Tribute paid to ‘gentle struggle giant’ Zola Skweyiya

ANC veteran Zola Skweyiya has died‚ just days before his birthday

Dr. Zola Skweyiya. File photo.
Dr. Zola Skweyiya. File photo.
Image: Beeld/Herman Verwey/Media24

ANC veteran Zola Skweyiya has died‚ just days before his birthday. He was 75.

The news broke yesterday morning as South Africans prepared to mourn another ANC struggle leader‚ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela‚ at the official memorial service in Soweto.

It also comes a day after the 25th commemoration of SACP leader Chris Hani’s assissination.

President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his sadness at Skweyiya’s death after a period in hospital.

“Our thoughts‚ as colleagues and comrades‚ go out to the family and friends of Dr Skweyiya who served our country with great passion and distinction during his time in cabinet and the diplomatic service,” he said.

“Dr Skweyiya’s endearing engagement and his contribution to our society – especially his role as the first minister to lead the public service in a democratic South Africa – will be greatly missed and honoured.”

The ANC said: “On behalf of the national executive committee of the ANC and the entire membership of the movement‚ we pass our heartfelt condolences to his wife‚ Thuthukile, and the entire family for their loss.

“The movement mourns with them as we celebrate the life of this gentle giant of our struggle‚” party spokesman Pule Mabe said.

Details of memorial events would be communicated in due course‚ the presidency said.

Skweyiya’s life was devoted to the party he joined in 1956‚ notably serving as minister of social development (1999 to 2009) and of public service and administration (1994 to 1999).

Born Zola Sidney Themba Skweyiya on April 14 1942 in Simon’s Town‚ he went to school in Port Elizabeth and Retreat in Cape Town‚ but finally matriculated from the Lovedale School in Alice in 1960‚ according to Sabinet Law. He was an active ANC activist at Fort Hare University and mobilised support for Umkhonto we Sizwe until going into exile in Tanzania.
He obtained an LLD degree from the University of Leipzig.

Skweyiya worked for the ANC in various offices and capacities and was responsible for setting up the ANC office in Addis Ababa‚ Ethiopia.

Between 1982 and 1985 he represented the ANC at the Organisation of African Unity before he was recalled to Lusaka to set up the ANC legal and constitutional department there.

He headed this department until 1990 in Zambia‚ and again until 1994 in Johannesburg.

On his return‚ he also chaired the ANC constitution committee‚ Sabinet Law says.

Between 1984 and 1993 he annually represented the ANC at the UN Commission for Human Rights.

He contributed to the founding of the Centre for Development Studies and the South African Legal Defence Fund‚ both at the University of the Western Cape.

Skweyiya played a critical role in the constitutional negotiations‚ not only in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) process and committees‚ but also in engaging with ANC structures‚ the legal fraternity and other alliance and civil society formations on the process.

In 2009‚ he was appointed as High Commissioner of South Africa to the UK and Ireland.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa also expressed condolences.

“He was a thinker and a man given to pause,” he said.

COPE chairman Pakes Dikgetsi said: “[He] was one of the few leaders of our people who sacrificed the comfort of home‚ family and friends to travel to foreign lands to seek assistance in the just fight for a better South Africa.”