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Harry Gwala

"The Lion of the Midlands"

1920 - 1995

Mr. Harry Themba Gwala was born in 1920, KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg and died in 1995 in KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg at the age of 75 years.

Harry Gwala was a politician for the greater part of his life. By profession he was a teacher who obtained his teaching qualification at Adams College, Amanzimtoti. His teaching career began at Slangspruit in the Pietermaritzburg area.

Harry Gwala was a member of the SACTU, SACP and ANC. He joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1942 and the ANC Youth League in 1944, two years after joining the SACP. During this time, he organized workers in the chemical and building industries and established the Rubber and Cable Workers Union in Pietermaritzburg, Howick. Many of the workers were migrant labourers.

In 1950, during the uprising of the National Stay-away of workers, he was one of the organizers, which caused him to be subsequently listed under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1952, where he was served a two year banning order.

During his life-time, he became employed at the Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg but was dismissed for recruiting members of the South African Council of Trade Unions (SACTU). When the African National Congress became banned in 1960, he became an under-ground activist .He was arrested in 1964 for sabotage as well as recruitment of Umkhonto we Sizwe members. He was arrested and sent to Robben Island for a period of 8 years and was released in 1972 where he became restricted to Pietermaritzburg.

Due to having been arrested and having been kept in solidarity confinement at Robben Island, he was unable to pursue his teaching and trade Union activities as effectively as he would have wanted to.

When he returned from Robben Island he ran a laundry collection business in the area of Pietermaritzburg. Harry Gwala as a man had restrictions in his life, however he continued to remain at the forefront, during the time of the attempt to revive the SACTU, which had become dormant as a result of the many detentions and bannings.

After he was released from Robben Island, he continued to be detained with a number of other ANC Stalwarts who became involved in a workers strike which took place in August of 1976 after he had already been detained in 1975.

In 1977, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island where he became popular amongst the youth at Robben Island for his Marxist-Lenist teachings. While he was in prison, his wife Elda passed away and he was not allowed to attend the funeral. In 1980, he was robbed of the use of his arms, which led to his release from prison in 1988.

When he was released from prison, he continued to inspire many people in the struggle for democracy, peace and justice.

Harry Gwala was the first politician who was elected as the Chairperson of the ANC in the Natal Midlands after the movement was banned in 1990. He became a member of the International Leadership Core which moved him into becoming elected to the ANC National Executive. He served in the Executive until 1994. He was nominated to the SACP Central Committee in 1994 and was suspended in the same year. He remained however a loyal member of the SACP until he died.

Harry Gwala was a great mentor to Terror Lekota and William Khanyile of the SACTU. Although he had no academic background, he was a great theorist and was a reader of the Bible.

He loved history both South African and International. On the 80th anniversary of the ANC on the 8th of January 1992, Harry Gwala was awarded the “ ISITHWALANDWE AWARD”, which is the highest honour bestowed by the ANC to ANC dedicated members. After the April 1994 General elections, Harry Gwala was nominated as a Provincial Member of the Kwa Zulu Natal Legislature, where he also served as the Chief Whip of the ANC.

Harry Themba Gwala and his wife Elda (Ma Nettie) had four children: Lulu Maureen, Mandla Maxwell, Linda and Lindiwe Precious. He is survived by Linda and Lindiwe. Lulu and Mandla have passed on.

He was known as "MUNT’ OMDALA" or "THE LION OF THE MIDLANDS" in Pietermaritzburg. He died on the 20 June 1995, after a long illness.