What is the origin of the District Municipality’s name – Gert Sibande?
The Council was renamed in February 2003 from Eastvaal District Council to “Gert Sibande” in honour of Richard Gert Sibande, who was known in the ANC as “The Lion of the East” for his political and trade union work in the Eastern Transvaal.
Gert Sibande was born in Ermelo in 1901 and came from a family of farm labourers. Sibande spent twenty years working on different farms in the then Eastern Transvaal. During his years as a farm worker, he never stayed on the same farm for very long because he liked to argue with his employers about working conditions, hence the farmers called him a “trouble maker”.
In the 1930’s Gert Sibande moved to the Bethal Location and started helping farm workers with their work problems. He started helping them by lodging their complaints to the local magistrates, some helpful and others not. During this time, Gert Sibande decided to starts a Farm Workers Association, the first organization in South Africa to fight for the rights of the farm workers. The Farm Workers Association helped farm workers to get their crops back and it also helped those farm workers who escaped from the farms due to maltreatment. In 1939 the Farm Workers Association send Gert Sibande to meet the African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg. He came back and started an ANC branch in Bethal. The branch grew very quick and became one of the strongest ANC branches in the country. In his political party, the African National Congress, he became known as the “LION OF THE EAST” for his political and trade union in the former Eastern Transvaal.
Gert Sibande was amongst 156 activists accused of committing treason in 1956 which ended with the acquittal of all in 1961. Soon after the treason trial, the government forcefully captured Sibande and removed him from Bethal and dropped him in Komatipoort near Swaziland and Mozambique. He founded the Plantation and Allied Union and continued to work for the movement after he was banned. His last days were spent in a flat in Manzini, Swaziland, where he died of natural causes in 1987 and was buried at the local cemetery in Manzini.
Although Sibande passed on, his memories and recognition still lives. In honour of him, the Mpumalanga Government named one of its three district municipalities after Gert Sibande. In April 2007, Gert Sibande was awarded the order of Luthuli in Gold by President Thabo Mbeki. He was awarded the order for his exceptional contribution to the struggle for the improvement of farm workers’ working conditions and for a non-racial, just and democratic South Africa. The order was received on his behalf by the remaining members of his family. (Learning Together, Vol 1, Issue 1, 2007:28-30)