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Celebrating The Life Of The Late Dr Zola Skewyiya

Celebrating the life of the late Dr Zola Skweyiya: A man of quality, a man of the people

“If ever there was a stalwart, it was Zola Skweyiya. Like Oliver Tambo, Dr Skweyiya was a natural democrat. He hated apartheid with a passion and truly believed in the Freedom Charter declarations that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” 

Those were the words of former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs, as read by Dullah Omar Institute director Jaap de Visser, at the memorial service held for the anti-apartheid activist Zola Skweyiya on Thursday 19 April 2018. Sweyiya passed away after a long illness on 11 April.

“He was hard working with a strong independence. He never sought the limelight for himself. He was stern at times, but he was also a person of great generosity and a sharp sense of humour.” 

Sachs and Skweyiya were long-time friends, and also former colleagues at the Institute,  When the late Advocate Dullah Omar opened a Centre that aimed to change the law from an instrument of oppression to one serving the community, the Institute’s first staff members included legendary luminaries such as Bulelani Ngcuka, Dr Zola Skweyiya, and Brigitte Mabandla. Working closely together with Albie Sachs and Prof Kader Asmal they participated in the constitutional negotiations towards the new South Africa. 

“And in this dynamic process, Zola stood tall,” the DOI’s Professor Nico Steytler, another colleague, said. “He had to steer the ship. And he did it in his own way. Quiet by nature, he had to steer a vociferous Kader Asmal, an eloquent Albie Sachs, to the real politic of negotiations. When he spoke, all listened, because he had an inherent authority; because when he spoke it was thoughtful, visionary, yet practical.”

The memorial was attended by former ministers Brigitte Mabandla and Pallo Jordan and Western Cape High Court judges Taswell Papier, Vincent Saldanha and Mushtak Parker, alongside former head of the HSRC Olive Shisana and senior university academics. 

After the first democratic elections in 1994, Dr Skweyiya and other colleagues – including former UWC Rector Jakes Gerwel – were offered government positions. Dr Skweyiya was named Minister of Public Services and Administration. His last Cabinet position was Minister of Social Development.

A Man Of Quality, A Man Of The People

Pallo Jordan’s impromptu speech reflected on his many years of friendship with Skweyiya, drawing laughter from the audience when he reminded them of the former minister’s “sharp tongue” and sense of humour. 

“He was a soldier in the race until the very end,” Jordan said. “His passing was a great loss to me personally - and a great loss to our country and the movement.”   

UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack, said UWC is truly honoured to have had a link with a man like Zola Skweyiya.

“We are honouring Zola Skweyiya and paying respect to his life,” she noted. “The most enduring descriptions described him as the gentle giant and soft spoken - and yet his strong dedication and loyalty to the anti-Apartheid cause and the ANC is clear, from a young age to the day he passed away.”

Brigitte Mabandla reminisced about the work she did with Skweyiya and others when they worked on the details of the Constitution, and thanked UWC for allowing them the space to have workshops and debates in the ‘90s. 

She also reminded the audience of the time she saw Skweyiya in tears when he spoke about the forced removals in the Western Cape of African people.

“Zola's legacy, in my view, is that of unqualified service to the people of South Africa - and we have all said so,” she noted. “He was a humble and sensitive person who cared for the people.”

Zola Skweyiya will be laid to rest on Saturday 21 April 2018.