Griffiths (1935 to 1981) and Victoria Mxenge (1942 to 1985)
Victoria Nonyamezelo and Mlungisi Griffiths Mxenge paid the supreme price for defending the rights of oppressed South Africans to live in conditions of freedom, justice, peace and democracy. As husband and wife, they forfeited family life in pursuit of a non-racial, non-sexist, free and fair South Africa for all. Their brutal killings at the hands of state assassins galvanised oppressed South Africans into vigorous action to bring about liberation in South Africa.
The couple both came from King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. Griffiths studied for a BA degree at the University of Fort Hare and later an LLB degree at the then University of Natal. Victoria qualified as a nurse in Alice in the Eastern Cape. She and Griffiths were married just as he started his law degree. The couple moved to KwaZulu-Natal, where Victoria would go on to study midwifery and work at a clinic in Umlazi, south of Durban. They had two sons, Mbasa and Viwe.
Griffiths had long been a committed member of the African National Congress Youth League. His LLB studies were interrupted when he was convicted in 1967 of being a member of the banned organisation and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on Robben Island.
After his release he returned to complete his degree, opened his own law firm in Durban and went on to become a well-known civil rights lawyer who fearlessly defended victims of the apartheid regime. This wasn’t easy – ongoing persecution by the apartheid state meant he was frequently harassed, detained and banned. Victoria, in the meantime still working and raising their young family, studied part-time and also obtained a law degree. In 1981 she was admitted as a lawyer and joined her husband’s Durban law firm.
In the same year Griffiths was abducted and assassinated by the apartheid death squad, led by Dirk Coetzee. He was brutally and repeatedly stabbed and beaten and his body dumped near a soccer field in Umlazi. Victoria took over the law practice and her husband’s role as human rights lawyer and political activist, becoming a fierce opponent of state brutality and repression.
She became heavily involved in mass mobilisation and began to address political gatherings, one of the most memorable being the powerful message she delivered to the thousands of mourners and anti-apartheid activists at the funeral of the Cradock Four, in the Eastern Cape in July 1985.
One month later Victoria, like her husband, was brutally murdered by the state security branch in front of her children in the driveway of her Umlazi home. Mass public protests and violence followed the news of her death, and clashes with the police left many injured and dead. In 1987, a Durban magistrate refused a formal inquest into her killing and ruled that she had “died of head injuries and had been murdered by persons unknown”.
Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge are buried next to each other in Rayi Cemetery near King William’s Town. In 2006 they were posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for their contribution to the field of law and the supreme sacrifice they paid in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
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