South Africa


Basil David Kivedo – unbreakable Struggle hero who left ANC for DA after Zuma took power

Basil David Kivedo – unbreakable Struggle hero who left ANC for DA after Zuma took power
Basil David Kivedo. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Ferreira)

Basil David Kivedo was a real hero, a guerrilla who knew the pain of torture and electrical shocks, but refused to be broken or turned. He was also passionate about national reconciliation, the Afrikaans language, and fish and chips.

As spring settled over the Western Cape on Saturday, 15 October 2022, and the region’s floral kingdom gave its traditional dazzling display, a funeral service was held in Worcester for Basil David Kivedo, one of the most principled, tortured but unbreakable and courageous people ever to take up arms to free South Africa from racial oppression.

The Umkhonto weSizwe veteran died of a heart attack on 3 October 2022 at the age of 71, a month before he would have added another year to his life. He will be cremated and his ashes will be buried next to his parents, John and Madelein, in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape.

Kivedo, classified as “coloured” by the old regime and still regarded as one by the new democratic order even in death, belonged to a generation of leaders who studied at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and turned that tertiary institution – designed to churn out compliant, grovelling coloured graduates – on its head.

Appointed in 1973 as a sociology lecturer at UWC – which then was controlled by Broederbonders – he saw students as allies in the battle against the minority regime. The UWC campus became a frontline of sorts, as students resisted. 

In 1976, as the resistance spark against the government was reignited in Soweto, he organised a student walk-off from campus.

In the intense security-monitored state which was South Africa then, it was inevitable that he would be detained without trial. In 1980, he was held at Pollsmoor Prison for 14 days. He was tortured but refused to sign an agreement with the agents of the state that he would abandon his political activism.

He was later detained at Victor Verster Prison in Paarl and held for 90 days. Again, torture – and the pain and humiliation that were its companions – were visited upon him as his jailers held him incommunicado.

Released after this spell in jail, he was detained again two weeks later and held for 180 days in terms of South Africa’s then security laws. Again, he held on to his strong political beliefs and refused to sign any agreement despite being tortured once more. He was subsequently detained again and incarcerated indefinitely.

Recalling these harrowing times, his brother, Brian, remembered how in 1980 he had accompanied his parents on a prisoner visit to Victor Verster.

“My father told me afterwards, ‘I don’t think Basil is going to make it’. Our parents were badly affected when Basil was later locked up indefinitely. I feared that I was going to lose my parents and my brother.”

The funeral of Basil David Kivedo. (Photo: Garnett Wicomb / Die Son)

Family members at the funeral of Basil David Kivedo. (Photo: Garnett Wicomb / Die Son)

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Released in 1980, he found himself unemployed because UWC claimed that he had absconded despite his being imprisoned. The University of Transkei offered him a position, but he was refused a “visa” to enter the homeland of Transkei.

Speaking about some of the mental torture his brother was forced to endure, Brian said that Basil was once taken to a high tower and told how far it was to the ground should he fall. On another occasion, he was blindfolded and told to run for it – he feared that he would be shot in the back. 

On some winter nights, ice cold water was deliberately thrown on his jail bed and threadbare blanket.

Apart from constant abuse in detention, such as regular electric shocks and beatings, Kivedo was also to pay in other more personal ways for his political activism.

Said Brian: “It cost him his first marriage. Basil suffered and offered up a lot for the struggle.”

After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, he became one of his advisers. He was also an adviser to Mosiuoa Lekota when he was Minister of Defence, and was an executive member of the MK Veterans’ Association.

Disenchanted with Jacob Zuma’s leadership, he left the ANC in 2010 and joined the DA. In 2011, he became Executive Mayor of the Breede Valley Municipality. He also served as a DA member of the Western Cape legislature.

One of my fondest memories of Basil is sitting in his mayor’s office in Worcester eating fish and chips while discussing the governing party’s betrayal of the principle of non-racialism, among others.

If we want a country anchored in reconciliation and true democracy, we should continue the mission for real change battled for so bravely by Basil and others. DM

Dennis Cruywagen is the author of Brothers in War and Peace and The Spiritual Mandela. He is a former deputy editor of Pretoria News, as well as the recipient of two Harvard fellowships, a Nieman and a Mason, and holds a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was also an ANC spokesperson.


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