Eulogy for Tembisa hero – Phiri

The late Japhta Phiri.

Every village and township has a lovable, unforgettable and unassuming individual who, due to their selfless actions, will always be remembered.

One such unforgettable giant is the late Enoch Japhta Phiri (64) of 371 Xubeni Section who was buried on June 10 at Mooifontein Cemetery in Tembisa.

According to Sello Ali Tleane, member of Parliament for Tembisa, Phiri or “Bra Jeff”as he was affectionately known on the streets of Tembisa had been in and out of hospital for quite some time because he was suffering from cancer.

“He was a complete ball of fire and magic, all wrapped up in one. He was a musician, mechanic par excellence, freedom fighter, father and hustler who never allowed the horrendous apartheid conditions to press him down,” said Tleane.

Tleane said he met Phiri during the early 1970s when pop and soul music were the “in thing” and bands were mushrooming in the townships.

“Our band’s name was Herbalist and the late Phiri became one of our backing singers and percussionists. After we had relocated from our Sedibeng Section headquarters, Phiri offered his home as our second clubhouse where we conducted our rehearsals. Phiri and his family took care of us and never saw us as outsiders. Times were bad then.

“The music industry, which is still undermined and frowned upon even today, was not in a position to support us to a point where we could make a living from our talents,” added Tleane.

Tleane emphasised that at times Phiri would sell fruit and other goods on trains to provide the bare necessities for band members.

“He was a real selfless son of the soil. During the mid 1980s, the then ANC President, O R Tambo called upon the oppressed masses to render apartheid unworkable through the establishment of organs of people’s power, which included civic, youth and women’s formations as well as street committees. Phiri was one of those who fearlessly became part of the Xubeni Sectional Committee of the Tembisa Residents’ Association (TRA) under the leadership of the late Madlopha Sibiya,” said Tleane.

He explained that Phiri had worked alongside the likes of the late Boy Khoza, who was otherwise affectionately known as Bra Bizza or Boy Mshangaan and that Phiri had been a sweet and humble man who loved his people and country.

He explained that Phiri volunteered to work for the destruction of apartheid when it was very dangerous to do so and contributed to the mobilization of people against the system.

“He was simultaneously very popular in Tembisa as one of the few serious mechanics who repaired Mercedes Benz motor vehicles. He had required this skill after undergoing training at a few companies in Isando and Olifantsfontein where he was employed. Many local business men and women brought their expensive cars to Phiri for repairs and he never led them down,” added Tleane.

According to Tleane there are two types of intellectuals in this world. The first category of intellectuals is that of people who studied at universities and colleges to acquire their knowledge. They are called conventional intellectuals. The second category is that of people who acquired their knowledge through struggles in the political terrain and by reading a variety of literature on their own. These are called organic intellectuals. Japhta Phiri belonged to the second category because he was a brilliant thinker and strategist.
“Most of us always believed that if he had gone far with his formal education, he would have become a respected professor in several fields,” Tleane concluded.
Japhta Phiri is survived by two sisters, his wife Rebecca, five daughters, a son and fourteen grandchildren.

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