OBITUARY: Jackson Mthembu, a deft politician and defender of the Constitution

Jackson Mthembu’s passing will be mourned across the political spectrum. Eloquent, personable and affable, he will be remembered for his passion, his commitment and his sense of humour.

FILE: Jackson Mthembu. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - Jackson Mthembu (62) will be remembered as a staunch defender of the Constitution and as a deft politician who threw himself into the hard work of repairing divisions in the African National Congress and getting it back on track after years of misrule under former President Jacob Zuma.

His passing on 21 January due to COVID-19 complications leaves a gaping hole in the government’s communications machinery: as Minister in the Presidency, Mthembu was the public face of its messaging in the fight against the pandemic gripping the country.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also lost an important ally and a key member of his Cabinet.

Mthembu’s passing will be mourned across the political spectrum. Eloquent, personable and affable, he will be remembered for his passion, his commitment and his sense of humour.

GALLERY: Jackson Mthembu's life in pictures

Before Ramaphosa made him Minister in the Presidency, he served as the ANC’s chief whip in Parliament.

There he worked hard behind the scenes, using his powers of argument and persuasion to lead the party’s caucus to a rejection of the blind defence it had mounted in favour of Zuma and a public acknowledgement that it had taken a wrong turn.

As chief whip, Mthembu ran a tight ship. He earned the respect of other parties as a straight player, someone not given to devious games – but who prized debate, as well as collaboration and co-operation.

WATCH: Remembering Jackson Mthembu, moments from the archives

He was born in Ackerville, Witbank, on 5 June in 1958 and was educated at Fort Hare University.

Mthembu served as MEC for Transport in Mpumalanga from 1997 to 1999, but really only became known as a national figure once he was made national spokesperson of the ANC.

Mthembu was a staunch supporter of Ramaphosa’s, especially in the lead-up to the ANC’s Nasrec conference in 2017, where Ramaphosa was narrowly elected party president to succeed Zuma.

Married to Thembi Mthembu, he had six children. One of them, Nokhwezi, died last year after committing suicide at their home in the parliamentary village of Pelican Park.

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