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OUR PEOPLE: Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge

Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge was born on 1 January 1942 in Tamara Village in King William’s Town.

After completing her primary education at Tamara, she went to Forbes Grant Secondary School where she completed the junior certificate (Grade 10). In 1959, she matriculated at Healdtown, Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Province.

She qualified as a nurse at Victoria Hospital in 1964 and moved to Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) soon after marrying Griffiths Mxenge. Her husband was imprisoned on Robben Island not long after their marriage.

She completed a midwifery course at King Edward Hospital, Durban, and took up service as a community nurse in Umlazi. She then studied law through UNISA.

In 1981, some five years after her husband had set up a legal practice she acquired legal qualifications, joined the practice and was subsequently admitted as an attorney. When her husband was murdered in November 1981, it fell on her to identify his mutilated body at a government mortuary the morning after his murder.

She vehemently refuted the claim of police General Coetzee that the African National Congress (ANC) had murdered her husband. The ANC issued a public statement from Lusaka decrying his murder and paying tribute to his contribution in the struggle.

After the death of her husband, she carried on with the law practice. She often intervened to protect youth 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 the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court.

Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge

Mxenge started a bursary fund in memory of her husband. She became a member of the Release Nelson Mandela Committee (RMC), the National Organisation of Women (NOW) and the Natal Treasurer of the UDF.

In July 1985 she was invited to speak at the funeral of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli (the Craddock Four) attended by approximately 50, 000 mourners to mark the death of activists who had been murdered by the security police.

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 in the presence of 10, 000.00 mourners.

In 1987, the magistrate refused a formal inquest hearing but argued that she had died from head injuries and had been murdered by persons unknown. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report on the assassination of Victoria Mxenge’s documents that one 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, claiming that he shot her five times in the chest, but she never fell and that he followed her with an axe and chopped her next to her dining room door. The TRC Report contains no indication whether any person had applied for or had been granted amnesty in relation to her murder.

In October 2005 the South African Ministry of the Environment launched the third of their Lillian Ngoyi-class patrol vessels. It was named Victoria Mxenge in her honor.

The following year, 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.

Former President Nelson Mandela lays a wreath on the graves of Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge at the Rayi Cemetery near King William's Town.

Source: South African History / Presidency of South Africa

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