Victoria Mxenge (em-KEN-gay), a South African nurse, midwife, lawyer and political figure, was murdered in 1985 after her work against apartheid. She is one of three fallen honored in Johnny Clegg's song Asimbonanga.

Life of Victoria Mxenge

Victoria Mxenge was born in 1942 in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape. Her parents, Wilmot Gosa and Dorothy Nobatu Ntebe, were both teachers; Victoria was the second of their four children. She received her nursing diploma at Lovedale Hospital in Alice in 1964. On November 23, 1964 she married Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge, then a law student at Natal University, and moved to Durban, where she completed midwifery training at King Edward VII Hospital, subsequently working at the Umlazi clinic. In 1974 Victoria Mxenge registered for a B. Proc. Degree with the University of South Africa (UNISA), which degree she completed in 1981. She was admitted to the bar in 1981 and began working with her husband's legal firm.

Victoria maintained a supportive role for her husband, who was politically active and often banned, detained or imprisoned. The couple's first child was born while Griffiths was being detained. Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge had two sons, Mbasa and Viwe, and a daughter, Namhla.

One night in November 1981, the Mxenges woke in the middle of the night to find that their guard dogs had been fed chunks of meat laced with strychnine. The next day, November 19, 1981, as Griffiths returned home from the law firm, he found a group of men surrounding a stalled car on the road below his house. They were askaris, a hit squad sent to remove Griffiths Mxenge. They attacked Griffiths with three okapi knives, a hunting knife and a wheel-spanner. When Victoria idenitfied his body in the mortuary, his throat had been cut, his belly slashed, and his ears practically cut off. In all Griffiths received forty-five stab wounds, in his body, lungs, liver and heart.

Dirk Coetzee recalled the incident for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997:

…The decision was made by Brigadier [Jan] Van der Hoven from Port Natal Security Police and he told me that … uh … he was a thorn in the flesh [of the apartheid government] because he acted as instructing lawyer for all ANC cadres and … uh … he stuck by the law. So they couldn't get to him. I never heard of the name before until that day when I was instructed to "make a plan" with Griffiths Mxenge. It means one thing only: Get rid of the guy, kill him. Nothing else, but murder him, kill him…

After her husband's death, Victoria founded the Griffiths Mxenge Education Memorial Trust, a scholarship fund for students. She remained a member of many anti-Apartheid organizations, such as the Release Mandela Committee, the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW) and the United Democratic Front, and also continued her own legal work. The Mxenge practice was involved in the majority of political cases in Natal, as well as many other South African cases. Victoria Mxenge represented young students and activists who were often detained and tortured by the security police.

Death of Victoria Mxenge

In December 1985, while preparing to defend the United Democratic Front and the Natal Indian Congress in a treason trial at the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court, Victoria, too, was brutally murdered in her home in Umlazi. No one was arrested in connection with her death, although in May of 1997, the ANC named Marvin Sefako, also known as Bongani Raymond Malinga, as her killer. Sefako, who admitted to upwards of twenty murders carried out by order of the Durban branch of the security police, said in his confession "...(deleted) shot her five times on the chest but she never fell, where I followed her with an axe and chopped her next to her dining room door." For Victoria Mxenge's murder, Sefako said he had been paid R5000.

Ten thousand mourners attended her funeral and condolences were expressed by many prominent figures, including the imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela and exiled ANC president Oliver Tambo. Her murder was condemned by the international community, including the Reagan administration.

After the death of Victoria Mxenge

After Victoria Mxenge's death violence spread throughout the Umlazi area and was pinpointed as a turning point in the anti-Apartheid struggle by a State Security Council document compiled in March 1989:

"The murder of Victoria Mxenge, a radical lawyer from Umlazi, on 1 August 1985 – for which the UDF blamed Inkatha and the SAP – was the biggest contributory factor to the [subsequent] violent conflict between the UDF and Inkatha, especially in the Durban area.
Large-scale unrest continued until March 1986 and even the state of emergency (June 1986) could not inhibit the sporadic violent incidents. From January 1987 the situation systematically deteriorated and the focal point of the unrest (especially since September 1987) moved to the Pietermaritzburg area."

Victoria Mxenge's killer, Marvin Sefako, was imprisoned briefly, but released in 1991. Of the men who killed Griffiths Mxenge, three appeared before the Amnesty Committe of the TRC in October 1996. Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofemela and David Tshikalanga confessed to their involvement in the apartheid government's death squad, but despite being found guilty of Griffiths Mexenge's murder, all three were granted amnesty on August 4, 1997, three days before they were scheduled to be sentenced.

In Memory of Victoria Mxenge

Since her death Victoria Mxenge's memory has lived on, and her name has leant itself to many things, including the Victoria Mxenge, a protection vessel in the South African fleet responsible for patrolling South African waters and enforcing environmental regulations and responsible harvest of marine resources.

Most notable is the Victoria Mxenge Housing Savings Scheme, started in 1992 by a group of 30 women who lived in squatter shacks in Khayelitsha ("New Home"), a large township of shacks and slums located on a flood plain outside Cape Town. The first house was built by the project in 1996; by 1998, when President Clinton visited the area, the Victoria Mxenge Housing Savings Scheme had 280 members, and 104 building providing homes for 400 people. Over 70,000 very poor women belong to the Homeless People's Federation, which works with the Victoria Mxenge, and a number of other projects started since the early 1990s. Currently led by Patricia Matolengwe of the National Federation of Homeless Women, the project is subject of a 27 minute film, entitled My Mother Built This House, produced by Bullfrog Films.

Nelson Mandela Hall - Victoria Mxenge Biography -
SA History - Victoria Mxenge -
TRC Hearing on the death of Griffith Mxenge -
Famous Durbanites: Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge -
Vlakplaas and the murder of Griffiths Mxenge, Dirk Coetzee -
Victoria Mxenge's Funeral (postcard) -
Victoria Mxenge Protection Vessel Delivered -
My Mother Built This House -
Bullfrog Films -
Visit to Victoria Mxenge Housing Savings Scheme -
Women's Leadership Board, International Study Trip -

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