Phila Portia Ndwandwe was a female MK commander who was murdered by South African police members. Phila who was also known as Zandile or Zandi was born on 2nd June 1965, at a place called Mlazi, Durban.
She served in the Natal Machinery of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) in 1985 under the leadership of Muzi Ngwenya (Thami Zulu or “TZ). The Natal Machinery operated from Swaziland. She was in the unit headed by Ayanda Dlodlo. This unit was responsible for the infiltration of the African National Congress (ANC) cadres into Natal.
In October 1988, she was abducted by two former MK militants turned informants, who requested a meeting with Ndwandwe at the George Hotel in Mazini, Swaziland. Phila who was unaware that the two MK militants had become police informers, attended the meeting with them.
These two MK informants illegally entered Swaziland through the use of false documents which was given to them by the Port Natal Security Branch, whom they worked for. The plan laid out by the Port Natal Security was to abduct Ndwandwe and turn her into an informant as well.
Unfortunately for innocent Phila, The police had monitored her meeting with them and they captured her after the two informers turned her over to them.
However, this particular information came to light during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Amnesty Hearings, which received seven amnesty applications between 1996 and 1997. The amnesty applications were from Hendrik Johannes Petrus Botha, Salmon Johannes Gerhardus Du Preez, Johannes Albertus Steyn, Andy Taylor, Roelof Brand Visagie, Jacobus Adriaan Vorster and Lawrence Gerald Wasserman who were all members of the Port Natal Security Branch responsible for Ndwandwe’s abduction and murder in Swaziland where she was a commander of the MK unit based there.
But only five members came forward to testify at the amnesty hearings. The amnesty hearings took place from the 9th to the 19th of November 1998. They testified of their direct involvement in her abduction and murder. They also testified that after Ndwandwe’s abduction they took her back to South Africa where they interrogated her and left her naked for 10 days before she was executed at the Elandskop farm in KwaZulu-Natal, which had been used as the security branch safe-house.
The members went further to testify that she had never been tortured and was only struck with a baton on her head before she was shot. And, they killed her after they realized that she would never turn to an informant for them.
They thereafter prepared a shallow grave for her some 80m from her family’s house which was situated in Elandskop, they stripped her bare of her clothes and covered her with lime, plastic bags and other debris, so that her grave would be easily concluded to be to a dumpsite, in case an investigation takes place.
However, upon corpse exhumation, a blue plastic bag was found around the waist of her remains. One of her killers recalled that she had worn it as a panty to uphold her female dignity. Through Phila’s death perpetrators’ testimonies, the TRC went further to exhume her remains and give them back to her family where she finally had a proper burial and resting place, ten years after she was declared missing.
Still, the perpetrators of Phila’s death was granted amnesty, due to their admittance and testimony of the crime committed. The two informers who were earlier sent to lure Phila into attending the meeting with them did not testify at the TRC, as they did not have a direct link to Phila’s death, and their identities were not also exposed. The decision to keep the two informers identity a secret, was not welcomed by her family members as they felt that the informers were also responsible for her death.
Phila’s funeral was done in grand style, it had high publicity and it was also broadcasted on television. Many high profile people attended the event, even the then President of South Africa, Late Nelson Mandela was also present at the funeral.
Phil Portia Ndwandwe was the only female guerrilla whose body was exhumed. The exhumation of her remains did not only indicate her importance in the armed struggle, but she was also heralded as one of the most important female figures in the history of South Africa.
Her funeral created an opportunity for her then nine-year-old son, Thabang, to meet his grandparents for the first time, as he was only two months old at the time of his mother’s abduction. And his father, Bheki Mabuza who was Phila’s ex-lover and a former MK militant solely played the role of his (Thabang) guardian.
Mabuza shared his memory of Phila. He remembered her fondly as a tomboy with a good sense of humor. Thabang received his mother’s medal of bravery which the president awarded for the sacrifices she made during the armed struggle and her involvement in the liberation movement.
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