South Africans yesterday reeled after the news that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu (62) passed away due to Covid-19.
Ten days ago, Mthembu was hospitalised after showing symptoms of the virus. He was the fourth member of the executive who tested positive in that week, along with Employment and Labour Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi, Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister David Mahlobo, as well as governance’s Obed Bapela.
The week before that, the police ministry announced its deputy minister, Cassel Mathale, had contracted Covid-19.
President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed his passing in a statement, extending his condolences to the minister’s family and colleagues.
“Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss.”
Born in 1958, Mthembu fought against apartheid from his student days in the 1970s and helped set up two metal workers unions when he worked in the steel industry, which campaigned for better conditions for black workers.
In the 1980s, the apartheid authorities frequently jailed him, often in solitary confinement, but when political parties were unbanned the following decade, he became the ANC leader in his hometown of Witbank in Mpumalanga.
From 1994 he served in parliament, becoming national ANC spokesperson the following year, a position he also held from 2009 to 2014, before becoming minister in the presidency in 2019.
Citizens are also in shock after the news, with many taking to Twitter to pay homage to the leader.
In the last remark on his Twitter feed on January 11, Mthembu wrote that he had “visited a military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for an abdominal pain”, and there tested positive for Covid-19.
The death toll from Covid-19 in SA, which has been the worst hit on the continent, has almost reached 40 000. — EWN.