11 politicians we lost in 2021

30 December 2021 - 07:00
Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu died of Covid-19 related complications.
Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu died of Covid-19 related complications.
Image: Alon Skuy

2021 will be remembered by many as one of the toughest years, bringing a lot of heartbreak and struggle.

Mzansi mourned the death of several prominent politicians and other dignitaries this year, including MECs, mayors, kings, MPs, struggle veterans, ministers and deputy ministers. 

While we lost many more than the list below, here are just some of the big names that left us this year:

Mluleki George

The “distinguished and decorated anti-apartheid icon” George died in January at the age of 72 due to complications relating to Covid-19. He left behind a rich heritage of achievements and contributions to the country’s landscape.

George was an activist, politician and sports administrator. He served as a deputy minister of defence from 2004 to 2008.

The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) said he was a consummate politician and inspirational leader‚ with a decorated career in both the sporting and political arenas.

Johnson Mlambo

Mlambo succumbed to Covid-19 in January at the age of 80 . 

Popularly known in Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) circles as “chairman”, Mlambo was instrumental in intensifying military attacks on the apartheid government soon after his release from Robben Island in 1983.

“Some of the issues that we are going through as the PAC leaders like Mlambo and [Robert] Sobukwe already knew because they were able to analyse situations. We can only get better from here by focusing on the programme of unity which were central to Mlambo and Sobukwe,” said the party’s national organiser, Chris Sankara.

Bheki Ntuli

KwaZulu-Natal transport, community safety and liaison MEC Bheki Ntuli died in January at 63-years-old after a short illness.

In a short statement, the ANC in KZN said that Ntuli — also a member of the provincial executive committee — died of Covid-19 related complications.

“The ANC in the province will release an official statement once the Office of the Premier has made an official announcement. The ANC calls on everybody to give the family space to mourn their untimely loss peacefully until further details are announced,” the party statement read.

Jackson Mthembu

The minister in the presidency died of Covid-19 complications at the age of 62.

Mthembu's death came after he tested positive for the coronavirus a week earlier and had sought medical attention at 1 Military Hospital in Tshwane “showing some symptoms” of the virus.

“Today I visited the military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for abdominal pain. After undergoing tests, I tested positive for Covid-19 19. Plans are afoot to get all my family members and close associates tested as well,” he said at the time.

Goodwill Zwelithini 

In March, King Goodwill Zwelithini died at the age of 72 after spending weeks in hospital for diabetes treatment. He succumbed to Covid-19-related complications. 

King Goodwill ascended to the throne in 1968, after the death of his father, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon. 

He reigned under the traditional leadership subsection of SA’s constitution as king of the Zulu nation.

Dr Frank Mdlalose

KwaZulu-Natal's first democratically elected premier from May 1994 until March 1997 died of Covid-19 complications at the age of 89

An IFP veteran, Mdlalose also served as SA's ambassador to Egypt, and retired from active politics in 2005.

Premier Sihle Zikalala, delivering the eulogy, hailed Mdlalose for his leadership during the most divisive political era in the province.

“He worked with leaders from all political parties who were part of that government and embraced all of them, laying the foundation for KZN to have an effective government that cares for the needs and aspirations of citizens,” said Zikalala.

Cameron Mackenzie

DA MP MacKenzie died of Covid-19-related complications in July. His death was announced by the party's chief whip Natasha Mazzone.

Mazzone said MacKenzie died after a “severe battle with Covid-19".

“Cameron was a valued member of the party's parliamentary caucus and a dear friend who will be missed sorely. SA has lost a great public servant who served his country diligently and with the utmost passion.

MacKenzie's death came after he was shot and wounded in the shoulder in an attempted robbery last year while on his way home from Dainfern Square in Johannesburg.

Geoff Makhubo

Makhubo, who was the mayor of the City of Johannesburg, died of Covid-19-related complications in July. He was 53 years old.

Makhubo had been hospitalised, after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

He was hailed by colleagues, friends and citizens as an “exceptional leader”.

“I am shocked to hear of the passing of Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo. In these difficult times, we are reminded how fragile life can be. Our shared humanity will always come before our politics. My thoughts and prayers go to his family, friends and colleagues in the ANC,” said former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

Jolidee Matongo

Matong, who was appointed as mayor of Johannesburg after Makhubo's death, died in a car crash two months later. He was 46-year-old.

He died as he was returning from a voter registration event in Soweto where he was campaigning for the ANC with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said Matongo’s death was difficult to comprehend, given the vitality and passion with which they interacted with each other before his death.

“Mayor Matongo has been taken from us at a time when he was totally immersed in improving conditions and creating opportunities for all the people of Johannesburg and stakeholders in the metropolitan economy,” he said.

Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk

De Klerk died at his home in Cape Town in November at the age of 85. His death was confirmed in a statement by his foundation.

“It is with the deepest sadness that the FW de Klerk Foundation must announce that former president FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer.”

De Klerk disclosed in March that he was suffering from the cancer, which affects the lining of the lungs. He was undergoing immunotherapy to treat it. 


The former Deputy International Relations Minister died in December at the age of 84.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said it was saddened to hear of the passing of the struggle activist.

"His life, described by Ahmed Kathrada, was one of courage, characterised by the 'spirit of sacrifice'," it said.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.