Mbube Son of Nelson Mandela’s Soweto ‘father’, Chief Jonginthaba

Mbube  Son of Nelson Mandela’s Soweto ‘father’, Chief Jonginthaba

From 2005 to 2010, Mbube Mdingi, eldest son of Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi, and I, shared a strange ‘street relationship’. In the early years of our Soweto activities, I was in Soweto every day, and at some stage during the day, our paths would cross. I loved interacting with him, a strange serious man, who was probably living in circumstances that did not allow him to take me home with him.

So, the bulk of our time together, was spent in either his maroon Kombi, or my blue Kombi.

Mbube Mdingi, is part of Passport to Soweto, through his father Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi’s heritage, and link to the ‘Royal House of the Gcaleka’.

Mbube, a MK activist,  while we were interaction, told me that he was imprisoned on Robben Island early in 1970s, released in 1975, carrying specific instructions from Nelson Mandela, to infiltrate the Soweto youth and start to politicise them.

His brother Vuyo, on two occasions told me that he was on Robben Island, after June 16, 1976, I ignored his comments, so sure that Mbube had given me an accurate story, once I discover the PAC Robben Island prisoners, I find that Vuyo was correct, Mbube was imprisoned on Robben Island from November 25, 1977 to September 29, 1978 following his involvement when moving the youth into exile.

Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi, and Nelson Mandela; 

I was introduced to house 1807 in 2005 by Mbube Mdingi, and the initial attraction was the fact that ‘Nelson and Winnie Mandela, had their wedding celebrations in this house in 1958’, as a result of the tribal family links that they had to Chief Jonginthaba.

Whether this claim is valid or not, was at this stage in 2005, not sufficient to develop a tourist interest route that would compete with the Orlando West route, so this house remained just an interest when passing by. Whether in Alexandra or Kliptown, I will be introduced to properties where the locals claim Nelson Mandela participated in some sort of activity, or was accommodated while on the run.

When I started to research the Mdingi Family for the ‘Passport to Soweto’, one of the persons of interest was Herbert Mdingi, thanks to the street and school name, and presto, thanks to the Walter & Albertina Sisulu, ‘In our Lifetime’ book, I discover a link to Chief Hintsa, right here in the home of Chief Jonginthaba.

The Mdingi family, importantly are descendants of the Royal House of the Gcaleka, and deserving of a place in the Passport to Soweto.

The family link to the Royal House of the Gcaleka, excited me, in 2013 I researched South Africa’s history, and having discovered a close link between the shooting of Chief Hintsa, May 12, 1835;

Chief Hintsa
Chief Hintsa

The sort of official version of Chief Hintsa’s death, is that he had been accused of having stolen 25 000 head of cattle, he was asked to return the Cattle, and then decided to flee, when in flight, he was shot, shot in the back of the head, and his ears chopped off, his head removed.

And the emancipation of the Mfengu tribe, by Reverend Ayliff, May 14, 1835, two days apart, and no more than sixty miles away, I question how Chief Hintsa, a powerful leader, a tactician, would have gone into discussion without been tricked, and the chief would never have put his life in danger, to save a few head of cattle.

In my opinion, he became aware of the threat that the Mfengu as an allied force with the English, would have on the future of the amaGcaleka, and he was therefore a threat to the English colonisation plans.

I cover the murder of the great Chief Hintsa, in my book, Consider the Verdict, where I link the murder to the emancipation of the Mfengu tribe, by Reverend Ayliff, once again, my personal version.


Mbube Son of Nelson Mandela’s Soweto ‘father’, Chief Jonginthaba

Is Mbube Mdingi’s claim that Nelson & Winnie’s wedding celebration took place at Chief Jonginthaba’s home correct? 

For years I have accepted this, but as we publish Passport to Soweto, I need to seek an answer to this question, and refer back to Long Walk to Freedom.

