Pali Lehohla | Dr Thandi Ndlovu has left clear pointers on policy

06 September 2019 - 14:50
By Pali Lehohla
Thandi Ndlovu has died  after being in a car crash. / MICHAEL PINYANA
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA Thandi Ndlovu has died after being in a car crash. / MICHAEL PINYANA

The death of Dr Thandi Ndlovu shocked South Africa and revealed some fundamental challenges our democracy at 25 faces; the fault lines we glossed over; the hollowness of our declarations; and what should be the immediate and sustainable tasks for our revolution.

What prompted me to pen this article was one of the messages from the 70s group.

Duma ka Ndlovu captured the role Thandi's mother as a businesswoman, a politically conscious and a caring adult, played in the revolution.

Duma went on to remind us that in fact Thandi's brother Hastings Ndlovu, was the first to be killed in the student uprising of 1976.

Duma reminisced about the trip they took to Benny's Fish and Chips where Thandi would help her mother in the family business.

In 1995, we attended a birthday party of Anna Mphahlele and many people from exile, and in particular, from Tanzania were present. Among the discussions that attracted passionate debate was the construction industry.

Comrades reminisced on how they built the Solomon Mahlangu School in Tanzania, at which they acquired skills in bricklaying, construction and artisanal competencies. They lamented that they were marginalised in Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and in particular in the construction of RDP houses.

This, they contended, was a betrayal of the revolution.

Thandi was one of those who was in exile, acquired a medical degree and followed in the footsteps of her mother as a businesswoman. She established Motheo Construction.

Thandi was an entrepreneur and belonged to the 5% of the population that blaze the trail and send clear pointers on policy.

At her funeral it was also revealed that Thandi suffered privately because of domestic violence.

With the death of Thandi, I thus ponder on the lessons of intellectual and economic liberation. At the height and immediate aftermath of the Soweto uprisings were questions about the relationship of liberation and education; and later liberation and theology.

Theologians, among them Reverand Frank Chikane, adopted the revolutionary concept of liberation theology.

On education, the debate was whether education first and liberation later or liberation first and liberation later.

Thandi as a true revolutionary resolved this dilemma by seeing education as an instrument of liberation.

The second dilemma that Thandi resolved was that of economic empowerment. Duma affirmed this for me and later the the tribute by General Siphiwe Nyanda provided the evidence. Here again, Thandi saw praxis as an instrument for economic empowerment.

While studying she would help her mother run her business, honing her business skills for business.

Third, her silent suffering because of domestic violence has showed us the hollowness of our declarations with women abuse being so prominent and increasing in particular in the month of August.

Despite commemorating women's month, women abuse, femicide and child abuse continue unabated, but Thandi's silence about her abuse has ironically reverberated in a more impactful and loud way. Indeed more than our thousand marches.

The bigger set of questions that emerge are these: what was the benefit of the Soweto student uprisings in June 1976?

Did this deliver a better education?

The answer is that in the past 43 years education for the black majority has been on a decline, yet we continue almost thoughtlessly to commemorate June 16.

Thandi immortalised June 16 with gifting Soweto a basketball arena in honour of his brother Hastings.

We have a lot to learn from this woman of character.

Perhaps out of her untimely demise the revolutionary spirit of June 16 can be ignited.

Dr Lehohla is the former statistician general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at and @PaliLehohla