Their cause was great – the liberation of the people of South Africa. Their leaders were inspirations to humanity – towering beacons like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.
Yet when South African exile and African National Congress (ANC) freedom fighter Nosizwe Funde arrived in Australia in early 1984 to join her husband and fellow exile Eddie in establishing the first ANC Mission, Nelson Mandela and his ANC were widely regarded as dangerous terrorists.
Nosizwe was a loyal and tireless servant of her people in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. She did not just support her partner Eddie as the Chief Representative of the African National Congress to Australasia, but was a revolutionary and compelling advocate for freedom and justice in her own right.
Within a decade, Nosizwe and Eddie had become dearly loved by thousands upon thousands of Australians from all walks of life.
The way in which they prosecuted their cause, not just their cause itself, built a vast and powerful anti-apartheid movement in support of the ANC backed by the trade unions, the churches, many politicians from both the Labor and Liberal sides of politics, the music industry, the legal fraternity, the journalist profession, indigenous and ethnic communities, and numerous social movements and community organisations.
Together they played a pivotal role in raising the awareness of the Australian people about the horror of apartheid. In so doing they played no small part in changing Australian attitudes to racism and making us a more tolerant and accepting nation.
Rarely if ever in the history of this country has one couple become so like family to so many diverse groups of people, and forged such a broad and powerful united front for social justice.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Fundes and the ANC changed Australia
On 30th October 2021 Nosizwe passed away after a tragic accident. Her soulmate Eddie was lost to us in 2018.
Nosizwe’s life as an exile started in 1976 when she became wanted by the secret police for her student advocacy against the cruel injustices of the South African Apartheid regime and its discriminatory education system. One morning she fled into exile. It was too dangerous for her family’s welfare for them to know she was leaving, so like so many young exiles she had to ‘vanish’ without the chance to say goodbye. The next 15 years of her life would be spent in exile without any contact with her family, for fear of endangering them.
At school, Nosizwe had been a highly accomplished student. Recognising her talent, the underground liberation movement arranged for her to complete her education in Bulgaria where she graduated as an engineer, taking her exams in Bulgarian and yet still topping her year.
Nosizwe arrived in Australia a stateless citizen travelling on a United Nations passport. Here she supported Eddie to set up the ANC’s Australasian Mission which became the voice of Nelson Mandela in our country and New Zealand.
Nosizwe was warm and loving and also quite funny with an often cheeky sense of humour. She was very brave in the way she confronted adversity as a young exile from her homeland such as when the National Front tried to assassinate Eddie and her at their home in Sydney.
The Rev Dick Wootton recalls:
I arrived at the Funde home on the morning of the shooting. When the shooting started, Eddie had sprung out of bed and Nosizwe stopped him and yelled at the boys to get down. I think she saved Eddie’s life. We sometimes talked of the African heaven above the clouds where there is no racism and cows and people live in peace and love.
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese says that “Nosizwe put herself on the line fighting for her homeland as a dedicated servant of the anti-apartheid movement. In the process, she also won the hearts of so many here in her adopted home of Australia.”
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the Union of Australian Women (UAW), the Campaign Against Racial Exploitation (CARE), the maritime and building unions, and the Uniting Church were amongst those organisations that rendered the greatest support to the ANC Mission in Australia between 1983 and 1992.
APHEDA’s founding director Helen McCue remembers that “Nosizwe played a critical role in the struggle in Australia. She made many sacrifices to raise awareness in Australia about the horror of apartheid in South Africa.”
CARE’s Irene Gale recalls that at one demonstration in Adelaide Nosizwe nervously asked her “why there were so many police surrounding us?” Irene explained that they were there to protect her from any nasty characters who may come long. “Nosizwe found it hard to believe: she had never before had police come to protect her at a demonstration!”
On her return to South Africa after the overthrow of apartheid, Nosizwe applied her engineering skills to help rebuild her country and became a senior public servant.
Today we remember a wonderful daughter of South Africa and a dear comrade.
Vale Nosizwe Funde.
Nosizwe and Eddie are survived by their sons, Themba, Vuyo, Andie and Bongane.
Daren McDonald is a former trade union official and a close friend of the Funde family