Victoria Mxenge and the 'act of cowardice'

Three weeks ago, Victoria Mxenge commented on the murders of four Cradock leaders at their funeral. “A dastardly act of cowardices” she said.

Two weeks later she became the next victim in a series of mysterious killings of outspoken opponents of apartheid.
This Durban civil rights lawyer will be buried in King William’s Town on Sunday next to her husband Griffiths Mxenge. He was found butchered with 45 stab wounds and his throat slit in the Umlazi cycle stadium on November 19, 1981. His murderers have never been found.

Victoria vowed to bring his killers to justice. But last Thursday night her mission was thwarted when four attackers gunned her down and bludgeoned her to death outside her Umlazi home. While her death makes her a martyr of her political struggle, during her life she was looked up to as a formidable example of courage and energy.

A nurse by profession, she later studied law and joined her husband’s practice as an attorney in 1981. After his murder, she took over the reigns and became one of the most popular civil right lawyers in Natal. She plunged into the fight against injustice and apartheid in the courts, instructing some of the country’s top advocates in treason trials.

Mxenge represented families of victims of the Matolo raid and Lesotho raid—cases from which most attorneys would have shied away. She was elevated from political obscurity to the forefront in Natal when she became the widow of Griffiths Mxenge. From being virtually unknown in political organisations, she sat on the executive of the Natal Organisation of Women, the United Democratic Front and the Release Mandela Committee after her husband was killed.

However, her real influence was among the youth who loved her as their adopted mother. Two years ago, she successfully defended students against the confiscation of their results by the Department of Education. Her death was felt so strongly by the students that the day after her death they took to the streets in their thousands in protest.

They also immediately called for a week—long boycott of classes in mourning. They expressed the fear of UDF leaders that a sinister campaign of assassinations that had claimed the lives of political activists in the Eastern Cape was now spreading to Natal.

A UDF spokesman speculated that the recent explosion at the home of Amichand Rajbansi, Cabinet Minister and leader of the National People’s Party, was not intended to harm him, but was a tactic to justify “revenge attacks”. “Some people have looked closely at the whole event and believe some device used was of such a nature that it could not harm Rajbansi seriously,” he said.

The motive could be similar to attacks in the Eastern Cape where assaults on pro-government targets were followed by retributive attacks on opposition activists. Police still have not come up with any leads on Victoria Mxenge’s murder.

The Port Natal divisional commissioner has been assigned to the case—in contrast to her husband’s murder where numerous allegations were made during the inquest about inadequacies in the police investigation.

Another unusual response came from Natal’s Judge President, Mr Justice Milne, who opened the UDF treason trial this week by deploring Mxenge’s killing. She was killed four days before she was due to appear on behalf of the treason trialists in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court.

“It grieves me to have to record that one of the most recent of the tragic ‘and deplorable acts of violence that are afflicting this country is Mrs Mxenge’s death,” Justice Milne said.

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