A life-long champion of freedom and democracy, Jackson Mthembu was an exemplary leader who played pivotal roles in the African National Congress. He was in charge of the rebuilding process of the party structures in some regions in Mpumalanga. Having made huge contributions to the country’s liberation struggles, the late politician was appointed to many strategic and leadership positions during his lifetime. He was a former Mpumalanga Roads and Transport MEC. He also served as the ANC’s national spokesperson.
In May 2014, Mthembu became a member of the parliament for a second time. He was appointed Minister in the Presidency by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in May 2019. His political achievements in the post-apartheid era speak volumes despite the much-loved comrade passing away at the age of 62 due to COVID-19 related complications.
Jackson Mthembu Hails From Ackerville, Witbank
The respected political figure came into the world on June 5th, 1958, in Ackerville, Witbank in Eastern Transvaal (now known as Mpumalanga Province). His mother was Rosie Nantoni Mthembu, while his father’s identity has not been made public. Mthembu’s mother was born on January 1st, 1939, and passed away on February 26th, 2019, at 80. The late politician was brought up by his grandmother, Sarah Mthembu, and uncles in Kromkrans. The area, located between Hendrina and Carolina, in the then Transvaal, was reserved as an inhabitant for Black people.
He was introduced to hard work when he was just seven years old as he was going to farm with his grandmother in the mealie fields. Jackson Mthembu, who was the firstborn son of his parents, had two younger brothers named Michael Mthembu and Mandla Mthembu. Sadly, Mandla passed away from a car accident in Witbank in September 2010. He was working in the department of public works, roads, and transport in Mpumalanga at the time of his demise. He died at the age of 40, along with two of his colleagues, who were with him at the time of the car accident.
His Educational Achievements
As schools opened today we visited my alma matter , Elukhanyisweni High School in Emalahleni/Witbank. The school achieved an impressive 95 . 7% in the matric pass rate . We congratulated the principal, Mr Shiba , all the teachers , learners and the SGB . pic.twitter.com/CjfpOpydjo
— Minister Jackson Mthembu (@JacksonMthembu_) January 15, 2020
Jackson Mthembu had his primary school education at Schoongezict American Board Primary School. He later attended Kromkrans Farm School and then completed his basic education at Elukhanyisweni Secondary School located in Emalahleni. On many occasions, he was chased out of class due to his family’s inability to provide him with books, uniforms, and even school fees. In 1976, during the Soweto Uprising, Mthembu got involved in politics while in secondary school and served as a student leader.
He later attended the University of Fort Hare for a while before his activism against the apartheid government led to his expulsion in 1980. As such, he left the school without obtaining a degree. He afterward started working as a training officer at the Highveld Steel Corporation and thus, got associated with the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU). He played a pivotal role in forming the trade union, which is the predecessor of the National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA).
Jackson Mthembu Began His Political Journey as an Activist in the Late ’70s
While still attending Elukhanyisweni Secondary School, Mthembu began his anti-apartheid activism in 1976 during the Soweto Uprising. He eventually became a student leader in the school and continued his activism even in the university, leading to his expulsion in 1980. While associated with Highveld Steel Corporation between 1980 and 1984, he played strategic roles in forming MAWU. He then became one of the first few Black supervisors in the steel production industry from 1986 to 1988.
During such time, the famed political figure became a leading member of the Emalahleni Civic Association. He equally served as the chairman of the Witbank Education Crisis Committee from 1980 to 1986. Following his activism roles, Jackson Mhembu was incarcerated on multiple occasions in the 1980s. He was sent to prison during the State of Emergency and was constantly harassed and intimidated by the security forces of the apartheid regime. He went on to stay several months in detention without being tried in court and was detained mostly in solitary confinement. Mthembu was further persecuted by the apartheid security agents as his home in Emalahleni was petrol bombed.
More so, he was often subjected to diverse kinds of torture at the police stations at the time. He then got involved in the Bethal Terrorism Trial between 1986 and 1988, during which he, alongside thirty other activists from Emalahleni, were charged with terrorism, sabotage, and treason. Despite getting acquitted of the charges, Jackson Mthembu continued to be harassed and intimidated by the security forces of the apartheid regime. As a result, he fled for his life, abandoning his family in Emalahleni. He found refuge in Soweto and Alexandria, located in Gauteng. He was hidden in many places at the time, including the home of Mama “Gogo” Margaret Stofile in Soweto.
