Stephen Gawe obituary

Other lives: Activist for the African National Congress who became its representative in London and Rome

My father, Stephen Gawe, who has died aged 80, was an activist for the African National Congress, became its representative in London and Rome, and later was South Africa’s ambassador to Norway.

Born in King William’s Town, South Africa, Stephen was the eldest son of Regina (nee Dakada) and the Rev Walker Gawe. Walker was an Anglican priest and was president of the Cape branch of the ANC. The family lived all over the Eastern Cape and eventually settled in Peelton. To family and friends, and sometimes more publicly, Stephen was also known by his Xhosa name of Pandula.

He was awarded a BA in English and political science at the University of Fort Hare in 1963, but his postgraduate studies were interrupted the following year, when he was detained and eventually sentenced to a year in prison for being a member of the then banned ANC. Upon his release, he was granted an “exit permit” to study at Trinity College, Oxford. There, Stephen reunited with Tozie Mzamo, whom he had met at a wedding in the Eastern Cape, and they married in 1967.

Stephen gained a diploma in youth and community work at Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh. He became a social worker in Oxford in 1971 and eventually settled in 1974 in Southampton, where he ran the Graham Road community centre. At home, he would cook dinner when Tozie worked late shifts as a nurse, and would make bread and cut the material for her dressmaking. He moved into adult education in 1987 with Hampshire county council, having gained a further diploma in adult education from the University of Nottingham.

Throughout all this, Stephen continued to represent the ANC, speaking at anti-apartheid gatherings and leading a south-west chapter of the anti-apartheid movement for many years. He was considering studying for an MPhil when news came of the unbanning of the ANC in South Africa and his plans changed almost immediately.

He retired from his adult education role and took up representing the ANC, full-time from 1991 as assistant to the chief representative in London and later as chief representative in Rome. He could finally return to South Africa, after almost 30 years in exile. It was a dream come true for both my parents.

In 1995 Stephen was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to Norway. He studied diligently to ensure he understood the roles, languages and currencies of diplomacy, and the staff were immediately impressed with his dedication to the job. In 1999 he became director in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria and in 2001 he was appointed ambassador to Denmark. He retired around 2005.

Tozie died in 2000. In 2002, Stephen married Duduzile Khoza-Moerane. He is survived by her, his daughters, Vuyo and me, and his grandchildren, Jonas and Ruby.

Nomtha Gray

The GuardianTramp

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