The Spear of the Nation
Phila Ndwandwe

Phila Ndwandwe

Phila Ndwandwe

Names: Ndwandwe, Phila

Died: Elandskop, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal

In summary: MK commander, murdered by South African Security Police members

Phila Portia Ndwandwe (also known as Zandile or Zandi) was part of the Natal Machinery of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) under the leadership of Muzi Ngwenya (Thami Zulu or "TZ") operating from Swaziland. She was in the unit headed by Ayanda Dlodlo that was responsible for the infiltration of African National Congress (ANC) cadres into Natal.

Ndwandwe was recruited into the ANC in 1985 while she was still a dental therapy student at the then University of Durban Westville (now University of KwaZulu-Natal). She lived with General Ramlakan and his wife, who had turned their house into the MK headquarters in KwaZulu-Natal. Ndwandwe joined MK and received her basic training.

In 1986, the security police discovered that the ANC had established an Area Political Military Committee (APMC) in Natal that committed a number of acts of violence and sabotage in Natal under the code name Operation Butterfly. Fifty-four persons were arrested on the 23 December 1986. A number of them made statements to the police in terms of Section 29 of the Internal Security Act and were released, some of them to be used as State witnesses. Ndwandwe was among the 54 originally arrested and she was separated from the other detainees as she was listed as a state witness after being charged with terrorism. She was released after having made a statement, to be called as a State witness and listed number 38 in a list of 72 witnesses. She, however, left the country and did not testify.

After leaving the country she received further military training outside South Africa and returned to re-establish the structures that collapsed with her arrest. After a few operations, she then went into exile in 1986 to Swaziland, where she soon became a MK Commander for Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) operations.

The Durban Security Branch continued to receive regular reports about her activities from informers placed in Swaziland. Military activities continued under her command in the area of Port Natal (Durban) and during October 1988, Security Police members decided that she had to be neutralised and killed. However, they also considered persuading her to turn and work with the Security Branch as she could be of immense value to them. It was decided to abduct her from Swaziland in an effort to recruit her, failing which she would be killed.

Members of the Durban Security Branch organised an operation to adduct Ndwandwe. They travelled from Durban to Onverwacht border post where they crossed into Swaziland, using false passports with two informers that knew Ndwandwe, in a Toyota minibus (the Kombi) and an Isuzu bakkie. All the vehicles were fitted with false number plates. At Onverwacht they were met by two informers who helped them to illegally cross the border. Upon arrival, dwandwe was abducted from Swaziland by Lieutenant Sam du Preez, Sergeant Lawrence Wasserman, Colonel Andy Taylor, Mr J A Steyn and Mr J A Vorster in October 1988. At the time of her kidnapping, she had a two-month old baby boy, Thabani, who was with his father, Bheki Mabuza, a fellow ANC cadre.

After interrogating her, the next morning they travelled to a safe house on a farm Elandskop near Pietermaritzburg. She was held in a small concrete chamber on the edge of the small forest. She was held naked and interrogated in this chamber, for some time before her death. During the interrogation, she refused to cooperate with the police and it became clear that she would not be turned into a police informer. In addition she vowed that she would continue her activities should she be released. The police did not charge or prosecute Ndwandwe. They also calculated that there was no way in which she could be released to continue her activities. In addition, not only would the two informers; safety now be compromised, but the exposure of the whole informer network would be at risk.

The police then dug a grave at the Elandskop Farm. Ndwandwe was blindfolded and led to the grave some fifty to eighty metres from the house among high trees. She was hit her on the head with a baton which rendered her unconscious and was then shot her in the head. She was disrobed and placed in the grave. Lime was sprinkled over the body, which was then covered with plastic bags and the grave filled with soil. Her whereabouts remained a mystery. Many believed that she had defected to the security forces. For years thereafter, Phila's family received anonymous calls saying she was safe, and heard dark rumours of betrayal circulating in Umlazi, the Durban suburb where they lived.

Details of Ndwandwe's murder emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings which were instituted after the fall of apartheid. When she did not come back with other exiles that started returning in 1990, Nason Ndwandwe, her father, went to the TRC to report his daughter missing. Durban investigators took his testimony and that of other families to piece together a picture of about six ANC cadres who disappeared in 1988. They then tracked down six security branch officers who worked in KwaZulu Natal at the time.

The TRC was satisfied that the perpetrators made a full disclosure of their acts related to the incident which occurred within the context of the conflicts of the past and that these acts were associated with a political objective as envisaged in the Act. They were accordingly all granted amnesty for their acts for their various roles in the incident related to the abduction and killing of Ndwandwe, including their illegal use and possession of false passports, the illegal crossing of the border and re-entry and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

The TRC listed Ndwandwe as a victim as envisaged in the Act and her name and the particulars of her next-of-kin was forwarded to the Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee for its consideration. Her remains were exhumed from Elandskop Farm on 12 March 1997. When the body was exhumed, Ndwandwe was on her back in a foetal position, because the grave had not been dug long enough, and had a single bullet wound to the top of her head, indicating that she had been kneeling or squatting when she was killed. Her pelvis was clothed in a plastic packet, fashioned into a pair of panties indicating an attempt to protect her modesty.

The South African Government conferred The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Silver Awarded to Ndwandwe, in April 2010, for demonstrating bravery and valour and for sacrificing her life for her comrades in the cause for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.