Masabalala Yengwa.bmp
Masabalala Yengwa
Formerly NMR Avenue


Masabalala Yengwa was born on 6 December 1923 at kwamaQumbi, in kwaMaphumulo, and completed his matric in 1943. Later he took over as a trade union organiser from Hubert Sishi, who was to become one of the pioneering broadcasters at the then Radio Bantu.

Yengwa changed the outlook of the trade union movement, shifting its focus to shopfloor issues. His role as a trade unionist prepared him for his future career in politics. After joining the ANC, he worked closely with Stalwart Simelane, JG Champion, Chief Albert Luthuli and Dr WZ Chonco, who was president of the ANC in Natal at the time. His organising skills came in handy when he helped the women leaders in Natal organise a successful women’s defiance campaign.

Yengwa soon attracted the attention of the apartheid security forces and in 1952 he was arrested for being a member of a banned organisation. He was arrested again in 1956.  In 1957 Yengwa married Edith, nee Sibisi, a schoolteacher. Their wedding was graced by a number of ANC heavyweights, including Luthuli and Dorothy Nyembe. In the same year, Yengwa was the best man at ANC leader Oliver Tambo’s wedding. Also in that year, he was acquitted with the other 156 treason trialists, but the state continued to harass him and he was constantly under house arrest.

The couple had four children, Njabulo, Zipho (who still lives in London), Mphiwa (a business person in Durban), and Mbonisi (who lives in Johannesburg). The eZasegagasini Metro interviewed Edith a few years ago, and she described her husband as a “wonderful man” who was “well liked by everybody”. Edith, who was 80 at the time, recalled how she had raised their four children while her husband was in and out of jail. Right from the start, she said she had known that she was married to a political animal. She died in 2007.

In 1964, Yengwa was charged under the Terrorism Act. He was released the following year but placed under house arrest. He earned BCom and LLB degrees from the then University of Natal.

In 1966 Yengwa escaped South Africa on foot, going into exile through Golela, Swaziland, where he practised law. He moved from Swaziland to London in 1970. In 1972 he represented the ANC at the United Nations. In the same year, his family joined him in London. He suffered a stroke, and although he recovered somewhat, and was elected chairman of the ANC in London, his activities and movements were severely curtailed. He died on 21 July 1987.

kleinbooie@durban.gov.za