In memoriam: Donavan Wanza

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Picture of Donavan Wanza: provided

Moegammad Tahier Kara is busy with his master’s degree in the Sociology of Education at the University of Stellenbosch and he writes about the unsung heroes who died during the Apartheid Struggle. Read the first commemoration below.

In the picturesque town of Stellenbosch, nestled within the mountains and the rolling vineyards, there was a hidden hero whose name remains shrouded in obscurity and silence. He is Donavan Wanza. The history of Donavan and what unfolded within these serene mountains and the rolling vineyards is untold. The area’s beauty hides the sadness and heartache people experienced during the dark days of apartheid. People from all over the world come to Stellenbosch to witness the scenic beauty, but some people today are still affected by what happened to their family members and friends during apartheid. Most people see the beauty, but others see the scenic beauty as a pondering of their experience of great sadness and loss, and the Wanza family is an example of this loss and deep sadness. The room where I interviewed them was filled with sorrow and deep sadness. The thickness of the sorrow and the deep sadness could have been cut with a knife. This process of writing up their histories is just a consolation to the families and the friends of the unsung heroes of Stellenbosch.

This unsung champion of justice, a quiet but relentless fighter against the oppressive apartheid regime, dedicated his life to dismantling the oppressive system that plagued his beloved country. He organised clandestine meetings with unwavering determination, offered safe havens to those seeking refuge, and fearlessly spoke out against the injustices ravaging his community. Though his name may not be widely known, the impact of his courageous actions reverberates through the heart of Stellenbosch, inspiring future generations to stand up for equality and justice. Donavan Wanza died at the age of 21 in September 1980. Again, too young to die, a man with a promising future.

Donavan was part of a family of six. His mother was Maria, fondly known as Moeder (Mother). His father was Aubrey. He had three sisters and two brothers. His sisters are Bonita, June and Seugnet. His brothers are Benjamin and Herchelle. Herchelle passed away in 2001 in a car accident. His mother was also active in politics. She was a member of the Labour Party. She got the nickname Moeder because of her involvement in the community. She was a well-respected figure and had an authoritative voice in the community. She did not tolerate any nonsense from anyone. Moeder was the mother of everyone she assisted during their struggles and discomforts. However, she did not witness how the Labour Party sold out her and other people’s involvement in the fight against apartheid. She died before the Tricameral Parliament was installed in 1984. According to Bennie, it would have been a devastating blow to his mother if she had witnessed how the Labour Party sold out to the National Party to become part of the Tricameral Parliament. Moeder passed away at 44, four months after Donavan died.

The question always arises: what was the role of a person like Donavan Wanza as an opponent of apartheid? Primarily, he used to operate clandestinely. Operating clandestinely in South Africa during apartheid was a necessity born out of the extreme repression and brutality of the regime. For Donavan, this was not the only reason why he operated clandestinely; first and foremost, he protected his family. The role of a freedom fighter is to be selfless. He did almost nothing for himself. Donavan Wanza is the perfect example of a selfless individual. His family and friends were the eyewitnesses to this selflessness. The apartheid government used its extensive security apparatus to quash any form of dissent, making open opposition a perilous endeavour. Clandestine operations were a means of survival for him and many of his colleagues. This allowed them to work undercover, away from the watchful eye of the authorities. This covert approach reduced the risk of arrest, torture and extrajudicial killings, which were all too familiar to those openly opposing apartheid. It also enabled activists to continue their work even when leaders and members were incarcerated, ensuring the persistence of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Moreover, clandestine operations were pivotal in gathering and disseminating information about apartheid’s injustices. In an environment where censorship was widespread, these underground networks played a vital role in sharing the truth about government policies and human rights abuses. They also worked to counter the government’s propaganda and to mobilise support. By operating in secret, activists and organisations were able to maintain a sustained challenge to apartheid policies, contributing significantly to the eventual dismantling of the oppressive regime and the establishment of a more equitable South Africa.

Donavan rose to prominence in Stellenbosch when he initiated the uprising at Luckhoff School in Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch, in 1976. The uprising at Luckhoff School was the catalyst for intensifying the struggle against apartheid in Stellenbosch. He was a prominent student leader in 1976. On the day of the uprising, Luckhoff students broke the school gate, and he led them to “Die Vlakte”, where the old Luckhoff School building and the James Hugo Rhenish Primary School were. On their way to the original Luckhoff School, the children at the old Luckhoff School were told that the students from Luckhoff were on their way there. The children rushed out of the school before the Luckhoff students arrived. It must have been a sight to behold when they were rushing out of the school in total panic. To storm the old Luckhoff School was not planned, but it was a stroke of genius and immense significance.

