It is with deep sorrow and a profound sense of sadness that the Modise family and the ANC Veterans League announce the death of struggle veteran, Ambassador Billy Modise.
Soft spoken, unassuming, immaculate, determined cadre of the struggle, always wearing a broad and engaging smile, Ambassador Modise was a quintessential diplomat who straddled the world with the ease and confidence.
We make bold to say that he was one of those rare individuals whose immense contribution to the freedom of Southern Africa will forever be carved in the history of our stormy struggle.
Ambassador Billy Modise was born on 18th of December 1930 in Bloemfontein, in the then-Orange Free State. He received an Anglican scholarship which enabled him to enrol for his secondary school in Modeerport.
The racial discrimination imposed by apartheid which forced black people and his personal experiences of racism served as a political awakening for Modise. In January 1955 he enrolled at the University of Fort Hare to study medicine. It was while he was on his way to Fort Hare that he resolved to join the African National Congress (ANC).
As a student at Fort Hare, he came into contact with political heavyweights, Professor ZK Mathews and Govan Mbeki who inspired him to become politically active.
Here he was elected Secretary of the ANC Youth League for the Fort Hare branch, and later served as secretary of the Student Representative Council. Ambassador Modise also became a member of the National Union of Students (NUSAS) serving as an executive member.
In 1960, the ANC advised him to leave the country. It was also at that time that the Lund University Students Union in Sweden offered him a scholarship.
While in Lund, Sweden, he began mobilising university students and civil society organisations to implore support against Apartheid regime. He was a founder member of the South African Committee in Lund alongside Lars-Erik Johansson and Ulf Agrell. The Committee convened meetings, posted posters, pamphlets and lobbied parliamentarians in order to inform and educate Sweden and her people about the atrocities under which our people were suffering.
Owing to the demands of political work, he gave up studying medicine and switched to Sociology. Ambassador Modise met students from other liberation movements in Africa who were also studying at Lund. His work later extended to cover liberation movements from across Southern Africa.
While mobilisation began only in one institution, between 1960 and 1972 it spread to other countries, with Ambassador Modise travelling to mobilise people in Finland, Denmark and Norway to boycott South African products.
In 1975, Ambassador Modise was sent to New York in the United States to work for Habitat, the United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements. His role was preparing policy papers on issues of resettlement.
Between 1976 and 1988, he worked as Assistant Director of the United Nations Institute for Namibia in Lusaka, Zambia. This was when he closely worked with Namibians, providing training in political science, sociology and on education.
In 1988 he left the UN to work fulltime for the ANC under the leadership of comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo. Subsequently, he was deployed to Sweden where he served as the ANC’s chief representative.
Ambassador Modise returned to South Africa in 1990 and was deployed at the ANC head office in Johannesburg. He was tasked with heading the Matla Trust, which was established to prepare for the 1994 elections. After the first democratic elections, Ambassador Modise was posted abroad as South Africa’s High Commissioner to Canada in 1995. He also served as the Chief of State Protocol under President Thabo Mbeki from 1999 to 2006.
He leaves behind his wife, Yolisa; daughter, Thandi; grandson, Kgositsile; sister Dora; nephews and nieces.
May his soul rest in eternal peace