’28 years of freedom, for what?’ Former death-row MK prisoner mourns death of ANC he knew

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By: The Sunday Independent

Monday was a day of reflection for former death-row prisoner Mthetheleli Mncube who was sentenced to death in 1988 for his uMkhonto WeSizwe (MK) activities that resulted in the murder of 10 white people.

Monday marked 28 years since Mncube, with co-accused Mzondeleli Nondula, were set free after their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

Mncube, Nondula and Robert McBride were freed in a deal that included former Wit Wolf Barend Strydom to a chorus of protest that slammed the deal as a ploy by the former regime to exempt from prosecution state officials involved in the killing of anti-apartheid activists.

During their trial that started in 1987 at the Messina [now Musina] Circuit Court, they were charged with 10 counts of murder after eight farmers died from the landmines Mncube and Nondula had planted in the area as per MK instructions.

Mncube himself killed two white police officers who had apprehended him after he and his co-accused had split ways.

He had freed himself. He was manacled.

They were sentenced to death on May 4, 1988.

Nondula is still on active duty with the SANDF, while Mncube, aged 60, is on retirement from the State Security Agency.

“During negotiations there was a moratorium on hangings,” Mncube recalls, recounting his own reprieve.

“It was on this day, 28 September 1992, exactly 28 years ago, that I went out of death row as a free man. The last weekend I spent there was the longest weekend of my life. My sister Dudu and some comrades came to receive me to my freedom, while my mother and father chose to remain at home waiting to welcome me there,” he says.

He still has vivid memories of his time at Pretoria Maximum Prison.

“My death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but that made no difference at all as I remained in the same premises of death row. My cell as a life prisoner was a stone’s throw away from my previous cell on death row.”

He is not altogether happy with current developments inside the ANC, the movement for which he gave his youth and nearly sacrificed his life for.

“Our freedom was not cheap, even if the current ANC government rubbishes our efforts, sweat and blood by engaging in corruption and looting of the resources that are meant for the betterment of the people.”

Mncube has noted the ructions inside the ANC that led the war veterans to go on a march in Durban last week, Mncube says.

“The ANC of OR Tambo is dead and all I see is the fight for the corpse or the remains of the ANC. It is so sad. I hear others talk of the revival of the ANC. I say you can’t revive a dead horse. All we need to do is to start from scratch with the new ANC. The current leadership is rotten to the core. They must all go, even the NEC.

“We are led by men and women who never raised their clenched fists or threw a mere stone against the brutality of the apartheid regime. So how can anyone expect them to implement the Freedom Charter or radical economic transformation? They can’t even remember a simple thing like to observe the release of the last ANC/MK prisoners.

“It is my fervent wish to see this country and the people being rescued from the political criminals that are enriching themselves and spitting on our hard-won freedom. People need to be defended from corrupt leaders.”

Mncube says the youth, who could be relied upon to take the ANC into the future, lost credible leadership at the expulsion of Julius Malema, now leader of the EFF.

“Youth must organise itself to be in the forefront of the struggle for the betterment of our people,” he says repeatedly.

His lament is a universal gripe among the ranks of the former combatants. “Many former prisoners and former MK soldiers are not looked at well at all by this current ANC government,” he says.

“Our former president, Jacob Zuma, at least did his best to alleviate the sufferings of MK soldiers and their families.

“The department of military veterans came into existence through him, to ensure that our children are assisted in terms of education.

“Since this new government took over, the Department of Military Veterans is faced with threats of closing down and bursaries have been cut by more than half. We are actually back to square one, while they are busy sharing among themselves the R500 billion. That saddens me and many others in the country.

“The ANC factions are actually fighting over a dead ANC instead of organising a decent funeral for it. Only then will the true ANC children find closure and be able to chart a way forward and continue with the legacy of the ANC.”