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Free State Premier mourns Mthembu

Staff Reporter

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela has expressed shock at the sudden passing of Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu due to COVID-19 complications.

“Our country is in mourning,” Ntombela said in a statement on Thursday evening.

“We are all deeply saddened by the death of Minister Mthembu . . . we learnt with shock about (his) sudden passing. The people of our country are dying on a daily basis,” she added.

Ntombela said Mthembu’s death served as a bitter reminder that the coronavirus remains a danger amongst us as it can strike anyone at any time.

“Through his death, the virus has once again demonstrated that its sting is blind and will viciously strike anyone indiscriminately,” she said.

The premier said it was ironic that Mthembu succumbed to the disease on the same day that KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC Bheki Ntuli — who also died from COVID-19-related complications — was laid to rest.

“Hopefully, his death will serve as a reminder once again that we are faced with a deadly enemy,” she said.

“COVID-19 kills. If there was ever any doubt about the viciousness of this killer disease, the sad passing of our dear minister will put to bed those doubts.

“I once again implore all of you to adhere to the COVID-19 regulations.

“We cannot overemphasise the importance of wearing masks at all times, regular washing of hands and sanitising.

“Let me, on behalf of the people of the Free State, send our collective condolences to the Mthembu family and wish them strength during this difficult period. Lala ngo xolo Mvelase.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa described Mthembu as a respected advocate for democracy.

“Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade whose passing leaves our nation at a loss,” said Ramaphosa.

According to the Presidency website, Mthembu, an anti-apartheid activist, cut his political teeth in student politics in the 1970s.

He was born and bred in Witbank, now Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga province in 1958.

He was a student leader at Elukhanyisweni Secondary School in Witbank during the 1976 Student Uprisings.

His activism, says the website, continued when he was a student at the historic University of Fort Hare, resulting in his expulsion in 1980.

It says he contributed immensely to the birth of the Metal and Allied Workers Union, the predecessor of the National Union of Metal Workers in which he became a senior shop steward at Highveld Steel Corporation where he worked as a training officer and later promoted to be one of the first few black steel production foremen in the industry.

He was a leading member of the eMalahleni Civic Association.

He led both the local branches of the National Education Crisis and the Detainees Parents’ Support Committee, all affiliates of the United Democratic Front (UDF) then.

During the state of emergency in the 1980s, he was subjected to constant harassment and persecution by the security forces of the apartheid regime, resulting in several months of detentions without trial mostly in solitary confinement.

Acts of persecution by the agents of the apartheid regime included petrol bombing of his house in Witbank and being subjected to various forms of torture at police stations.

Mthembu was charged with sabotage, treason and terrorism between 1986 and 1988.

He was tried together with 30 other activists from Witbank.

The trial came to be known as the Bethal Terrorism Trial.

He was eventually acquitted.

After this acquittal, the apartheid security police continued with his harassment and intimidation which led him to moving away from Witbank and finding refuge in Soweto and Alexandra in Gauteng as an “internal exile”, seriously disrupting his family life.

He was elected as the deputy regional secretary of the United Democratic Front in the then PWV region, now Gauteng province, under the leadership of the late Mama Albertina Sisulu.

It was through his involvement with the South African Council of Churches under the leadership of the Reverend Frank Chikane that he joined the SWAPO solidarity campaign.

After the unbanning of political parties in 1990, he was entrusted with the responsibility of leading the Witbank branch of the ANC.

Between 1990 and 1994 he worked full time as ANC spokesman in Mpumalanga and participated as part of ANC staff at the CODESA negotiations.

After 1990, he served in several strategic roles including as a member of the ANC Mpumalanga Provincial Executive Committee.

He has been part of the ANC National Executive Committee since 2007.

After the first democratic elections in 1994, he was part of the first ANC Members of Parliament deployed to the Senate, now NCOP, where he contributed to the crafting of the country’s Constitution.

He was later appointed as MEC in Mpumalanga province for Public Works, Roads and Transport serving under the successive premierships of Matthews Phosa and Thabang Makwetla.

He was the national spokesperson of the ANC under President Nelson Mandela from 1995 to 1997 and was appointed to the same role again from 2009 to 2014.

While based at Luthuli House, one of the structures he chaired was the ANC Caster Semenya Support Committee which included the indomitable Mama Winnie Mandela – the responsibility of this committee was to give practical support to Sememnya against the inhumane treatment, abuse and discrimination she was subjected to by the International Association of Athletics Federation.

He served as the Chief Whip of the ANC in the National Assembly from 2016 up to the end of the fifth term of parliament in 2019.

After the 2019 national and general elections he was appointed Minister in the Presidency.

He was married to Thembi Mthembu and they had six children.

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