Obituary – Michael Coetzee

2014-06-22 15:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

It is not surprising most of the tributes for Michael Coetzee tend to focus on his role as secretary of Parliament.

But he was so much more. He never sought accolades or the limelight and much of his true legacy is not widely known. To many of us who knew Mikey (as we fondly called him), it was the 1980s that defined him.

Returning from the University of the Western Cape in the early 1980s, alongside Derrick Swartz and others, he was a pillar behind the resurgence in political activity in the area after the lull in resistance following the 1976 student uprising.

He played an instrumental role in re-establishing grass roots organisations in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape region as a whole.

An entire generation of activists in the student, youth, civic and trade union movements count him as a mentor. In the townships of Port Elizabeth, his indelible mark will be felt for generations to come.

In 1983 he was arrested, tortured and tried as a member of the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). While it’s a huge badge of honour today, back then it was a rather risky and not-so-fashionable decision to join MK.

As young activists in the student and youth organisations at the time, his arrest and exposure as an underground operative elevated and connected for us the local struggles of the then banned ANC.

His arrest and trial also inspired and propelled large numbers of youth into the mass democratic movement in the area. After his release from prison, he picked up the spear again and continued to rebuild political organisation despite the personal dangers and life-threatening risks.

Mikey was the last recorded person to see Matthew Goniwe alive. If he had been in that car, on that fateful day, this tribute would have been written 29 years ago.

After leaving his house in Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth on June 27 1985, the Cradock Four – Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli – all leading activists in the United Democratic Front at the time, were abducted and brutally murdered by members of the security police.

Throughout history we are reminded of people like Mikey, whose names and faces were not plastered on posters or billboards. Nor did he ever seek personal recognition or contest leadership positions in the structures he was active in. His name is, however, forever engraved in the blood, suffering and sacrifices of the Cradock Four and countless numbers of other unsung heroes.

Michael fought cancer over the past three years with the same resolve and single-minded focus as he fought the struggle.

The unflinching support and devotion of his wife and life-long partner, Bridgette, together with his tight-knit extended family and comrades around him, provided meaning and purpose during these painful years of chemotherapy and frequent hospitalisation. The personal bonds of the 1980s were deepened over many single malts and Cape wines.

For, as the cancer intensified over the past 12 months, we were indeed privileged to have had occasions to celebrate his life with comrades and friends from across the country.

It was at these events, and in private, where we had our special moments to say farewell to a life well lived. Mikey reminded us in those private moments that so much more needed to be done to cement this hard-fought democracy.

I am proud to have known this gentle giant, mentor and comrade for most of my life and will miss him dearly. My heartfelt condolences go to Bridgette, his son, Matthew, and the extended Prince and Coetzee family. You will always occupy a special place in our hearts. Hamba kahle, Mikey.

Maasdorp is chairman of Advtech, and a director of Telkom and HCI. He was recruited as a student and youth activist by Michael Coetzee in 1981

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


6 myths about male cancer

It is important to be aware of the most prevalent cancer diseases amongst men in our country.


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
WATCH: Pornhub is giving users free access to premium content these holidays
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.