Justice "Gizenga" Mpanza was born on 5 September 1937 at Groutville Mission Reserve. His father was one of Chief Luthuli's indunas (advisors). Mpanza went to school at Groutville, but was forced to leave after completing Standard 6 because he was ‘too old’. In 1954, he went to Durban looking for employment.
When he first arrived in Durban in 1954, he went to Lakhani House, where the trade union offices where situated. Here he met Stephen Dlamini who was holding discussions about the struggle for liberation. After finding work he attended evening classes on politics from Monday to Friday and mass meetings that were held at Beatrice Street. As a result, he joined the African National Congress (ANC).
Inspired by the Mpondoland Revolt, Mpanza and 13 thirteen others began by burning sugar cane whilst others went to burn forests at kwaNgubomnyama at Harding, Natal in a campaign that lasted between 1957 to 1959. The campaign was stopped by Walter Sisulu who argued that their actions would force the government to target the ANC and that people were not prepared for a protracted violent battle with the state. Mpanza was also part of the group that planned to attack the July Handicap, Durban’s popular horse racing event so as to precipitate an armed confrontation with the state. When rioting broke out in Durban in 1960, Mpanza’s involvement was suspected but he escaped arrest after the incident. That same year Mpanza married Regina Dludla in 1960.
Mpanza and his wife allowed their house to be used as place for keeping exploves wich were used by MK in the sabotage campaigns. His wife became a courier transporting explosives to her husband in, Durban. Mpanza was in the same MK unit as Ronnie Kasrils's, and together with Ronnie Kasrils’s wife Eleanor Kasrils, conducted acts of sabotage. They were together when they went to blow up a power pylon in Westville. The explosion threw the city of Durban into darkness – including KwaMashu Township.
When the threat of detention increased, Mpanza (nom de guerre Reuben Nhlabathi) skipped the country in 1963. He asked his wife to return to her mother. Regina went back to school and subsequently completed both her matric and teaching diploma. He left Durban with seven others for Johannesburg and then headed for Botswana. In Botswana, they met Joe Modise who took them to Kazangula. It was here that Mpanza and others such as Mark Shope crossed into Zambia before proceeding to Luthuli camp in Tanzania.
After spending sometime in Tanzania, Mpanza was sent for military training in Russia between August 1963 and December 1964. Together with his group, he was trained in intelligence and sabotage. When he returned to Zambia, he served as the Chief of Reconnaissance team in the Zambezi Valley. Mpanza took part in the Wankie Campaign, a joint military campaign of MK and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), an armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Mpanza fought alongside James April, Cletus Mzimela, Joseph Nduli, Chris Hani and Basil February amongst others.
Mpanza was captured and taken Botswana where he was identified despite supplying a false name, and then detained. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. They were released after the intervention of the President of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama and Kaunda. Consequently, Mpanza and his comrades served between 11 and 13 months, after which they released and returned to Zambia in 1968.
In 1972 Mpanza was arrested and held for 265 days in solitary confinement. He was charged with terrorism and sentenced to 15 years which he served on Robben Island. Mpanza was released in June 1988 and returned to carrying out activities for the ANC under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
After the collapse of apartheid in 1994, Mpanza continued to work for the ANC. He was elected as an ANC councillor in 1995 serving in the KwaDukuza Council. He was also re-elected in 2000 to serve in the iLembe District Council. Mpanza also served as a member Regional Executive Committee (REC) of the Greater KwaDukuza Region of the ANC.
Mpanza passed away in 30 July 2002; he is survived by his wife, two sons and five grandchildren.
Gregory H. (Editor), Justice "Gizenga" Mpanza from an interview conducted by Jabulani Sithole and Bernard Magubane, 12 October 2001, Durban, SADET Oral History Project. [online], Available at www.sadet.co.za. [Accessed on 16 August 2011] | Mail and Gurdian, (2002), Ex-Robben Islander Gizenga dies, from the Mail and Guardian, 1 January, online] Available at www.mg.co.za [Accessed 19 August 2011] | ANC stalwart passes away, from the African National Congress, 30 July, [online] Available at www.anc.org.za [Accessed 19 August 2011]