Raymond Mhlaba

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Raymond Mhlaba Raymond Mhlaba.jpg
Raymond Mhlaba
Raymond Mhlaba

The Honorable Raymond Mphakamisi Mhlaba (12 February 1920 – 20 February 2005) was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress (ANC) also as well the first premier of the Eastern Cape. Mhlaba spent 25 years of his life in prison. Well known for being sentenced, along with Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others in the Rivonia Trial, he was an active member of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) all his adult life. His kindly manner brought him the nickname "Oom Ray".

Apartheid system of racial segregation enforced through legislation in South Africa

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap, which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.

African National Congress political party in South Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) is the Republic of South Africa's governing political party. It has been the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa on the national level, beginning with the election of Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election. Today, the ANC remains the dominant political party in South Africa, winning every election since 1994. Cyril Ramaphosa, the incumbent President of South Africa, has served as leader of the ANC since 18 December 2017.

The Premier of the Eastern Cape is the head of government of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.


Personal life

Raymond Mhlaba was born in Mazoka village in the Fort Beaufort district, Eastern Cape and was educated at Healdtown secondary school but had to drop out because of financial problems Mhlaba started working at a laundry in Port Elizabeth after leaving school in 1942. He met and married his first wife, Joyce Meke, who was also from the Fort Beaufort area in 1943. In their 17 years together, before her death in a car accident in 1960, they had three children Bukeka, Nomalungelo and Jongintshaba. In 1982, Mhlaba, who had been a political prisoner in Robben Island since 1964, was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison where he received special permission marry his common-law wife Dideka Heliso in 1986, with whom he had three children Mpilo, Nomawethu and Nikiwe. [1]

Fort Beaufort Place in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Fort Beaufort is a town in the Amatole District of South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, and had a population of 25,668 in 2011. The town was established in 1837 and became a municipality in 1883. The town lies at the confluence of the Kat River and Brak River between the Keiskamma and Great Fish Rivers. Fort Beaufort serves as a mini-'dormitory' for academic staff and students of Fort Hare University, based in the nearby town of Alice, and is also close to sulphur springs. Schools in the area include the historic Healdtown Comprehensive School.

Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

The Eastern Cape is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. It was formed in 1994 out of the Xhosa homelands or bantustans of Transkei and Ciskei, together with the eastern portion of the Cape Province. It is the landing place and home of the 1820 Settlers. The central and eastern part of the province is the traditional home of the Xhosa people.

Port Elizabeth Place in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Port Elizabeth or The Bay is one of the major cities in South Africa; it is situated in the Eastern Cape Province, 770 km (478 mi) east of Cape Town. The city, often shortened to PE and nicknamed "The Windy City", stretches for 16 km along Algoa Bay, and is one of the major seaports in South Africa. Port Elizabeth is the southernmost large city on the African continent, just farther south than Cape Town. Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to house British settlers as a way of strengthening the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa. It now forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which has a population of over 1.3 million.

Early political career

Mhlaba started working at a laundry in Port Elizabeth after leaving school in 1942. The horrendous conditions at the laundry converted him to a trade unionist and he became the leader of Non European Laundry Workers Union in 1943. In 1943, he joined the South African Communist Party, serving as the party's district secretary from 1946 until the party was banned in 1950. In 1944, he became a member of the African National Congress. From 1944 Mhlaba maintained dual membership of the ANC and the SACP. He rose through the ANC ranks becoming the chairman of the Port Elizabeth branch of the ANC from 1947 to 1953, and then elected to the Cape Executive committee. Mhlaba was the first to be arrested for disobeying apartheid laws during the nationwide Defiance Campaign of 1952 together with Govan Mbeki and Vuyisile Mini for three months in Rooi Hel ('Red Hell' or North End Prison, Port Elizabeth). The campaign was launched in Port Elizabeth when Mhlaba led a group of volunteers singing freedom songs through the "Whites Only" entrance of the New Brighton Railway Station. This action earned him the Xhosa nickname "Vulindlela" or "he who opens the way." That same year, Mhlaba was charged under South Africa's Suppression of Communism Act. Although his political activities continued, he was barred from attending meetings or gatherings. [1] After the ANC was banned on 8 April under the Unlawful Organisations Act, the party took up the armed struggle forming its military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mhlaba was one of its first recruits and was sent to China for military training. [2] Before leaving he assisted Mandela in writing the Umkhonto constitution. In 1962, Mhlaba returned to South Africa, becoming a commander of the MK after Nelson Mandela's arrest. [1]

South African Communist Party political party in South Africa

The South African Communist Party (SACP) is a communist party in South Africa. It was founded in 1921, was declared illegal in 1950 by the governing National Party, and participated in the struggle to end the apartheid system. It is a partner of the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and through this it influences the South African government.

