Jabulile Nyawose and her husband Petrus Nyawose worked long hours for Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU), focusing on delivery to members and paying attention to workers’ education. There was little time for their home life, so the youngest of their children, a little girl, grew up in the union offices. Her cot was two armchairs facing each other.

Gradually, BAWU moved closer to the Freedom Charter and the Congress Movement. By this time, Nyawose, Ivan Pillay (presently Acting South African Revenue Services Commissioner) and his brother Dhaya ‘Joe” Pillay, had been drawn by Sunny Singh into a unit of the African National Congress (ANC) underground. Singh had just been released from Robben Island after serving eight years.

Nyawose was tasked to be the contact between the Pillay’s unit and another one headed by Shadrack Maphumulo, also an ex-Islander. Judson Kuzwayo, another Robben Islander, was also part of the underground.

The underground cell was also involved in distributing leaflets and painting slogans. In Joe Pillay’s name, the underground cell purchased a number of vehicles and a smallholding which they intended to use to accommodate trained uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadres. Their activities were disrupted by the arrest of Shadrack Maphumulo, in 1977, which they had read about in a daily newspaper.  The members of the cell feared that the police might discover the information about the smallholding and the vehicles. It later turned out that they had been right as the police had found documents pertaining to the purchases.

In June 1977, Nyawose, Joe Pillay and his brother Ivan Pillay met in a secluded area in Chatsworth, a township south of Durban, designated under the apartheid Group Areas Act for Indians only, to discuss what they should do. They agreed that Joe and Nyawose leave for Swaziland as they were both exposed to Shadrack Maphumulo and may be at risk of arrest, following Maphumulo’s detention by the Security Police.

They left immediately; even though that happened to be the day Jabulile Nyawose’s brother was getting married. Petrus Nyawose had consented to being both best man and driver of the wedding vehicle. However, the danger was too great to wait and the cell decided that Petrus and Joe should leave immediately. 

A week later, Jabulile informed Ivan Pillay that she wanted to leave the country and join Petrus. After crossing into Botswana, Jabulile and her youngest child eventually moved to Swaziland to join Petrus. Their two other children also joined them there. Another child, a boy, was born in their place of exile a few years later.

In Swaziland the couple became part of Sactu structures. Petrus also worked closely with Stanley Mabizela, the chief representative of the ANC in that country, effectively becoming his deputy. As had become Petrus’s trademark, he quickly gained access to high levels of the Swazi government, including their Special Branch.

On 4 June 1982, Petrus ‘Nzima’ Nyawose and his wife, SACTU representative Jabulile Nyawose, were killed in a car bomb explosion outside their flat in Matsapha near Manzini, Swaziland. Two passengers in the car, Thokozane Mkhize and Siphiwe Mngomezulu, were seriously injured. The explosion and resulting deaths of their parents was witnessed by the Nyawose’s children.

Intelligence-gathering and surveillance for the assassination was done by Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofemela and David Tshikilange for which they applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). According to a statement to the Commission by Eugene de Kock, and further oral evidence at a Commission amnesty hearing, the murder of the couple was authorised by Brigadier Willem Schoon, then head of C section. The operation was performed by the then commander of Vlakplaas, Captain Jan Coetzee, assisted by Colonel Paul Hattingh of the South African Police (SAP) Explosives Department and Captain Paul van Dyk of the Ermelo Security Branch. For this operation, the three perpetrators received the SOE medal, a high police decoration.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that the murder of Petrus and Jabulile Nyawose was sanctioned by the South African Government, authorised at senior management level of the security police and carried out by the operatives named above.


• Ivan Pillay (2014). "Two lives cut short in their prime", from The Sunday Independent Online, 29 June. Available at www.iol.co.za . Accessed on 30 June 2014.
• Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Volume Two Truth and Reconciliation Commission  of South Africa Report , p106.  Available at www.justice.gov.za . Accessed on 30 June 2014.

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