Tribute pour in for struggle icon

Cecyl Esau died at 66 years old last week.

Tributes have poured in for former liberation stalwart, Cecyl Esau who died at his home in Table View last week.

In a Facebook post, Mr Esau’s sister, June Esau said the family was saddened by his untimely death.

“Cecyl died of natural causes at his home in Table View. Cecyl leaves behind five children, a granddaughter, his sister, June Esau and two brothers, Alexander Esau and Jacob Esau.

“[He] contributed immensely to the liberation struggle. He is an uMkhonto we Sizwe veteran who was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on Robben Island and was released in 1991. Cecyl was awarded the Freedom of Worcester accolade in 2020 recognising his significant contribution to the rights to freedom and justice,” she wrote.

Mr Esau, 66, was born in Worcester on September 30, 1955 and is the youngest of four children. He got involved in politics at a young age and after matriculating from Esselen Park High School in Worcester in 1974, he registered as a BA (Law) student at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

In an interview posted on the District Six Museum website in 2016, Mr Esau said he had grown up in a household where anti-Apartheid politics was discussed and encouraged.

“My involvement at high school was during political discussion groups where I met people like Hennie Ferus and Johnny Issel.

“I was a member of the Association of Christian Students and I was also a founding member of the Literary Society at UWC in 1975 and the Law Students Society.

“In 1976, I was detained for four and a half months. I couldn’t understand why I was detained because at that time, I hadn’t spoken at any mass meetings.

“I had been only speaking to small groups of people and doing one-on-one sessions. I suppose the police must have heard about my political views and that led to my arrest,” he said.

Mr Esau said in the 2016 interview that his parents had been very supportive through all those years of his political involvement.

He later joined the ANC together with his comrades Mr Ferus and Mr Issel. In April 1986, Mr Esau was arrested and charged with committing acts of terrorism and a year later, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and sent to carry out his sentence at Robben Island Prison.

Cecyl Esau (bottom left) and next to him is Nazeem Lowe, photographed in February 1991 after their release from Robben Island Prison. Behind Mr Esau is Worcester activist, Rabia Samuels and behind Mr Lowe is his mother Fowzia Lowe.

He was released in February 1991. While imprisoned in 1987, the male residence at UWC was name in honour of Mr Esau. After his release, he went on to work for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) and furthered his studies at UWC doing a BA Honours in Development Studies in 1993 and his Master’s in 2007.

In a statement published on its website, the IJR said: “Cecyl will be remembered by his contemporaries for the mobilisation of communities in the fight against Apartheid. Unlike many of his comrades who entered public office after 1994, Cecyl remained committed to the building of agency within the same marginalised communities that he served during the struggle years. For us at IJR he embodied the true spirit of what reconciliation should be. We will miss this noble, but humble, fighter for the voices of ordinary South Africans. Mooi loop, Cecyl.”