Johnson Malcomess Mgabela (Posthumous)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Johnson Malcomess Mgabela
Johnson Malcomess Mgabela was born in 1922 in the Kwelera district of the Eastern Cape. He was a bor leader as highlighted by the fact that he went on to become a member of the African National Congress (ANC and commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in the Border Region of the Eastern Cape. He became an important member of the ANC in the Eastern Cape, acting as protest organiser for the party in the region and beyond. He remained a member of the ANC until his death in 1997.
Mgabela’s real political awakening came in 1947 when a white police officer publicly humiliated him while trying to get a view of King George. What troubled him the most was that the humiliation was informed by nothing else other than him being a black South African. This fact inspired Mgabela to make fighting the repressive apartheid regime his definitive preoccupation. He led a protest in East London against the proposed two shilling charge for non-Europeans who resided in the town.
Additionally, Mgabela was amongst the leading mobilisers for the Defiance Campaign in East London and encouraged blacks to go to places of their choice without their dompas, which resulted in his arrest. For over 10 years in the second half of the 20th century, Mgabela was the ANC’s Volunteer-in-Chief, responsible for recruiting volunteers and disseminating the party’s directives. The formation of MK saw Mgabela becoming a commander of the Border Region. His involvement in the activities of MK meant that he became a target for state security forces.
In spite of recurrent arrests, abuse and trials, Mgabela continued to advance the interests of the liberation struggle. He spent 18 years on Robben Island and was released in 1982. In prison Mgabela ensured that the traditional initiation rites for prisoners were observed right under the noses of the apartheid prison warders, thus ensuring that the cultural practices of prisoners continued.
After his release from Robben Island, the ANC deployed him in several countries such as Russia and Angola, where he received medical and military training for the purpose of advancing the cause of the Struggle. Mgabela was fortunate enough to witness the fruit of his labour, the dawn of the democratic dispensation in 1994, which is founded on the principles of equality and human rights. Mgabela passed in 1997 at the age of 73