In honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Tambo, the ANC has declared 2017 as ‘The Year of OR Tambo’. Several structures have launched Tambo Fridays to celebrate his life and contribution.
The Tambo Friday initiative seeks to deepen unity, promote an activist ANC and encourage cadre development.
It is part of the broader effort to rebuild and renew the movement.
We will profile events and leaders who demonstrate the values and qualities of OR Tambo.
Lawyer and tireless activist who paid the ultimate price for her support of the struggle.
1 January 1942 – 1 August 1985
Victoria Mxenge – lawyer and tireless activist who paid the ultimate price for her support of the struggle, gunned down in front of her children.
Victoria Mxenge was born in Tamara Village, King William’s Town, Eastern Cape on 1 January 1942. She qualified as a nurse at Victoria Hospital in 1964 and moved to KwaZulu-Natal soon after marrying lawyer and activist Griffiths Mxenge. Her husband was imprisoned on Robben Island not long after their marriage. After his release from Robben Island he was served with a two-year banning order which was followed by intermittent detentions including 109 days in solitary confinement.
Victoria completed a midwifery course at King Edward Hospital in Durban and took up service as a community nurse in Umlazi while studying law through UNISA.
In 1981, just 5 years after her husband had set up a legal practice, she got her legal qualifications, joined the practice and was subsequently admitted as an attorney. When her husband was murdered in November 1981, it fell upon her to identify his mutilated body at a government mortuary the morning after.
She vehemently refuted the claim of Police General Coetzee that the ANC had murdered her husband. The ANC issued a public statement from Lusaka decrying his murder and paying tribute to his contributions to the struggle.
Victoria carried on with the law practice after the murder of her husband, and often intervened to protect youth who were ill-treated in detention. She was part of the defence team in the 1984 treason trial against leaders of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Natal Indian Congress in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court.
Mxenge started a bursary fund in memory of her husband. She became a member of the Release Nelson Mandela Committee and the National Organisation of Women, and was Natal Treasurer of the UDF.
In July 1985 she was invited to speak at the funeral of the Craddock Four – Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli – who were murdered by the Security Police. The funeral was attended by approximately 50 000 mourners.
Within days of the funeral speech, on 1 August 1985, four men attacked Mxenge in the driveway of her home in Umlazi, Durban, and murdered her in front of her children. She was laid to rest next to her husband at Rayi Cemetery. Messages of condolence from Nelson Mandela in prison and Oliver Tambo in exile were read at the funeral.
Her real influence had been among the youth, who loved her as their adopted mother. Two years before her murder she successfully defended students against confiscation of their results by the Department of Education. Her death was felt so strongly by the students that the day after her death they took to the streets in their thousands in protest. They also immediately called for a week-long boycott of classes in mourning.
In 1987 a magistrate refused a formal inquest hearing but argued that she had died from head injuries and been murdered by persons unknown. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report on the assassination of Victoria Mxenge documents that Marvin Sefako (alias Bongi Raymond Malinga) was allegedly recruited by the security branch and that Brigadier Peter Swanepoel was his handler. Malinga confessed that he had killed Mxenge.
In 2006 both Victoria Mxenge and her husband were posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for excellent contributions to the field of law and sacrifices made in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
The Victoria Mxenge Group of Advocates was officially established on 1 July 2011 and is part of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates. In the words of group leader Muzi Sikhakhane:
The naming of our Group after Victoria Mxenge is an expression of our commitment to the principles and values for which, as a lawyer, she lived and died. At the centre of all human struggles and struggles for justice in particular, must be the people, especially those on the margins of the human condition. In our daily practice as advocates we hope to be guided by the values for which Victoria Mxenge and her husband, Griffiths Mxenge, were brutally murdered by the apartheid state.
Download a FREE poster of Victoria Mxenge here.