Struggle hero dies before heart op

2012-08-10 00:00

HE was expelled from primary school in Sobantu for leading a political protest, went into exile at the age of 16 and became an uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) combatant.

A life dedicated to the struggle ended last Friday when Mthokozisi Eric Mzimela (44) died days before he was due to have a heart operation.

Known as “Donono” when he was in school and later given the combat name Teddybear, Mzimela did not benefit from the ANC’s cadre deployment policy. He died unemployed.

MK soldier Mduduzi (Bapsy) Sithole said the story of Mzimela’s life as a freedom fighter was a painful one. He dedicated his life to fight for freedom and died with nothing.

He said Mzimela believed in service and his discipline would not allow him to ask for favours.

The Sobantu community has rallied together to organise a funeral befitting a struggle hero, at the Ni-Radebe Stadium at 9 am today.

Sithole recalled that he was in high school and was organising for students to attend the trial of Sobantu resident and fellow cadre Machina Xulu, who was later hanged at Pretoria Central Prison.

“I was beaten up by senior community members for my political activities. Donono was in primary school at the time and he organised a protest to support me,” said Sithole.

Mzimela was expelled from school.

The pupils in turn threatened to boycott classes if he was not reinstated and he was allowed back.

His former teacher, Lungisani Kunene, remembers the protest. “The pupils were chanting ‘Donono, Donono!’ and that name became something of a legend in Sobantu.”

By 1986 the government had declared a state of emergency as a means of cracking down on opponents of apartheid. Mzimela and Sithole were part of the largest group of young people to join the ANC since the exodus of students who left after the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Mzimela trained in Angola and spent time in East Germany, and rejoined Sithole’s unit when they went to Uganda in 1989 to open the first ANC camp there. He returned to South Africa after the ANC was unbanned, continued to work for the party and was incorporated into the South African National Defence Force. He returned to civilian life and became a member of the MK Military Veterans’ Association.

Both in exile and on his return to South Africa, Mzimela was a flagbearer and led entourages at funerals and military processions. He was the flagbearer at Chris Hani’s funeral.

Mzimela leaves two children.

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