Address by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at Memorial service of late Joe Nhlanhla, 20080710

Programme Director
uMama Mmabatho and the entire Nhlanhla family
Fellow mourners


We are gathered here to pay tribute to one of our own, the former Minister of Intelligence, Joseph Mbuku Nhlanhla, whose untimely death has robbed us of a loyal and true servant of our people.

On behalf of Government and the people of South Africa, I wish to convey our condolences to the Nhlanhla family, his comrades and friends.

We open our arms to you in this hour of grief and pain mindful that the entire nation shares with you the loss of its humble servant and esteemed son of Africa.

Mokgapa O Mogolo O Wele! A hero has fallen! As we mourn his death, we derive strength and courage from the reality that death will never rob our land of the lasting legacy he leaves behind.

We pay tribute to him as a fearless freedom fighter who was ready to make the supreme sacrifice so that we could liberate our country from racism, apartheid and exploitation.


The son of Samuel Nhlanhla who left the then Orange Free State to live in Sophiatown in defiance of racist laws, the late former minister known to all as Comrade Joe inherently followed in his father’s footsteps in the quest for a free and just country where all have equal opportunities regardless of race, gender or religion.

As a victim of forced removals in Sophiatown, Comrade Joe and his family relocated to Alexandra where he joined the struggle as a member of the ANC Youth League.

He grew within the ranks of the liberation movement to become a national leader and was among the first to be detained when the apartheid government declared a State of Emergency in 1960.

Upon his release without charge, he was restricted by Ministerial decree to the magisterial area of Johannesburg.

True to his desire to bring change in the country, he went to exile in Tanzania at the age of 28 in 1964.


At this relatively young age he knew and acknowledged the importance of education as a tool for the emancipation of his people.

He pursued, with vigour and sharp intellect, his studies in economics at the Plekhanov Institute in Moscow.

Whilst in exile Comrade Joe represented the ANC with distinction in the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation. He was a true internationalist who made a sterling contribution to the broader solidarity movement with the peoples of Palestine, Vietnam, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe.

When Comrade Joe felt passionately about an issue his voice would reach a high pitch, and he would rarely complete his sentences as his brain was working faster than his articulation of words. In fact, he would often trip-switch onto an entirely new topic, leaving his listeners to marvel at this incredible intellect and swiftness of mind.

This was not about his language facility since he was very fluent in English. It was about a truly wonderful mind, one that so well suited him for the intelligence work which marked his final contribution to his now-democratic country.

Comrade Joe was a loyal, dedicated cadre of our movement, but he had a wonderful sense of humour. He knew how to crack jokes and how to appreciate the humour of others.

He was a leader of the ANC Youth and Students’ Movement and, along with President Thabo Mbeki, the late Chris Hani and many others, he helped build the Youth and Student wing of the ANC into a disciplined organization for revolutionary change. The Youth and Student movement under his wing was dedicated to the core principles of non-sexism, non-racism and democracy.

Both the character and the principles that Comrade Joe stood for must continue to be cultivated in our youth today. We need to ensure that his contribution to our liberation finds expression in a renewed sense of national purpose guided by the principles of Ubuntu.

As a people and as a country we must rededicate ourselves to building a united South Africa steeped in non-racism and non-sexism upholding a democratic ethos and preserving and advancing the human rights of all who live in our wonderful country. If we do this, we will make Comrade Joe immensely proud.

His preoccupation with education as the key to improving the living conditions of our people still remains relevant in the contemporary era.

The young people of today must indeed feel proud and privileged that they have the legacy of Joe Nhlanhla to inspire them to acquire education and use it for the growth and development of the country.

This is especially important amid the challenge of the skills shortage in our country.

The characteristics of honesty, discipline, self sacrifice and integrity that he displayed throughout many years in politics are still relevant in our times.

Throughout his years in exile and upon his return in February 1990 after 26 years, he has served both his people and the country with loyalty and dedication.


Under the leadership of Comrade Thabo Mbeki, Comrade Joe, along with Comrades Jacob Zuma and Aziz Pahad, were involved in “talks about talks” with the representatives of the apartheid regime. He was also an integral part of the ANC delegation at the Groote Schuur talks in 1990. These exploratory talks paved the way for negotiations with the apartheid government, and ultimately gave birth to the democratic dispensation he fought for over so many years.

The valuable experience that he acquired in the fields of intelligence while in exile saw him serving in the Sub-Council on Intelligence of the Transitional Executive Council prior to the 27 April 1994 elections.

This placed him as an important figure in the process of amalgamating numerous intelligence structures that existed under the apartheid government and its nefarious Bantustan policy.

His involvement in this process bore testimony that such skills and expertise were, and are still, much needed for the reconstruction and development of our country.

Death has deprived us of a great talent an intellectual, a theoretician and a revolutionary. And an example not only to youth but to all.

Joe Nhlanhla, when he was appointed the Deputy Minister of Intelligence in July 1994, was instrumental in the establishment of intelligence services based on the principles of democracy.

Owing to his commitment, dedication and passion for this noble cause, he was appointed the Minister of Intelligence in 1999 by President Thabo Mbeki to continue building intelligence structures based on the rule of law, civil accountability and oversight.

At this time, I had the privilege of working with him in Cabinet and will always think of him as the architecture of the intelligence services in our country.

He sadly stepped down from Cabinet and Parliament in July 2000 due to ill health.

In his State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2001, President Thabo Mbeki noted that: “The cruel misfortune of ill-health brought about by pressures of work has deprived all of us of his dedicated service."


Because of the visibility of his tireless efforts for the liberation and reconstruction of our country, Joe Nhlanhla was in 2004 awarded the Order of Luthuli for his lifetime contribution to the struggle for a non racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

This Order is awarded to South Africans who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation building, justice and peace as well as conflict resolution.

This came at an opportune time to honour him while he was still amongst us for the historic journey he travelled for the benefit of us all.


In this regard, it is therefore fitting to say Joe Nhlanhla dedicated his entire life to the freedom of his people as well as the creation and sustainability of a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

We will remember him for his love of our people, for his uncompromising commitment to equality and social justice, for his service to his people and his country and for those rare qualities of leadership that he always and consistently exhibited.  To all of us who continue to work in the service of the people, he will remain an inspiration. Comrade Joe will always be in the collective memory of our people as a liberator, a role model and a father.

Joe Nhlanhla has played his role; what remains is for us to carry the baton to advance the noble cause to which he dedicated his life.

To the family, to you comrade Mmabatho. Thank you for your devotion and care. We know it could not have been easy.
Thuthuzelekani ugqatsho ulufezile
Robala ka Kagiso

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