Jessie Duarte’s Biography, Political Career, Personal life and Cause of Death

Yasmin ‘Jessie’ Duarte, the ANC’s long-serving Deputy Secretary-General, died early on Sunday morning after a battle with cancer. Duarte was known for being outspoken and for not shying away from the official line. Tributes on social media have described her a fierce, tough and a deeply committed activist.

Jessie Duarte’s Age

Jessie Duarte was born on 19 September in 1953 in Newclare, Johannesburg, and was one of nine children. She attended school in Coronationville, Johannesburg, and completed matric at Coronationville Secondary School.

Yasmin “Jessie” Duarte (born Yasmeen Dangor; 19 September 1953 – 17 July 2022) was a South African politician and acting secretary-general of the African National Congress. A longtime anti-apartheid activist, she served variously as a special assistant to Nelson Mandela, a member of the provincial cabinet (MEC) for Gauteng, as ambassador to Mozambique and as spokesperson for the ANC, before assuming her post as Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC in 2012, until her death on 17 July 2022.

After matriculation from Coronationville Secondary School in Johannesburg, Jessie Dangor started her professional career as a Management Accountant. By 1979, she was recruited by Albertina Sisulu to set up women’s structures throughout South Africa

Political career

In 1990, she was elected to the Transvaal Provincial Executive Council (PEC) and appointed to the ANC’s Interim Leadership Core.

Also in 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from jail, he appointed Duarte to be his special assistant, a position she held until he became president in 1994. She was then appointed the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Safety and Security in Gauteng.

In 1998, she was involved in controversy centered around the possible misuse of public funds when she was alleged to have taken her lover on a trip to Portugal at the taxpayers’ expense.

Personal life and Cause of death

Duarte was born as Yasmeen Dangor, one of nine children of Julie and Ebrahim Dangor, in Newclare, Johannesburg on 19 September 1953. She was the sister of the poet Achmat Dangor.

Jessie Duarte’s Husband

She was married to John Duarte, with whom she had two children, and divorced in 2001.

In 2022, the African National Congress gave Jessie Duarte sick leave and she was away from her political duties for many months. After media falsely claimed that she had died, due to her absence from public party events, Duarte revealed on 24 April 2022 that she had been battling with cancer.  She eventually died from cancer on 17 July 2022 at the age of 68.

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ANC mourns Duarte’s passing

In a statement issued by ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe in the early hours of Sunday, he described Duarte as a dedicated cadre of the movement.

“She was both a tower of strength to the organisation, as well as a matriarch and pillar of her family. 

“The passing of comrade Jessie is a great loss, not only to the family, but to the democratic movement and the country as a whole. As a committed internationalist and former diplomat, not only will she be mourned by South Africa, but by colleagues and comrades on the African continent and in the international progressive movement,” Mabe said. 

Duarte will be buried on Sunday afternoon in Johannesburg according to Muslim rites. The burial will take place at Westpark Cemetery. 

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