Presidency Statement on the Death of Wycliffe Mlungisi Tsotsi

The death of Wycliffe Tsotsi has robbed South Africa and the African continent of a hero of the struggle for liberation, non-racism, non-sexism and justice.

Wycliffe Mlungisi ("Wyckie") Tsotsi was part of a generation of resistance leaders who fought for the widest possible principled unity among the political organisations of the oppressed. Born in the Transkei and educated at Fort Hare in the 1930s, Tsotsi became a teacher and headmaster, and later trained as a lawyer. As a political activist from the 1930s,

Tsotsi was associated with the All-African Convention (of which he was president from 1948-1959) and the Non-European Unity Movement which became the Unity Movement of South Africa (of which he served as acting-president and vice-president in the late 1950s and early 1960s) and was the major impetus behind the radicalisation of the Cape African Teachers' Association (CATA) in the 1940s.

As an activist lawyer and leader of the Transkei Organised Bodies (TOB), Tsotsi was close to rural struggles of the peasants in the Transkei and Eastern Cape and gave support to elected leaders (for example, in Tembuland) who opposed the system of Bantu Authorities. Tsotsi also defended teachers who were dismissed in the wake of the implementation of Bantu Education. In the early 1960s he was arrested and detained.

Together with his comrades, and despite overwhelming odds and hardship, Tsotsi asserted his belief in the possibility of a non-racial society and the innate goodness of humanity. He concerned himself with the unity of the liberation movements, believing that unity served as a foundation for the speedy defeat of Apartheid. He was from that rare crop of visionaries who displayed forbearance under trying condition, yet dreamt of and worked for an alternative future for the nation despite the harshness of the system.

When he was forced into exile in the early 1960s, Tsotsi enjoyed a distinguished legal career in Zambia and Lesotho and he continued his political activities. During this time, he devoted time to research and writing and published a history of South Africa, From Chattel to Wage Slavery. He also completed two other manuscripts: Out of Court, a study of the operation of Bantu Authorities and betterment in the Transkei Bantustan, as well as an autobiographical study of repression and exile, I Was a Refugee or Was I?

On his return to South Africa, Tsotsi served his alma mater, the University of Fort Hare, as a member of its council.

Tsotsi loved his country and its people and throughout his adult life, he worked tirelessly for a free South Africa. In 1998, at the ripe age of 84 years, Tsotsi accepted the demanding appointment as a commissioner on the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In this position Tsotsi again served his country with distinction, thus contributing to the establishment of justice in the new South Africa, especially for the victims of Apartheid. Tsotsi was given an honorary LLD degree by Rhodes University in 1999 in recognition of his contribution to the birth of a new South Africa.

With his passing we mourn the end of an era, yet we take some pleasure in knowing that he lived through the first decade of our democracy for which he had sacrificed so much.

We would like to express our deepest condolences to Tsotsi's wife, Mrs. Blanche Tsotsi, his surviving children and family.

Trevor Fowler
Acting Director General

The Presidency

For further information contact Davis Hlabane - 082 561 9428

30 September 2005

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa