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08/12/2017 14:41 SAST | Updated 08/12/2017 14:41 SAST

Laloo Chiba: Hamba Kahle, Mkhonto

It is a time of generational shift and Chiba’s life offers many lessons as the baton of freedom and democracy is passed to a new generation.

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The Titans are falling fast now. Laloo Isu Chiba, the jovial veteran who seemed so ever young, died at his home in Lenasia, Johannesburg on Friday at 87 years old after a heart attack.

Chiba passed on in the week that marked four years since the death of his comrade Nelson Mandela. A week earlier, another member of the golden generation and his fellow Robben Islander, Eddie Daniels, also passed away.

It is a time of generational shift and Chiba's life offers many lessons as the baton of freedom and democracy is passed to a new generation. He was an activist to the very end. Chiba spent a lot of his final year speaking at memorials to his bestie and comrade Ahmed Kathrada who died in March.

Kathrada's funeral and the many memorials held for him around the company were turned into rallies against state capture. He died in the week that former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas were axed as the contours of capture clarified and the predators tightened their grip on South Africa.

In all the rallies, Chiba took centre-stage. He shyly presided over and was honoured at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation's annual lecture in October where Gordhan spoke on what a decaptured state could look like.

If you spoke to Chiba this year, he was jovial and jocular but clear about the dangers of predation for the democracy he helped birth – he is, or was, from that generation of activists for whom the moral ambivalence that besets us now had never set in. A simple man, he was of that generation of cadres who were not lured by lucre and bling.

Chiba celebrated his 87th birthday on November 5. He became committed to the struggle for freedom in South Africa during the treason trial which started in 1956 and in 1961, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's military wing. In 1963, he was arrested with his comrades when they caught sabotaging a railway line. After a trial called "Little Rivonia", after the Rivonia Treason Trial, he was sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island alongside Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Kathrada and others.

In prison, he did lots of work, but his biggest gift to future generations was the painstaking work on Mandela's biography, "Long Walk to Freedom". Mandela explained how the blockbuster was written.

"We created an assembly line to process the manuscript. Each day I passed what I wrote to Kathy [Kathrada] who reviewed it and then read it to Walter. Kathy then wrote their comments in the margins. Walter and Kathy have never hesitated to criticise me, and I took their suggestions to heart, often incorporating their changes. This marked-up manuscript was then given to Laloo Chiba, who spent the next night transferring my writing to his own almost microscopic shorthand, reducing 10 pages of foolscap to a single small piece of paper. It would be Mac's job to smuggle the manuscript to the outside world."

Upon his release, Chiba immediately joined the United Democratic Front and in the hard years of the states of emergency, he was again detained in 1985, this time for seven-and-a-half months. When freedom came, he was an ANC MP for the first two terms of democracy before he settled back into a life of activism, not retirement, in Lenasia in Johannesburg.

Chiba often worked out of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation where he passed on his skills and his commitment to real nonracialism to the young people who passed through its doors as interns, fellows and activists. It was a joy and a wonder to see how this intergenerational activism was translated into a 21st century form. He is survived by his wife, Luxmi, three daughters and grandchildren.