THE advent of a new year has traditionally been a very difficult time. Uncertainty, challenges and difficulties which lie ahead, coupled with crippling financial pressure, stifle all the joy and widespread celebration which has characterised the termination of the past year.
In 2021, the afore-mentioned challenges and anxiety have been exacerbated by the omnipresence of the dreaded Corona virus. With many countries across the globe going through a second wave of the pandemic, sunrise brings with it fear, not only of the possibility of having contracted this deadly virus, but over and above that, fear of receiving news of the life of a family friend, comrade or a loved one having been snuffed out the previous day.
This cruel and evil virus has had, in a real sense, the effect of cutting down the life expectancy of the average person across the globe to a minimum of three days and and a maximum of roughly fourteen days. Such is the effect that this virus which has seemingly brought the world to a stand still has on humanity and has on all of us. It, in a word, induces sickening fear and paralysis.
It was within the context of this fear, anxiety and increasing sense of helplessness and hopelessness that I received with a deep sense of sorrow and shock on 18 January 2021, the death of my childhood friend, comrade Vuyo Mabizela. Vuyo passed away in hospital in Pretoria where he had been receiving medical treatment after he had tested positive for corona virus. Although he was many years younger than myself, Vuyo and his siblings, Andile and sister Phola, were close family friends. We all grew up together as part of the close knit black South African immigrant community in neighbouring Swaziland.
Apart from his family, there were many others including the Mokgokong, Ndziba, Ramokgopa, Mbatha, Mngadi, Ngengebula, Plaatjie, Myeza, Makonyane, Gumbi, Motha, Ngwenya, Nkosi, Sibeko, Habedi, Mchunu, Sowazi, Mncube, Sibanyoni families. The list is endless.
Born in Manzini on 2 September 1967, his father, Stanley Mabizela had been sent by the ANC leadership to Swaziland in 1965 to develop the organisation politically and militarily in that strategically situated mountain kingdom. An important aspect of his function would include recruiting members of the South African community in the soon to be independent kingdom to join the military wing of the organisation, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and its underground structures . As a consequence of his work, a lot of South Africans were drawn into the ranks of the organisation, with some of them rising to senior positions. Amongst these were Muziwakhe Ngwenya (i.e Thami Zulu), Tokyo Sexwale, Todd Masilela. Many others worked secretly in sensitive underground structures of the organisation. Amongst these I can mention Pius and Joe Mokgokong, Nkululeko Sowazi, myself, and many others.
Vuyo attended primary school initially at Sidney Williams Primary School in Manzini and also at Maputo International School. He attended high school at Salesian High School, the famous school which was established by the Irish Catholic priests of the order known as the Saliseans of Don Bosco and which was a breeding ground for many MK recruits.
Their home, commonly referred to as ‘Number 1’, was a hive of ANC/MK activities. Many senior leaders stayed there during their forays into Swaziland. Thabo Mbeki, who was a close comrade and friend of his father, was amongst those who used to stay there. It was also a meeting place, which also served as home to a lot of our senior cadres, including Siphiwe Nyanda (i.e Gebhuza), Joe Nxumalo (i.e General), the late George Nene, Ralph, Dira, Seiso, the late George Ndlovu (i.e Michael Thethe), Keith Mokwape, Nocks Lindiwe Sisulu and many others. All of these figures became, in many ways, part of the extended Mabizela family. I too used to spend most of my time there and that gave me the privilege of being a big brother figure to Vuyo and his siblings.
Vuyo and Andile endured a lot of suffering and humiliation in the latter years of their stay in Swaziland. Following the conclusion of the so-called “Pretoria Accord” which was concluded by the government of Swaziland and the racist regime, the former embarked on a concerted drive to suppress ANC/MK activity in that country. A lot of our senior leaders and combatants were forced out of Swaziland. Their father, Stanley Mabizela, and their mother Ticksie, were amongst the first to be expelled in 1982.
As the Swaziland government tightened its restriction on ANC/MK activity, Vuyo and Andile found themselves very deeply isolated and lonely. Their parents had left them in the care of Dr Rwairwai and his beautiful family. However, other members of the South African community shunned them as they were too scared and did not want to be associated with the children of a senior ANC leader lest they drew the wrath of the Swaziland government and it racist regime allies. They were therefore for all intents and purposes in the same position as that of orphans. In a very bitter and painful twist of irony, the children of a couple who had been father and mother to all were left very deeply isolated in a very hostile environment. It was at that time that Lindiwe Sisulu used to prioritise looking after them. My parents too, also invited them always to come home and to spend time with us, especially during their school lunch break.
Upon completion of their high school qualification, Vuyo and Andile eventually left Swaziland for the relative safety of the other front line states. It was at that point in time where Vuyo formally joined the MK. Having undergone full military training, he also underwent intense training as an intelligence officer in Angola. Following the unbanning of the liberation movement in1990, the family returned to South Africa.
During the transition to democracy, Vuyo served as the bodyguard to Rocky Malebane, the officer from the Baphuthatswana homeland, who had sought to overthrow the Bantustan government of Chief Lucas Mangope in an abortive military coup . After 1994, he served as an officer in the newly reconstructed intelligence service of the Republic, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and he was based at the head office in Tshwane.
Vuyo is survived by his wife Nonyameko, their six children, his mother Ticksie, his brother Andile and his sister Phola. His death and that of millions across the globe, rich and poor, powerful and downtrodden, has brought into sharp focus the fragility of life. Despite ground-breaking advances in medicine, science and technology, our collective and shared human fragility has been laid bare for all to see.
Rest in peace, my brother and comrade. Sesiyobonana kwelizayo.