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Joe Nzingo Gqabi (1928 - 1981)

The Order of Luthuli in

Joe Nzingo Gqabi (1928 - 1981) Awarded for:
Excellent contribution to the struggle for a non-sexist, non-racial, just and democratic South Africa.

Profile of Joe Nzingo Gqabi

Joe Nzingo Gqabi was born in 1928 in Aliwal North in the Cape.

Propelled by the appalling socio-political conditions faced by black people in the Western Cape and the depressing lives of Africans in general, Gqabi absorbed political consciousness at the early age of 22.

In 1950, he became the organiser of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. A keen writer, he worked for the militant newspaper, New Age, mandated with arousing public awareness of apartheid in the 1950s. His career, journalism, which he pursued partly because of its closeness to the common people, gave him first-hand experience of apartheid's dehumanization of black people. Through the might of the pen, he was also able to expose the brutally repressive conditions of African communities.

As a journalist he could assist in educating the masses on their responsibilities to fight apartheid until the bitter end. His work gave him the experience necessary to become a leader and an activist, with a keen understanding of his revolutionary obligations to the creation of a society free of racial oppression.

Realising that the apartheid rulers were totally closed to reason, Gqabi joined the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961. He successfully carried out numerous sabotage campaigns against the apartheid regime in his role as a soldier of MK.

Gqabi was arrested with 28 other comrades while undergoing military training in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The Rhodesian State deported him to South Africa where he was tried and imprisoned for two years for leaving the country illegally. He was further sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island under the Sabotage Act.

Robben Island, which many inmates referred to as 'the university', because it was where veteran leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were imprisoned, further educated Gqabi about the nature of the struggle.

He was released from Robben Island in 1975, upon which he continued with underground activities to educate the youth about the struggle and their roles in it.

Concerned by his activities, apartheid agents made an attempt on Gqabi's life by planting 7 kg of dynamite under his car, which was fortunately discovered before it could explode. Determined to silence him, the apartheid State arrested him again in December 1976 for his role in the June 1976 student uprisings, but failed to produce incriminating evidence against him. He was duly released in 1977 and immediately left the country for Botswana, before going on to the independent Zimbabwe.

The apartheid regime finally succeeded in assassinating Gqabi on the night of 31 July 1981, at his house in Ashton Park in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Great political leaders like Oliver Tambo described Joe Nzingo Gqabi as a 'seasoned political leader of outstanding ability' and as 'a member of MK whose commitment, dedication, courage and fearlessness led to his election to the national executive committee of the ANC'.

He was a liberation stalwart whose leadership qualities rubbed off on his protégés.

In assassinating Gqabi, the apartheid regime thought that it had eliminated him forever. Yet, Joe Nzingo Gqabi's selfless contribution to the struggle and his inspirational leadership had already sown the seeds for freedom in South Africa.

Gqabi's remains were buried in Aliwal North on 16 December 2004, South Africa's national Day of Reconciliation.