David Anton Ndoda ‘Mfenendala’ Xaba was born in Sobantu Village in Pietermaritzburg. He left school in the late 1940s and went to work in Durban. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1953 at Emsizini in Durban at a meeting that was addressed by the then ANC President, Chief Albert John Luthuli.
He played a prominent role in the formation of the Sobantu branch of the ANC. Xaba was subsequently arrested and charged with arson after all the township schools were set on fire during the 1959 uprisings. He was later acquitted.
During the March 1960 state of emergency, he was among many ANC, National Indian Congress (NIC) and Liberal Party activists and leaders who were detained in the nationwide swoops, which preceded the banning of the ANC in April 1960.
Xaba was amongst the first recruits of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) that were sent outside the country to undergo military training. The late Themba Harry Gwala recruited him and four others from the Pietermaritzburg area. However, the journey to Tanzania went awry and all the recruits were arrested by the British Colonial Police in Northern Rhodesia.
They were then sent back to South Africa through Southern Rhodesia to stand trial for leaving the country illegally and for membership of a banned organisation. They went on trial at the Supreme Court in College Road, Pietermaritzburg in 1963. Anton Xaba was sentenced to ten years on Robben Island, while the other four were sentenced to nine years each. He was released from prison in 1973.
Upon his release he participated actively in the revival of the ANC/MK underground in the Natal Midlands area. Following the workers' Stay-At-Homes in August-September 1976 the regime banned 24 trade unionists active in organizing African workers.
Nine working class leaders were tried under the Terrorism Act for reviving South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in Natal, and they were subjected to torture and electric shocks and humiliated by the Security Police. Five of these persons - Gwala, Xaba, John Nene, Mathews Meyiwa and Zakhele Mdlalose - were imprisoned for life.
In a document forwarded by Nelson Mandela to F.W. De Klerk on 12 December 1989, in the guidelines formulated by the ANC for a negotiated end to apartheid. Mandela requested de Klerk to give his urgent attention to the release of four fellow-prisoners who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Natal court in 1978, and who were held in Robben Island, which included Matthew Meyiwa (66 years), Elphas Mdlalose (66 years), Anthony Xaba, (56 years) and John Nene (approx. 56 years).
Xaba was released in 1990 after spending almost 26 years on Robben Island. In July 1996, in Pietermaritzburg, Xaba, then a 63-year-old man testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) at its first sitting in Pietermaritzburg.
He told the Commission that he was among the first group of cadres to leave the country for military training in Tanzania in 1962. He was however arrested and brought back to Pretoria, where he was tortured during interrogation before serving a 10-year jail sentence.
After his release in 1975, his family was woken one morning at 2am by police. They searched the house and took Xaba to the Loop Street police station, the headquarters of the security branch.
Xaba was reportedly assaulted, beaten and interrogated while in police custody, events which were contested by the presiding judge in his court trial, Mr. Justice Alan Howard. An arm injury he sustained in customer allegedly led to paralysis and a subsequent early retirement.
Xaba was also the treasurer of the MK Veterans Association in KwaZulu-Natal.
Anton Xaba passed away in July 2009 after a long illness.
His memorial service was attended by current president Jacob Zuma at the Sobantu Sports Ground in Pietermaritzburg.