Who was Jabu Ndlovu?

Jabu was born in Nhlabamkhosi, Impendle. Her family, the Mkhizes, had come to live there in 1911 when her father, Phambano, was a young boy. Jabu’s grandfather was a policeman in Impendle. He built himself a house and the family had fields to plant crops and land to graze cattle. When Jabu’s father was 15, his father died and he had to go to Durban to look for work. When he could not find work in Durban he came back to work on the white owned farms around Impendle. Here he met Jabu’s mother, Ina Zuma, who was working on a farm in Loteni. They married in 1939.

Phambano asked Inkosi Mconjwana Zuma for land in Nhlabamkhosi. Here he built a house for his family, planted fruit trees, grew crops and built a kraal for his cattle. He was able to support his family from the land. During the 1960’s and 70’s many African people who had lived and worked on farms for generations as labour tenants were forced off the farms by  new laws. They had nowhere to go so had to ask the chiefs for a place to stay. This meant that more and more people moved to the places like Nhlabamkhosi. The land available for growing crops and grazing cattle grew smaller and smaller. It was hard to make a living. 

Jabu had been born on 25th March 1947. She was the third daughter. She was christened Jabu Florence. Her mother eventually had 7 children, 4 girls and 3 boys. The children had a wonderful time growing up in a rural area. Jabu loved to play soccer with the other children as well as ingqathu –skipping- and umacashelana - hide and seek – although they had to watch out for snakes. When she was seven Jabu went as a boarder to Clairvoux Mission School 25 kilometers from her home. After a few years she moved to Gomane Primary School, just half an hour’s walk from her house. She always came top of her class. For high school she went to Nxamalala Secondary School. At high school Jabu still did very well but she had competition, a boy named Jabulani Ndlovu. Sometimes Jabu came first in class and sometimes Jabulani. The Mkhizes and the Ndlovus were old family friends.

Jabu finished Grade 10 / Std. 8 and left school. She and Jabulani had fallen in love and she was pregnant with her first child, Khumbuzile (Khumba). The Ndlovu family paid lobola and Khumba was born on in 1963. Jabulani went to Maritzburg to look for work and Jabu worked as a private teacher at Gomane Primary School. In 1968 Khumba’s brother Linda was born. Jabulani and Jabu got married in 1971 at St Joseph’s in Impendle. After the wedding, Jabu went to live with Jabulani in Pietermaritzburg.

In Pietermaritzburg they lived in Imbali Stage 1. Their address was 373 Mthombothi Road. Mamiza, her third child, was born in 1973 and another son, Sibongiseni (Bobo), in 1974. Bobo was followed by another daughter, Luhle. Life was expensive, so Jabu had to find a job. She found one at Prestige, the kitchenware factory where she worked for 16 years until her death. She worked as a machine operator in the press shop department. Her starting wages as R6.30. Jabulani worked as a driver in the Natal Witness distribution department,

Life continued happily for the Ndlovus. In 1979 they were able to buy a house in Imbali at 437 Mkhamba Street and here Jabu’s last child, Sanele, was born,. Jabu worked very long days at the factory but also studied and obtained her matric as well as being active in the church.

At the same time Jabu started work the trade unions started to become active again. SACTU, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, had been suppressed when the ANC and other organizations were banned in 1961. Harry Gwala, who had worked for SACTU, was released from Robben Island in 1972. He was one of the people who encouraged workers to join unions. The working conditions at Prestige were very bad so in 1981 when the Metal and Allied Workers Union, MAWU, (today called NUMSA) came to organize the workers Jabu joined straight away. In1983 when Prestige signed an agreement with MAWU she became a shop steward. Jabu was very active in the union, organizing a women’s forum and also singing the Prestige factory choir. She took part in many of the struggles of the union such as the Sarmcol strike in Howick.

But there were also problems brewing in communities around the country, including Imbali. The UDF (United Democratic Front) was formed in 1983. It drew together most of the organizations that were opposed to apartheid including trade unions, community organizations, youth organizations and many other groups. The UDF was opposed by the apartheid government as well as organizations that supported the idea of separate homelands like the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) which supported separate areas for KwaZulu. The two groups started fighting in 1985. Jabu’s son, Linda was studying at Siyahlomula High School in Ashdown. He was a member of COSAS and on the SRC at the school. When the Inkatha Youth attacked the school he had to flee. Over the months that followed violence between the UDF and the Inkatha supporters got worse,

Because of Jabu’s activity in the trade union movement and Linda’s involvement in the youth movement they became targets for political violence. Jabu received death threats and other MAWU leaders were murdered, Linda seldom slept at home for fear that those who opposed organizations linked to the UDF like the Imbali Youth Organization would come looking for him there. In spite of the threats to her family, Jabu remained strong and committed. She continued to speak out at community and union meetings.

Then the fatal day came. Jabu had just come back from the NUMSA congress in Johannesburg. She arrived home late in the afternoon on Sunday the 21st of May 1989.  Here is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report said about that night.


“Four people were seen knocking at the Ndlovu’s door that night. Jabu’s husband, Jabulani Ndlovu, who opened the door, was shot 15 times.The attackers then set the house alight. One of the Ndlovu’s daughters, Khumba, tried to escape, but was shot and forced back into the burning house. Jabulani died at the scene. Jabu died later as a result of her burns. Her other daughter, Luhle survived, but bears the scars from the fire to this day.”

Though five people were arrested in connection with the killings, there were no convictions.

The apartheid government prevented Jabu from being buried at her home in Impendle. They forced her family to bury her on a Monday in Pietermaritzburg. They prevented people from the community and her work colleagues from attending the funeral. The funeral was held at St Mary’s Cathedral which today stands in the street named after her. She was buried in Mountain Rise cemetery, Sadly Linda, Jabu’s son, was also killed in the political violence. He was shot dead in Imbali on 25th February 1990.

If you want to know more about Jabu Ndlovu, then read the story of her life.

 Flashes in Her Soul: The Life of Jabu Ndlovu by Jean Fairburn, published by Fanele an imprint of Jacana Media. It is available on Takealot at a cost of R95.

Thank you to Melusi Ndlovu, Jabu’s nephew, for checking the above information which was taken from her biography.