THE GREAT achievement of the African National Congress during the Sixties and Seventies, the apartheid dark ages, was that it managed not only to survive as a movement but to endure as the leading political voice of black South Africa. In the absence of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela it fell upon Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC, to keep the flame alive. Loyally at Tambo's side stood one of the black struggle's unsung heroes, Thomas Nkobi.
From 1973 until his death Nkobi served as the ANC's treasurer general, one of the five senior positions in the organisation. As ANC paymaster, he was besieged by supplicants who approached him for funds convinced, as a friend described it, that the very future of 'the struggle' hung on his approval. More often than not he would turn down a 'comrade' 's appeal, yet he never made a lasting enemy. He handled millions but no one ever accused him of financial impropriety.
An ANC colleague who is now a cabinet minister described him yesterday as 'incorruptible'. A large, forbidding-looking man, he was as loved as he was respected. 'He had a thunderous, booming voice,' the ANC minister said, 'but a no less thunderous laugh. He was - like Tambo - a father- figure to all of us.'
Born in Natal in 1922 Nkobi joined the ANC Youth League and became the ANC's national organiser in 1957, having risen to prominence a year earlier when he organised a bus boycott by blacks. A key figure in the implementation of what became known as the Mandela 'M Plan' to set up an underground ANC network, he was jailed for five months in 1960. In 1963 he went into exile, most of which he spent in Lusaka until his return to South Africa shortly after the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990.
In recent years his role was chiefly that of ANC accountant. Although he continued to serve on the National Executive Committee he did not contribute greatly to the policy-making during the complex constitutional negotiations with the de Klerk government. His value was that he could be trusted implicitly with the management of the ANC budget.
A veritable 'stalwart', to employ the language of the black struggle, he lived to savour the triumph of liberation which, as his friend the cabinet minister described it, meant the world to him.Reuse content