Cover photo for Sipo Elijah Mzimela's Obituary
Sipo Elijah Mzimela Profile Photo
1935 Sipo 2013

Sipo Elijah Mzimela

June 19, 1935 — February 2, 2013

Sipo Elijah Mzimela died on February, 2, 2013 at Odyssey Hospice following a 5 month illness.
Sipo (Zulu for a "gift from God") was born June 19, 1935 in Durban, South Africa to Allison & Maria Mzimela. He had 3 sisters, Miriam, Josephine and Brigid. The family was raised in the Anglican Church and as a child he always wanted to be a priest. Born with an unyielding sense of optimism and hope, he became disillusioned with the church's response to apartheid and instead became a teacher, joined the African National Congress and got involved in political protest against apartheid - even being arrested and beaten for his dissent against injustice. He eventually fled South Africa and went into exile in several other African countries, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
While living in Germany, he married his first wife, Esther Munyaradzi, and they had 2 daughters, Nomusa and Lindiwe. He returned to the church in Germany and then his dream of being a priest returned. And so in 1974, with no money and a scholarship that fell through, he came to the U.S. to study for his General Theological Seminary.
After being ordained a priest in 1976, he also earned a PHD in Ethics at New York University. He served at churches in New York and New Jersey and then the Episcopal Church sent him to teach at St. Paul's Theological College in Kenya. When he came back to the States in 1986, he founded the South Africa Education Fund to help educate South African students and he served as an associate priest at St. Bartholomew's in Atlanta. He continued his anti-apartheid work in the States, first for the ANC and later for the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). In 1989, while living in Atlanta, he married his second wife, Gail DeCosta, and became step-father to Julia.
In 1990, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the political parties unbanned, Gail accompanied Sipo as he returned to South Africa after 29 years in exile. In 1993 & 1994, as South Africa prepared for their first democratic elections, Sipo was asked to participate as an IFP representative in drafting the first constitution and was instrumental in the ANC & IFP reaching an agreement which allowed the elections to go forward. After the elections, he was appointed a parliamentarian and Minister of Correctional Services in the South African government of national unity under Nelson Mandela. Gail joined him in South Africa in 1994, where they lived in Cape Town and Durban and Sipo served as cabinet minister until 1998. It was under Sipo's direction that Robben Island, the primary political prison in South Africa, was closed. He also advocated for and instituted juvenile correctional facilities to protect incarcerated children from the adult inmates. After leaving the IFP, he continued in parliament as a United Democratic Movement representative until he retired from politics in 2001.
After moving back to Atlanta he served as an associate priest at St Bartholomew's until 2006, Sipo and Gail continued to return to South Africa every year and they began a business importing art created primarily by South African women as a means for the women to be self-sustaining. In 2004 he joined the Religious Studies Department at Agnes Scott College where he taught for 6 years. His guidance and leadership had a lasting impact. In 2006, Sipo and Gail opened a retail shop in Decatur which they operated until 2010.
Two of Sipo and Gail's favorite passions were dancing and traveling. They enjoyed ballroom dancing and even after the amputation of his leg in 2000, Sipo was determined to return to dance lessons – and he did. In addition to their travels to South Africa, together they travelled to over 30 countries, in Europe, Asia, North America, Central America and South America.
In 2006, they took on the responsibility of parenthood again when their 2 year old granddaughter, Kanyisile, came to live with them. Kanyisile is a Zulu name which means "bearer of light" – and she did indeed bring light into his life. Sipo loved to cook, and because he did most of the cooking at home, Kanyisile once remarked that her grandma only knew how to cook breakfast! Sipo was an avid fan of the "real" football (a.k.a. soccer) and Arsenal was his team.
Sipo authored 3 books, Apartheid: South African Nazism, Wither South Africa, and Marching to Slavery.
Throughout his life, Sipo was a fighter. He always fought for what he believed was right – no matter the cost to him and was never afraid to speak out. He had the gift of preaching and speaking – and many marveled at his ability to deliver sermons, parliamentary speeches or any kind of talk with no notes at all. He believed fiercely in the rights of all – South Africans of all races and economic circumstances, prisoners, persons of all sexual orientations and all human beings. He was an unconditionally loving friend who changed the lives of so many people with his compassion, wisdom, and love. He touched many, many lives in his roles as priest, politician, teacher, preacher, mentor, friend, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and husband. He is survived by his wife, Gail, sisters, Josephine & Brigid, granddaughter, Kanyisile, step-daughter, Julia, daughters, Nomusa and Lindiwe, 7 grandsons, nieces, nephews, and many other relatives and friends scattered all over the world.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, February 9th at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church at 3:00 pm, 1790 LaVista Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Bartholomew's and half of the gifts will go to a charity in South Africa chosen by the family. A reception is to follow the service at the church.

Funeral Home:
A.S. Turner
2773 N. Decatur Road
Decatur, GA

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Service Schedule

Past Services


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Starts at 3:00 pm (Eastern time)

St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church

1790 Lavista Road, Atlanta, GA 30329

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