Durban - Eric "Stalin" Mtshali, the anti-apartheid icon and the recipient of the prestigious Order of Mendi for Bravery in Silver died in the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital on Friday after a long illness. He was 87.
Mtshali was born in Durban and joined the anti-apartheid movement straight after high school.
According to the Presidency website, Mtshali was a trade unionist, leader in the African National Congress’s (ANC) military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and later, a Member of Parliament in the post-1994 democratic dispensation.
Mtshali was involved in mobilising organised labour to protest against the injustices of the then South African Government.
In 1951, he mobilised workers in the Dock and Harbour Workers Union, and workers in the textile industry to protest against the repressive apartheid state. In 1957 individuals who were prominent leaders of the liberation struggle in Natal, Stephen Dlamini, MP Naicker, Wilson Cele and Harry Gwala, recuited Mtshali into the South African Communist Party (SACP).
The following year he joined the ANC and became part of the people who founded MK in 1961. These developments resulted in his deep involvement in the liberation struggle as he was now part of the broader machinery, led by the ANC, which fought apartheid. He was elected as a member of MK’s underground operations team in Natal, whose primary objective was to advance the liberation struggle.
Mtshali was sent to the Soviet Union for military and intelligence training, and later to Cuba. On his return to Tanzania where MK had its first military base, he was appointed Chief of Personnel and served under Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Moses Mabhida.
As Chief of Personnel, he was responsible for transporting MK members and military hardware across the Zambezi River. Together with Chris Hani, Benson Ntsele and Don Nangu, they founded Dawn, a weekly journal of MK. He was editor of Dawn magazine from 1964 to 1969.
He was one of the founders of some of the ANC’s intelligence units. He has also represented South African workers in the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague and Czechoslovakia. Since 1994 Mtshali has served in different government positions. He is presently an active member of the SACP. Mtshali is the last surviving founding member of the ANC Imbokodo.
Speaking to the Daily News after receiving the Order of Mendi award in 2015, Mtshali said it was an honour to be recognised in life and he believed that true liberation will only be achieved when the working class becomes the ruling class.
“I receive this award on behalf of the working class and its vanguard, the South African Communist Party. There has only been a slight improvement in the lives of the working class and this needs to change, I would like to see a socialist South Africa in my lifetime,” he said at the time.
In a previous interview, Mtshali told the Daily News that it was growing up in Clermont, near Pinetown, that the poor standard of Bantu education made him aware of the racial divide.
“The apartheid system was vicious. I was young, but there was no question I would join the struggle.
“Young people today don’t understand or appreciate what it took to have the freedom we enjoy today, it cost lives, the splitting of families… so much,” said Mtshali.
His first wife died while he was in exile.
“I have no regrets and I would do it again for the nation.”
In 2014 he was honoured with a school being named after him.
“To have seen democracy was privilege enough. So many of us fell in the struggle, they were never recognised, which is why all of this is so humbling,” he said.