A woman who was “no ordinary politician” and paved the way for other women in that sphere is how the late Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi is being hailed, following her death after a seven-year illness.
KaMagwaza Msibi, who was the founding president of the National Freedom Party (NFP), died at the age of 59 in hospital on Monday morning, having struggled with ill health after suffering a stroke in November 2014.
The stroke occurred five months after then president Jacob Zuma had appointed her as South Africa’s deputy minister in the science and technology portfolio.
She served in the portfolio until June 2019, despite the limitations brought on by her stroke.
But it was the fractious manner in which kaMagwaza-Msibi was expelled from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), an organisation she joined as a 13-year-old in 1975, and then went on to the NFP in January 2011 that catapulted her on to the national political stage after a public falling out with longstanding IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
NFP secretary general Canaan Mdletshe led the condolence messages on the passing of kaMagwaza-Msibi, describing her as “no ordinary politician”, who was the driving force behind the party’s formation and its growth after she broke away from the IFP.
He said she was an “exemplary leader, an activist and an advocate of our democracy”.
“She lived her life fighting and championing the cause of the poor, vulnerable and downtrodden,” Mdletshe said. “She was a loved and greatly respected leader, whose passing leaves many at a loss.”
The leader of the Democratic Alliance in KwaZulu-Natal, Francois Rodgers, who worked with kaMagwaza-Msibi in the province of her birth, said his organisation also mourned her death.
“kaMagwaza-Msibi was not afraid to speak her mind and paved the way for many women in politics. She was a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
“She defied all odds and proved that women can lead from the front. She will solely be missed for her contribution and bravery. Ulale Ngoxolo Ndlondlo [rest in peace, Ndlondlo]!”
Ndlondlo is the clan name of the Magwaza lineage.
kaMagwaza Msibi led the NFP to fifth place and six seats in the national assembly during the 2014 general elections, the first national poll the then three-year organisation had contested.
However, in the last general elections in May 2019, the NFP dropped to eight place and retained only two seats, in an election cycle in which the party leader did not make many public appearances during the campaign.
kaMagwaza-Msibi is survived by her 30-year-old daughter Gugu Gumede, the acclaimed South African actress who stars in soapie Uzalo, the most watched local television show in the country.