Hamba Kahle, Mvelase: Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu laid to rest

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Thembi Mthembu at the funeral service of the late Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu on Sunday 24 January 2021. (Photo: GCIS)

A humble and joyful servant of the people, the late minister in the presidency, Jackson Mthembu was laid to rest in an official category-one funeral in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga on Sunday morning.

It was a glum and rainy morning when the late minister in the Presidency was laid to rest at the Pretoria Memorial Park cemetery in his hometown of Emalahleni, Mpumalanga on Sunday 24 January. 

Mthembu passed away on Thursday 21 January from Covid-19 related complications at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. He was bade farewell in an official category-one funeral service at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church near his home in Ackerville township, Emalahleni. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa was sombre as he delivered the eulogy to a small cohort of family, friends and government officials. The funeral was limited to 50 people, as per the Disaster Management regulations. 

“The news of Jackson’s passing has struck a deep and solemn note to many of us,” said Ramaphosa. 

The Official Funeral Service of Minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga on Sunday 24 January 2021. (Photo: Twitter/@PresidencyZA)

The President was “shocked,” “sorrowful” and “heartbroken” upon hearing the news of Mthembu’s death on Thursday. He lamented Mthembu’s passing from Covid-19 when he had been at the forefront of the national effort to contain the pandemic. 

“The coronavirus has caused so many sorrows in our country and in our communities. Our society, like many around the world, has been plunged into turmoil. We have lost so many lives to this deadly disease.” 

He described Mthembu as a principled and humble man with a keen ability to unite people across party lines. He said his passing “stilled the clatter and bickering”, a point evidenced by messages of condolences and hope which poured in from various political parties shortly after the news of his passing was shared.

Ramaphosa thanked the health workers who cared for Mthembu during his illness. “You did the best you could.” 

Numerous officials were present, including Deputy President David Mabuza, ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina, Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise and Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe. 

The Official Funeral Service of Minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu was held at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church near his home at Ackerville. (Photo: Twitter / @PresidencyZA)

Outlined in his obituary, Mthembu, born on 5 June 1958 at Schoongezicht farm in Emalahleni, was the eldest son of Rosie Nantoni Mthembu.

He cut his teeth in student politics in the 1970s and was expelled from the University of Fort Hare in the 1980s for his political involvement. 

Mthembu later played a key role in forming the Metal and Allied Workers Union (which later became the National Union of Metal Workers) and served as a senior shop steward at Highveld Steel Corporation. 

He was harassed by apartheid security forces during the State of Emergency in the 1980s and spent several months in detention without trial, including being held in solitary confinement. Between 1986 and 1988 he and 30 other activists from Emalahleni were charged with sabotage, treason and terrorism, in what was known as the Bethal Treason Trial.

Mthembu served in ANC and Parliamentary structures. He had been part of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) since 2007 and was the National Spokesperson of the ANC under President Nelson Mandela from 1995 to 1997. He was appointed to the same role again from 2009 to 2014.

The Official Funeral Service of Minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga on 24 January 2021. (Photo: Twitter / @PresidencyZA)

He served as Chief Whip of the party from 2016 to 2019 before he was appointed as the Minister in The Presidency under the Sixth Administration. 

A sign of the terrible times, teary-eyed family members were unable to hold and comfort each other. 

Friends and family members took to the podium to share heartfelt tributes.

His daughter Thuli Mthembu said: “My father was a personified version of a literal breath of fresh air. He made joy and laughter his daily bread and in this hard time, seeing that South Africa saw that too, has brought us smiles in this season of sorrow.” 

Nurse Mavis Mahlakoane, who had cared for Mthembu at Netcare Milpark Hospital, described the minister as humble, gracious and calm, even in his dying moments. According to Mahlakoane, Mthembu kept saying Ramaphosa would be “disappointed” though she didn’t know what he meant. Like many other victims of Covid-19, Mthembu died without his loved ones by his side. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa with deputy David Mabuza and Thembi Mthembu at the funeral service of Jackson Mthembu on 24 January 2021. (Photo: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane)

Mahlakoane also read a brief tribute on behalf of the minister’s wife, Thembi Mthembu. “We will always remember your jokes. You will always be a part of me,” she read.  

Mthembu’s younger brother, Buyisiwe Mthembu said: “What do we do now that this tree has fallen?” 

“This was the person who was a unifier in the family.”  

Jackson Mthembu is survived by his wife, Thembi Mthembu, their children, his siblings and a grandchild. DM



"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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