Amos Mbedzi: the South African hero who fought a Swazi war suffers stroke and is now on diapers

Amos Mbedzi, the South African former member of Umkhonto weSizwe convicted to 85 years in prison, is now wheelchair bound after suffering a stroke.

Information sourced from within the Matsapha Maximum prison is that Mbedzi suffered a stroke a few months back after hearing news that his mother, Muofhe Mbedzi, was dead.

Mbedzi is from Makonde village outside Thohoyandou in South Africa.

Mbedzi’s condition has been described as ‘deteriorating’ and ‘depressing’ for those who have served time with him at Matsapha Maximum prison. Added to his woes is the fact that he is treated as a security risk with limited privileges and restrictions on visitors.

What hurts Mbedzi more, The Bridge now understands, is that his name has disappeared from the public discourse as most people campaign for the release of the two arrested Members of Parliament Mthandeni Dube and Bacede Mabuza.

“Imagine what it does to Mbedzi inside prison that no one now talks about him. All your campaign for the release of political prisoners is about the two MP’s not him. You people need to see the man to appreciate his condition. He is on diapers and relies on other inmates to take care of him. It’s painful to see my sister. I am not even a progressive but just seeing him in this state hurts my sister and you people have forgotten him,” said a correctional services officer who works at Matsapha prison.

The officer asked this publication to write about Mbedzi just so people can know about him and do something to at least release him to South Africa.

Mbedzi’s family is concerned about his deteriorating health and is now trying to garner support for him to be transferred to South African prisons so he can be closer to home especially now that he needs support.

Mbedzi's niece sent a distressed call to his comrades within the alliance asking for assistance that would see him transferred to South Africa to finish his sentence there.

As children we are very worried about his deteriorating health and pleading with the organisation to intervene and not wait to give him a dignified send off. Amos is sick. He suffered from stroke on receiving news of his mother's passing. He is wheelchair bound,” pleaded his niece Mboneni Nevhutalo to members of the ANC.

During Jacob Zuma’s Presidency, there was talk of high-level discussions that Mbedzi could be released to finish his prison sentence in South Africa. This faded as Zuma grew politically closer to the Swazi monarchy and did not take seriously the campaign to release Mbedzi. 

Yes he told me that he had hopes on Jacob Zuma and that something was either being cooked or had been cooked. I do not know who Mbedzi was talking to but he had high hopes about Jacob Zuma. He always told me he thinks that he will be out. I never got to know where this hope came from but I assumed he had spoken to people on the know,” Mphilo Nkambule, his attorney, said.

Nkambule was an attorney at the late lawyer Leo Gama’s office and used to visit Mbedzi regularly. He recalled the many times he went to visit him to bring him toiletries, money and other essentials needed in prison.

Mbedzi’s health condition was confirmed by the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO)’s spokesperson Sibusiso Siyaya who indicated that indeed the man had had a number of medical complications aggravating his health.

PUDEMO Social Welfare Commission and the family have secured him an attorney after the passing of his previous lawyer Leo Gama. We still need to mobilize resources for his monthly upkeep especially providing him with toiletries, food supplements and other essentials,” Siyaya said.

Mbedzi has already spent 13 of his initial 85 years sentence. Before his arrest in the country, Mbedzi was an employee of the then Limpopo Department of Local Government (now called Coghsta) and a member of SACP. He underwent military training as a member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing. 

Mbedzi's younger brother, Rudzani Mbedzi, was recently quoted saying the current turn of events in eSwatini was their last hope to be reunited with their family member. He said the family sympathised with the Swazis who had lost their lives and those who had been injured or imprisoned during the demonstrations.

We heard that the situation is very bad there, but we believe that, at the end of the day, the will of the people will prevail. The struggle for liberation comes with many casualties, but we pray that the Swazi people should gain their victory as fast as possible. We are confident that they will win because history teaches us that a united voice is the only weapon that can liberate the oppressed,” Rudzani was quoted saying.

Activist Bongani Masuku paid tribute to Mbedzi and his support for the Swazi struggle, tracing it back to the time when he was still President of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO).

"SWAYOCO held a historic National Policy Conference at a Place called Tonga (past Nelspruit) in SA in 2001 where we adopted the famous Tonga Declaration. Myself and Amos left Johannesburg Park station by train at 2 pm for Mpumalanga. This was to be an 18-hour journey. The experience inside was a marvel itself. The train has mostly migrant workers from Mozambique and Nkomazi area in SA. Even traditional brew was found, chickens and interesting people.

A long, winding but eventful journey it was. We laughed, joked and talked as much. Finally, we arrived, tired but in high spirits. Most comrades from Swaziland, Mpumalanga and Durban had already arrived. We went to the Conference venue jet-legged as we were. During the course of the Conference, the National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) Chaired by then Deputy President, Penuel Malinga had to sit.

This committee issued final verdicts on certain incidences and the discomforts arising from that required stricter measures and Cde Mbedzi stepped in as requested by the NEC. Things got under control and Conference proceeded smoothly. This Conference discussed the contentious issue of the monarchy and what it means for a new and democratic as well as other Strategic Perspectives on Negotiations/transition. Mbedzi was with us not just engaging but listening very carefully to how the revolutionary youth of Swaziland was feeling about their country. As we went back, he was satisfied the future of Swaziland was in safe hands with this robust, disciplined, committed and focussed youth movement," Masuku said during an interview.

Masuku said the people of Swaziland must never forget the contribution of people like Mbedzi to the struggle and the many South Africans who have taken the Swazi struggle as their own.

One of Amos's two children, Doctor Mbedzi (18), says he misses the kindness and love of his father. "My father was everything to me. Now I just rely on memories we had when he was still here.”

Mbedzi's release campaign has been supported by Swaziland Solidarity Network, the Communist League of Zimbabwe, Traditional Healers Association, churches, Mudzi Wa Vhurereli Ha Vhavenda, Umkhoto weSizwe Military Veterans Association, Congress of South African Trade Union, ANC and its affiliates, the Thulamela Municipality, traditional leaders, students, unions and civic society from Swaziland, People's United Democratic Movement, Trade Union Congress of Swaziland, Communist Party of Swaziland and several other local leaders.

His current lawyer Thulani Maseko did not respond to enquiries from this publication on his request to serve his remaining prison time in South Africa.