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S. African Anti-Apartheid Veteran Tshwete Dies - 2002-04-27

South African Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete has died in a hospital in Pretoria after a short illness. Mr. Tshwete is remembered as a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, who played a key role in South Africa's transition to democracy.

Steve Tshwete died late Friday at the age of 64, less than a month after he was hospitalized for severe back pain. An African National Congress spokesman said Mr. Tshwete died of complications arising from the back problem, including kidney failure and pneumonia.

President Thabo Mbeki said the untimely death of Steve Tshwete has robbed South Africa of an outstanding freedom fighter and a committed leader in the reconstruction and development of the country.

The president remembers his friend and staunch ally as - "a genuinely warm human being," who was among the first anti-apartheid leaders to reconcile with the people who had imprisoned, tortured and exiled him.

Former President Nelson Mandela said South Africa is immensely poorer because of Mr. Tshwete's early and untimely death.

The two men were imprisoned together on Robbin Island during the apartheid era. Mr. Mandela called Mr. Tshwete "a brave freedom fighter and an unstinting warrior for peace and reconciliation in the country he loved so much."

The gruff-voiced former rugby player served as Mr. Mandela's minister of sport. He was a driving force behind the integration of the national sports teams.

Under President Mbeki, he took over as minister of safety and security, responsible for the nation's police and crime-fighting efforts. It was considered a critical and difficult job in a country facing a massive crime problem, with a police force that, in many cases, lacks the trust of the people because of its apartheid history.

Mr. Tshwete's friends and political adversaries alike remember him as blunt, principled and totally dedicated to the betterment of South Africa.

President Mbeki has ordered flags around the country to be flown at half-mast until Mr. Tshwete's funeral, which has not yet been scheduled.