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Griffiths Mxenge: Brutally murdered for fighting for liberation

19 May 2020 2:54 PM

#UnResolved investigates the murder of anti-apartheid activist Mxenge and how his killers were granted amnesty by the TRC.

In this episode of UnResolved, Karyn Maughan investigates the murder anti-apartheid legal activist Griffiths Mxenge who was killed by the apartheid regime. PLEASE NOTE - This episode contains descriptions of graphic violence which may be unsuitable for certain listeners.

Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge died at the hands of an apartheid assassin for fighting for freedom, justice, peace and democracy in South Africa.

Together with his wife, Victoria Mxenge, they fought hand-in-hand for the liberation of the country until their untimely deaths in 1981 and 1985 respectively.

Hailing from King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, the young family moved to Umlazi, south of Durban, where Victoria was going to study midwifery.

Griffiths Mxenge became a well-known civil rights lawyer who fearlessly defended victims of the apartheid regime after his release from Robben Island, where he served a two-year sentence.

On the fateful night of 19 November 1981, Mxenge stopped his car on the side of the road in Umlazi to help a group of men whose car had broken down. Little did he know they would take his life.

They pretended they had an accident and they needed help, Griffiths, being a man with a good heart, would not drive past them.

Mathews Phosa, Former ANC leader

He thought he could give help but that was a trap.

Mathews Phosa, Former ANC leader

Former African National Congress (ANC) leader Mathews Phosa witnessed the apartheid death squad members describe how they killed Mxenge.

Mxenge was killed by askaris together with police officers selected by Vlakplaas death squad commander Dirk Coetzee.

Askaris are ANC operatives who had been turned against the party by apartheid authorities.

Testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Coetzee revealed that apartheid police wanted to create an impression that Mxenge had been killed by the ANC.

I said they should specifically not use guns and must make it look like a robbery and it was decided on knives, that Mr Mxenge will be killed with knives.

Dirk Coetzee, Former Vlakplaas death squad commander

Mxenge was stabbed 43 times and his body mutilated.

Coetzee and his fellow death squad members – Vlakplaas security police base operatives David Tshikilange and Almond Nofomela - all received amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the brutal murder of Mxenge.

The reason I suspect (why he was stabbed many times) is that all the time he was not falling to the ground, he was fighting.

Almond Nofomela, Vlakplaas security police base operatives

In Mr Mxenge’s case, I was asked to make a plan with him, which clearly meant to me that we must kill him.

Dirk Coetzee, Former Vlakplaas death squad commander

Mxenge was a father of three and his children describe him as a hopeless romantic who loved and adored their mother.

His children Namhla and Mbasa narrate how their evening would be like and how their father bought their mother an electric blanket.

I remember someone saying that mama used to love chocolates and he would always bring her Smarties cause he knew that was what she liked.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

My mom had cold feet and he bought her an electric blanket and it was a big thing at home that you know he’s surprising her with this electric blanket.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

Mxenge used his legal qualifications to not only defend anti-apartheid activists but to fight for the rights of South Africa’s marginalised and brutalised black population.

He was a larger-than-life person, and so he hated everything that, in his mind, was bad. He worked with trade unions, he worked with the Black Consciousness movement, he worked with everyone you know that he could hold hands with to defeat what he perceived as bad.

Mbasa Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's son

When I think of my father, I can see – like my brother is saying – he was smart and he knew how to outbeat the system that is created to put him down.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

Joined by the love they shared, Namhla says the evening her father died, her mother knew that something was wrong.

I remember the day that tata died, and I remember it was raining, but, in them being kindred spirits, I remember mama being anxious that tata is not home.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

I almost feel as if she knew something was wrong. So if _tata _wasn’t around, I would sleep with her, I remember her not sleeping that night.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

Mxenge's body was found by passersby on the morning of 20 November 1981.

His wife was left to look after her children and fight an apartheid system intent on lying about her husband’s death.

There are two occasions where I actually saw her in grief. The first time was when we went to the place where he was killed and that broke her because the blood was still there and it was clear that was where he had finally died. The second time was when there was an inquest.

Mbasa Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's son

To be honest with you, I think the first time I actually grieved for my father was during the TRC time. So the first time I actually sat down with the feeling of knowing was having to go through it, having to see the pictures, having to relive that moment, was at that time.

Namhla Mxenge, Griffiths Mxenge's daughter

Mxenge's family opposed amnesty being granted to Nofomela, Tshikilanga and Coetzee.

But the ANC, through its then spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa, said: "It is our belief that the TRC is equal to the task of taking independent decisions that are in the best interest of the country and in the context of promoting unity, reconciliation and peace among our people."

Listen to the full interview below...


19 May 2020 2:54 PM

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