News of the passing of Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza, who was the South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2010, has been greeted with great sadness by all at South Africa House.
Family spokespersons, Mavuso Msimang and Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, announced yesterday afternoon that Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza had “passed away peacefully this afternoon, Monday 06 December 2021, in the loving company of her family.”
We extend our deepest condolences to her family and to her numerous friends and colleagues in South Africa, the UK, and around the world. She will be fondly remembered and deeply missed.
Dr Lindiwe Mabuza was appointed High Commissioner to the UK by President Thabo Mbeki in 2001, having already served as Ambassador to Germany and to Malaysia and The Philippines, and prior to that as an MP in President Nelson Mandela’s first government in 1994. Her diplomatic career began in 1979 when Oliver Tambo appointed her as the ANC’s representative to Scandinavia, where she survived a bomb attack on the ANC offices in Stockholm, before being transferred to the USA where she opened an ANC office in Washington DC. Long before coming to the UK, Ambassador Mabuza had established a reputation as a distinguished and formidable diplomat whose passion for her country, its people, culture and economic transformation, shone brightly.
During her double tenure as South African High Commissioner to the UK Ambassador Mabuza was responsible for many notable achievements, too numerous to list comprehensively, but some prominent highlights include the Solidarity Conference in 2003, which brought together 1,300 delegates and a third of the South African cabinet over a weekend at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, to account for the new South African Government’s first decade in office and to look forward to the decade ahead.
2004 marked the 10th Anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa, during which Ambassador Mabuza organised numerous events around the UK with various stakeholders, including a special commemorative service at St Paul’s Cathedral addressed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the “Unity Gala” – a concert featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra held at the Barbican in November 2004.
Freedom Day itself was marked with a concert in Trafalgar Square, organised with the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
In August 2004, Ambassador Mabuza arranged with the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Lesley Hinds, to take a massive South African contingent to a special Edinburgh Festival event in Princess Street Gardens, called “South Africa in the Gardens” . This featured the South African Navy Band, the Soweto Gospel Choir, and headlined South African jazz musicians Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu.
Several other major conferences followed, including the South African Sports and Investment Conference held at Chelsea Football Club in April 2006 and the African Union-Caribbean Diaspora Conference held in London in April 2007.
Ambassador Mabuza was the driving force behind the 2007 publishing of “Oliver Tambo Remembered”, a compilation of recollections of the late Oliver Reginald Tambo by prominent public figures who engaged with him internationally. She worked with Haringey Council to unveil a bust and memorial garden dedicated to Oliver Tambo, close to his former residence in Muswell Hill, where his family lived in exile and where our current High Commissioner, Ms Nomatemba Tambo, was raised as a child.
In the same year, she also worked with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to give proper recognition to the 650 sailors and members of the South African Native Labour Corps who perished on the SS Mendi when it went down off the coast of the Isle of Wight in 1917.
In 2008, Ambassador Mabuza was deeply saddened by the passing of Mike Terry, a close personal friend and former Secretary General of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK, who had helped her with numerous projects up to that point in time. To honour his memory and acknowledge his enormous contribution to South Africa, she organised a memorial for him at South Africa House, attended by 300 people along with members of his family, dignitaries, friends and colleagues dating back to his student years.
Also in 2008, she hosted a dinner at South Africa House in honour of President Thabo and Mrs Zanele Mbeki.
Throughout her tenure Ambassador Mabuza supported many charities, often making South Africa House available for free for them to host events, dinners and exhibitions. She was an ardent supporter of the Phelophepa Health Train, for which she helped to organise annual fundraising gala dinners. She loved Ardmore Ceramics, maintaining a healthy personal collection, and enthusiastically supported Action for Southern Africa, Community HEART, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and many other charities benefiting South Africa.
Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza was also a prolific author and poet, publishing many books and anthologies of both her own work, and compilations like Oliver Tambo Remembered, to preserve an historic record of people she greatly admired for future generations. She also hosted a large number of book launches at South Africa House, including, amongst others, The State vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial that Changed South Africa by Joel Joffe, and The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa by Denis Goldberg.
She was passionate about culture in all forms, but especially music, and she regularly organised concerts featuring South African artists living in or visiting London. She assisted Pumeza Matshikiza and the late Siphiwo Ntshebe by helping to arrange scholarships for them at the Royal College of Music in London.
Finally, in 2010 her tenure came to an end, leaving many fond memories and a much expanded circle of friends, not just for herself, but for the country she represented so capably and enthusiastically.
In 2014, she was awarded the national Order of Ikhamanga for her contribution to the arts.
Ambassador Mabuza returned to the UK a few times after her retirement from diplomatic service, most recently in June 2019 to launch her new book, “Conversations with Uncle OR Tambo” and again in October 2019 to attend the unveiling of a statue of Oliver Tambo at the Albert Road Recreational Park, which has since been renamed the Oliver Tambo Recreational Ground.
Former President Thabo Mbeki paid tribute to her today, saying “Amb. Mabuza was a self-effacing, guileless, and humane person, who served our country and its people with distinction for well over half-a-century in various capacities during both the struggle for our liberation and the democratic dispensation. Following our country’s liberation in 1994, she was among the first women who were tasked to represent our country as Ambassadors.”
Current High Commissioner Ms Nomatemba Tambo said today;
“Life is so strange.
My father said it was a circle that always returned you to a part of your past. That’s what happened to us.
Aunt Lindiwe would often send for me when she was the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. When I would ask her why, she would say it was because she loved me and needed to be in my company from time to time. I think she was prophetic and was giving me a glimpse into what to expect in my future.
She was forever busy, strategizing, innovating, bending procrastinators to her charm and vibrancy.
Aunt Lindiwe was a bit of a task master and workaholic. Good. She achieved the most spectacular results in her work, wherever she was posted, but for me I saw it in London.
She had the gift of bringing people together. She had the gift of polishing rough diamonds until they themselves knew how brightly they shone. People loved her, as did I. Very much.
Her smile was irresistible. Loyalty was something she treasured in others and stood by steadfastly herself.
Aunt Lindiwe will be greatly missed. We all say that about those we know who have passed on and they are, but for me, I feel as if the air we breathe is a little heavier.
Who would have thought that 10 years after her post in the United Kingdom ended, that she would be visiting me here, doing her old job. As always she was generous, kind, joyful. A delight. I will miss the way her face would light up when she saw you and she would sing out your name like a hymn.
Aunt Lindiwe, the mould has been broken.”