Photographer, reporter, member of the ANC and MK
Lives of Courage
Joe Nzingo Gqabi was born in 1929 in Aliwal North, Cape Province.Gqabi joined the African National Congress (ANC) in the middle of the 1950s. At the same time he also joined the Johannesburg based militant newspaper called the New Age as both photographer and reporter. His job of exposing the hidden crimes of Apartheid proved a remarkable experience in investigative journalism. Gqabi was one of two thousands political detainees after the 1960 PAC-led Sharpville Massacre and the consequent State of Emergency in 1960.
In 1961 he went into exile to join the newly formed military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was later captured in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for leaving the country illegally. Upon completing his prison term, he was re-arrested and charged under the Sabotage Act. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island, where he served his sentence together with prominent ANC political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and others.
Following his release, Gqabi was served with a restriction order. However, this did not deter him from political activities. As the 1976 Student Uprisings was approaching, he guided and advised students and the youth.
Gqabi became chief defendant in the 1977 “Pretoria Twelve Trial” that attracted wide attention in the country and world-wide. He and six comrades were acquitted, while other accused received sentences ranging from 6 to 18 years’ imprisonment.
He clandestinely skipped the country to join the ANC’s external missions. He was appointed as ANC representative in Zimbabwe after the country obtained independence in 1980. In Zimbabwe, he managed to develop a remarkable rapport with the leadership and people of Zimbabwe.
Gqabi was gunned down by members of the Apartheid hit-squad on 31 July 1981, when he was shot nineteen times while reversing down the driveway of his house in Harare, Zimbabwe. He was given a state funeral by the Zimbabwean government. At his funeral the late ANC president Oliver Tambo said: "To say the enemy has struck us a blow is to tell the truth".
His body was exhumed in 2004 and brought to South Africa for reburial in Aliwal North.He is survived by his wife Aurelia and two sons, Jomo and Nkululeko.
• Joe Nzingo Gqabi 1928-1981, from The Presidency, [online] Available at http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/orders/042006/part3.pdf [Accessed on 6 August 2011]
• Rademeyer, J, (2004), Iraq Victim Was Top-Secret Apartheid Killer, from All Africa.com, 18 April, [online], Available at http://allafrica.com [Accessed 12 September 2011]