Jabulani Nxumalo, better known as Comrade Mzala, was born on 27 October 1955, in Dundee, Northern Natal. His parents Benjamin and Elsie were both teachers. From an early age, they inculcated in Mzala a love for books and a disciplined approach to studying. Mzala attended school at Louwsburg, then Bethal College in Butterworth, and he matriculated in KwaDlangezwa in Empangeni. At both primary and secondary schools, Mzala`s academic record was outstanding. He acquired the name, Comrade Mzala, as he was fond of addressing everyone as “mzala, mzala”.)
In 1972, at the age of 15, he was detained without trial for his role in a school boycott. The following year he was arrested again and charged with public violence for his part in student and worker strikes. Mzala attended the University of Natal (Ngoye), where he studied law and he was active in the South African Student Organisation (SASO). At university, he was passionate and a fiery fighter against injustice.
His participation in the countrywide upsurge following the Soweto uprising of 1976 made him a marked person. With a number of others he left South Africa to help swell the ranks of the people`s army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in exile. He also received training in politics and other specialised subjects in the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic. In all the training courses, Mzala excelled.
Nxumalo received military training in Angola. He was part of the famous June 16 detachment of MK. While still in training at Funda camp, north of Luanda, he was seriously injured in the face by a bullet mistakenly fired by a new recruit. He fell to the ground and comrades were convinced the injury was fatal. Luckily, Mzala regained consciousness in hospital and later made a full recovery. Mzala rose to important positions in the ranks of MK, serving in Swaziland and Angola.
In 1983 he was deployed into Swaziland, disguised as a reporter (“Jabulani Dlamini”), working on the Swaziland Observer. Eddy Maloka recalls that he “rode a motorbike that needed only R5 to fill the tank. He always had a pipe between his lips – but it remained forever unlit.” In the 1980s, frontline states like Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland were extremely perilous for ANC operatives; in many cases, they were even more dangerous than deployment inside of apartheid South Africa itself. The risk of enemy infiltration and of being kidnapped or assassinated was present. The Swazi government had signed a secret accord with the apartheid regime in 1982 to collaborate in the hunting down of ANC networks and cadres. Mzala was detained by the Swazi police in 1983.
In December of the same year, with a new identity, he returned to Swaziland, but this time to the Shiselweni district in the south of the country. He served as commissar for the Natal rural machinery, a network that was later to become central in the establishment of Operation Vula. While in Shiselweni, and out of his own initiative, Mzala crossed over the border into Natal, and set up an MK unit based in Ingwavuma. In 1984, he was again arrested by the Swazi police and deported to Tanzania. In Tanzania, he worked for Radio Freedom and the Amandla Cultural Group.
Nxumalo was deployed to Prague as the South African Communist Party representative on the World Marxist Review, but his health was now beginning to falter, and his stay in Prague only lasted two months. In the brief period he was in Prague, he earned the respect of, although he did not always endear himself to the leaders of many communist parties for his sharp, no-nonsense, polemical style. Unfortunately, he took ill and was forced to leave Prague for London in 1987. In London he worked for the international committee of the SACP and enrolled to further his studies. He registered for a Ph.D. degree at the University of Essex and the Open University. His thesis dealt with issues around the national and class question in the South African revolution. His premature death came before he completed his thesis.
Nxumalo had a voracious intellectual appetite, especially for the Marxist-Leninist classics. Whilst absorbed in the work of the underground, Mzala would make time to read books on a wide variety of topics and engage in heated and sometimes controversial debates. Once fired by a topic, Mzala would not relent. He would want to pursue the topic to its very end, much to the exasperation of others.
Nxumalo was also an author writer. The African Communist, Sechaba, Dawn all contain numerous articles of his contributions, published under various pen names. If one looks at his articles over the years, one can trace his philosophical, ideological and theoretical development. Much of his writing focussed on the national question and the unfolding revolutionary process in South Africa. He also wrote and lectured extensively on the relationship between the national and class struggle in South Africa. He asserted that the aim of the South African revolution was to end inequality between the nations; he believed this could only be achieved under socialism. In 1977 he was working on a simplified book on Marxism-Leninism in Zulu. The text seems, unfortunately, to have been lost.
Nxumalo sometimes used Khumalo as his pen-name. He also wrote several major articles under the name Sisa Majola. One of his most important and polemical contributions to the armed struggle was entitled “Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot”, and it was signed Mzala. When no one responded in Dawn, he published a polemical rejoinder to his own article! It was titled: “Preparing the Fire Before Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot” and it was signed as Alex Mashinini. During his time in London he published (as Mzala) a book, Gatsha Buthelezi, Chief with a Double Agenda (Zed Books, 1988). During the London period, while working for the SACP’s international committee, he also contributed an excellent and regular column to The African Communist (“Africa Notes and Comment”), under the name Jabulani Mkatshwa. It is quite possible that there other pen-names under which he wrote which remain unknown thus those works cannot be credited him as the author yet.
After attending a seminar on socialism in New York later that year, he was given time on television and addressed a number of meetings at universities in the United States. In September 1987, he was scheduled to start a fellowship at Yale University.
Nxumalo was a loyal member of the African National Congress (ANC) and SACP. His biting and at times provocative criticisms did not always please everyone in these movements. However, nobody could doubt his fierce commitment to the oppressed and exploited masses of our country.
He was also was a fierce critic of bureaucracy and had no patience with fudge or compromise. He was a delegate to the ANC conference in Kabwe, Zambia in 1985 and presented a number of sharp challenges to the leadership. He was the chosen representative of the London region to the ANC’s Consultative Conference in Johannesburg in December 1990 but was prevented by ill-health from attending. Mzala was an exceptionally hard worker. He had a wry sense of humour. He could tell jokes and laugh at himself. He was also a devoted family man, to his wife Mpho and their two children.
The death of Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo (Mzala) on 22 February 1991 in London deprived the ANC and SACP of one of its most brilliant talents. Perhaps the greatest loss of all is to the SACP’s ongoing attempts to indigenise Marxism-Leninism on South African soil. On 27 April 2010 Nxumalo was posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for his contribution to the struggle for liberation in South Africa.