South Africa: Remembering Mdazo - a 'Neat, Friendly Warrior'

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20 September 2021

Assassinated Numsa organiser Malibongwe Mdazo survived many attempts on his life but never gave up fighting for workers. He was a comrade to many, a brother, husband and father too.

Member and volunteer recruiter for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) Malibongwe Mdazo, killed on 19 August in what is an alleged assassination, was buried at Qhogi village in Mqanduli near Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape on 4 September.

At the funeral, his mournful wife asked for a voice note to be played. It was her tribute to her late husband who bought her roses and protected his family.

Nontsikelelo Sibulele Mdazo's grief-stricken voice detailed her heartbreak as she said: "You were a husband. You provided for us. You protected us. I will forever be grateful for calling you my husband. You made it clear that it will never change. I will forever be your wife. I thank you for the last moments you gave me. You offered me your soul and, for the first time, you bought me roses even though you never believed in buying flowers or chocolates. But, on Mother's Day, you said thank you.

"I didn't know that you were saying goodbye. I still cannot believe that after all this up-and-down [assassination attempts], I will not smell your perfume or cook for you. I won't go back home with you or see you again.

"I will forever love you, Malibongwe. Thank you for coming and saying goodbye in my dream. Rest in peace, my love." As it played, she wept, while a group of female relatives covered her face.

She and Mdazo got married in 2017.

The 40-year-old Mdazo was gunned down in full view of the public outside the Commission for Conciliation and Arbitration (CCMA) offices in Rustenburg.

The assassins fired more than 10 bullets. Two other people at the scene, a Numsa member and a pedestrian, were injured and had to be taken to hospital. When this happened, Mdazo was with his comrades singing, during a 20-minute break from proceedings in the offices.

During the funeral police officers were deployed at a road leading to Coffee Bay. Other officers were stationed outside Mdazo's home.

A group mostly of men, wearing red long-sleeve Numsa t-shirts, with a printed image of Mdazo on the chest, travelled from across the country to pay their last respects to their comrade and leader. He was laid to rest next to his mother at Qhogi village, about 80km from Mthatha.

A brief profile

Mdazo was born on 25 December 1980 at Mpame village in Xhora, Mqanduli, in the Eastern Cape. Though he received very little formal education, he worked hard and supported his community. In 2001, after initiation, he left his home province for Rustenburg in the North West, in search of work in the mines. He found a job at Lonmin. He began his early career as a grass cutter at one of the mine's golf courses. A few months later, he became a security guard.

He joined the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 2001, the year he arrived in Rustenburg. In 2003, he was appointed deputy chairperson of the union and occupied that post until 2011. Before the Marikana Massacre, in 2012, Mdazo joined the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). This new union would later displace NUM from the platinum belt after the massacre. Mdazo soon became chairperson of Amcu in the Western Platinum Lonmin branch.

Between 2018 and 2020, he was Amcu's deputy chairperson of the Marikana region.

Vukile Mbokodwana, 56, who comes from Bizana in the Eastern Cape, knew Mdazo for 20 years. Together they were members of Amcu until Mdazo was expelled for what is known as "serious misconduct". They searched for another home, and found Numsa. Together, they joined Numsa in 2020. Here, Mdazo quickly made a name for himself as a highly effective organiser.

Mbokodwana said he worked well with his friend. "He was excellent in organising. We recently campaigned in Marikana town under a very tense atmosphere. While on a mission to recruit new members, we received rumours that our office would be closed. Mdazo insisted that we continue with our work. He was very bold. We did so and managed to attract new members. Fortunately, there were mine workers who were on strike at Reagetswe Mining Group. We approached them."

In his address at the funeral, United Democratic Movement (UDM) president Bantubonke Holomisa said he visited Mdazo in hospital when he was shot 16 times in July 2017.

"I'm saddened that he ended up in the very same situation. This man was a warrior. I have not seen him since he left Amcu but we communicated. He told me that he was no longer there. I wish to know what happened to those men [that] your husband used to come with to my residence in Mqanduli, where we used to slaughter sheep, have drinks and talk politics.

"Surprisingly, we never talked about their work even though we are from the same place - I wonder if they are still with him today. Maybe they remained at Amcu... " Holomisa said, cutting his speech short. He soon left the podium in tears.

Officials and friends pay tribute

Numsa's secretary of Hlanganani region in Tshwane Jerry Morulane, the programme director on the day, said: "We are bidding farewell to a great leader who was assassinated when he was recruiting members who would have volunteered that they wanted to cross over and join Numsa. In all sectors where we are organised as a union - all of them - there are various other unions that are also trying to find space in those areas. But no one has been killed. Since 1987, no one has died because that person wanted to cross over and join another union other than Numsa. We see this thing as an organisation for the very first time."

Irvin Jim, Numsa's general secretary, said the assassination of his comrade was not a "rush-rush job", the killers sat down and planned it well. "There have been many attempts on the life of Mdazo. He loved and fought for workers' rights. Mdazo made sure that his comrades are united and their struggle is progressive," he said.

Childhood friend Lungisani Ten-Ten Mngcisane, 39, who grew up with Mdazo at Mpame in Xhora said he remembered the old days when they were young boys looking after livestock in the veld. The pair were initiated into manhood together.

"Just after graduating from boyhood to manhood, in 2001, we left our homes to search for employment in Rustenburg. I found I was not very happy there. My friend helped me find another job at Lonmin [now Sibanye-Stillwater]. He was known for assisting people. Whether you are Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho or Shangaan - he treated everyone with respect." In concluding, Mngcisane added that he hoped that Mdazo would fight back, even in death, until the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.

About 1 500 mourners attended Mdazo's funeral, and everyone wore masks at all times. Numsa volunteers repeatedly sanitised those who entered or left the premises. One man at the gate with a 25-litre container of sanitiser also ensured covid protocols were adhered to.

In paying tribute, Mdazo's younger brother Lungisani Mdazo, 30, said: "He was a warrior, very neat, friendly and a pillar of strength in the family. He often assisted vulnerable people within the community to find work. He loved us. My brother was a true leader, not only in Rustenburg, but also within his community."

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