1: The naming of Nelson Mandela’s daughters:

The Mdingi family are proud of the fact that their father, Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi, thanks to his position in the family, named Nelson Mandela’s two daughters, yet, according to the Long Walk to Freedom, this involvement is reflected as follows:

My relative, Chief Mdingi, suggested the name Zenani, which means “What have you brought to the world?” — a poetic name that embodies a challenge, suggesting that one must contribute something to society. It is a name one does not simply possess, but has to live up to.

The entry in the Long Walk to Freedom surprises me, Nelson Mandela has, according to the family, always used Chief Mdingi’s ‘Praise name’, Chief Jonginthaba, yet in the Long walk to Freedom, this respect does not take place.

Let me first present my understanding of ‘Praise Name’.

Nelson Mandela, as a young man, lived under the guardianship of Chief David Jonginthaba, and his heritage is well documented about him, and his cousin Justice, the son of Chief Jonginthaba, running away from arranged marriages by the Chief.

When Mbube Mdingi, the eldest son of the Tshawe Mdingi Chief Jonginthaba, first introduced me to this property in 2005, he explained to me that Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi, in relation to Nelson Mandela, was the traditional senior, being from the Royal House, when Nelson Mandela married Winnie in 1958, they had a wedding day lunch reception, at this, his elders home.

What I need to get my mind around, is my confusion of clan names, when a Chief or elder, is known by his ‘praise name’. Jonginthaba, in the Chief Mdingi position, is his ‘praise name’, and his clan name is Tshawe, this clan represents the ruling house among the Xhosa, including Chief Hintsa and his descendants.

Rohilhlahala Nelson Mandela, of the Madiba clan, was given his praise name, Dalibungha, ‘Founder of the Bungha’, ‘the Traditional ruling House of the Transkei’. Many elders would only know Nelson Mandela as Rohilhlahala, or Dalibungha,

Elders and Traditionalists attach greater respect and importance to this name, and when greeting or celebrating him, used the praise name, ‘Aaah Dalibungha’, and when the use of this praise name takes place, all participants in the event, will stand and call out the praise name, ‘Aaah Dalibungha’.

According to the letters that Mbube passed on to me, letters written to Mbube while he was on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela, even while talking to the Mdingi family, would refer to their father, Chief Mdingi, by his Praise Name, Chief Jonginthaba.

In the following letter, the family link that Mbube had to Nelson Mandela, is reflected, should be dated Nov 25, 1977;

Letter from Nelson Mandela to Mbube Mdingi
Letter from Nelson Mandela to Mbube Mdingi

Mtshana, I was very happy to hear that you were on the Island, and especially to receive your warm and encouraging role in which you told me about Chief Jonginthaba and your mum. However you said very little about the family, Sobuza, his brothers and your sister. She was a beautiful young lady and must now be at University, or already married. A few years back, I heard that Sobuza was married to Nobuntu and should like you to confirm it when you reply. I also hope that Bazindlovu’s family is keeping well and that his children were able to go to school. 

Ishawe and I were excited when we saw you through the window as you lined up for X-ray, just outside our cells. Ishawe literally dragged me from the court-yard and we were sorry that you did not see us. Your build, height and face, reminded us of your father, but we hope to see you one day. In the hospital I saw your name written on the board and the old saying is that prevention is better than cure. Exercise regularly and you will feel the difference. Inqubela has carried the picture of Humahtshona twice. The first one disappeared about 7 years ago, and the second one is a  current one.  

In Johannesburg he had progress we views and hope than even as ruling chief, he is just as militant. I am sure that you know that you are not the first of Phalos descendants to be sent to this island. Maqoma was deported to this island twice. Perhaps it will give you much encouragement and hope to know that you are also helping to preserve that family tradition. I hope you are getting visits. I last saw Chief Jonginthaba when he visited me at the Fort in 1962. He looked well and impressive as usual. I was happy to get Kgathos message and hope that the years will run very quickly for you. What is the name of your wife and what was her maiden surname? 

My fondest regards to you and all Comrades. Malume.  Amandla.

This letter would have been written in 1978.

