A Personal Tribute: Shadrack Msizeni Maphumulo: Ziyohamba Izinsizwa, Ziyosala Izibongo!

By Greg Alexander Mashaba

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The 12th December marks the anniversary of the death of the great but unsung hero of the national liberation struggle, Shadrack Msizeni Maphumulo, who died in a raid conducted by apartheid special forces in Swaziland in 1986. A great and yet humble cadre of our glorious organisation the ANC and a soldier of its military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, Cde Maphumulo was brutally killed in a hail of gunfire, in front of his wife and children. He was 48 years old at the time of his death.

Shadrack Msizeni Maphumulo was born in Nsuze, in rural KwaZulu Natal in 1938. Like most people in that area, he was born into a poor peasant family. Most of the people in that area would either have been forced to work on farms in the surrounding areas or to seek employment in the major urban areas such as Durban, Emgungundlovu ( ie Pietermaritzburg ), and Newcastle. In addition to that, the fact that most, if not all of them, did not have basic education meant that they could only offer back-breaking labour which was specifically reserved for Africans in order to earn wages. It was against this background that Maphumulo headed for Durban in search of employment in the 1950s. He was joined in his relocation to Durban by another illustrious hero of the national liberation struggle, Johannes “Pass Four” Phungula, who was also his brother in law.

In Durban he became drawn, like a lot of other people who had moved from the rural areas,  into the trade union movement. The principal trade union then was the South African Congress of Trade Unions ( “SACTU” ) which for close to three decades was regarded as the trade union component of the ANC. Some also joined the Communist Party of South Africa  as the SACP was then known). Maphumulo, like most members of the ANC and SACTU in Natal would later join MK soon after its founding on 16 December 1961. Indeed, the first batch of cadres to be sent for military training in Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania and the Soviet Union included a significant number of comrades from Natal. Among these were Johannes Phungula himself, Cletus Mzimela, Mathews Meyiwa, Curnick Ndlovu and Joseph Nduli.

Having joined MK inside the country soon after its formation, Cde Maphumulo took part in the initial sabotage and bombing campaign which was carried out by the organisation in the Natal area. Their initial targets were electrical sub-stations, electricity pylons and the rail transportation infrastructure. He would be subsequently arrested and charged with sabotage in what came to be called the “mini Rivonia trial” for it came soon after the famous Rivonia trial where Nelson Mandela and his comrades were charged with treason following the arrest of the top tier of MK in Riven, Johannesburg.

The other comrades who were jointly charged with Cde Maphumulo and convicted were Alfred Duma , Zakhele Mdlalose, Mathews Meyiwa, Mdingeni Mathews Mkhize, Riot Mkhwanazi, David Ndwandwe, Mfanyana Nkosi, Joshua Zulu, George Naicker, Billy Nair, Siva Pillay, Girja Singh, Kirsten Moonsamy . He was sentenced to a term of ten years which he served on Robben Island. He was released from prison in 1974 whereupon he commenced MK underground activity.

When his comrades in the underground movement, Harry Gwala, Joseph Mdluli and Mathews Meyiwa were arrested in 1975, it was Cde Maphumulo, together with Judson Khuzwayo and Petros Nyawose who constituted the nucleus of ANC/MK underground structures in Natal, with Maphumulo serving as the major link between the underground structures in Natal and the ANC in Swaziland. Cde Maphumulo was subsequently detained again by the racist regime though he was never formally charged. He eventually ended up in Moderbee prison in Benoni. He apparently used the period he spent at Moderbee prison to recruit fellow inmates into the ranks of the ANC/MK.

After his release in 1979 he was banned and restricted by the racist regime to Inanda in Natal. He escaped to Swaziland in 1981 where he joined his former comrades Judson Khuzwayo and Petros Nyawose. Cde Nyawose was killed the following year, together with his wife Jabu, herself a member of the ANC and SACTU, in a car bomb explosion carried out by an apartheid death squad.

