Mbulelo’Spi’ Grootboom: 4 June 1960 to 9 August 2014
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Drewan Baird. Oudtshoorn. August 22, 2014. 05h00. Mbulelo ‘Spi’ Grootboom, one of the Karoo’s foremost liberation activists, passed away in the early hours of 9 August, National Women’s Day. He had suffered ill health for a number of years.
Spi, 54, leaves behind his wife Zama, sons Mpilo and Sima, daughter Hombisa, a brother Kenneth and many close relatives, friends and comrades.
Anti-apartheid activists from around the country have expressed sadness at his passing and remember him as a person of great principle, courage and dedication. He is remembered as a source of light during a very dark time in our history when the scourge of oppression blighted our nation and rural communities bore the brunt of its cruelty.
Born in Oudtshoorn in 1960, Spi did his primary schooling in Bhongolethu and matriculated in the former Ciskei. He played rugby and participated in athletics. He studied law in 1983 and 1984 at Fort Hare, where he was politicised.
Fired up, he returned to Oudtshoorn around the time of the fraudulent tri-cameral elections and helped to turn initial anger against a brutal system of racial and class oppression into a full-scale revolt by the following year.
Spi and the late Reggie Oliphant were the most prominent members of a core group that led militant resistance to apartheid in the deeply conservative rural town that housed a military base and the headquarters of the feared security police.
He was instrumental in establishing and building youth and civic structures in Bhongolethu and very soon he organised and mobilised across the Southern Cape and beyond.
Inspired by the Freedom Charter’s vision of a non-racial and democratic South Africa, Grootboom threw much of his energies into building the United Democratic Front and the inspirational rural community paper Saamstaan.
Spi joined Saamstaan as a journalist in 1985 and worked tirelessly to build the newspaper into a formidable political and mobilising force. He travelled the length and breadth of the South Cape and Karoo to find out and write about the lives of ordinary rural communities and their struggles for survival and political freedom. Not only did he write about the issues faced by communities such as Willowmore, Calitzdorp, Riversdale, Mossel Bay and Beaufort West, but used the newspaper as a platform to help in the organising and mobilising of these and other communities.
Spi was a natural born leader who possessed a great deal of zeal, initiative and creativity. He was humble and never sought personal accolades. He had a sober and analytical mind able to translate complex problems into simple solutions understood by everyone. Spi was committed to the ideal of non-racialism, in theory and practice.
He suffered lengthy detentions and banning orders and spent harrowing periods on the run. One night in 1987, he was in the offices of Saamstaan when a petrol bomb, suspected to be the work of third force agents, was hurled through the window. He managed to douse the fire that was intended to destroy the base of the newspaper project.
Spi became active in the underground structures of the African National Congress and facilitated the recruitment of youth into MK, the ANC’s military wing. He was angered by the barbaric violence of the apartheid state and devastated by the death of Oudtshoorn principal Sicelo Mhlauli, one of the Cradock Four.
He went to UWC in 1989 to further his studies but duty called and he joined the Karoo Resource Centre in Beaufort-West where he set up various development projects aimed at empowering people from the dusty dorpies, villages and farms of this impoverished region.
He joined the Community Bank in 1995 and energetically set about the task to make banking services accessible and affordable to vulnerable communities. Two years later, he took up employment with the Equal Opportunities Foundation, where he focused on poverty eradication programmes.
His university studies were twice disrupted. But never one to leave a task incomplete, he returned to university almost a decade later and completed a BA degree when he was 40. In 2006, he graduated with an Honours Degree in Development Studies.
Spi declined offers to serve in the first democratic parliament, opting instead to continue his work with poor rural communities. He joined the Department of Social Development in 2002 and worked in Vredendal until 2007 when he was given a transfer to Oudtshoorn.
Spi lived by strong values that respect other human beings and was deeply committed to his family and friends. In February this year he got married to his high school sweetheart and lifelong partner, Zama Mgolozi. The two of them have three children Mpilo, their eldest son who is studying at UCT; Hombisa, a daughter who is at high school and Sima, their youngest son who is at primary school.