Struggle veteran Eric 'Stalin' Mtshali has died at the age of 84, the ANC announced in a statement on Friday.
Mtshali died at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban after a long illness.
He joined the SACP in 1957 and helped form uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, in 1961.
Mtshali was also the first editor of The Dawn magazine – the military mouthpiece of the SACP – from 1965 to 1969, where he worked closely with slain SACP leader Chris Hani.
During this period, he helped form the ANC's intelligence division and was involved in several intelligence operations.
On one of these, he led a group of 12 MK and Zimbabwe African People's Union cadres to rescue a section of the Luthuli detachment that had been surrounded by Rhodesian forces.
The operation was compromised when two of the three dinghies the group used capsized in the Zambezi River. The occupants were attacked by crocodiles, according to SA History Online.
In 2000, Mtshali was elected as an ANC councillor of the eThekwini municipality.
Mtshali was appointed as a member of Parliament for the ANC in 2004. He sat on the parliamentary committees on labour, higher education and training, and human settlements.
"He comes from a legacy of many freedom fighters who courageously stood up to the apartheid regime, risking their own lives for the sake of democracy and freedom," the ANC said.
The ANC said it was "saddened" and mourned the death of the struggle icon.
"At this hour of need, our condolences go to his family, friends, the entire movement, the people of KwaZulu-Natal and eThekwini region, where he served and actively participated in the life of our organisation."
He was among the freedom fighters that brought apartheid regime to its knees, says the statement.
"Mtshali joined the ANC in 1961 and spent 30 years in exile. He was attracted into politics at a young age while in Clermont (west of Durban) fighting against the apartheid Bantu education system, as well as the overall racism of the apartheid state.
The ANC said Mtshali served the struggle for a free and united South Africa with high esteem and commitment. He was stationed in Tanzania where he received political and military training in countries including Egypt and Russia.
As a trade unionist, Mtshali represented South Africa at the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia, in the late 1970s.
"The ANC will remain forever indebted to Baba Mtshali for the role he played in the struggle against the apartheid," the party said,
Deputy secretary general of the ANC Jessie Duarte described Mtshali as "a great man, our teacher and freedom fighter, communist, SACP member and a genuine ANC veteran".
Blade Nzimande, SACP general secretary, said: [We convey] our heartfelt condolences to the family of Mtshali and our entire movement and the people of South Africa as a whole. The SACP will announce memorial and funeral service details in due course after consultation with the family."
According to a statement by the SACP, Mtshali was a recipient of the SACP Moses Kotane Award. The award was conferred on him by the party at its 14th Congress in July 2017, making him a lifetime member of the central committee of the SACP.
He was also a recipient of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (silver).
"In recognition of the sterling contribution of comrade Eric 'Stalin' Mtshali, the struggle, including against our own weaknesses, continues and must intensify," Nzimande said.
Referring to Mtshali as a "man of steel", Nzimande said he was "a long-standing SACP leader [and] a veteran of our struggle for complete liberation and social emancipation".
Mtshali is survived by his wife Gcinile Kunene and daughter Lindiwe Mtshali, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.