Mduduzi Richard Shabalala (Mdu) Shabalala was born in Lamontville, Durban, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal) on 24 July 1965. His father was a prominent civic rights leader in Lamontville Township. Shabalala completed his primary and secondary education in the township.
In 1982 Lamontville was one of first Black townships in Natal to protest against high rent and bus fare increases. Shabalala’s father was detained three times between 1983 and 1984. The hardship and police brutality endured by the residents during those years raised Shabalala’s political awareness.
As a young boy, Shabalala grew up listening to stories of his uncle, Joseph Masinga, who went into exile in 1963 to join Poqo, the PAC military wing. The Security Police would raid his home in the early hours of the morning interrogating his mother about the whereabouts of her younger brother, Joseph. During one of the Security Police raids, in retaliation, Shabalala and his cousin Nhlanhla set their family dogs on the White officers – an incident that cost the family greatly, for they had to produce proof that the dogs were free of rabies.
He became increasingly politically aware and at the age of sixteen, while at AJ Mwelase Secondary School, Lamontville, he participated in the schools’ boycott in 1982. A year later he joined the newly formed Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
While active in student politics, Shabalala came into contact with African National Congress (ANC) literature and was recruited into uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) underground activities in 1983. As police brutality intensified in the township, Shabalala and his friends left South Africa in March 1984 via Lesotho to join the ANC in exile. They were refused political asylum by the authorities, unknown to them at the time that Lesotho was in on good footing with Apartheid South Africa. They were abducted by the Lesotho security police in the dark hours of the morning of 8 March 1984, deported to South Africa and handed to the Transkei security police. They objected to being detained in the Transkei arguing that they were South African citizens. The Transkei authorities relented and handed them over to South African Security Police to stand trial for leaving the country illegally, and furthering the aims and objectives of a banned organisation.
Shabalala and his friends were detained under section 29 of the Terrorism Act and kept in solitary confinement for a period of six months without visits from their families and lawyers before being charged and appearing in court. He was found guilty on 9 September 1984 and sentenced to three years imprisonment on Robben Island.
On Robben Island, he met a number of prominent ANC members who later occupied senior positions in the new democratic government. Upon his release from Robben Island, he continued with his political activities in the township. He was elected Treasurer of Lamontville Youth Congress (LAYCO), a United Democratic Front (UDF) affiliate. Despite his political activities which included hiding from the Security Police during the state of emergency in the 1980s, he completed his Matriculation in 1989. He obtained his first degree from the University of Zululand in 1993 and went on to obtain an Honours degree from Natal University (now University of kwaZulu-Natal) in 1994. He also obtained a SMDP certificate from Stellenbosch Business School in 2007.
Mduduzi Richard Shabalala serves as a Trustee of the kwaZulu-Natal Ex-Political Prisoners Committee, a non-profit organisation caring for the welfare of former political prisoners and their dependents by providing health care, education and housing.
• Contribution by Mduduzi Richard Shabalala to SAHO on Friday 4 October 2013