(Mtshana translated in ‘Nephew’)

Letter from Nelson Mandela to Mbube Mdingi
Letter from Nelson Mandela to Mbube Mdingi


Zindzi visited Chief Jonginthaba, at Bara Hospital where he is lying ill with diabetes. She found him cheerful & he even joked about the fact that he is on his way to his ancestors. Zindzi thinks his condition is not so bad and expects him to return home soon. We know how strong and courage the Chief is & we are also hopeful that he will be alright. We wish him a speedy recovery, & look forward to news from home confirming that he is on his feet again. Meantime keep strong and relax. We trust that you are receiving visits and letters. Fondest regard to all the comrades and the family. Amandla! Malume.

2: The claimed Wedding Celebration at Chief  Mdingi:

This is possibly the most challenging concept that, based on my limited understanding of African Culture, I give my reason for why the Wedding Celebration would have taken place and Chief Jonginthaba’s home, as Traditional Elder.

The following extracts from Long Walk to Freedom, does not include this family connection, during the Soweto celebrations after the wedding in Bizana.

The wedding took place on June 14, 1958. I applied for a relaxation of my banning orders and was given six days’ leave of absence from Johannesburg. I also arranged for lobola, the traditional brideprice, to be paid to Winnie’s father.

The wedding party left Johannesburg very early on the morning of June 12, and we arrived in Bizana late that afternoon. My first stop, as always when one was banned, was the police station to report that I had arrived. At dusk, we then went to the bride’s place, Mbongweni, as was customary.

…..   The entire executive of the ANC had been invited, but bans limited their attendance. Among those who came were Duma Nokwe, Lilian Ngoyi, Dr. James Njongwe, Dr. Wilson Conco, and Victor Tyamzashe.

After the ceremony, a piece of the wedding cake was wrapped up for the bride to bring to the groom’s ancestral home for the second part of the wedding. But it was never to be, for my leave of absence was up and we had to return to Johannesburg. Winnie carefully stored the cake in anticipation of that day. At our house, number 8115 Orlando West, a large party of friends and family were there to welcome us back. A sheep had been slaughtered and there was a feast in our honor.

I placed the extracts as per the Long Walk to Freedom, purely for the reader to understand that I have given consideration to whether Mbube’s claim has merit or not.

The only area that I bring into debate is the last two sentences.

At our house, number 8115 Orlando West, a large party of friends and family were there to welcome us back. A sheep had been slaughtered and there was a feast in our honor.

During my schooling in African Culture, in many Townships and Rural Villages, I have attended many celebrations, witnessed many celebrations, here we are looking at the period 1958, and my schooling takes place after 2004, but the celebration at 8115 Orlando West, brings into questioning my schooling.

My observations is that the Elder Family Home, is where the celebration always takes place, or, were things different in 1958.

In my limited opinion, either the home of Chief Jonginthaba Mdingi, or the home of Walter Sisulu, would, as elders to Nelson Mandela, have been the home where the elders and family would have prepared for the celebration.

It is unusual for these families to have taken the celebration into the home of the newly weds, particularly, not during the times that bans were in place on most of the ANC members.

I am further of the opinion that, if Walter Sisulu was the senior elder, in 1958, preference would have been given to the Mdingi home, in order to avoid attention from the Security Forces.

I trust that this support of the Mbube claim, will encourage interest to visit with the community.

Thus, in my opinion, Mbube’s claim that he witnessed the celebration in 1958, I give credence to.

The Passport holder will find great interest in uncovering what version they believe has credence.


In 2005, when Mbube introduced me to this house, he never introduced himself as the elder son of Chief Jonginthaba, was he embarrassed at the lack of respect and support from Nelson Mandela and the ANC, as related to this relationship.

Possibly he was avoiding the question that I would have asked:  “Why has Nelson Mandela never visited your family since being released?”

He needs not have concerned himself, my research only finds Mrs Lollan as having been visited, even the Dada family of Kliptown, was not visited.

In general, if your heritage did not feature in the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, the system kept you out of the Nelson Mandela interaction after release, almost as if it was the manual that decided who should be recognised.

Read more details in Passport to Soweto


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