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Harry Gwala Road
Formerly Booth and Spine roads


Politician, teacher, father and to many a hero who refused to be intimidated by anybody, Harry Themba Gwala, also known as the “Lion of the Midlands”, played a crucial role in the fight for freedom. Gwala was born in 1920 at Swayimane, New Hanover, to Philemon and Bella Gwala, the eldest of four children. His father, Philemon, was a farm labourer, who toiled from sunrise to sunset, which Gwala Jnr detested and regarded as slavery. He began his education at Swayimane Primary School before moving to Adams College and later qualifying as a teacher.

He attended political education classes secretly conducted by the college and this led to him becoming increasingly absorbed in politics. His first placement as a teacher was in Slangspruit, Pietermaritzburg, where he taught the legendary Moses Mabhida. In 1943, after resigning from teaching, Gwala joined the South African Communist Party. He signed up with the ANC in 1945. About this time he married Elda Mkwayi. The couple had four children, Mfana, Linda, Lindiwe and Lulu, who died in 1992.

In 1970 Gwala and his family moved to Engadini (now known as Hayfields) in Pietermaritzburg. They were later removed from Engadini under the Group Areas Act. The family was repeatedly harassed by the authorities because of Gwala’s involvement in politics. But, this did not prevent him from striving to instill a sense of pride in his children and to encourage them to become articulate. They were only permitted to listen to Radio Freedom and he taught them about politics. Gwala was arrested in the 1960s and imprisoned on Robben Island for eight years.

Amidst all this turmoil, Elda, who worked at a laundromat, remained a pillar of strength to her family. Times were hard in the Gwala household, with the family living on handouts given to the dependents of detained politicians. After his release from prison he was re-arrested in 1975 and this time sentenced to life imprisonment, but was again released in 1988 because of ill-health. Both his hands and arms had become paralysed.

Nevertheless, he soldiered on, travelling the length and breadth of KwaZulu-Natal mobilising ANC supporters. In 1994 he was elected Chief Whip of the provincial legislature. His daughter, Lindiwe, describe him as a caring, loving father and a gifted leader who was quick to lend an ear. She dismisses claims that he was a “warlord”. Gwala died of asthma on 20 July 1996 and was survived by his remaining three children. Bella died in 1985, 11 years before Gwala’s death, while he was still on Robben Island. He was refused permission to attend her funeral.

dlaminis@durban.gov.za