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Nomava Shangase (1931 – 1981) (Posthumous)

The Order of Mendi for Bravery in

Nomava Shangase (1931 – 1981) (Posthumous) Awarded for:
For her contribution to the attainment of freedom in South Africa through putting her medical profession to the service of exiled South African freedom fighters
Profile of Nomava Shangase

Dr Nomava Shangase was one of the comrades of nurses who were selected by the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa to leave the country in 1962 and go to Tanzania for training and assisting the newly independent Tanzania. Tanzania had a shortage of nurses and the arrival of medical practitioners came as great help to the people of Tanzania. The health conditions in the areas where the group was deployed improved drastically.

She later selected to study Medicine in the then Soviet Union where she successfully completed her medical studies and returned to Tanzania as a qualified medical doctor. She continued assisting the Tanzanians as well as ANC comrades deployed in that country. She was later transferred to work in Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) camps in Angola where malaria was wreaking havoc among MK comrades there. The conditions in Angola were very harsh and challenging, but to “Comrade Doctor” – as she was affectionately known – this was nothing compared to the calling.

She arrived in Angola in 1977 and was deployed in Quibaxe Camp, in the north of Angola. Despite the severe conditions in the camp, the shortage of food, malaria and the general terrible conditions of the bush, Shangase stood firm. She ate what guerillas ate, sang revolutionary songs with them, rejoiced in their joys but most importantly, improved the health conditions in the camp. She single-handedly contained the malaria scourge and in the process saved a lot of lives. She also trained some comrades as medical orderlies who were then in a position to assist in ensuring that fighters took their medicines and thus survived.

Her most unforgettable feat was when forces from the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) (rebels of Holden Roberto) attacked and ambushed MK cadres who were on their way to Luanda from Quibaxe Camp. A member of the Luthuli detachment was lost in that ambush. Other cadres managed to survive owing to the professional efforts of Shangase. A Brigadier General Sedibe survived the attack even though severely wounded, thanks to Shangase. Had it not been for her presence, many who were wounded in that attack could have lost their lives.

It is important to realise that Shangase was not a young lady when she went to Angola. She was a mother who became a friend, a healer and most of all a counsellor to the young who were understandably often depressed. She was a comrade who was always ready and willing to help. Most of the time, she could not afford to sleep, tending to her patients whom she cared for so much, day and night. It must be mentioned that though the ANC had many qualified doctors, many were not ready to be deployed in the harsh conditions of Angola.

When the ranks of MK swelled in Angola, she recognised the health challenge facing them and immediately initiated what was called the “Health Committee”, which was to look into the welfare of the people in the whole of Angola. It is for that reason that very few soldiers were treated at the military hospitals in Angola. Through the Health Committee, various MK camps around Angola were able to exchange ideas that resulted in the improvement of the health situation. By that time, the number of people she had trained as medical orderlies, had increased.

Many doctors were to follow in her footsteps.

Dr Nomava Shangase was indeed one of a kind. She showed determination and vision, putting her medical knowledge to the service of MK soldiers in severe and challenging conditions. And yet, her determination to add value to the struggle never waned.

Sadly, Shangase passed away in a road accident on her way to Luanda from her beloved Quibaxe Camp on 23 October 1981. She was buried in Angola.