In a statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Mthembu’s shock passing. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss,” he said. “Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss.”
Last week, Mthembu announced on his personal Twitter account that, after experiencing abdominal pain, he sought medical attention at the Military hospital in Tshwane. There he tested positive for Covid-19.
He thanked South Africans for wishing him a speedy recovery. “As a people we must overcome Covid-19,” Mthembu tweeted.
Mthembu cut his political teeth in student politics in the 1970s and went to join the trade union movement as a senior shop steward at Highveld Steel Corporation. He was also a member of the eMalahleni Civic Association and led both the local branches of the National Education Crisis and the Detainees Parents’ Support Committee.
Since the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, Mthembu has served in several strategic roles in the party. He has been part of the ANC national executive committee since 2007.
He was the national spokesperson of the ANC under President Nelson Mandela between 1995 and 1997. Mthembu served as the chief whip of the ANC in parliament between 2016 and 2019.
After the 2019 national elections, Ramaphosa appointed Mthembu as his minister in the presidency.