Former Eastern Cape premier and struggle stalwart Makhenkesi Stofile was the embodiment of the calibre of leaders the ANC desperately needs to help revive and unite the party, several people paying tribute to him said yesterday.
News of the former sports minister’s death, at the age of 71, sent shock waves through the country yesterday, with tributes pouring in from religious, political, business and sports sectors.
He died at his home in Alice after battling with cancer. Family spokesman and son-in-law Siphiwe Mpye said Stofile had been in hospital for several weeks.
“He was transferred from East London to Cape Town. When he returned home [on Sunday] his health had deteriorated,”Mpye said.
“He slept only one night in his house and was able to see everyone – his wife Nambitha and daughter Sive. Unfortunately, he did not wake up this morning,” Mpye said yesterday.
“This is a sad occasion for the family, but the doctors had explained to everyone that he would not be with us for long. It’s just that we did not know when his time was coming.”
In tribute, former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Nceba Faku said that only two months before he died, Stofile – who was appointed chancellor of Fort Hare University – had spoken about reviving the structures of the ANC Veterans’ League to contribute toward the political revival of the party
Faku, who had worked with Stofile during his seven years as premier of the province and ANC provincial chairman, said he was devastated.
“I remember when I was released from Robben Island in 1990, he organised my welcoming reception in Alice. He knew my family very well. I had the opportunity of visiting him in hospital a few times before the elections,” Faku said.
“He was not very well in the last month or two but was still concerned about the way forward for the organisation. “He wanted to revive the structures of the veterans’ league so as to contribute in the political revival of the organisation. “He was a good example of a leader who was independent and he respected the space of younger comrades. “He was also not scared of reprimanding comrades who, in his judgment, had sidestepped the values of the organisation.”
Former ANC chief whip and the man who was named as the successor to Stofile as ambassador to Germany, Stone Sizani, said Stofile’s death came at a time when the ANC needed leaders like him.
“He was the kind of a leader who was going to bring the party to the people,” Sizani said.
Port Elizabeth businessman Mkhuseli Jack said he first met Stofile at the funeral of the Rev James Calata in 1983. “He epitomised the true values of the ANC. It is a great loss of a principled leader. His passing is very sad, especially at a time when we are facing a period of political madness. “His voice was great for young people; he was a straight talker who didn’t beat around the bush,” Jack said.
Stofile was appointed chancellor of the University of Fort Hare in January, shortly after returning from his German ambassadorship.
Fort Hare vice-chancellor Dr Mvuyo Tom said Stofile had been very close to the university, students and academics. “This is a devastating loss not only to the university, but also the community of Alice. He had just retired from being an ambassador in Germany and he came back to serve the university. “We had to adjust to work with him and learn as he contributed to the university with all his knowledge,” Tom said.
ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane said Stofile had been very vocal in the transformation of sport.
He said young black athletes likeWayde van Niekerk, Caster Semenya, Akani Simbine, Anaso Jobodwana and Luvo Manyonga, who are competing in the Rio Olympics, would not be there if it was not for the struggle waged by Stofile, who fought for transformation SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins said: “I pass on the condolences of the South African rugby community to the family and friends of the Rev Stofile. “He made an invaluable contribution to the struggle through his work in the sporting arena and was a real rugby man. “We have lost another hero of the struggle.”
Saru EP Rugby administrator Monde Tabata said it was a sad day for everybody who had dealt with Stofile over the years. “I have known him for many years and he was a great mentor for young people. “Even though I heard that he was in hospital, I was never ready for this eventuality, ” Tabata said.
Politicians also sent out their messages of support. Premier Phumulo Masualle said Stofile had made an immeasurable contribution to the democracy enjoyed by many today.
DA provincial leader Athol Trollip also conveyed his condolences to the Stofile family.
On behalf of Southern Africa Council of Churches (SACC), Bishop Andile Mbete said the council had lost a leader and a good example of what it meant to be a priest in southern Africa today.
“As SACC, we pay our tribute to Stofile, a sound theologian and a priest with an eye for liberating the oppressed. “He was a very deep people’s person,” Mbete said.
Stofile is survived by his wife, Nambitha, 62, daughters Matahle, 36, and Sive, 32, as well as two grandchildren, Zimele, 4, and Lima, 18 months.