Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge, the eldest son of Johnson Pinti and Hannah Nowise Mxenge, was born in 1935. His parents were well-respected peasant farmers of Rayi, a small rural settlement located  five kilometres from King Williams Town, in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape). After Mxenge’s primary education at a local school, he obtained his secondary education at Forbes Grant Secondary School in Ginsburg, King Williams Town. In 1956, he matriculated from Newell High School also in Ginsburg. In 1959, he completed a BA degree at the University of Fort Hare majoring in Roman Dutch Law and English.

At Fort Hare Mxenge joined the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANCYL). After obtaining his BA degree, he registered for the LLB degree at the University of Natal.

His LLB studies were interrupted in 1965, when he was detained for 190 days and later convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act for his political activities in the ANC. He served a two-year imprisonment term on Robben Island.

After his release from Robben Island, in 1969, he was served with a two-year banning order, which was followed by intermittent detentions including 109 days in solitary confinement.

His banning orders were renewed in 1973 for another five years. In March 1976, he was detained under the Terrorism Act following the death in detention of Joseph Mdluli, who was both his friend and his client. In May 1978, while acting as instructing attorney for the defence of eighteen Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) members in Bethel, Mxenge received a letter threatening him with the same fate as Rick Turner.  Turner was centrally involved in the development of the trade union movement and had been involved in establishing the university-based Wages Commission in 1972. In addition, two attempts were made to sabotage his car. He was killed by an apartheid death squad in 1978 in Durban.

Nonetheless, he completed the LLB degree, served articles and met all requirements for admission as an attorney. That, however, was not enough to gain him admission because of his previous political conviction. After many representations in 1975, he was duly admitted to practice law. He set up a practice in Durban often defending many political activists of the time. Despite his well known African National Congress (ANC) roots his law practice served all activists alike.

On the night of 19 November 1981, Mxenge was assassinated and his body was severely mutilated in an act of barbaric brutality.  His murderers used three okapi knives, a hunting knife and a wheel spanner because they were ordered not to kill him with a gun. They inflicted 45 lacerations and stab wounds that pierced his body, lungs, liver and heart. They slit his throat and cut off his ears. They ripped open his stomach. The magistrate at the inquest into his death found that his death was caused by the act of some unknown person or persons.

His murderers, now known, are self confessed. They are Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofomela, Joe Mamasela, Brian Ngqulunga and David Tshikalanga. All were policemen and agents of the apartheid government‘s death squads. In 1996, 15 years later the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted them amnesty. The record of the hearing on the death of Griffiths Mxenge before the Amnesty Committee of the TRC contains the confessions of his murderers.

In 2006, Griffiths Mxenge was posthumously awarded the national order of the Order of Luthuli in Silver for his excellent contribution to the field of law and sacrifices made in the fight against apartheid oppression in South Africa. The citation aptly records that he paid the supreme price for defending the rights of the oppressed South Africans to exist in conditions of freedom, justice, peace and democracy.


Mona G.V. New Dictionary of South African Biography Mxenge, Griffiths Mlungisi, p 149.  pdf

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