

He was a devoted family man who cared a lot for both his immediate and extended family. In exile, he cared for all children without any discrimination, a point made by Desiree Letshabo, who spoke on behalf of the children.  He was a loving, humble, selfless, and caring father, uncle and grandfather. 

As a former resident of Rockville, Soweto he now joins those that left before him and will be connecting to people like Graham Gadimphele Morodi (MK Ntate Mashigo), Agnes Msimang, Mendi Msimang, Motlalepula Chabaku, John Vilakazi (MK Thabo Mkula), Kolisile Ngqase (MK Ephraim Gazelle), General Sipho ‘Siga’ Binda (MK Mandla Jwara), Goodman Koti Danisa, Joseph Poponi Dube (MK Leo Mbongeni), Sizakele ‘Siza’ Hlongwa, among others.

*** Veteran Jackie Modise with Minister Sisulu ***

He is survived by his children Lemmy, Justice, Welcome, Mpande, Sandile, Siphelele, Samkelo, and several grandchildren. 

Sithi ilala ngoxolo Simelane, Mgutshwa. Mpembe kaLokothwayo, Simelane ka Ndlovu, Ndletshana Zimqewana, Ndletshana zikhanya ilanga!