Nelson Mandela's cell mate receives cash boost from Newcastle City Council

A South African who shared a prison cell with Nelson Mandela for a year has received a cash boost from Newcastle City Council


A South African who shared a prison cell with Nelson Mandela for a year has received a cash boost from Newcastle City Council to help improve schools in one of the most deprived parts of his native country.

Archie Sibeko, also known as Zola Zembe, is a former freedom fighter who fought to bring about the end of South African apartheid and was arrested and put on trial in 1956 in what became known as the Treason Trial.

He was imprisoned by the South African apartheid regime alongside Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo and their fellow treason trialists.

Now living on Tyneside, Mr Zembe is the founder of Tyume Valley Schools (TVS), a voluntary organisation that works with schools in the Tyume Valley area of the Eastern Cape, helping them to improve teaching and learning.

The North East is already twinned with the Eastern Cape and Newcastle honoured Mandela by giving him Freedom of the City in 1986.

With such valuable links, the city council has awarded Mr Zembe £1,000 to help his charity lift the standards of education in a deprived area of South Africa where he was once a schoolboy.

Mr Zembe, who has lived in Tynemouth for many years, says the political change in South Africa has been remarkable since the first free democratic elections 20 years go, but more still needs to be done.

“There have been a lot of changes for the better,” he said. “Most households have access to clean running water and access to school for free.

“But South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. The Tyume Valley is where I went to school and when I went back to visit with my wife Joyce, my school was horrid. There were no pictures on the wall, there was no proper floor and the children were starving.

“It was a hot day in December and they didn’t even have water. Joyce had to go to the town and buy a tank so they could filter clean water to drink.

“When I founded TVS in 2004 volunteer teachers from the North East came to South Africa for three weeks at a time to help improve teaching standards in school.

“They gave up their time for free and paid their travelling expenses. That is a big ask, so any money we raise goes a long way to helping pay for these services. I am so grateful to the city council for its continued support of this worthwhile project.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first free democratic elections in South Africa.

An estimated one million South Africans who were born after the end of apartheid will be voting in the first ‘Born Free’ elections today (May 7), which are the first since the death of Nelson Mandela in December.

As well as the city council’s donation, a further £460 has been raised by the region’s business community, including a £150 donation from Peterlee-based Berger Group.

South African-born Richard Swart is managing director of Berger Group and is also chair of the International Committee for the North East Chamber of Commerce.

Scores of business leaders and politicians from South Africa and the North East are currently working together to open up new business opportunities for investment and jobs.

The city council is working with Mr Zembe and his charity on a bid for European funding for a project that will see young people from Newcastle, Tyume Valley and other cities across Europe to work together to open up new cultural opportunities.


David Whetstone
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