Steve Tshwete is born

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Steve Tshwete

Saturday, 12 November 1938

Steve Tshwete (1938 - 2002) was born in Springs on 12 November.  He spent his childhood in the village of Peelton, and later in King William's Town and East London.  His parents, Vuyelwa Nolayiti and Brongher Palamente Tshwete, were workers but set great store in education and helped young Tshwete with his studies and kept him in school despite the fact that his impoverished family could have used the extra income.

As he was growing up, the treason trial of the 50's dominated the headlines and was a catalyst for his consciousness.  Almost immediately after leaving left school he began working for the African National Congress (ANC).  Even while still in school at East London's Welsh High, which he attended in 1960 and 1961, he joined the African Students' Association and began to show the organisational abilities for which he would later be so highly regarded. He also helped to found the East London Youth Club, and became its general secretary. The club was a cover for recruitment into the ANC's underground structures.

Tshwete left school and immersed himself in ANC work as secretary of Border regional command of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). In June 1963 he was arrested. In February of the following year he was tried, found guilty of belonging to a banned organisation and sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island.  While on the island he earned a BA from Unisa majoring in English and Philosophy.

He was released in March 1978, returned home, found worked as a teacher, and was soon politically active again.

By 1983 he was one of driving forces in the formation of the United Democratic Front, becoming the UDF's President in the Border region.  In 1984 he was declared persona non grata and a prohibited "immigrant" after constant harassment by the apartheid security establishment. He then left South Africa the following year and went into exile in Zambia.

Tshwete worked briefly in Lesotho and Zambia before his appointment as army commissar for Umkhonto weSizwe. On his return to South Africa in 1990 after the un-banning of the African National Congress (ANC) he became its National Organiser, responsible for rebuilding the organisation's structures, and later he also acted as the coordinator on sports matters. This is also when he got his nickname of "Mr Fixit" for his interventions to build non-racial sporting codes.

In 1994 he became the first Minister of Sport and Recreation in the new democratic government of South Africa.  In 1999 President Thabo Mbeki appointed Tshwete as Minister of Safety and Security.

Despite Tshwete's long service to the Struggle however, his career in government was often controversial. Minister of Sport and Recreation in Nelson Mandela's cabinet, Tshwete introduced the quota system into South African sport.  Henceforth teams competing at national and provincial level would have to have a minimum number of non-white players in their squads. 

As Mbeki's Minister of Safety and Security, he was charged with the unenviable task of tackling South Africa's growing crime problem.  Although statistics showed that violent crime decreased during his tenure, public perceptions were otherwise.  As a result Tshwete was often maligned in the media. In 2001 he made international headlines when he accused three prominent members of the ANC of conspiring to overthrow or harm President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki said he supported the subsequent police investigation. But in December Tshwete conceded that no such conspiracy existed and apologised to the alleged "plotters".

Tshwete died while still holding office on 26 April 2002.

References:
• "Tribute to Steve Tshwete," South African Police Sevice.
•  Trewhela. P. "Steve Tshwete: Cabinet minister in the new South Africa:. The Independent.  20 May 2002.

Last updated : 12-Nov-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011