Vuyisile Mini was a unionist, Umkhonto we Sizwe activist, singer and one of the first African National Congress members to be executed by apartheid South Africa.

Umkhonto we Sizwe military organization

Umkhonto we Sizwe was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre. Its mission was to fight against the South African government.

Rivonia Trial

On 11 July 1963 the South African apartheid government raided the ANC's underground headquarters in Rivonia, north of Johannesburg. Mhlaba and 10 other ANC and SACP leaders including Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki were arrested and Nelson Mandela was already in prison. They were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. [1] On 9 October 1963, the world-famous Rivonia Trial with all the accused charged with high treason. On 12 June 1964, Mhlaba, Mandela and six other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment, and all were sent to Robben Island but the white Dennis Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Central Prison instead of Robben Island. [2]

Ahmed Kathrada South African politician

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, sometimes known by the nickname "Kathy", was a South African politician, political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist.

The Rivonia Trial took place in South Africa between 9 October 1963 and 12 June 1964. The Rivonia Trial led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the others among the accused who were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life at the Palace of Justice, Pretoria.

Robben Island Island in Table Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island." Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km (2.1 mi) long north-south, and 1.9 km (1.2 mi) wide, with an area of 5.08 km2 (1.96 sq mi). It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. To date, three former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.

Struggle from prison

During his time in Robben Island, Mhlaba and other ANC members founded the ANC High Command or High Organ with Mandela as its head. The committee educated and supported younger imprisoned members, formulated policies on day-to-day concerns, prisoners' complaints, and strikes, and enforced discipline within their isolation unit. [1] Looking back at their time in Robben Island Mandela said of Mhlaba: “I got to know him as the peacemaker. He spent a lot of time urging fellow prisoners to forget their differences and unite so that conditions for prisoners could improve." [2]

Release from prison

After his release from prison in October 1989, he was elected to the ANC national executive and the South African Communist Party central committee. He became national chairperson of the SACP in 1995.

In January 1994 he was chosen as the ANC's nominee as Premier of the Eastern Cape, and in May 1994 he was elected to that post. He helped to establish the house of traditional leaders. He then became the High Commissioner to Uganda and Rwanda, until he retired in 2001. In April 2001 he released a book of his memoirs, narrated by him and researched and compiled by Thembeka Mafumadi. He was chairperson of a black economic empowerment consortium involved in the Coega port project, but suffered a stroke on 19 July 2003, recovering quickly.

Uganda republic in East Africa

Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate.

Rwanda Country in Africa

Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a country in Central and East Africa and one of the smallest countries on the African mainland. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda is in the African Great Lakes region and is highly elevated; its geography is dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east, with numerous lakes throughout the country. The climate is temperate to subtropical, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons each year.


In 2004, Mhlaba was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, and in December doctors discharged him from a private clinic saying there was nothing they could do for him. On 20 February 2005 he died in hospital. Mhlaba is survived by his wife Dideka Heliso, three sons and five daughters.


Mhlaba is seen as a stalwart member of both the ANC and the SACP. He was recognised with the Isitwalandwe Medal in 1992 for his role in the liberation struggle, and the Moses Kotane Award in 2002 for his contribution to the SACP. The Nkonkobe Local Municipality which includes Alice and Mhlaba's hometown Fort Beaufort was renamed the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality and Andries Pretorius street, The R30 in Bloemfontein was renamed after Raymond Mhlaba to honour him.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Raymond Mhlaba Biography". Biography J Rank. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 Meldrum, Andrew. "Raymond Mhlaba". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
Political offices
Preceded by
Kobus Meiring
as Administrator of the Cape Province
Premier of the Eastern Cape
7 May 1994 4 February 1997
Succeeded by
Makhenkesi Stofile
Preceded by
Oupa Gqozo
as Chairman of the Military Committee and of the Council of State of Ciskei
Preceded by
Bantu Holomisa
as Chairman of the Military Council and of the Council of Ministers of Transkei