COVID-19 claims the lives of South African politicians


TWO prominent South African politicians and two leading trade unionists have died within days of each from COVID-19, as the second wave of the pandemic gains momentum, with South Africa passing the one millions mark in infections.

Nomvuso Shabalala, an ANC member of parliament and  former deputy mayor of Ethekwini, Dr Nchaupe Mokoape, the former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation and the South African Students Organization and  David Simpunzi, the secretary-general of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Patrick Mkhize died within days of each other.

In its tribute to Shabalala (60), who was a member of its central committee, the South African Communist Party said her early political activism combined the struggle through trade unionism against exploitation and the struggle against apartheid racial oppression and gender domination. 

The SACP said: “Shabalala was an activist of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and, as a volunteer, an activist distributor of the Speak magazine. The distribution of Speak was an essential component of her political education and gender transformation activism. The Speak was known in different parts of South Africa by the themes “Engakhali Ifela Embelekweni”; “Ngwana Yo o sa Llego O Hwela Tharing”; “Breaking the Silence.

The magazine was established in 1982 to serve as the voice for women, covering their perspectives on gender transformation and the rights of women in a future, democratic South Africa, among others. “Throughout the years of apartheid, SPEAK magazine allowed women all over… South Africa to organise and fight against oppression in personal lives, the workplace, and in politics” (SA History Online).

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In memory of Nomvuso Shabalala, the SACP reiterates its unqualified support for the strengthening of the progressive women’s movement and the intensification of the struggle to end economic exploitation and patriarchy and dismantle racism in our society. It is an essential part of this struggle to confront the networks of neoliberalism, its austerity agenda, and state capture and looting of public resources.”

The NUM and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU)  paid tributes to Sipunzi.

The NUM said Sipunzi would always be remembered for his forthrightness, commitment and dedication in championing the cause of the working class to ensure, protect and safeguard their jobs and conditions of employment.

“He was a trade unionist who did not cease to fight for the rights of the NUM members.  His global contribution as one of the Vice Presidents of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and his efforts in labour rights will not easily be forgotten.  Comrade Sipunzi dedicated his entire life to the service of the mine, construction and energy workers in South Africa until his untimely death. He was a firm believer in the rights of the downtrodden and the voice of the voiceless,” the union said in a statement.

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SATAWU said: “The passing of Comrade Sipunzi comes at a time when the South African working class is at its most vulnerable stage in development. The current health and economic crisis have aggravated the precarity of workers as a result of a collapsing social protection system, hyper industrial restructuring, retrenchments and undermining of collective bargaining etc. Though the current lockdown regulations affected the NUM’s revitalisation process. Comrade Sipunzi remained committed to serving the interests of the industrial proletariat. He equally supported SATAWU in its efforts to steer the union towards greater heights. His contribution to the ever complex and permanent  workers struggle will always be remembered.”

The South African Federation of Trade Unions said this about Mkhize, who was ?? of one of its affiliates, the Transport Retail and General Workers Union: “He  knew that the only way to build our organisation was to tell everyone the truth as it is. Mkhize was so forthright and straightforward in his approach. Above all, Patrick Mkhize was a militant and deeply-learned Marxist/Leninist, Black Consciousness and atheist. He believed earnestly in the working class’s power. He hated exploitation with a passion, and committed his entire life to build independent, democratic and campaigning federations as well as community organisations fighting pollution in South Durban.”

Patrick Mkhize

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