Raymond Mhlaba

By Lubomir Rzepka

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The Life of Oom Ray

Raymond Mhlaba was nicknamed Oom Ray, or Uncle Ray, for his tender and well-disposed manner. He was raised in Mazoka, a district in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa where he resided amidst a family financially struggling, and although he was able to attend school for a while, he was forced to drop out because he was unable to afford it. In an effort to make ends meet he began working in a dry cleaning factory in Port Elizabeth, and during his time slaving away in the torturous atmosphere he became a Trade Unionist, joining the Laundry-Workers Union, as his first step into politics. Mhlaba became a part of the SACP, and stayed with it until it was banned, thereafter joining the ANC and advocating very highly for the communist party, becoming part of the CPSA. He led the nonviolent anti-apartheid campaigns of the ANC and was actually the first to be arrested for his actions. Mhlaba went to China to receive military training, and after returning to South Africa he headed the ANC militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mhlaba, alongside Mandela, who he regarded very highly, was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in Robben Island after the notorious Rivonia Trial. After his release, Mhlaba was awarded the medal Isithwalandwe, and became the premiere of the Eastern Cape. Accused of running a corrupt government, he was urged to step down, and afterwords began working as High Commissioner to Uganda. Mhlaba died in 2005, diagnosed with severe liver cancer, yet he left behind a rather incredible legacy, fruitful, accomplished, and tragic at its end.

In the Anti-Apartheid Movement

There are few people, like Raymond Mhlaba who are so committed to what they believe in. What makes Mhlaba a significant individual in the Anti-Apartheid movement is the amount of involvement that he undertook. Mhlaba began with his Unionist work, already spearheading movements, first those against poor working conditions under Apartheid influence. His work with the ANC was most noticeable, and although he was a prominent member of the communist party he was not nearly as active in it. Mhlaba also launched the first movements of the Defiance Campaign, and was able to prove the importance of the struggle even if that meant getting himself arrested. He participated in his political movements even after they had been banned, and was at the side of Mandela's pen when the Uhmkonto Constitution was written. He was a startling influence on the movement as a whole, from peaceful protest, to militant uprising, and proved that those who had been struggling all their lives, could keep struggling for what they believed in. Although his time in office was not nearly as renowned, his hand in the anti-apartheid movement definitely was.