A COMMITTED COMRADE
As we mourn the passing of Comrade Mendi Msimang, an unwavering and committed revolutionary, we are reminded of his humility, humaneness and wisdom for which he will be dearly missed.
Msimang had an illustrious life. From an early age, through his Christian upbringing, Msimang was imbued with a sense of justice. This formed the basis for his life-long activism in the struggle against apartheid and in efforts to build a new South Africa founded on the principles of justice and equality. He was inspired by an earlier generation of relatives – William, Richard and Selby Msimang – who were part of the founding generation of the African National Congress in 1912.
The second child of seven siblings, Msimang was born in Marshalltown to Vangile Martha Vilakazi and Mjele Msimang on December 8 1928. The family was moved first to Sophiatown and then to the Western Native Township by forced removals. He attended high school at the Maria Ratschitz School in Wasbank and spent much of his early years in Weenen in KwaZulu-Natal with his grandmother whom he adored.
His association with the ANC and the struggle began in the Western Native Township in the 1940s, working with young comrades who had formed the ANC Youth League, as well as comrades who had mobilised communities against forced removals. Owing to constant run-ins with the repressive police and detentions, his parents sent him to Mariannhill High School to complete his matric. In 1951 he enrolled for a BA degree at the Pius XII College in Lesotho where he met and worked with comrades, such as former treasurer-general of the ANC Thomas Nkobi.
Msimang left the university after two years due to political activism. He later joined the law and real estate firms of Tambo and Mandela as an article clerk and was a dedicated activist during the turbulent 1950s.
This was a decade that saw events such as the launch of the Defiance Campaign; the Congress of the People, which drew up the Freedom Charter; and the Treason Trial in which 156 activists were arrested, charged and eventually acquitted.
After the ANC was banned Msimang was dispatched by the leadership to join Oliver Tambo to establish the ANC’s external mission abroad.
While in exile Msimang travelled extensively, organising material support for the ANC and for the cause against apartheid.
Having left the country in 1960 through Botswana, he proceeded to Tanzania where, with Ruth Mompati, Duma Nokwe, JB Marks and Nkobi, he established the ANC mission in Tanzania.
He was subsequently sent to India as the ANC’s chief representative in 1968. On his return from India, he was deployed to the education department in Tanzania as a coordinator, responsible among other things, liaison with Unesco.
Msimang, in association with comrades Makhunga Wintshi Njobe, Henry “Squire” Makgothi, Tim Maseko, Tim Dennis and Mohammed Tickly, established the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania in 1979. Here many young ANC cadres completed their high school education.
Msimang helped thousands of ANC cadres and students who left South Africa after the 1976 student uprising to further their education, by organising international scholarships with institutions across the world.
He moved to Lusaka where he worked in the office of treasurergeneral Nkobi.
In 1985 he moved to the UK where he served as the ANC’s chief representative until the eve of the 1994 elections.
On his return from exile, Msimang worked at the ANC headquarters and was deployed as an MP in the first democratically elected Parliament in 1994. He became the first chairperson of the ANC parliamentary caucus.
After a year in Parliament Msimang was posted by then president Mandela as high commissioner to the UK, the first to represent a democratic South Africa.
His calm and warm demeanour endeared him to many and he represented South Africa with distinction.
Msimang was elected to the ANC national executive committee in 1991. He was elected treasurer-general in Mahikeng in 1997 and served until the 2007 Polokwane conference.
He continued to serve the country and the ANC with distinction as a member of the advisory council on national orders and as a member of the first ANC integrity commission appointed in 2013. Ndlelanhle Thabizolo
Comrade Mendi Msimang