Matthews Meyiwa was born on 24 August 1924 in Georgedale, near Hammersdale in Natal (now KwaZulu Natal). He was born to George and Anne Meyiwa who were peasant farmers and was the last of eight children. Meyiwa attended Georgedale Primary School and Memorial Salvation School. He then attended Mpolweni Mission where he completed his secondary school education. Meyiwa progressed to Adams College to study for his junior certificate. It was here that he met Chief Albert Luthuli who was teaching at the college.
While studying at the college and interacting with people such as Luthuli, Meyiwa became involved in politics. He was unable to complete his junior certificate due to financial constraints. As a result Meyiwa left college and found work as a clerk at Alcan Aluminium in Pietermaritzburg. While at Alcan Aluminium Meyiwa became involved in the trade union movement, this led him to join the African National Congress (ANC) in 1949. That same year he married his wife Sylvia.
Meyiwa later joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) along with Moses Mabhida and Harry Gwala, and became active in the trade union and anti-apartheid movement during the 1950s. After the formation of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), he became an operative in its underground work. As a result, he was arrested for his involvement in MK activities in 1963 and sentenced to eight years, which he served on Robben Island. Meyiwa was released in 1972 and immediately resumed his political activities. He worked to reactivate the local underground structures of the ANC coordinating the recruitment of young men and women into MK, and ensuring their safe passage to exile.
Meyiwa also became involved in running social development projects in Mpumalanga Township and as a result was elected as president of the Mpumalanga Family and Child Welfare Society. He initiated a campaign against crime which proved so successful that the area crime was drastically reduced.
In 1975 Meyiwa alongside Gwala, John Nene, Alpheus Mdlalose and Anton Xaba, was arrested again for his political activities. After Harold Nxasana turned state witness and gave evidence they were all sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Meyiwa was released in 1991, along with many political activists, as part of the beginning of negotiations between the ANC and the National Party. On his release he resumed working for the ANC trying to get traditional leaders to join the progressive movement.
In 1996 Meyiwa was elected as the Deputy Mayor of the Outer West and the Mayor of the Outer West Local Council in 1999.
He died in 2002. He is survived by his wife Sylvia Meyiwa and seven children.
Sithole, J. and Ndlovu, S., 2006. “The Revival of the Labour Movement, 1970-1980” in South African Democracy Education Trust The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2: 1970-1980. Pretoria: Unisa Press