COSATU mourns the passing of Ambassador of Sophonia “Zeph” Makgetla

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) mourns the passing of Ambassador Sophonia “Zeph” Makgetla.  The Federation offers its support and sympathies during this difficult time to his wife, Neva, herself a daughter of the trade union movement, their daughters, grandchildren and the broader Makgetla family and friends.  Whilst this is a painful loss to Zeph’s family and friends, they can take comfort in a life well lived.

Zeph Makgetla was born in 1945, a mere 3 years before the advent of the apartheid regime, in Thaba Nchu, Free State.  He became politically conscious at a young age and soon joined the then armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).  This was a daunting leap to take in the dark days of apartheid when freedom was a distant mirage and the risk of jail, torture and death real.

This decision saw Zeph leave his family and South Africa at the young age of 18 years for a 27 years’ journey in exile.  He joined the Luthuli Detachment of MK and was amongst the first to be sent to Odessa and Simferopol in the former Soviet Union for advanced military training.  His military skills were used to positive effect in helping to remove landmines planted by the Rhodesian security forces in southern Zambia where MK combatants would cross the border to the former Rhodesia en route to South Africa.

Comrade Makgetla had an illustrious journey in exile that took him from MK’s camps in Tanzania, to the ANC’s Head Quarters in Zambia, and later the former German Democratic Republic to earn a master’s degree in cinematography.  This qualification in film studios saw Zeph play a pioneering role in the ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity and its Film Unit.  It later led him to Hollywood where he worked as a cameraman on several famous movies.  His dedication to the ANC and the liberation struggle remained his passion and he also served as its Deputy Chief Representative in the United States.

Zeph’s unique history led him to serve the democratic government after 1994 in the Presidency and the Government Communications and Information Service where his film expertise and political acumen were invaluable in communicating government’s work to the public.  The final chapter in Makgetla’s illustrious career took him to Sweden and later Greece as South Africa’s Ambassador.

Whilst Zeph led an extraordinary life, his journey would not have been the same or even possible without his loving, supportive and equally resilient family.  Zeph and Neva’s time together spanned nearly 50 years and was blessed with two daughters, Anita and Tumi, and two granddaughters, Lerato and Tendayi.  This was a bond that started in Lusaka in 1973 and culminated in Johannesburg half a century later.  He no doubt took great comfort that his final days, however difficult, were spent in the care and comfort of his family.  Zeph was not doubt proud of his family and loved them dearly.

South Africa is losing these stalwarts of the liberation movement as the years pass by.  The sacrifices of this heroic generation are correctly lauded.  If we trully aspire to do justice to their memories and honour their contributions, then we should follow their examples of integrity, honesty, humility, public service and abhorrence to corruption.  Zeph set a path that we should all seek to emulate.

The Federation wishes the Makgetla family strength during this painful time.  Hamba kahle Mkhonto.  Robala ka khotso.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687