Former Swaziland minister remembers Chabane

By Drum Digital
31 March 2015

It’s hard to accept that Minister Collins Chabane is no more.

I recall first meeting Chabane in Limpopo Province after doing an investment promotion seminar there, accompanied by my then PS [Principal Secretary] Myekeni Vilakati and the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (Sipa) team led by their then boss Phiwa Ginindza. Collins was then MEC for Economy [Limpopo's Economic Development, Environment and Tourism] in that province – a simple but unassuming young man, very intelligent and focused. But more than that he respected and thought highly of me.

“He sat beside me at lunch that day. We clicked instantly, and later he invited me to join him for a private dinner at his special joint that evening where his live band will be entertaining.

Lutfo Dlamini, Swaziland, Foreign Affairs  (2)

When I left Limpopo after that eventful business night, coupled with a few dance moves, he told me to look for investors from Limpopo for Swaziland and offered to help me.

That’s how I met, through him, the first company to grow cassava and produce starch in Siphofaneni [central Swaziland] – remember that multi-million rand industry?

“It was through Minister Chabane that I brought the first and last starch factory into Swaziland.

When I bid him farewell in Limpopo that time we were both heading for elections in our respective countries and I recall telling him that next time I meet him he will be a national minister, and indeed it happened. So we spoke after that as national ministers.

During my time as Foreign Minister, he was my hotline to the Presidency office, and what a guy! My condolences to all who knew and loved him.

“Collins told me that he once lived in Motjane, a town in northwestern Swaziland, for three months, running away from the Afrikaners – emabhunu! This was during the days of the SA struggle for freedom.

He stayed with a family that had a deaf and dumb young man for a friend! He befriended that deaf and dumb boy and for 3 months he acted, behaved and pretended to be deaf and dumb to avoid the white boys who were looking for him. Swaziland saved his life and so did a trip to Robben Island, he also saved himself by acting deaf and dumb. That's the late Collins Chabane!

“All the people in Motjane were sure that he was an ordinary deaf and dumb Swazi who needed accommodation and food, little did they know this was a future RSA national minister.

When the heat was over, he told me he then, in Zulu and English, thanked the family for hiding him and keeping him safe from emabhunu. The family and neighbourhood were shocked by this revelation. That’s how smart and strategic Collins was – the Minister who was once “deaf and dumb”. We always joked about this Motjane incident.

“The nation will recall the Marikana incident [in 2012] where a Swazi miner died. The nation will further recall that the RSA Government sent ministers to attend the funerals and night vigils of those who lost their lives, including those in Swaziland.

“Minister Collins Chabane, called me at that time and told me that he had advised President Zuma that he will be attending the Swaziland vigil and I can assure you that we handled this matter well together. Ya, we found ourselves sitting in that mud house with the family at Dvokolwako ekhabo Stelega Gadlela [the only Swazi who was killed in Marikana].

“And my friend, Minister Collins, gave one of the most moving condolences and by the time he finished, we were all teary-eyed and the family was weeping! As an orator, in siSwati we would say he was, ‘libeka, Umhlaba kawunoni nembala!’ I can’t wait for the new heaven and new earth where we would live forever and say, ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)’.”

– Lutfo Dlamini former Swaziland Minister of Foreign Affairs

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