He Played Significant Role in the Liberation of Namibia
Before the unbanning of the political parties in 1990, Jackson Mthembu played leadership roles in the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). From 1988 to 1990, under the leadership of late Mama Albertina Sisulu, Mthembu was elected UDF’s deputy regional secretary in the then Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging region (now known as Gauteng). He subsequently got involved with the South African Council of Churches (SACC) as a media officer. He also joined the solidarity campaign of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) under the leadership of Reverend Frank Chikane.
The SWAPO solidarity campaign was made up of diverse civic groups under the banner of the United Democratic Front, such as business associations, religious communities, and taxi associations. During the first democratic election in then-South West Africa (now Namibia), Jackson Mthembu supported SWAPO’s election campaign as part of the UDF and the progressive force’s leadership collective. Through the unit’s numerous efforts, including providing minibus taxis that transported voters to the election sites in South West Africa, SWAPO won the elections.
Hence, Namibia was liberated from then apartheid South Africa in 1990. Additionally, Jackson Mthembu chaired the local branches of the National Education Crisis and an affiliate of the United Democratic Front called the Detainees Parents Support Committee (DPSC).
Mthembu Played Strategic Roles in Restructuring African National Congress in His 30s
At the age of 32, in 1990, when political parties were unbanned, Jackson Mthembu was entrusted with many responsibilities to help rebuild the African National Congress. He was first appointed the leader of ANC’s Emalahleni branch and then served full-time as the party’s spokesperson in Mpumalanga from 1990 to 1994. During such time, he participated in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations as one of the African National Congress staff.
More so, he was among the first African National Congress members of parliament contingent appointed to the then senate (now National Council of Provinces) after the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. While in the senate in 1996, Mthembu made worthwhile contributions to the crafting of the Republic of South Africa’s democratic Constitution. Then in his late 30s, from 1995 to 1997, the anti-apartheid activist served as ANC’s national spokesperson during the administration of President Nelson Mandela.
uKhongolose uyabonga kubobonke abavoti base Ningizimu Afrika . pic.twitter.com/KLg1wlnqgp
— Minister Jackson Mthembu (@JacksonMthembu_) November 12, 2020
The Late Politician Became a Member of the ANC National Executive Committee When He was 49
In 1997, when Jackson Mthembu was 39 years old, he was appointed a Member of the Executive Council for Public Roads and Transport in Mpumalanga. He served in that leadership role from 1997 to 1999 under Dr. Matthews Phosa and Mr. Thabang Makwetla. For a brief period in 2006, he served as the speaker of the Mpumalanga Legislature. He further played multiple strategic roles as a member of the ANC Mpumalanga Provincial Executive Committee. In 2007, at the age of 49, the late political personality was elected a member of the African National Congress’ National Executive Committee (NEC).
He held on to the position from 2007 until the time of his demise in 2021. Also, in 2009, when he was 51, Mthembu was appointed the national spokesperson of the African National Congress for a second time. While executing his role from the party’s headquarters – Luthuli House, the politician chaired many structures under ANC. He served as the chairperson of the African National Congress Caster Semenya Support Committee, of which Winnie Mandela was a member.
The committee saw that adequate support was provided to Semenya, who was discriminated against by the International Association of Athletics Freedom (IAAF), which equally subjected her to inhumane treatment and abuse. Additionally, Jackson Mthembu chaired the party’s NEC Subcommittee on Communications. Following his roles, ANC championed media transformation, diversity, and accountability mechanisms at the time. He served as ANC’s national spokesperson from 2009 to 2014.
At 58, Jackson Mthembu Emerged as ANC’s Chief Whip
Having been re-elected to the parliament in 2014, Jackson Mthembu was appointed the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Education, Sport and Recreation, Local Government, Arts, and Culture. In 2016, when the tactful politician was 58 years old, he was appointed ANC’s Chief Whip of the National Assembly. He executed the role from 2016 to 2019. During his tenure, he gained respect from other political parties following the persuasion of his party’s caucus to deviate from blindly defending former South African President Jacob Zuma. Thus, his no-nonsense character and honesty were admired by the general public.
