OBITUARY: The rise of Jackson Mthembu

OBITUARY: The rise of Jackson Mthembu
NO MORE: eMalahleni ANC heavyweight Jackson Mthembu. PICTURE BY 013NEWS/MLM

He started his career in the newly formed democratic government in 1997, serving as transport MEC before being deployed to Parliament from 1999 to his death on 21 January 2021.

Those who know the story say Jackson Mthembu rose through the ranks and was tried and tested.

And those who know the man said he stuck to his guns during Apartheid despite torture and detainment – and he refused to sell out the struggle against Apartheid.

“It goes without saying that Jackson Mthembu was incredibly courageous and dedicated,” fellow comrade Ronnie Kasrils said in a piece published by Daily Maverick few hours after Mthembu’s death was announced Thursday afternoon.

“He served the ANC and government to the best of his considerable ability in many ways, and was loyal to the end. There are many such as him, and those are impressive qualities which we time and again extol for sure,” Kasrils said.

Mthembu was born on 5 June 1958 in eMalahleni.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu had died from Covid-19 complications.

Mthembu wrote on Twitter last week 11 January 2021 about how he was feeling pains in his stomach and how he decided to go to the 1Military Hospital in Pretoria where he tested positive for Covid-19.

Few minutes later Mthembu tweeted again, thanking those who had wished him a speedy recovery.

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Ramaphosa said Mthembu was “greatly respected” in the ANC and the state.

“He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss,” the President said.


Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu’s political career begins one day in the 1970s while a secondary school learner at Witbank’s Elukhanyisweni Secondary School.

He then enrolled at the University of Fort Hare, but was expelled in 1980 for taking part in anti-Apartheid politics.

Mthembu then became one of the comrades that formed the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU), which is today called the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), while working for the Highveld Steel and Vanadium Corporation.

The whole of the 1980s was a period during which Mthembu was being tried and tested as a revolutionary – constantly getting harassed by cops and getting locked up in solitary confinement.

In one of the struggles, Mthembu had his home in Ackerville petrol bombed.

During the infamous Bethal terrorism trial Mthembu and 30 others were accused of sabotage, treason and terrorism between 1986 and 1988.

He was later released due to lack of evidence.

Mthembu was then elected as the deputy regional secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

He later became a leader of the ANC in the Witbank region in 1990 when former President FW de Klerk unbanned the ANC and various other political parties.

From this period to 1994, Mthembu was the provincial media officer of the ANC in Mpumalanga and nationally.

He was also one of the leaders that participated in Codesa in the early 1990s. 

Mthembu was one of the members of the national council of provinces after the 1994 democratic elections who were deployed to go partake in the forming the current Constitution of the country. Ramaphosa led the team.

Until 2007 when he was elected the member of the ANC’s NEC, Mthembu had been Mpumalanga ANC PEC member for a long time.

OBITUARY: The rise of Jackson Mthembu
Jackson Mthembu 1958 – 2021. Jacaranda News

In 2007 Mthembu was elected an NEC member during the ANC’s Polokwane conference that elected Jacob Zuma as President.

A staunch Zuma supporter at the time, Mthembu returned to being the national spokesperson of the ANC.

After the unbanning of political parties in 1990 by the apartheid government, Mthembu was entrusted with the responsibility of leading the Witbank branch of the ANC.

Between 1990 and 1994, Mthembu worked full-time as ANC spokesperson

In 2016, Mthembu became chief whip of the ANC in Parliament.

Towards the ANC’s 54th conference in 2017, Mthembu turned against Zuma and became one of Ramaphosa’s key lobbyists.

OBITUARY: The rise of Jackson Mthembu
Jackson Mthembu and President Cyril Ramaphosa during the CR17 campaign in 2017. 013NEWS/MLM

Ramaphosa won the race against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

When the ANC elected Ramaphosa as the country’s President in 2019, Mthembu was appointed as the Minister in the Presidency.