Richard Gert Sibande was a leader among farm workers in the eastern Transvaal. He was an African National Congress (ANC) activist, and one of the first-string accused in the Treason Trial of 1956 to 1961. Gert Sibande was born in the Ermelo district in 1907, the son of a tenant farmer. He received no formal schooling but taught himself to be literate in Zulu. As a farm labourer in the Bethal district, he emerged in the 1930s as an organiser, founding a farm workers' association and becoming a local spokesman for the ANC.

In 1947 he helped Michael Scott and Ruth First in their press exposure of the near slavery conditions of Africans on the Bethal farms. A genuine grass-roots leader, he acquired the nickname "Lion of the East". Because of his political activities, Sibande was hounded by the authorities and deported from Bethal in 1953.

He was charged with treason in 1956, at which time he was a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. In November 1958, while still a defendant in the trial, he was elected provincial president of the Transvaal ANC, a position to which he was re-elected by a narrow margin in 1959. He was one of the few among the accused to take the witness stand in the Treason trial, where he displayed his directness and convictions.

Richard Gert Sibande left Bethal and went to the Vaal before he was banished to Komartiport. He skipped the country and went to Swaziland. He passed away in 1987 and he is survived by five children. Dumazile, Minah, Elizabeth, Leroy and Bethuel. He was buried in Manzini, the hub of Swaziland.


From Protest to Challenge, Political Profiles Volume 4, p140

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