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Raymond Mhlaba (12 February 1920 – 20 February 2005) was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress (ANC). Mhlaba spent 25 years of his life in prison. Well known for being sentenced, along with Nelson Mandela, in the Rivonia Trial, he was an active member of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) all his adult life. His kindly manner brought him the nickname "Oom Ray".
He was born in Mazoka village in the Fort Beaufort district and was educated at Healdtown secondary school. He started working at a laundry in Port Elizabeth after leaving school. There he was introduced to trade unionism through the Non European Laundry Workers Union. In 1943 he joined the South African Communist Party, and in 1944 became a member of the African National Congress. He met and married his first wife, Joyce Meke, who was also from the Fort Beaufort area. In their 17 years together, before her death in a car accident in 1960, they had three children.
He was one of the ANC leaders arrested during the transport boycott of 1952 when he led a group of volunteers into the "Europeans Only" entrance of the New Brighton police station in Port Elizabeth.
He was the district secretary of the Communist Party from 1946 until it was banned in 1950. He was chairman of the Port Elizabeth branch of the ANC from 1947 to 1953, and was then elected to the Cape Executive committee.
After the ANC was banned he joined other exiles in obtaining military training in China. Returning to South Africa in 1962, he commanded Umkhonto we Sizwe until 1963, when he was arrested along with other key members at a farm in Rivonia.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial, and served time on Robben Island. In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. By special permission he married his common-law wife Dedika Heliso in 1986, with whom he had three children.
Nelson Mandela was a witness at the ceremony, conducted in the prison commandant's office. Afterwards Mhlaba was legally permitted to touch his wife for the first time in 22 years.
Release from prison
After his release from prison in October 1989, he was elected to the ANC national executive and the South African Communist Party central committee. He became national chairperson of the SACP in 1995.
In January 1994 he was chosen as the ANC's nominee as Premier of the Eastern Cape, and in May 1994 he was elected to that post. He helped to establish the house of traditional leaders. He then became the High Commissioner to Uganda and Rwanda, until he retired in 2001.
In April 2001 he released a book of his memoirs, narrated by him and researched and compiled by Thembeka Mafumadi.
He was chairperson of a black economic empowerment consortium involved in the Coega port project, but suffered a stroke on 19 July 2003, recovering quickly.
He is seen as a stalwart member of both the ANC and the SACP. He was recognised with the Isitwalandwe Medal in 1992 for his role in the liberation struggle, and the Moses Kotane Award in 2002 for his contribution to the SACP.
In 2004 Mhlaba was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, and in December doctors discharged him from a private clinic saying there was nothing they could do for him. On 20 February 2005 he died in hospital. Mhlaba is survived by his wife, three sons and five daughters.
as Administrator of the Cape Province
|Premier of the Eastern Cape
7 May 1994 – 4 February 1997
as Chairman of the Military Committee and of the Council of State of Ciskei
as Chairman of the Military Council and of the Council of Ministers of Transkei