I was introduced to Cde Maphumulo by Cde Ivan Pillay sometime in 1984. This was during a very difficult period in the history of the organisation in both Swaziland and neighbouring Mozambique. These two countries had, in the period following the 1976 student uprising in Soweto, served as the principal staging areas for MK operations into the Transvaal and Natal. The terrain and the proximity of the major metropolitan areas in both provinces were such that MK cadres could infiltrate into such areas with relative ease. This factor was not lost to the racist military strategists in Pretoria. Through a combination of military and diplomatic pressure, the racist regime had been able to bring pressure to bear on the authorities in both countries. As a result of that pressure the government of Mozambique openly revealed that it had concluded a non- aggression pact with the racist regime (the “ Nkomati Accord “) in terms of which the ANC/MK would be barred from conducting military operations out of Mozambique. Only four ANC members and their dependents were allowed to remain in Mozambique, namely comrades Jacob Zuma, Joe Slovo, Moses Mabhida and Indres Naidoo. ANC/MK presence in Swaziland was also significantly reduced following revelation that the Swaziland government had also entered into a secret pact (the “Pretoria Accord”) which called for the curtailment of ANC/MK activity in Swaziland, with most senior leaders and combatants being deported by the Swaziland authorities. The fact that control of the Swaziland government had been seized by a group of very conservative tribal leaders grouped under the dreaded “Liqoqo”, who were very hostile to the presence of the ANC in Swaziland served to exacerbate. The “Liqoqo” was essentially a supreme traditional advisory body which was meant to give guidance to the Queen Regent following the falling asleep of King Sobhuza II in 1982.

I personally found Cde Maphumulo to be very friendly and warm, with good mannerism. He spoke very softly and presented himself as one who, despite his lack of formal education, had a sharp analytical brain. I recall how he instructed me in IsiZulu to gain a thorough understanding of the class struggle and the related subject of the ideological struggle. He also instilled in me the virtue to always seek to find something useful in any negative situation. He calmly told me that no matter how difficult the situation one finds oneself in, it was important that one always identified therein those factors which he/she could use to his/ her advantage. He then calmly pointed out , “..that is why abelungu bethi ‘On every cloud there is a silver lining…” He was a regular visitor to what then served as our home in Manzini. He fitted very easily into my family and in a way became not only a comrade but very much a close member of my extended family. It was within this context that when I left Swaziland to further my studies in London in 1985 , I felt that I had entrusted Cde Maphumulo to my family, so that they would give him all the support that he needed as a senior ANC/MK cadre operating in Swaziland under very difficult conditions.

Cde Maphumulo would eventually be appointed commander of the Natal Political Machinery ( which was later renamed the “Mandla Judson Khuzwayo Machinery”), having replaced Cde Ivan Pillay who was his immediate predecessor. In that capacity he worked very closely with the late Cde Jabulani Nxumalo (“Mzala”) the brilliant military tactician and political intellectual. Cde Mzala, author of the book on Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi, “Gatsha Buthelezi: The Chief With A Double Agenda”, oversaw MK operations largely in northern Natal, in his capacity as commander of the Natal Rural Machinery.

Cde Maphumulo was appointed a member of the Swaziland RPMC (ie “Regional Political and Military Council”) which was initially chaired by Cde Ronnie Kasrils and later by Cde Ebrahim Ishmael Ebrahim. Other members of the RPMC were Sello Motau (ie “Paul Dikeledi who was killed in an ambush outside Manzini in 1986), Muziwakhe Ngwenya (ie “Thami Zulu” or “TZ”), Vusi Mavimbela and Welile Nhlapo. Like all other RPMCs, the Swaziland structure reported to the PMC ( “Political and Military Council”) in Lusaka which was chaired by Oliver Tambo. Each RPMC was charged primarily with overseeing political and military coordination in its respective region. Critically, it was given responsibility for making operational decisions.

I came to Swaziland in the middle of 1986 and was very happy to be united with Cde Maphumulo, albeit for a very short period. I told him that I was always very concerned for his safety given the very dangerous conditions under which he operated in Swaziland . Cde Maphumulo however assured me that since the coronation of Crown Prince Makhosetive as King Mswati III, which led to the dissolution of the “Liqoqo”, there had been a significant improvement in the relationship between the Swaziland authorities and the ANC. “ Sesihlala njengama khosi alpha comrade”, (“We are now treated like royalty here comrade”) was Cde Maphumulo response in his characteristic soft tone.

On the night of 12 December 1986, apartheid special forces attacked Cde Maphumulo’s apartment at Magevini Flats, in Matsapha, the industrial zone of Swaziland adjoining Manzini. The intention of the apartheid murderers was apparently to kidnap Cde Maphumulo and whisk him across the border to South Africa. When he fought back, he was hit by a volley of bullets fired by his attackers. This all took place in the presence of his wife and infant son. A 13 year old Swazi national, Danger Nyoni, was killed in the raid. Maphumulo was dragged by his attackers into a car. He would later be hand-cuffed to Corrine Bischoff , the younger sister of an old family friend and comrade of mine, Paul Bischoff (currently professor and head of the Department of International Relations at Rhodes University). Corrine had also been seized together with her companion, one Daniel Schneider by the same group of attackers. Corrine would later recount how a mortally wounded and heavily bleeding Cde Maphumulo succumbed to his wounds and died even while they were hand-cuffed to each other. Because they also held Swiss citizenship, both Corrine and Daniel were eventually released by the racist regime following concerted pressure by the Swiss government and the international community.