The Luckhoff School building is a reminder to them of the place where they were removed forcibly. That attack on the old Luckhoff School building should be a day of remembrance and commemoration. The storm of the building caught the authorities off guard, and they could not stop until they had almost reached Die Vlakte. Die Vlakte is an area in Stellenbosch where people used to reside before they were removed to Ida’s Valley and Cloetesville because of the Group Areas Act. They never thought that the uprising would lead to the storming of the old Luckhoff School building. However, they were stopped before they could reach the old Luckhoff and the Rhenish School. The police stopped them at the current entrance of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. They were forced to return to their school. They returned to the school chanting and singing freedom songs. While returning, they took the route past my house (in Ida’s Valley) – this was 47 years ago. I heard them chanting and singing the freedom songs, which still reverberate in my ears today. I was seven years old, but I can remember that day as if it were yesterday.

It was the first time that students in Stellenbosch had had an uprising, and this action was connected to the Soweto uprisings and the language issue. Even if the uprising at Luckhoff was during that year, the language issue did not give impetus to the struggle in Stellenbosch. It was purely about justice and freedom for all the people in South Africa.

It was the first time that students in Stellenbosch had had an uprising, and this action was connected to the Soweto uprisings and the language issue. Even if the uprising at Luckhoff was during that year, the language issue did not give impetus to the struggle in Stellenbosch. It was purely about justice and freedom for all the people in South Africa. The language issue was never talked about, according to Bennie, the brother of Donavan.

The attempted storming of the Luckhoff School had unintended consequences for some people in Stellenbosch. Those who lived in white areas around Ida’s Valley and Cloetesville started with foot patrols at night. Propaganda spread among the white people that the people from Ida’s Valley and Cloetesville would come and attack them. Unfortunately, this was a gross misrepresentation of the struggle of the ordinary people. The struggle was never to attack the ordinary people of South Africa, but was about fighting an oppressive and immoral regime. I believe that it never even crossed the minds of people in Ida’s Valley and Cloetesville to go and attack the white areas. This was the panic the apartheid government created among their people to sustain the idea of apartheid and that the ordinary people of South Africa wanted to destroy and kill white people.

After the uprising at Luckhoff School, Donavan became a target for the security police. He went into hiding at the house of Father Ted Goodyear. He was the local pastor of the Anglican Church in Stellenbosch. Father Goodyear invited him to stay with him because nobody would come to look for him at the rectory. The Wanza family fondly remembers Father Ted Goodyear for his role in the apartheid struggle. Father Goodyear left Stellenbosch after this incident. However, the incident does not have any connection to the reason why he left Stellenbosch. When he was hiding in the rectory, Donavan did not have contact with anyone. The police came to their house numerous times to look for him. Again, as in the case of Ronald Carolissen, a person from the local white community came to threaten the family. The policeman was Inspector Odendaal (better known as “Toutjies hare” by the people of Stellenbosch). He told Bonita, Donavan’s sister, that he “sal haar vrek skiet as sy nie sê waar Donavan is nie”, (he will kill her if she does not say where Donavan is). Odendaal was the public image of the brutality of the police. He was the visible enforcer of apartheid in Stellenbosch. During that time, he and his fellow policemen frequently searched their house for evidence of his involvement in the struggle.

Donavan had a black book where he wrote his notes on the struggle. They came to raid the house, and the book was on the table in his room in full view of the policemen. The book would have been valuable evidence to detain him. Fortunately, the policemen did not notice the book lying in full view. They went through the cupboards to find evidence of his involvement in the struggle. Bennie and Bonita believe that the hand of God intervened and that the police did not see something that was in full view for everyone to see.

After four weeks of Donavan evading the police, his father convinced him to hand himself over to the police. He was tortured and brutally assaulted by the police in the local prison. During his stay in the prison, he was supposed to appear in the local magistrate court twice, but he did not appear. The police did not take him to court because the torture in custody would have been visible on his face and body for everyone to see in the court. He was detained for about a month and then released. Upon his release from prison, the family could see the bruises on his body from all the torture. He was weak and traumatised after the stint in prison.

He matriculated that same year from Luckhoff School. It was a remarkable achievement to finish school amid all the trauma and torture he went through during that year. It must have been immensely difficult to focus on finishing school because of all these things that happened during the infamous year of 1976. After his matriculation, he went to work for Safmarine. After two years, he quit that job and started working for Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery. He was then much less involved in the struggle. That is what it seemed, but that is not the whole story. People like him, who live a selfless life, must have somehow been involved in the struggle.

In September 1980, he suddenly felt ill on a Sunday afternoon. He was rushed to hospital when his situation became worse. After a few days, he was transferred to Somerset Hospital and Groote Schuur in Cape Town. He died less than two weeks after falling ill. His health deteriorated, and he lost his eyesight and almost all his hearing in about two weeks. Just before he died, he held up his hand with his index finger and pinkie raised and told his sister Bonita that between those two fingers, so much happened. After that sign, he started to sing the hymn “Amazing grace”, and soon after singing the hymn, he passed away.

