Jackson Mthembu’s life celebrated

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

SOUTH Africans from all walks of life and across the political divide have paid tribute to Jackson Mthembu, the country’s first cabinet minister to succumb to COVID-19. 

Tributes to Mthembu (62)  were led by the ANC, an organisation to which he devoted his life and the South African government.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy.”

Jessie Duarte, the ANC’s deputy secretary-general said Mthembu always put the country first and was able to bring quality in debate at the national executive committee, the party’s highest decision-making body in between conferences. 

Duarte said Mthembu died with his boots on.

“Our brother is gone, with his delightful laugh. He is gone forever. We are still reeling from the shock, not all of us know how to process it. This is a great loss. He leaves a legacy of honesty and integrity. He defended the truth. He believed we shouldn’t run away from criticism.

“Mthembu was an excellent minister in the presidency. We can all remember he was the one who was conducting and co-ordinating the government’s response after January 8. COVID-19 has no respect for anyone. We can only  reiterate for people to adhere to regulations,” she said.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said: “A giant tree has fallen. A communicator par excellence, and an even better man. He was always friendly and shall be missed for his kind and generous spirit.”

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation said Mthembu was an upstanding leader and a diligent civil servant. “An affable personality, he embodied a caring government and was an exemplar of the spirit of Batho Pele. We pay tribute to him for his immeasurable contribution to our country’s struggle for liberation and the role he played in its democratic reconstruction and development,” the foundation said in a statement.

Former cabinet minister Derek Hanekom said he was saddened beyond words at the passing of Mthembu, whom he described as a revolutionary. “A huge sadness and a massive loss,” he said.

Social justice activist and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said: “There goes a man who epitomized human decency. Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the late Minister Jackson Mthembu and to his colleagues in the ANC and government. The Social Justice community has lost a partner. May his kind soul rest in peace.”

Opposition parties were united in their tributes to Mthembu:

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of ANC stalwart and my former parliamentary colleague, adversary, and friend, Jackson Mthembu. The news of his death this afternoon comes as a great shock, and I can only imagine the devastating impact this must have on those who were close to him. On behalf of the DA, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to his family, his friends and his party.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters Deputy President Flyod Shivambu: “Minister Mthembu was amongst the few incorruptible leaders in government. He was one of the most dedicated and principled political leaders. He was not always blown by the wind. He always stuck to principle. We worked with him very well when he was chief whip of the majority party. Amongst his legacies is the fact that SA is going to expropriate land without compensation. We say to Minister Mthembu that may his soul rest in peace.”

The Congress of the People said: “It’s a very sad day not only to his family but to the entire country. Jackson Mthembu died with his boots on. This man was there for the people of this country. We are very saddened.”

The Freedom Front Plus lead Pieter Groenewald: “There is one outstanding feature of Mr Jackson Mthembu, and that is that it doesn’t matter whether you have different political views, he always treated me and my colleagues with friendliness and respect. I want to express my sympathy to the ANC as a political organisation. They have lost a stalwart and a very hard worker in the ANC.”

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng swearing in Minister Jackson Mthembu as Minister in the Presidency at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria. Photo: GCIS

 Born in 1958, Mthembu fought against apartheid from his student days in the 1970s and helped set up two metal workers unions when he worked in the steel industry which campaigned for better conditions for Black workers.

In the 1980s, the apartheid authorities frequently jailed him, often in solitary confinement, but when political parties were unbanned the following decade, he became the African National Congress leader in his hometown of Witbank, northeast South Africa.

When South Africa became democratic in 1994, he served in parliament, becoming national ANC spokesman the following year, a position he held from 2009 to 2014 as well, before becoming minister in the presidency in 2019.

In the last remark on his Twitter feed on Jan. 11, Mthembu wrote that he had “visited a Military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for an abdominal pain,” and there tested positive for COVID-19.

The death toll from COVID-19 in South Africa, which has been the worst hit on the continent, has almost reached 40,000.

The pandemic has killed several politicians in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, Sibusiso Moyo, who died this week. Last week, the disease killed two senior cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures in Malawi.

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