As the world celebrates February, the ‘month of love’, it’s worth remembering a heroic couple who spent their lives fighting against the injustice of the apartheid state and paid the ultimate sacrifice for doing so. Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge and Mlungisi Griffiths Mxenge were a formidable duo who spent their lives campaigning for justice and freedom. However, this bravery would ultimately cost them their lives. On the 1st of August 1985, Victoria Mxenge was gunned down outside her home by men believed to be a part of an apartheid death squad. This happened less than four years after her husband, Griffiths Mxenge’s brutal assassination at their hands. Born in King William’s Town, the pair moved to Durban in 1962 after getting married. Griffiths started his law degree and Victoria worked in Umlazi as a community nurse. She later went on to obtain a law degree through UNISA and worked alongside her husband to defend those who were unjustly targeted by the state.
The ultimate sacrifice
The pair spent their lives fighting against oppression and paid the ultimate price with their lives. Like many liberation heroes, they sacrificed a great deal in order to fight for freedom. In 1965, Griffiths was detained for 190 days under the Suppression of Communism Act for his involvement in the ANC. He was later sentenced to two years on Robben Island, and the couple’s first son was born while he was in detention. Following his release, he was subjected to a two-year banning order. These orders prevented individuals from attending meetings or gatherings and thus sought to isolate them from their communities and any political work. Banned persons were also prohibited from public speaking or distributing written work. During this period he also faced sporadic stints in detention and solitary confinement.
Throughout his life, he continued to face various banning orders and detentions. However, these did not prevent him from opening his own law practice and defending those victimised by the state, including eighteen members of the Pan African Congress in 1978. During this time he received death threats saying that he would experience the same odious fate as Rick Turner who was killed by security forces. Nonetheless, he continued to practice law and defend those in need until his senseless killing on November 19th, 1981. His murder was exceptionally brutal and an initial inquest found no persons responsible. In 1996, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his four killers, all former policemen, gained amnesty for the crime.
Much like her husband, Victoria worked tirelessly to support the community and after his brutal killing, she continued to run the law practice. She campaigned against the terrible treatment received by youth while they were in detention and was on a team defending members of the United Democratic Front (UDF) against treason charges. She also set up a bursary fund to commemorate her husband and actively campaigned to get Mandela released.
On the 20th of July 1985, Victoria spoke at the memorial of The Cradock Four – four activists who were abducted and murdered by the state. She lamented that this was a “dastardly act of cowardice” on the state’s part. However, just eleven days later she was subjected to a similar, cruel fate. Victoria was gunned down outside her home in front of her two children after returning from a political meeting. Much like the inquest into Griffiths’s murder, no one was convicted at the time and it was only during the TRC that her killer, Marvin Safeko, confessed to the politically motivated murder.
Honouring this heroic pair
Like many struggle heroes, Victoria and Griffiths sacrificed their family life and safety in order to fight for the greater good. In doing so, they paid the ultimate price and lost their lives, leaving behind two sons and grieving families and friends. However, their deaths were certainly not in vain and their courage ignited great protests and further urgency to end apartheid. Over 10 000 mourners attended Victoria’s funeral and it was clear that change was on the horizon as protests continued in the aftermath of her death.
In 2006, both Griffiths and Victoria received a posthumous award Order of Luthuli award for “excellent contributions to the field of law and sacrifices made in the fight against apartheid in South Africa” and the eThekwini Municipality unveiled statues in Durban South in their honour in 2017.
Ultimately, we must remember their heroism :
Victoria Nonyamezelo and Mlungisi Griffiths Mxenge paid the supreme price for defending the rights of oppressed South Africans to live in conditions of freedom, justice, peace and democracy. As husband and wife, they forfeited family life in pursuit of a non-racial, non-sexist, free and fair South Africa for all. Their brutal killings at the hands of state assassins galvanised oppressed South Africans into vigorous action to bring about liberation in South Africa.