Under the sixth administration led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Jackson Mthembu was appointed Minister in the Presidency in 2019 after the national and provincial elections. With the executive authority in his hands, he oversaw the Presidency, Government Communications and Information System, Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, and the Media Development and Diversity Agency.
He also served as the chairperson of the National Planning Commission. As part of his responsibilities delegated by the president, Mthembu chaired many inter-ministerial committees as well. He served as the chairperson of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and equally led the Presidential Infrastructure Champion under the African Union. Furthermore, he served as the acting Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies between April 2020 and June 2020.
Throughout his political career, Jackson Mthembu led the people with commitment and confidence. He brought about leadership stability, leaving a unique imprint on the kind of public service and government communicator South Africa strives to produce.
Highlights of The Political Positions Occupied By Jackson Mthembu
- Leading member of the Emalahleni Civic Association
- Chairman of the Witbank Education Crisis Committee (1980-1986)
- UDF’s Deputy Regional Secretary in the then Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging Region (1988-1990)
- Chairman of the Local Branches of the National Education Crisis
- Chairman of the Detainees Parents Support Committee (DPSC)
- Leader of ANC’s Emalahleni Branch (1990)
- ANC’s Spokesperson in Mpumalanga (1990-1994)
- First African National Congress Members of Parliament Contingent appointed to National Council of Provinces (1994)
- ANC’s National Spokesperson (1995-1997 and 2009-2014)
- Member of the Executive Council for Public Roads and Transport in Mpumalanga (1997-1999)
- Speaker of the Mpumalanga Legislature (2006)
- Member of the African National Congress’ National Executive Committee (NEC) (2007-2021)
- Chairperson of the African National Congress Caster Semenya Support Committee
- ANC’s Chief Whip (2016-2019)
- Minister in the Presidency (2019-2021)
- Chairperson of the National Planning Commission
- Acting Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (April 2020-June 2020)
On Some Occasions, The Former Minister Was Criticised For His Political Decisions
During his tenure as the Public Roads and Transport MEC in Mpumalanga, Jackson Mthembu was implicated in the Wabenzi scandal. He came under fire for reportedly purchasing ten BMW vehicles for R2.3 million for the provincial executive members. He was also involved in a series of car crashes at the time. He narrowly escaped death in 1997 when his official car crashed in an accident.
He was also investigated by the police two years later for crashing a government Mercedes Benz without a license. Also, while serving as African National Congress Chief Whip in 2017, Mthembu was heavily criticized by some of his party members for agreeing with the Democratic Alliance (DA) to schedule a debate in the National Assembly on state capture.
With the ANC caucus requesting an inclusive process to investigate state capture, the late politician was said to have intentionally defied former SA president Jacob Zuma and the party caucus. Before his demise, he was due to testify with evidence at Zondo Commission in January 2021 regarding the alleged state capture. However, it wasn’t certain if his testimony was going to implicate some of his comrades.
Jackson Mthembu Died at 62 While Serving The People of South Africa
TRIBUTE: Jackson Mthembu: An honest, principled man who served the ANC and government to the best of his considerable ability https://t.co/T02ACXkD6k
— Daily Maverick (@dailymaverick) January 22, 2021
Mthembu was a community builder who worked relentlessly towards the creation of a better South Africa for all. He succumbed to Coronavirus-related complications on Thursday, January 21st, 2021, at the age of 62. His death was announced by President Ramaphosa, who described Jackson Mthembu’s death as a great loss to the nation as he was a well-respected politician and comrade. He further stated that the late political figure left behind a legacy with his unwavering determination to defend the country’s Constitution and, equally, a persistent commitment to the restructuring of the African National Congress.
The late minister is survived by his wife, Thembi Mthembu, siblings, and five children as his oldest daughter took her own life at the age of 25 in March 2019. Mthembu’s death left many people shocked, and his family described the situation as tough as Jackson Mthembu was the pillar of the family. A memorial service was held for him at the GCIS Auditorium in Hatfield, Pretoria, on Saturday, January 23rd, 2021. He was laid to rest on the next day at his home situated in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga.