Vuyani Mabaxa grew up in Diepkloof, Johannesburg. His parents were members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).
In the 1980s, he was one of many young people, who contributed to the building of the youth movement in Diepkloof that at the time was affiliated to the United Democratic Front (UDF). He was a key activist in the Diepkloof Civic Association that was formed in the mid 1980s.
In 1982, Mabaxa became a member of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and was actively involved in its formation. The Diepkloof branch of Cosas was established around1982, five years after the launch of its national body. He, subsequently, was elected to its leadership core. The organisation catered for school going youth only.
Following the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1990, he played a pivotal role in building the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). Mabaxa was also a key member of the Executive of the ANCYL, Diepkloof Branch and was highly respected as a central figure in youth politics and as a young community leader. His political and community activism resulted in Mabaxa spending many periods of detention without trial.
He was also active in the Diepkloof branch of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Mabaxa strongly believed in a future society where exploitation and oppression would cease to be feature in the new democratic South Africa.
Shortly after the banning of Cosas, he left school and began working. He then became a member of National Education Health & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), ultimately becoming an organiser for this trade union.
In the 1980s Diepkloof was notorious for the high levels of violence, both criminal and political, that its residents had to endure. The violence was widespread and Diepkloof was labelled “Little Beirut”. There were constant threats of attacks on the community by Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters, mostly migrant workers, who lived in the men’s only hostels in the area.
In September 1984, the entire Diepkloof Cosas executive was detained. Following their release, the Cosas leadership undertook to train a second tier of leadership in the event of them being detained again. This second tier leadership came to be known as the ‘1985 Detachment’. Mabaxa was involved in this initiative and was a member of this unit.
Mabaxa also became involved in the Self Defence Units (SDUs) that were established in Diepkloof to counter the sinister violence of the “third force” that was wreaking havoc upon the community. The ‘third force’ was a part of the apartheid regimes attempt to destabilise the community.
On 13 October 1991, Mabaxa was on his way to a meeting, when he was killed in a hail of police gunfire. According to newspaper reports, the police claimed that Mabaxa was heavily armed and he shot at them first, they retaliated in self-defence and killed him. However, eyewitnesses disputed this. They claimed that the police chased him on foot whilst shooting at him. Mabaxa was unarmed and was attempting to flee the gunfire. Eventually he stopped and raised his hands to surrender police. Ignoring this police opened fire. One policeman allegedly shot him at close range after he had been fatally wounded.
Mabaxa’s killing was seen as part of the security forces’ attempts to ‘eliminate’ youth who occupied key leadership positions in Diepkloof. This spurred on the youth of Diepkloof to take action. The Star newspaper of 15 October 1991 reported that pupils at two local schools in Diepkloof, upon hearing of Mabaxa’s death, barricaded streets and set fire to a lorry after ransacking a house in the area.
Despite police security at his funeral, a message was read during the service that stated he was second in command of armed activities in Diepkloof and that it was the duty of his unit (the ‘1985 Detachment’) to avenge his death. Thereafter, his comrades fired off an AK 47 and a Scorpion weapon in honour of their fallen hero. The police searched all the people, individually, as they entered the cemetery, yet they were unable to detect the presence of these weapons.
In November 1992, a large tombstone was erected in Mabaxa’s memory, in an open space opposite the Bopa Senatla High School in Diepkloof.
Marks M. (2001). Young Warriors ”“ Youth politics, Identity and Violence in South Africa. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.