Topsy Madaka

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Biographical information

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Topsy Madaka

Synopsis:

Founder member of Pebco, trade unionist and member of COSAS, one of the 'Cosas Two'

First name: 
Topsy
Last name: 
Madaka
Date of birth: 
1954
Location of birth: 
Port Elizabeth
Date of death: 
1982
Location of death: 
Cradock, Eastern Cape

Topsy Madaka was born in Gratten, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth in 1954. He was the son of Nontsikelelo and Mongameli Madaka who, both passed away in 1990. In 1969, his family relocated to KwaZakhele Township. He received his primary education at Phendla Primary School in Port Elizabeth. He furthered his studies at Emathafeni High School in Transkei. He also attended the Mount Frere School of Commerce. While attending there he had an accident that left him with a limp on his right leg.

Madaka emerged in politics during the Black Consciousness era when he participated in anti government student activities under the South African Student Movement (SASM). In 1978 his family became aware of his interest in politics through his role in  facilitating transport for people who wanted to cross the border to Lesotho. After SASM was banned, he became a member of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and assisted in planning and executing COSAS activities even though he was no longer a student.  COSAS made a special constitutional amendment that accorded him the status of an “Associate Member”. Madaka would often provide transport and financial help to the students. It was during this period that he became a close friend and comrade of Siphiwo Mthimkhulu.

He was a one of the founder members of Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organization (PEBCO). Madaka became one of the first shop stewards of the General Workers Union of South Africa (GWUSA).  As a shop steward he organized a boycott against Wilson Rowntree (a sweet company) that fired its employees. He used to go to Lesotho to the African National Congress (ANC) and bring instructions back to his comrades.

When his brother Mbuyiselo was banned, Madaka would act as a go between with people who wanted to meet with Mbuyiselo and would execute tasks (on behalf of Mbuyiselo) that he believed would compromise his brother.  He, with other leaders, such as, Lukes Mawawa Bongani, Ngcobo Nguna, Moki Cekisani and others initiated the formation of an organisation similar to the Committee of Ten of Soweto. They engaged other activists that included Billy Masetla which ultimately led to the launch of COSAS in Port Elizabeth. He assisted the parents committee for the suspension of the 1980 students’ boycotts.

Madaka and Mthimkhulu (known as the Cosas Two) played a leading role under difficult conditions in mobilizing the people of Port Elizabeth for various campaigns, the Tricameral Parliament, United Democratic Front (UDF) one million signature campaigns at Bloemendal, and Bus Boycotts.

The Eastern Cape Divisional Commissioner of the Security Police, Col. Gerrit Erasmus decided that Siphiwo (Mthimkhulu) must be stopped. Detention had not deterred him, and detaining a wheelchair-bound political activist might have had a bad propaganda effect. Consequently, he ordered his subordinates - Lt.-Col. Nicolas van Rensburg and Captain Hermanus du Plessis - to "eliminate" both Siphiwo and Topsy Madaka. This order was given verbally; his subordinates clearly understood it to mean that they should be killed and their bodies secretly disposed. Orders to the South African Police death squads to kill activists were always given verbally and in the form of euphemisms - such as "eliminate', and also (usually in Afrikaans, rather than English): "make a plan with", “take him out”, "get rid of”, and "solve the problem". They enlisted Gideon Nieuwoudt, a notorious member of the Port Elizabeth Security Branch to assist them in the abduction and killing. Despite frantic search efforts made by families to locate both Madaka and Mthimkhulu, they yielded not results.

After the fall of apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) investigated human rights violations under apartheid. At the Amnesty Committee hearings in September 1997, it  emerged that Nieuwoudt, with van Rensburg and du Plessis, abducted Siphiwo and Topsy Madaka on the evening of 14th April 1982.  They took them out of Port Elizabeth to the old Post Chalmers police station in the Cradock area, where, the following evening, Nieuwoudt fed Mthimkhulu and Madaka sleeping tablets in coffee. When they passed out, the police took the bodies outside; van Rensburg shot Mthimkhulu and Nieuwoudt shot Madaka. They doused the bodies with petrol, and burned them over an open fire for about six hours overnight; next morning, they threw what was left of the bodies into the Fish River.  They left Madaka's car at Tella Bridge, to create the impression that the two of them had fled into Lesotho.

In October 2009, a joint funeral and memorial service was held to honour the contribution made by  Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and Topsy Madaka in the struggle for liberation to overthrow apartheid. 


References:
• Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, (2009), Tribute to the PEBCO 3 and COSAS, [online] Available at www.nelsonmandelabay.gov.za [Accessed on 5 September 2011]
• Philips D. South Africa The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (part 3) from London Grip Politics and Society, [online] Available at www.londongrip.com [Accessed on 5 September 2011]
• Address by His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma at the reburial of the Blacks Civics Organisation (PEBCO) 3 and Congress of South African Students (COSAS) 2, Missionvale Campus Arena, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, from South African Government Information, 3 October 2009,  [online], Available at www.info.gov.za   [Accessed: 12 September 2011]  

Last updated : 09-Jul-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 13-Sep-2011