25 MAY 1949 – 27 JUNE 1985 ( AGE 36)
Sicelo was born in the Cradock old location in Emagqubeni on 25 May 1949. In 1962 his family relocated to Lingelihle in a section called Taptap. He was born into a family whose head, Qokose, was an active ANC member under Canon James Arthur Calata. He had a political influence on Sicelo. Sicelo was also a personal, intellectual and political friend of Matthew Goniwe, whom he had grown up with in Cradock. He studied at St. James Primary School, Cradock Bantu Secondary School and Lovedale College, where he trained as a teacher.
TEACHING AT THEMBALABANTU HIGH SCHOOL
Sicelo started teaching at Thembalabantu High School, in Zwelitsha, near King Williamstown in 1974. He specialized in History and Afrikaans. He was an ethical and committed teacher and as a result, was appointed boarding master of the boys section at Thembalabantu hostel. He always motivated students to learn to be active and productive citizens of the coming democratic South Africa. He was sympathetic to the students’ plights such as social and financial problems.
The Thembalabantu hostel was directly under the Ciskei Department of Education. By and large he could not agree with this Department about its prescribed menu for the hostel. In 1975 hostel students embarked on a food strike. Their leaders were arrested. When they appeared in court, now and again, he would also be in court in sympathy with them. The security police did not approve of this. This was the beginning of being a security police suspect.
TEACHING AT ARCHIE VELILE SECONDARY SCHOOL
In 1977 he took up a principal post at Archie Velile Secondary School in Dimbaza but within the homeland of Ciskei. Students at Archie Velile, and at the nearby Kuyasa High School made democratic demands, such as SRCs and equal education, to the government. They stayed out of classes within the school grounds. The Ciskeian security police arrived and assaulted the students whilst dispersing the crowds. Some were seriously injured. Sicelo took them to the nearby Dimbaza clinic and this got him into trouble. The security police did not approve of this action. They warned him never to repeat such a practice. With Mbulelo Goniwe in Dimbaza, he worked with Sicelo underground. Mbulelo was in Kuyasa High School to complete his matriculation. Both of them assisted some student leaders for the establishment of the Congress of South African Students in Dimbaza schools.
POLITICAL MEETINGS WITH EX-PRISONERS
In Dimbaza Cicelo met ex-political prisoner Msuthu Sonkwala who was from Cradock. Msuthu was not allowed by the government to stay in Cradock. He was dumped in Dimbaza. Sicelo would have regular meetings with Msuthu and other ex-political prisoners. They sent him to Mthatha to find out what was happening with Matthew Goniwe who was serving four years in Wellington prison in Mthatha. Sicelo met in Mthatha a lawyer, Rex Luphondwana, who was an ex-political prisoner whose hometown was Cradock. Rex briefed Sicelo who came back to report to the underground political group in Dimbaza. This group followed political events and furthermore created an underground system against apartheid.
Sicelo recieved a principal post in Oudtshoorn at a high school in Bhongolethu Township. Later on he willingly assumed a principal post at a primary school in the same township. He motivated learners to commit themselves to education as future leaders of a democratic South Africa.
During his relocation from Dimbaza to Bhongolethu, he was married to Nombuyiselo Zonke (Mbuyi) who was also from Cradock, a teacher by profession. They had a house in Bhongolethu township. He was a progressive teacher and a transformative intellectual. He served the community beyond the school boundaries.
LAUNCH OF THE UNITED DEMOCRATIC FRONT (UDF)
On 20 August 1983 Sicelo attended the launch of the UDF as part of the Oudtshoorn delegation. The UDF seeked to mobilise communities in halting the governments plan for a Tricameral Parliament through promoting worker staways, rent boycotts, school protests and other actions. Sicelo was accompanied by Oudtshoorn activists and his wife Mbuyi. One of the founders, Reverend Alan Boesak, opened the ceremony saying,
“WE ALL WANT OUR RIGHTS AND WE WANT THEM HERE AND WE WANT THEM NOW.”
