TRIBUTES poured in yesterday following the death of disgraced former cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka, despite a marred career which saw him embroiled in a R1-million travel expenses scandal.
While Shiceka’s family said they were “shocked” by the 45-year-old’s “untimely death” at St Mary’s private hospital in Mthatha early yesterday after a long illness, the nature of his illness was not disclosed.
Opposition parties and many mourners said Shiceka should not be judged on his past transgressions but remembered for the role he played.
The former minister was last year implicated in wrongdoing by public protector Thuli Madonsela, who found he had racked up more than R1-million in travel costs for himself, his staff and friends, in violation of the executive ethics code.
President Jacob Zuma sacked Shiceka as a minister in October.
The expenses included a trip to Switzerland to see a girlfriend in jail on drug-related charges.
Shiceka, on sick leave since February last year, denied any wrongdoing and had vowed to go to court to contest Madonsela’s findings.
Nobantu Shiceka, granddaughter of Shiceka’s brother, Ziphathe, said the former minister left behind 20 children he had fathered out of wedlock as well as his wife and one child.
Opposition parties and tripartite alliance partners extended condolences to the family.
“We will especially miss his energy as he was a remarkable hard worker and his impact was greatly felt in the local government turnaround strategy, as well as his contribution to the struggle from the early 1980s,” Zuma said.
ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the organisation had been robbed of a comrade who worked tirelessly for the liberation of the people.
Mthembu, who said the ANC would liaise with the family for funeral preparations, said Shiceka had cut his political teeth in the mass democratic movement, led by the United Democratic Front, and through activism in the labour movement led by Cosatu.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said Shiceka played a critical role in strengthening the trade union movement in Gauteng.
“He committed a grave error while serving as a minister that led to Cosatu demanding that he be dismissed. That error does not take away his contribution to workers and our people’s struggle for freedom,” Vavi said.
South African Communist Party provincial secretary Xolile Nqatha said: “We will continue to appreciate his contribution to the struggle and reconstruction of this country.”
COPE provincial spokesman Nkosifikile Gqomo said South Africa was mourning a young life.
“We also celebrate his contribution. We know there have been some negative reports, which some proved to be true, but in the process of life we make errors of judgment and cannot forever judge people even beyond earth.”
DA provincial leader Bobby Stevenson said: “We want to extend our condolences to his family and colleagues. His loss will be deeply felt by those around him.”
UDM secretary-general Bongani Msomi said although Shiceka had left many unanswered questions, “we must let him go … everybody makes mistakes”.
Shiceka was appointed as cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister in Zuma’s cabinet on May 11 2009.
He also served as provincial and local government minister in then president, now Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s cabinet from September 25 2008 to May 10 2009.
Additional reporting by Sapa