Member of the ANC and MK, political prisoner
Lives of Courage
Aaron Sipho Madondo, the last of 11 children in his family was born on 6 August 1958 in Mofolo South, Soweto. He began his primary school education at Gugu Lower Primary and later moved to Fred Clark Higher Primary in Soweto. He passed Standard Six with a first class pass, the only learner in his school to do so. After completing his primary school education Madondo went to Hlengiwe High School.
After the Soweto student revolt in 1976, Madondo dropped out of school and in October he was recruited into the African National Congress(ANC)’s armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Soon after, he was transported out of South Africa to East Germany where he underwent military training between January and June 1977. After completing his training, he was sent to Luanda, Angola where he met Mike (Toto) Skhosana. He was also deployed in Zambia and Swaziland.
In November 1977 Madondo was arrested and detained incommunicado for several months while he was interrogated. He was brought to court for trial in March 1978 on three charges under the Terrorism Act. According to the court charge sheet, the state alleged that around 14 October 1978 Madondo and Skhosana entered South Africa illegally from Swaziland with false South African travel documents. They found a safe hiding place in the Mkhwakeni Trustlands around Piet Retief. After travelling to Driefontein, Madondo found a secure location to hide arms and ammunition and to train others in their use. At the end of October Madondo and Skhosana left South Africa illegally for Manzini, Swaziland, where they were given more arms and ammunition.
The State charged Madondo with three counts, firstly that he alone or with Skosana carried out acts to undermine law and order in South Africa. Secondly, that Madondo had left South Africa illegally to undergo military training and returned to wage a struggle against the state. Finally, he was charged with the illegal possession of arms and ammunition. The trial began on 20 March at the Ermelo Circuit Court in front of Justice Boshoff. Apparently, Madondo pleaded guilty to all three charges in March 1978. Madondo’s court case was controversial in a number of ways: His parents, who were informed the evening before his trail, were refused entry into the court room to attend his trial; the attorney who the parents had instructed to represent Madondo was not notified - thus Madondo was defended by a pro deo(for God) lawyer appointed and paid for by the state; and lastly, his trial lasted only three hours. Given the dubious nature of the trial, it casts a shadow on his ‘admission’ of the charges he faced.
The State found him guilty on all three charges, and Madondo was sentenced to six years for each count. However, the sentence for count 1 and 3 would run concurrently. Thus, Madondo would effectively serve 12 years in prison. Madondo was taken to Robben Island, where he served his sentence. On the Island, he became part of a music group known as ‘Roots’ with other political prisoners. He played the soprano saxophone. Other members of the group were 'Lucky' Maphumulo, Curtis Mhlanzi, Patrick Mogale and Thabane Zulu.
As negotiations for the dismantling of Apartheid gathered momentum, political prisoners were released. Madondo was released in February 1990. After his release, he worked as a clerk for the ANC at its headquarters in Johannesburg. After that, he moved to work for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as a regional manager.
Madondo died in June 2012. He is survived by his wife, Thandiwe, three daughters and a granddaughter.
• Madondo, T., (2012), Freedom fighter's struggle finally ends’, Sowetanlive, 8 June, [online], Available at www.sowetanlive.co.za [Accessed: 03 April 2013].
• Harrison, David, (1981), The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa in Perspective, (University of California Press), p. 221.