– Reverend Alan Boesak
SICELO AT THE HEART OF THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE
On coming back Sicelo worked with Bhongolethu activists towards establishing Oudtshoorn Civic Organization and Bhongolethu Youth Organization. He was part of the collective who established the Southern Cape UDF branch. He was in the forefront of establishing a progressive teachers union, NUESA. The aim of NUESA was “to associate and unite those concerned in the service of education in South Africa, and to work for a system of education in South Africa which is equal, just and democratic, without regard to race, colour, creed or sex.”
His house became a centre for planning struggle advancement in Oudtshoorn and in the Southern Cape region and beyond. If they were to liberate themselves and bring about change they had ‘to organise’ people, educate people and unite people in a concerted effort for liberation. As a result his wife Mbuyi became part of a collective of women who championed the establishment of the Women’s Organisation in Oudtshoorn and in the Southern Cape region at large.
Sicelo was part of a committee that saw to the establishment of a Newsletter called Saamstaan (Stand together). This publication informed the reading public about political events in South Africa. It espoused a democratic vision of a new South Africa which was in the heart of Sicelo. He helped people in the struggle so that South Africa could finally become a peaceful, united, non-racist, prosperous, non-sexist and democratic country. He was certain that the democratic struggle would defeat apartheid which was a special type of colonization. Hence, he named his son, Ntsika, meaning ‘The Pillar’. Sicelo believed that Ntsika would be one of the pillars of the New South Africa.
When Sicelo was visiting his home in Cradock he would report to the CRADORA executive about struggle activities taking place in Oudtshoorn. As a result he would be empowered in establishing People’s Organisations of Power in Oudtshoorn. He was linked to the CRADORA struggle and was devoted to the application of the Goniwe-Plan. When he was home in Cradock, he took part in political activities of the zone to which Taptap belonged.
THE FREEDOM CHARTER AND THE EVENTS THAT FOLLOWED
On the 26th June 1985, he attended the Freedom Charter celebrations held inside the Lingelihle Community Hall. After this event the Cradora leadership convened a special meeting to make a final decision on the composition of the Cradock Residents Association (CRADORA) delegation to the Port Elizabeth UDF meeting.
Sicelo, being the headmaster at a school in Oudtshoorn, had just arrived back in Cradock for the school holidays when he bumped into his friend Matthew Goniwe and decided to join him on their trip to Port Elizabeth. Hence on that fateful day of 27 June 1985 he was part of the CRADORA delegation to the Port Elizabeth UDF meeting.
It is believed that Sicelo intended to pick up his wife Mbuyi, who was on a course in Port Elizabeth. The UDF meeting went on late into the night, and it was decided that it was not possible to collect his wife.
Sicelo Mhlawuli, at the age of 36, was the second charred body to be found in the bush near Bluwater Bay, handcuffed and tied with rope, with 25 stab wounds to his chest, seven in the back, and another four in his arms. His throat had been cut and his right hand severed. Sicelo had been beaten unconscious by security police before being stabbed to death. He died from severe blood loss predominantly from severed jugular veins. Sicelo left behind his wife Mbuyi, his daughter Babalwa and son Ntsika.
Mbuyi Mhlawuli says that although she learned of her husbands death relatively soon after he disappeared, it took more than 10 years to find out how and why he had been killed.
“I KNOW HOW IT IS TO LOSE A LOVED ONE, YOU FEEL EMPTY, POWERLESS, AND LIVE WITH PAIN ALL THE TIME.
IN OUR COUNTRY, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT FORGIVENESS FOR THE SAKE OF THE COUNTRY AND NATIONAL
UNITY. BUT IT IS HARD TO ACCEPT.”
– Mbuyi Mhlawuli
“SICELO WAS CERTAIN THAT THE DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLE WOULD FINALLY DEFEAT APARTHEID WHICH WAS
A SPECIAL TYPE OF COLONIZATION. HE NAMED HIS SON NTSIKA, MEANING A PILLAR. HE WOULD BE A PILLAR
OF THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA.”
– Mbuyi Mhlawuli