Jabu Sithole was born on 23 October 1949 in Lamontville, Durban, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal) where he attended primary school until age seven when he was struck down by polio. Fortunately he survived in a period when polio, or the many other preventable diseases, was a major cause of mortality among the Black communities.
While recuperating at King George VI hospital, Durban, the doctor treating him was struck by Sithole’s tremendous intellectual acumen and had him transferred to Mariannhill, Durban where he completed his schooling, achieving distinctions in his matriculation.
He then attended the University of Zululand to study for a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics. He became politically active on the campus and was forced to flee the area, completing his degree with honours at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng).
He returned to Lamontville and started lecturing at the Umlazi campus of the University of Zululand. Believing that local communities were central to achieving change in their living environments, he was active in forming local community organisations around rent, housing and transport issues.
Sithole joined the African National Congress (ANC) in Lesotho in 1979 and then returned to Natal where he became involved in community projects
He, together with civic activists such as Lechesa Tsenoli, Mpho Scott, Bheki Cele, Baba Dlamini, Shoots Naidoo, Vish Suparsad, Sandy Africa, Ian Mkhize, Trevor Bonhomme, Kisa Dlamini, Maweza Msane, Sandile Thusi, Ndaba Gcwabaza and others in the Joint Rent Action Committee (JORAC) and the Durban Housing Action Committee (DHAC) organising communities into a formidable non-racial force against apartheid segregation and underdevelopment.
Civic activists formed close links with trade unionists like Important Mkhize and Thami Mohlomi to establish the foundations of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) that rendered apartheid unworkable.
Sithole was active in the underground ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) and he recruited many activists, including two of his brothers, to serve in uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC. He was detained for his political and community activism and spent two years - 1986 – 1988 - in detention without being charged. Fellow detainees describe him as the glue that held the detainee community together and as one “who never got the blues because he was always singing the blues.” An avid jazz listener he attended all the jazz concerts held at the Executive Hotel (Umlazi) and Rainbow Restaurant (Pinetown) and used the love of music to form links with fellow enthusiasts all over the country.
Upon his release from prison, he continued his political activism and was appointed as the Natal Chairperson of Operation Vula, an ANC initiative to link the ANC leadership in exile to the internal mass movement that was in the forefront of efforts to organise communities to disrupt, disorientate and engage the apartheid regime at street level and on the economic front.
On 25 July 1990, almost exactly 24 years before his passing away, Sithole was detained as part of a crackdown of Operation Vula. Among those detained was the present Minister of Local Government and Traditional Affairs, Pravin Gordhan, the former Chief of Staff of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Siphiwe Nyanda and Mac Maharaj, the current spokesperson of President Jacob Zuma.
In 1990 when the people's organisations were unbanned, Sithole was appointed to serve on the Natal Regional Interim Leadership Group of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Sithole and his generation of activists played an essential role in giving expression to the four pillars of the struggle to defeat the apartheid regime – mass mobilisation, building the political underground, building the capability of armed struggle and advancing the international isolation of the apartheid regime.
From 1998 to 2000 he studied at the Georgia State University in Atlanta where he completed his Masters Degree in Applied Mathematics. Upon his return to the country he worked at the National Intelligence Agency Training Academy in Mahikeng and then at the South African Revenue Services (SARS).
He cultivated a love of chess, maths and science through coaching the youth. Up to his death he remained close to the community he loved and served.
Jabu Sithole passed away on 27 July 2014.
He is survived by his wife Michaeline and five children.