South African presidency minister Jackson Mthembu, a former activist against white minority rule, died on Thursday after being admitted to hospital with abdominal pains and testing positive for COVID-19. He was 62.
"It is with deep sorrow and shock that we announce that Minister in The Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, passed away earlier today from COVID-related complications," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.
"Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy."
Born in 1958, Mthembu fought against apartheid from his student days in the 1970s and helped set up two metalworkers unions when he worked in the steel industry which campaigned for better conditions for Black workers.
In the 1980s, the apartheid authorities frequently jailed him, often in solitary confinement, but when political parties were unbanned the following decade, he became the African National Congress leader in his hometown of Witbank, northeast South Africa.
When South Africa became democratic in 1994, he served in parliament, becoming national ANC spokesman the following year, a position he held from 2009 to 2014 as well, before becoming minister in the presidency in 2019.
In the last remark on his Twitter feed on Jan. 11, Mthembu wrote that he had "visited a Military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for an abdominal pain," and there tested positive for COVID-19.
The death toll from COVID-19 in South Africa, which has been the worst hit on the continent, has almost reached 40,000.
The pandemic has killed several politicians in Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Sibusiso Moyo, who died this week. Last week, the disease killed two senior cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures in Malawi.