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Struggle hero Cecyl Esau has died

Cecyl Esau at the funeral of UDF founder Johnny Issel. Picture: John van Diemel

Cecyl Esau at the funeral of UDF founder Johnny Issel. Picture: John van Diemel

Published Mar 18, 2021


Cape Town - Freedom fighter, student leader and former Robben Island prisoner Cecyl Esau has died. He was 66.

According to a statement from his family, Esau died from natural causes at his home in Table View on Wednesday.

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Esau rose to prominence in the turbulent 1970s as a student at the University of the Western Cape which had been infamously dubbed as "Bush University".

Fellow student and former Independent Media photographer Jeffrey Abrahams recalled Esau as a towering figure, who commanded admiration from his fellow students.

"He was our student leader at UWC, he was a few years ahead of me. He was our leader, someone we looked up to," said Abrahams.

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Brian Wilson who grew with Esau in Worcester where they attended Esselen Park High School from Grade 8 described him as a good friend.

"Cecyl was always the one guy who kept us abreast of happenings in terms of the political situation. He was the one guy who took me to a SASO (South African Students Organisation) meeting," said Wilson.

He recalls that Esau was fanatical about listening to shortwave radio, especially the BBC World Service and the Voice of America.

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"We listened to the moon landing in 1969," Wilson recalled.

During the student protests of 1976, Esau was one of the leaders at UWC and for his leadership he was beaten to a pulp by members of apartheid's Security Branch after he managed to get another student leader, Hein Willemse, out of Tygerberg Hospital.

Later he became active as a UDF organiser, joining an Umkhonto we Sizwe cell for which he was arrested in 1986 and sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island, but was freed in 1991 along with other political prisoners.

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After 1994 he joined the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

"He was passionate about sharing oral histories. He asked us to write stuff about our years growing up in Worcester for a book about our experiences," says Wilson.

Esau leaves behind five children; a granddaughter; his sister, June Esau and two brothers, Alexander Esau and Jacob Esau.

Cape Argus

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