Govan Mbeki is dead

DURBAN, AUG. 30. Govan Mbeki, one of the greatest leaders of the liberation struggle in South Africa died this morning. He was 91. Govan Mbeki, who had been ailing for some time, died at his home in Port Elizabeth.

Govan Mbeki was throughout his active political life an active member of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. His death has taken place at a moment in South Africa's history where the focus is on the two dominant preoccupations of his political life: the struggle against all forms of racism, and the struggle to ensure a fair life for the country's peasantry and working class. The World Conference against Racism opens tomorrow; and the two-day general strike against privatisation of key State assets, called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and supported by the South African Communist Party and numerous other ANC aligned structures, enters its second day today.

He is survived by his wife Epanuitte, like him an active political worker, and son, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa. Born on 9 July 1910, Govan Mbeki was educated at mission schools and received his bachelor's degree specialising in economics and politics from the University of Fort Hare, a premier black institute of higher education. He worked for some years as a teacher in the then Natal province but gave up teaching to devote himself full-time to journalism and political work in the ANC and the SACP. He continued this political work underground when the ANC was banned in 1961, following the Sharpeville massacre, and was in the leadership of the Umkhonto weSizwe, the ANC's armed wing. Arrested in the raid on the Rivonia Farm, the headquarters of the underground armed struggle, he was the oldest of the defendants at the Rivonia Trial. He was sentenced, along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Wilton Mkwai, Elias Motsoledi, Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg, to life imprisonment. The first six were sent to Robben island while Dennis Goldberg, being white, was sent to Pretoria Jail to serve his sentence.

The apartheid regime fully expected all of them to be forgotten and to die lonely deaths in prison. This did not happen. Instead, Robben Island became another focal point of struggle. The three, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, constituted a triumvirate of equals in the leadership of the liberation movement. Govan Mbeki was released in November 1987, by which time Mr. Nelson Mandela had begun talking to the apartheid regime with a view to getting a political dialogue going. As acknowledged by Mr. Mandela himself, these initiatives were opposed by many of his political comrades on the Island, including Govan Mbeki. Though released, he was put under house arrest in Port Elizabeth; and was able to gain his freedom fully only after the ban on organisations was lifted and all political prisoners were released.

Govan Mbeki wrote extensively. Both his political journalism and his four published works reflect his commitment to Marxism. His first work, on the peasant struggles in the Transkei, is considered a classic of its kind.