Boy Adolphus Mvemve (1931 - 1974)
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Boy Adolphus Mvemve
Boy Adolphus Mvemve died a very violent death in exile in Zambia in 1974. He was 43 years of age at the time, operating under the nom de guerre John Dube (or simply JD), while serving as the African National Congress (ANC) deputy chief representative in Lusaka.
On that fateful day, Mvemve and his comrade Max Sisulu were sorting out the ANC office's mail during lunchtime. 'We normally sorted the post during lunchtime, when it was quiet, people were away from the office, and we ourselves could take some time off other things', Sisulu recalls.
Sisulu says Mvemve opened 'what looked like a book'. Seconds later it blew his hands and face off. Mvemve died instantly. Sisulu, the freak survivor of the calamity, regained consciousness a day later in hospital. How he survived, he too still wonders to this day. Sisulu reckons that one reason they were both not blown to pieces could have had a lot to do with the fact that the office was made of prefabs and not brick and mortar that could have perhaps hurt them more than the bomb itself.
Mvemve had been one of the many cadres marked for death by the apartheid security forces for his demonstrably effective campaigns during the time when he was still operating within the country.
He showed determination and valour when he was part of the leadership that openly mobilised the South African masses, especially around the Johannesburg area, for a number of campaigns designed to shake the apartheid government. He was never intimidated by the harassment, jailing and the possibility of political assassination of key political activists that was a common occurrence at the time.
Before exile, it was not uncommon for political activists to be given away by apartheid informers, yet Mvemve's iron-like determination to raise the consciousness of his people against the apartheid system grew solidly, exposing himself to danger as he continued to mobilise the multitude of people and address huge public gatherings.
Mvemve's killing, noted Oliver Tambo, the ANC's acting president at the time, marked an era when the apartheid government had 'intensified its repression of the liberation movement' by resorting to 'the cold-blooded shooting down of workers as a matter of consistent policy'.
This was the time liberation fighters like Mvemve faced government-sponsored violence meted out through snipers, kidnappers, set-ups and betrayals.
Mvemve skipped the country just hours after his wedding ceremony, upon hearing that the apartheid security agents were about to close in on him. By the time the agents eventually arrived, he was gone, having left behind his pregnant newlywed.
In doing so, he never thought twice about the family life he was just beginning to build. He committed himself to the higher principles of human freedom.
Born in 1931, Boy Adolphus Mvemve joined the ANC in the early 1950s. He also became a member of the ANC Youth League, of which he was the Alexandra township branch secretary. He was among the dedicated foot soldiers of the 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott, a role he had also played two years before, during the campaign that was to lead to the historic adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown. He was there during the 1959 Potato Boycott and the 1960 anti-pass campaign.
Boy Adolphus Mvemve, courageous and selfless in the face of unrelenting apartheid adversity, finally succumbed to the clandestine machinations of the system through assassination. Through his political and military actions, he was a constant thorn in the flesh of the system that sought to use the oppressive state apparatus against its opponents and yet found in people like Mvemve an embodiment of gallantry in the cause of freedom for all South African humanity.