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It was a political assassination long coming

THAMSANQA D MALINGA | ANC must honour the party's fallen cadre Mcetywa

.File photo.
.File photo.

It was on November 22, 30 years ago, when 11 bullets were pumped into Michael Zolani Mcetywa, eight in the head and three in the heart.

This happened in full view of people in the town of Phongolo, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It was a political assassination long coming as threats had been continuously made on his life by the apartheid security branch, the then KwaZulu Police (ZP) as well as members of Inkatha – given that it was also the time of state-sponsored black-on-black violence.

Mcetywa settled in Phongolo after returning from exile in Swaziland where he had received training as an ANC operative in 1985. Because of his quiet and unassuming nature, Mcetywa was deployed to a stronghold of the tribalist – and at the time a strong apartheid apologist – Inkatha.

Although he knew the area well due to its proximity to Swaziland, as it was the passage in and out of SA as he operated in Natal, the northern part of Zululand was dangerous. It hosted the then SA Defence Force’s hit squad training camps for the Inkatha and ZP assassination brigades.

Mcetywa settled in Phongolo and did what no man would dare do in that period, set up an ANC branch in an area s considered a “no-go area” for the movement at the time.

He was strategic in his approach; he established a local football team and used it as a front to teach politics and recruit young men into the ANC and this went on well into the 1990s.

Although he took up work at a cotton firm where he was a manager, and later started his own business, earning him the name ‘Msamaria’ (The Samaritan), Mcetywa never escaped the watchful eye of the apartheid security branch for his underground activities.

His wife Harriet would later testify at the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that, “my husband was being hunted by the boers, white policemen, and boers from Piet Retief, Mahamba and Pongola were after my husband. We never had a pleasant stay at all”.  

Her testimony tells a painful story of a calculated assassination.

To this day, Mcetywas spirit is left to linger in solitude as his name lies forgotten and his contribution unrecognised.

His killers would eventually kill him in cold blood and his body left to lie in the central business district for seven hours with white apartheid policemen refusing his wife access to it. The following day a cow was slaughtered and a braai held in jubilation by the conspirators of his death.

Mcetywa does not deserve the treatment he is getting from the ANC. No one other than Harry Gwala, and perhaps one or two more, could have operated where Mcetywa operated in Zululand and did what he did for the ANC. You need to read the TRC transcripts to understand that no one could have endured what Harriet endured after Mcetywa’s death at the hands of apartheid agents and Inkatha.

If there is any decency left in the ANC, especially considering what its presidents have been saying about “the cadre” in their January 8 statements – reviving the spirit of the cadre and honouring the fallen cadre, it would be befitting for the movement’s structures to propose the renaming of Phongolo district municipality to Zolani Mcetywa district municipality.

It is because of Mcetywa that the ANC ever had a branch and an office in Phongolo.

  • Malinga is a director at Mkabayi Management Consulting

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