These two actions of Donavan are hugely significant. Raising the index finger and the pinkie is usually a sign for the devil’s horns. What can be assumed is that Donavan was referring to the fact that there was so much evil going on in South Africa. If you were not in the struggle to experience it, it is not easy to imagine the horror and the evil nature of apartheid. He experienced it first-hand and told them to be aware of the evil nature of apartheid.

The singing of “Amazing grace” just before his death carried deep emotional and symbolic significance for him. This hymn is widely recognised for its themes of redemption, grace and finding solace in faith. The hymn must have been a deep personal connection for him, expressing faith, seeking reflection and closure, offering comfort to loved ones, and creating a lasting memory. This poignant act provided solace and reassurance as he confronted the end of his life, serving as a profound expression of his beliefs, a moment of reconciliation and forgiveness, and a source of emotional comfort and connection for those present, leaving a lasting legacy in their memory. There cannot be a better everlasting memory for his family to remember than the hymn he sang when he passed away. It is an everlasting memory and a profound expression of solace. This singing of the hymn brought solace to the family in those dark and heavy days. On his deathbed, he was a selfless person.


There cannot be a better everlasting memory for his family to remember than the hymn he sang when he passed away. It is an everlasting memory and a profound expression of solace. This singing of the hymn brought solace to the family in those dark and heavy days. On his deathbed, he was a selfless person.


His family firmly believes that the security police poisoned him. It is not possible that a person’s health can deteriorate like that in such a short time. The death certificate states that he died from unspecified circumstances. The family is still yearning for answers as to why their brother died. The uncertainty of his death is still a mystery, and they still demand answers about the reason and cause for it.

His mother died four months after his demise, in January 1981. Moeder died of sadness and stress. It is traumatic to experience how a parent has lost the will to live. The brothers and sisters of Donavan witnessed the heart-wrenching situation of their mother’s gradual decline as she grappled with the profound sadness and stress resulting from the loss of a murdered child. In their innocent eyes, they witnessed the world once vibrant with their mother’s warmth and love darkening with each passing day. The pain across her face became a vivid testament to her immense burden. The world, once a place of joy and security, was now a place of relentless sorrow for these young observers. They did not fully grasp the complexities of their mother’s grief, but they felt its weight, their own emotions intertwined with hers as they navigated a world forever altered by tragedy. The profound sadness of Moeder was inexplicable as she grappled with her loss of Donavan. He had confided only in his mother, and they had been united in their struggles for freedom and justice. She had known everything that went on in his life and his head. She had been the confidante of this brave young man.

As we remember Donavan, we should also not forget Moeder for her struggles and the love she showed to her courageous son, who selflessly gave his life for justice and freedom. On that same level, we also pay homage to Moeder, who made life a little bit easier for the people she encountered in her relatively short life.

A luta continua.

Picture of Donavan Wanza: provided

Read more:

In memoriam: Ronald Carolissen

The ambiguity of the name Luckhoff: my thoughts at the Race and Transformation in Higher Education Conference at Stellenbosch University

Memories and reflections of Egypt


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  • Thank you, Moegammad, for this piece of history. It's very interesting. A question and an observation: Where was the James Hugo Rhenish Primary School? What was its relationship to Rhenish Primary on the Braak (if any)? Then, about Ted Goodyer: he left Stellenbosch only in about 1983 or 1984. His son Peter was in my class at Rhenish and then Eikestad Primary, until one of those two years.

  • Moegammad Tahier Kara

    Thanks for the comments. The James Hugo is where the current Department of Home Affairs is in Ryneveldt Street. There was a link between but I am not certain, will find out and let you know. Ok, I am keen to come into contact with the family of Father Ted Goodyear if they are still around. I believe he left for England. If you have more information let me know please.

  • Anton Visagie

    What a poignant story and so beautifully told. Thank you Mr Kara for your work. The story of Donovan Wanza is an important reminder of lost aspirations, sadness and death during brutal apartheid times.

  • Enver Momberg

    Die stories van families soos die Wanzas noop gemeenskappe om daadwerklike restitusiewerk te doen. Sou Universiteit Stellenbosch nie 'n belangrike rol mbt burgerlike onderwys met gemeenskapdeelnemers kon speel nie?

  • Moegammad Tahier Kara

    Dankie. Ja, ons is besig met die universiteit, en spesifiek met AVREQ. Dit is 'n sentrum wat kyk na trauma en soortgelyke goed. Hule is ons partner om die stories lewendig te maak as deel van die uitstalling by die Universiteit se museum van die 50-jarige herdenking can demokrasie vanjaar. Dit is die begin daarvan om 'n meer ingeslote geskiedenis te het van Stellenbosch. So die Universiteit is betrokke en dit is die begin van 'n wyer proses wat insluit burgerlike onderwys.

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