Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi pays Tribute to unsung struggle veteran Deborah Matshoba

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09 Sep 2014

‘’It was with a deep sense of shock that we woke up to the devastating news of the passing on of Nikiwe Deborah “Debs” Matshoba yesterday. This was particularly shocking news to me because I had seen her just over a week before her passing and the fact that she phoned me on Saturday, 06 September 2014, saying that we should meet.

I had invited Debs to a dinner hosted by the Mail & Guardian, where we were honouring women who played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle. In my address at the dinner, which was held at the Constitution Hill, where Debs was incarcerated, I dedicated part of my speech paying tribute to her. I did so fully aware that, as we celebrate twenty years of freedom, Debs remained as one of the unsung heroes of our liberation struggle. In my address, I argued that the story of our struggle cannot be complete until the likes of Nikiwe Deborah Matshoba, who is here with us this evening, tell their stories,” said Mabudafhasi.

Sadly, Debs Matshoba ceased to breathe just over a week later. Debs Matshoba dedicated her life to the struggle of the people. As the first black radiographer in South Africa, she was witness to inhumane treatment unleashed by white radiographers against black patients. This was one of the factors that motivated Debs to play an active role in the liberation struggle. Under the mentorship of Ellen Kuzwayo, who was working for the ANC underground at the time, Debs was involved in youth development initiatives around the country.

As a student activist at the University of Zululand, Debs fought side-by-side with the likes of Steve Biko, and was one of the pioneers of the Black Consciousness Movement. She was the only woman undergoing literacy training alongside nine men, including Welile Nhlapo, Strini Moodley, Mosebudi Mangena, and other revolutionaries. After the arrest of all her comrades, she was left to continue with literacy training programmes in communities on her own. She became the National Literacy Director of SASO from 1974 until the organisation was banned in 1977.

She was arrested and tortured by the apartheid police at the notorious John Vorster Police Station after the student uprisings in June 1976. A series of arrests followed, and over the years she was incarcerated alongside the likes of Fatima Meer, Jeanny Noel, Sibongile Khubheka, Winnie Mandela, Lolo Taban, and others. She spent a total of 555 days in captivity between February 1977 and December 1978.

“On Friday 29 August 2014, I invited Debs to join me on the podium together with legendary artists Abigail Kubeka and Dorothy Masuka. Debs took to the podium and declared that her story was long and she wanted to tell it. Debs shared a moving story of how, during her incarceration at the Constitution Hill, she was interrogated, tortured, and humiliated but she was unflinching in her convictions. She stood firm and fought for the liberation of her people”, said Mabudafhasi.

The story of Deborah Matshoba remains inscribed in the contours of the liberation struggle. We shall never forget.  Hamba kahle, qhawe lamaqhawe!!!

For media enquiries: Peter Mbelengwa (Spokesperson for the Deputy Minister) 082 611 8197 /