Dr Skweyiya was born in Simon’s Town but completed his school education at the famous Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape. He studied at the University of Fort Hare where he became politicised. He was among the first to serve in the armed struggle as a member of the Luthuli Detachment of Umkhonto weSizwe.
After returning to South Africa from political exile in 1990 he joined Advocate Dullah Omar at the UWC Faculty of Law’s newly established Community Law Centre (now renamed the Dullah Omar Institute). Along with other ANC colleagues such as Professor Kader Asmal, Judge Albie Sachs, Bulelani Ngcuka and later minister Brigitte Mabandla, they made a considerable contribution to law policy research and advocacy and the country’s founding democratic constitution.
Each would go on to serve the national government and make a valued contribution. Speaking at an event at UWC in 1996, former president Nelson Mandela said, “The quality contribution this university has made to our country can be seen merely by observing the presence of so many former staff members and students in public life.”
After the first democratic elections in 1994, Dr Skweyiya was named Minister of Public Services and Administration and faced the onerous task of transforming South Africa’s civil service.
In 1999, Dr Skweyiya was appointed Minister of Social Development, a post he held for 10 years. He was instrumental in reshaping the post-apartheid social welfare net and alleviating poverty. As part of his lasting legacy, he championed the establishment of the child welfare grant that has brought economic relief to thousands of poor mothers.
Once described by Judge Sachs as “a natural democrat”, it says much about the character of Dr Skweyiya that he not only was one of a group of ANC stalwarts that pressed former president Jacob Zuma to step down, but when prevented from entering Luthuli House to speak to the leadership, his dignified but telling response was, “Here I am but I don’t know where the ANC is”.