While his family waited outside Greytown police station to receive his mortal remains, the racist regime purported to bury Cde Maphumulo in Nsuze, KwaMaphumulo in the presence of members of the apartheid security forces and two imposters who were presented as “his brothers, whom the family were however later to deny that they were in fact members of his family. His first wife, Thokozile, was subsequently granted an exhumation order. He was re-buried at Chesterville cemetery, outside Durban. A separate memorial service attended by comrades Ebrahim Ishmael Ebrahim, Lindiwe Sisulu and a few other members of the ANC and the South African community was held in Mbabane, Swaziland.

In an article authored by Mhlaba Memela and which was posted on “Timeslive.co.za “ on 7 July 2011 , I got to read that President Jacob Zuma, himself an old comrade of and a very close friend of Cde Maphumulo, had built and handed over a house in Inanda, Durban, to Maphumulo’s family . This was apparently in satisfaction of an agreement between comrades Maphumulo and Zuma, made some time in the early 1980s, that should either of them die in exile, the surviving comrade would build a decent house for the family of the fallen comrade.

For many years I harboured the desire to pay tribute to this beautiful and very warm comrade whom I sorely miss. Looking back, I can only say that it is a singular honour and privilege granted to me by God himself that, I, a lowly and insignificant figure , walked in the company of giants like Cde Maphumulo. I shall ever be grateful to God himself and to these illustrious leaders of our national liberation struggle for all that they taught me .

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  1. Dear Yanda,
    I was deeply touched by your comment. Your grandfather was a great man, a real revolutionary and an internationalist.I am certainly a much better person thanks to the influence he exercised on myself, his guidance and wise counsel.
    Writing this article on him was both humbling and very emotionally draining. I only realized after I had commenced writing that I had personally not come to terms with the circumstances surrounding his brutal assassination.
    I have also been in touch with Cde Paul Bischoff , the brother of Corrine Bischoff. She too has read this article and has since suffered flashbacks. Hopefully , we will all find healing .
    I have received your contact details and have sent a separate email to yourself.
    I shall endeavor to maintain regular contact with yourself and your family.
    Long live the spirit of Cde Shadrack Maphumulo!
    Amandla ! Matla!
    Greg Alexander Mashaba

  2. Dear Greg,

    I have read your tribute with much joy in my heart and tears in my eyes.

    It would be great to learn more about your experiences with my late grandfather.

    Please do contact me on the email address provided.



    1. Dear Ngwane

      My deepest condolences to you and the family Ngwane. It’s an honour to have you join our community.

      I will certainly pass this email onto Greg.



  3. Wow Cde Clement! I was not aware that you are one of our readers!!! I am deeply humbled by your comments! Yes, I loved that song by Sipho Gumede! You have a very good memory. And yes you are correct , Cde Paul Bischoff was not only a cadre of our organisation , he was ( and still is ) a teacher and professor who satisfies the highest intellectual standards.
    To you too my Cde Stalin , a million thanks for your kind sentiments expressed. I will try to remain true to the the cause of our revolution . Doing so shall not be easy especially in the face of the vicious onslaught visited on us by imperialists and their agents. We can only honor the legacy of great cadres like Cde Maphumulo by remaining true to the values they instilled in us , especially those of selfless sacrifice.

  4. That’s heartening Cde Greg. I’ll ever enjoy your chronicles, they surely come from deep down your heart. you know, you also remind us of old encounters and interactions with our true movement stalwarts who taught us the NDR and discipline while still at tender age. I beg you that you remain a true revolutionary and a loyal cadre of our beloved movement. Unfortunately we can’t say this about abo CR17

  5. Mr Mashaba. Thanks for the history of the struggle. That Nyoni boy I thought science in form 1 at St Marys. He was the smartest in class, that’s why I noted when he was killed in that raid. Then my high school English teacher, Mr Bischoff. Sometimes it’s hard to think I was listening to music with you. There is this song by Sipho Gumedze that always remind me of you, coz you loved it. By the way Greg, it Clement here.

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