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Tyhali: go well, true soldier



MASERU – VUYANI Tyhali, a firebrand trade unionist who contributed immensely in the struggle against apartheid, was buried in his home village of Mjanyane, Quthing, last Saturday.

Tyhali died on October 5 after a long illness, just two days before the October 7 election. He was 62. He is survived by his wife and three children — two boys and a girl.

As a trade unionist fighting against oppression, Tyhali worked with the South African Communist Party (SACP) underground operatives in Lesotho.

An uncle to the deceased said Tyhali was admitted in hospital but was later discharged to go home where he was under the care of his wife.

Tyhali, a towering figure in the working class’ struggle against oppression, will be remembered for his activism in leading the teachers’ trade union for 25 years.

He fought both against the military junta that took over power in Lesotho in 1986 and successive democratic governments that came into power thereafter.

He retired from active unionism in 2015 shortly before he was appointed a consular at the Lesotho’s high commission in South Africa.

The former Matsepe High School principal died at a time when teachers are in the middle of yet another labour struggle.

His military commander-like tactics are glaringly missing during this time when the government has for the past five years bluntly refused to meet teachers’ union leaders to discuss their grievances.

The leadership of the union he founded in 1990, the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) which he served as secretary-general for over two decades, should take a leaf from his stewardship if it wants to force the government to listen.

Below is a summary of his struggle, as he put it in his retirement article.

The LTTU was born at the end of a long, countrywide strike by three teachers’ organisations, the National Association of Lesotho Teachers (NALT), the Lesotho African National Teachers

Association (LANTA) and the Lesotho Union of Teachers (LUT).

This was after the military junta received advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to cut salaries of all civil servants in 1988, during the rule of the late Major-General Metsing Lekhanya.

So, in 1990 the government ushered in what was called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) when the three teachers’ organisations came together to form the LTTU.

At the time, the Lesotho Teachers Association (LAT) refused to come on board due to its cordial relations with the government.

Under Tyhali’s leadership teachers countrywide embarked on a major strike that was on a scale not seen before in the country.

The military government, which was pro-apartheid South Africa, was at the time afraid that Tyhali was being used by Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military wing of the African National Congress.

This was because active members in the teachers’ struggle had direct contact with the Committee for Action and Solidarity for Southern African Students (CASSAS) formed by Chris Hani at the

National University of Lesotho (NUL). This led to the arrest and detention of some struggle leaders.

CASSAS was led by Nthakeng Selinyane, a well-known academic and government critic, the late Advocate Maaparankoe Mahao, who later became the army boss, and Professor Kananelo Mosito, who was at the time president of the SRC at the NUL.

The three then young men worked hard to twist the government’s arm to listen to teachers by mobilising different youth organisations to support the cause.

Tyhali, a tenacious plotter, organised 20 beautiful young ladies to meet top officials in the military government with instructions that they should “smile and dress for the occasion”.

The officers agreed to meet the teachers’ representatives, at long last.

At the time, Tyhali and his comrades were being secretly aided by the late Mokhafisi Kena, the leader of the Communist Party of Lesotho (CPL), which was operating underground after the banning of communism in Lesotho in 1970.

The CPL had been established with the aid of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the two parties were operating together underground.

Tyhali and the comrades’ legal team consisted of Advocates Seana-Marena Mphutlane and Lekhetho Rakuoane, who is now leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).

At the time, Advocate Mphutlane’s office was used as the Lesotho’s headquarters for Umkhonto we Sizwe and his car was used for operations. The two lawyers were CPL members.

Advocate Rakuoane was detained for chairing and organising a successful stay-away in support of the striking teachers.

The military government drafted the Education Order No 12 of 1990, which banned teachers from forming and joining trade unions.

Tyhali at the time said they were emboldened by Professor Nqosa Mahao, then a law lecturer at the NUL and a CPL strategist. Professor Mahao pointed out the loopholes in the Education Order No 12 of 1990.

The government, in a bid to test the strength of its new draconian law, expelled 25 teachers from Life High School but Advocate Rakuoane won the labour case.

That was the end of the government’s trouble-making, until lately, as far as teachers are concerned.

Tyhali’s leadership was also on display during democratic rule under the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)-led government.

The LTTU took centre stage in opposition to King Letsie III’s unconstitutional dissolution of parliament. This was after the new government refused to reinstate his father, the late King Moshoeshoe II, who had been deposed by the military junta.

Also during the same year Tyhali and the young Maaparankoe Mahao led a march that resulted in peace talks between the warring Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) groups — the Ratjomose and

Makoanyane barracks — that were fighting against each other. At the time Mahao had not yet joined the army.

Speaking at Tyhali’s funeral on Saturday, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane said: “The deceased championed the rights of the working classes. He was a towering figure in the trade union movement who was always in the battle front for unions.”

Adv Rakuoane told mourners that Tyhali did not back off from fighting for the rights of the working class.

The leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, Nkaku Kabi, attributed his political career to Tyhali’s influence.

Kabi said during his time at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT), he approached Tyhali over some work-related issues. He said Tyhali advised him to unite with others who were also oppressed to embark on an industrial action.

Kabi said Tyhali took him as far as Gauteng, South Africa, to seek advice from workers’ associations such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the African National Congress (ANC).

“The first time I set foot in Luthuli House, I was with the deceased,” Kabi told the mourners at Tyhali funeral service. At his burial at the foothills of Mjanyane Mountain, the deceased was heaped with praises for fighting for the rights of the Xhosa people.

Tyhali pushed for children to be taught in their mother tongue at schools, arguing that language is part of culture.

Tyhali’s childhood friend, Nkululeko Gobizembe, said he grew up with Tyhali, whom he described as a loving person.

One of the important memories shared about Tyhali was when the late High Court Judge Thamsanqa Nomncongo met him at the court’s premises and expressed disbelief, asking why the trade unionist had not been initiated at his age.

Gobizembe said Tyhali went to initiation school following Justice Nomncongo’s mocking utterances, saying he was inkwenkwe encinci (little boy).

Tumisang Mokoai, former Consular General of Lesotho in Johannesburg, said Tyhali was a hard worker who always delivered on set tasks.

“The King has lost an important person who loved his people and served them with love all the time while at work,” Mokoai said.

“He was not a person of material things but he was productive at work,” he said.

The SACP and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) were represented at the burial.

In a statement, the SACP said: “As an internationalist, he also worked closely with the South African underground movement in Lesotho during the struggle against the apartheid system.

“His role as an internationalist contributed to the dislodging of apartheid in South Africa, bringing peace to the region.”

Majara Molupe & Caswell Tlali

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