Malcomess Johnson Mgabela Kondoti was born in 1924 in the Kwalera district of the Eastern Cape. Very soon after he was born, his father moved to East London to look for work, and the family moved to Tsolo Location on the East Bank in East London.

Kondoti left school at the age of 12 in 1936. However, as he was too young to get a job, he became involved in the local politics of the Location. He was taken under the wing of a man named Mjo who involved him in political discussions taking place in the community. Very soon after, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) but did not become heavily involved in politics until later. By 1944, Kondoti was working at the harbour in East London and had to carry a pass.

For Kondoti the turning point, in terms of his political involvement, came in 1947 when he was humiliated by a White policeman while trying to see King George.

The whole situation here in East London and in the country is wrong. Everything is wrong because of the minority government. This is why the policeman treated me like this. I was involved in politics from that day until today. And it was a full-scale involvement. (Kondoti in Coetzee, Gilfillan and Hulec, 2004: 52)

Kondoti participated in the ANC’s annual conference in Bloemfontein in 1949 when Dr J.S. Moroka was elected president. He also was involved in the march against a two-shilling fee, which the mayor of East London proposed to charge non-Europeans who stayed over in the town. Due to the mass demonstration that was organised, the two-shilling fee was never levied. In 1951, Kondoti was part of the organising team for the Defiance Campaign in East London. He led the third division to go out without their passes, and along with 368 people from his division, Kondoti was arrested and spent a month in prison.

On 9 November 1952, as part of the ANC Youth League, Kondoti organised a meeting at Bantu Square to inform the local community that the government had banned public meetings. However, before the meeting could commence the police arrived and gave the gathering five minutes to disperse. When the crowd refused to disperse, the police opened fire and started beating people. In retaliation, a local Roman Catholic Church was burnt and a nun, Sister Aidan, was killed by locals.

As a Volunteer-in-Chief for the ANC, a position Kondoti held for 10 years, he was responsible for organising cells and instructing volunteers. After the volunteers were released from prison, Kondoti would pass on orders from the ANC. Meetings were held based on the Mandela Plan – visiting people from house to house, informing them on what the ANC was doing and giving them instructions.

When Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed in 1961, Kondoti became a Commander in the Border Region. He was responsible for recruiting people from his area and from the Transkei, sending them to Johannesburg for military training. He was also in charge of organising all acts of sabotage in the area from Grahamstown to Transkei and Queenstown. Kondoti received his orders from Vuyisele Mini. As a result of his activities, Kondoti was regularly arrested by the Security Police. However, he was never charged and frequently released after three or four days.

By February 1963, Kondoti was working as Mini’s lieutenant and they were travelling all over the Cape, checking up on all MK’s activities. On 31 July 1963, Kondoti was arrested by the Security Police. He was held in detention for 11 months before his trial began. Kondoti was charged along with Steve Tshwete, Douglas Sparks, Shadrack Mdwaba and Washington Bongco, with 16 different counts of sabotage, furthering the aims of a banned organisation and organising illegal meetings, among others. The group was defended by Louis Mtshizana. The trial was first held in Queenstown, but on 7 March 1965 Kondoti and his co-accused were moved to Grahamstown. While being transported to Grahamstown the police vehicle overturned. Kondoti sustained a broken chest and ribs and spent a week in Settlers Hospital.

On 23 March 1964, judgement was passed and Judge Cloete sentenced Kondoti :

On count one I give you five years; count two – five years; count three- five years; on the main count for sabotage I give you eighteen years. A total of thirty-three years altogether, but running concurrently. You will stay in jail for eighteen years, because you are not supposed to be with the people. Your ideas, your influence, your words are very bad. And I myself, will look at you and pose a question. But before you answer that question you will smile. You are a dangerous person. You can thank God, because you should in fact be hanged. (Kondoti in Coetzee et al, 2004: 59)

His fellow co-accused were given similar sentences, aside from Bongco, who was sentenced to be hanged.

On 6 April 1964, Kondoti , shackled to Galelekile Sitho and travelling with Tshwete, was transported to Cape Town to be taken to Robben Island where they would serve their sentence. In 1973, after nine years on Robben Island, Kondoti began working in the Island hospital. At first, he was responsible for handing out powered milk to the prisoners who had high blood pressure. In October 1973, Kondoti was approached by a warder named Fourie who wanted to be circumcised – Kondoti had been an Ingcibi (traditional surgeon). Around April or May 1974 Kondoti began circumcising prisoners in secret. During his stay on Robben Island he circumcised 361 men. However, in the early 1980s, after circumcising a diabetic Swazi man who starting bleeding and had to be taken to the mainland, Kondoti was ordered to stop his circumcision operations.

Kondoti was released from Robben Island on 22 March 1982. He returned to East London and remained there working underground for the ANC until December 1985. He was then sent out of the country to Lesotho, Zambia and Hungary, where he was due to receive medical treatment. On his return from Hungry he again stayed in Zambia and then was sent to Angola for further military training. He was eventually sent back to Zambia and South Africa. 

At the ANC’s first conference in South Africa since its banning, held on the 14-16 December 1990, ANC Deputy-President Nelson Mandela recognised Kondoti's work in the struggle, mentioning him during a speech he delivered.

Kondoti died in 1999 at the age of 75.


Coetzee, J.K., Gilfillan, L. and Hulec, O. 2004. “Johnson Malcomess Mgabela: The Strategist” in Fallen Walls: Prisoners of Conscience in South Africa and Czechoslovakia. Cape Town: Robben Island Museum. 

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