Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo (1955 - 1991)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo
Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo, popularly known as “Mzala” in liberation struggle folklore, was born on 27 October 1955 in Dundee in northern Natal. From an early age, his school-teacher parents inculcated in him a disciplined approach to studying. At both primary and secondary schools, his record was outstanding.
Nxumalo attended school at Louwsburg, then Bethal College in Butterworth and later matriculated at KwaDlangezwa in Empangeni, In 1972, at the age of 15, he was detained without trial for his role in a school boycott. The following year, he was arrested again and charged with public violence for his part in student and worker strikes. After Matric, he studied law at the University of Zululand, Ongoye, where he became a passionate fighter against injustice and hypocrisy. He was active in the South African Student Organisation and in 1976, like thousands of his generation, fled the country into exile. His participation in the countrywide upsurge following the Soweto Uprisings of June 1976 made him a marked man. With a number of others, he left South Africa to help swell the ranks of the people’s army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
He received training in politics and other specialised subjects in the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He excelled in all the training courses that he took. He rose to important positions in the ranks of MK, serving in Swaziland and Angola and was part of the famous June 16 MK detachment.
While still in training at Funda camp, north of Luanda, he was seriously injured in the face by a bullet mistakenly fired by a new recruit. He fell to the ground and comrades were convinced the injury was fatal. Luckily, Nxumalo regained consciousness in hospital and later made a full recovery.
While absorbed in the work of the underground, Nxumalo would make time to read books on a wide variety of topics and engage in heated and controversial debates. In the midst of his training and organisational responsibilities, he was always intellectually active.
In 1977, he was working on a simplified book on Marxism-Leninism in Zulu. His intellectual energies were recognised in MK and already in 1976 he was political commissar for Luanda.
In 1979, he was deployed to Lusaka, where he acted as co-coordinator of commissariat structures. In 1980, he was sent for advanced ideological and political training in the GDR.
In 1983, he was deployed in Swaziland, disguised as a reporter (Jabulani Dlamini) and working for the Swaziland Observer. In the 1980s, frontline states such as Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland were extremely dangerous for ANC operatives – in many cases more dangerous than deployment inside of apartheid South Africa itself.
The risk of enemy infiltration and of being kidnapped or assassinated was forever present. It is known now that the Swazi government had signed a secret accord with the apartheid regime in 1982 to collaborate in the hunting down of ANC networks and cadres.
Nxumalo was detained by the Swazi police in 1983. In December of the same year, with a new identity, he returned to Swaziland, but this time to the Shiselweni district in the south of the country. He served as commissar for the Natal rural machinery, a network that was later to become central in the establishment of Operation Vulindlela.
While in Shiselweni, and out of his own initiative, Nxumalo crossed the border into KwaZulu-Natal, setting up an MK unit based in Ingwavuma. In 1984, he was again arrested by the Swazi police and deported to Tanzania. In Tanzania, he worked for Radio Freedom and the Amandla Cultural Group. In 1987, he moved to London where he worked for the international committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP), of which he was now a prominent member. He had a voracious intellectual appetite, especially for the Marxist-Leninist classics. One could not see Nxumalo without him being surrounded by books. In Angola, as almost everywhere else, he would sit on the stoep and be completely immersed in the book he was reading.
Nxumalo was also a prolific writer for African Communist, Sechaba and Dawn, all containing numerous articles by him, published under various pen-names. A look at his articles over the years shows his philosophical, ideological and theoretical development. Over the last few years of his life, he wrote the column “Africa Notes” for African Communist. He also authored the controversial book Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda.
He was also credited with writing many articles and provocative thought pieces under different pseudonyms where at times he held debates with himself on many critical national questions. He also wrote several major articles under the name Sisa Majola. One of his most important and polemical contributions to the armed struggle was entitled Cooking the Rice inside the Pot, and it was signed Mzala.
When no-one responded in Dawn, he published a polemical rejoinder to his own article, it was titled: Preparing the Fire before Cooking the Rice inside the Pot, and it was signed Alex Mashinini. He was so prolific, it is quite possible that there were other pen-names that were never discovered.
Much of his writing focused on the national question and the unfolding revolutionary process in our country. On both questions he always endeavoured to inject some original thinking. He spent a short time in Prague, representing the SACP on the editorial council of the World Marxist Review. In the brief period he was there, he earned the respect of the leaders of many communist parties for his sharp, no-nonsense and polemical style. Unfortunately, he took ill and was forced to leave Prague for London.
It was in London where he studied for a PhD degree at the Open University. His thesis dealt with issues around the national and class question in the South African revolution. Unfortunately, his untimely death came before he completed his thesis.
His biting and at times provocative criticisms did not always please everyone. But nobody could doubt his fierce commitment to the oppressed and exploited masses of our country.
Jabulani Nobleman “Mzala” Nxumalo died in London on 22 February 1991 at the age of 35. His death robbed the ANC and its Alliance partner, the SACP, of one of its most prolific writers, a revolutionary intellectual and thinker. His death was a huge loss to the entire South African people at a time when his thinking skills were hugely needed inside the country during the negotiations period and a time to rebuild the ANC inside the country.
When he wrote his articles, or when he pinned provocative notes on the notice-board in camps in Angola, Mzala was not looking for admiration or praise. He was trying to provoke engagement, responses and debate, and sought to build and strengthen the culture of discussion within the liberation movement.