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Remembering Jackson Mthembu - student activist to ANC's moral compass

Jackson Mthembu was a man with the courage of his convictions, and was not afraid to speak out against wrongdoing, even within his own party. For this he earned respect - not only among ANC members, but also opposition parties.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu and Deputy Minister of Telecommunications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at a communications briefing at the ANC national policy conference on 5 July 2017. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Jackson Mthembu’s politics were forged in the crucible of his student activism and clashes with the apartheid regime.

Born in Witbank, now Emahlaleni, in Mpumalanga 62 years ago, Mthembu was arrested and charged with sabotage, treason and terrorism in the late eighties.

Mthembu contracted the coronavirus and passed away in hospital on Thursday. He was serving as a minister in the presidency and a National Executive Committee member of the ANC at the time of his death.

He went on to rise through the ranks of the party to become Minister in the Presidency and devoted much of his later life to helping reset the moral compass of the movement that he loved.

Jackson Mthembu became a household name after serving as ANC spokesperson – not once, but twice. The first time was under ANC leader Nelson Mandela, between 1995 and 1997; and he filled the role again between 2009 and 2014.

ALSO READ: Obituary: Jackson Mthembu, a deft politician and defender of the Constitution

Mthembu was a man with the courage of his convictions, and was not afraid to speak out against wrongdoing, even within his own party. For this he earned respect - not only among ANC members, but also opposition parties.

A staunch defender of the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees, Mthembu also understood the importance of bringing the ANC back in line with its moral values and principles, as he demonstrated while chief whip of the party in Parliament.

Mthembu believed in a free and independent media as a cornerstone of a functioning democracy.

He was not without lapses or flaws, like most people – a drunken driving conviction saw him give up drinking. Like many politicians, he also lamented not spending enough time with his family, but saw himself as a servant leader, with a responsibility to improve the lives of all South Africans.

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