11/04/2018 09:54 SAST | Updated 12/04/2018 14:09 SAST

ANC Veteran Zola Skweyiya, A 'Gentle Giant In The Struggle'

The former minister and NEC member died after a protracted illness on April 11 2018.

Zola Skweyiya during his tenure as the South African high commissioner in London, UK, on July 26 2012.
Roger Sedres/ Gallo Images via Getty Images
Zola Skweyiya during his tenure as the South African high commissioner in London, UK, on July 26 2012.

While South Africa mourns the passing of struggle veteran and Mother of the Nation Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, news on Wednesday of the death of another veteran, Dr Zola Skweyiya, again sent shockwaves through the country.

Skweyiya was born on April 14 1942 in Simonstown, Western Cape, and is the son of Winnie Skweyiya. He attended school in Port Elizabeth and at Retreat in Cape Town, matriculating from Lovedale School in Alice in 1960.

Skweyiya joined the ANC while still at school and was involved in boycotts against the apartheid government's Bantu education system. He was an activist at Fort Hare University who mobilised support for Umkhonto weSizwe until 1963, when he left for Tanzania.

In 1965, he joined the ANC in Lusaka and was sent to the German Democratic Republic to study law. He obtained an LLD degree from the University of Leipzig in 1978. He worked for the ANC in various offices and capacities, and was responsible for setting up the ANC office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

After his return to South Africa in 1990, he was elected to Parliament in 1994 and joined the Cabinet as minister of public service and administration in the same year. He became minister of social development under former president Thabo Mbeki in 1999.

He retired in May 2009 after 15 years in the Cabinet and Parliament, following the April 2009 general election, but remained a member of the ANC National Executive Committee.

In a statement, the ANC has described the veteran as a gentle giant in the struggle — sentiments echoed by many others, including the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation.

"Hard-working, collegial, with a strongly independent and critical mind, he never sought the limelight for himself. Behind a demeanour that could appear stern at times was a person of great generosity with a sharp sense of humour," said Justice Albie Sachs in a statement, on behalf of the foundation.

"Like Tambo himself, Skweyiya was a natural democrat. He hated apartheid with a passion, and truly believed in the Freedom Charter declarations that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and that the people shall govern."

Condolences for the now late activist continue to pour in on social media: