Zephania “The Lion of Azania” Mothopeng (10 September 1913 – 23 October 1990)

Published on 23rd October 2018

October 23 marked the 28th anniversary of the death of PAC founding member and its second President Zeph “The Lion of Azania” Mothopeng. There's an attempt to write him out of history.

Addressing the 6th Annual Spring Law Conference at Unisa Main Campus in Pretoria on the 27th September 2018, I raised the issue of Mothopeng’s reaction to Bantu Education. I said,

“Zeph Mothopeng challenged the introduction of Bantu Education and he Prof E’skia Mphahlele and Peter Matlare were expelled from teaching. Mothopeng graduated at this university (Unisa) in 1946, the same year he became Vice Principal of Orlando High School. Yet Unisa has not acknowledged the role he played and he has not been honoured.

“Onkgopotse Tiro challenged the apartheid government and the Bantu Education system. He was killed by a parcel bomb in Botswana in 1974 by the apartheid government.

 “Mothopeng and Tiro have been consigned to the scrapheap of history. Mothopeng and Tiro made history. How can people who made history be written out of that history?

 “The media and venerable seats of learning in this country have not realised that it is invidious to single out some and omit others.”

When the media mention former St Peters students they always exclude Zeph Mothopeng and Professor E’skia Mphahlele. Mphahlele was not only Mothopeng’s colleague at Orlando High but was also his junior at St Peters. The late Mphahlele said that when he was in Form 1 at St Peters in 1935, Mothopeng was in Form IV. Mphahlele said Mothopeng could be heard shouting, “Africa for Africans.”

Mothopeng completed Matric the following year and worked for a year to save money and prepare to further his studies. In 1938, he went to Adams College to study for a Teachers Diploma in Secondary School majoring in Science and Mathematics and completed in 1940.

In 1941 he went to teach at Orlando High School and became Vice Principal in 1946 the same year he obtained a BA degree at Unisa. As a teacher, Mothopeng was involved in the struggle of African teachers for better pay and working conditions. He became President of the Transvaal African Teachers Association (TATA).

When Bantu Education was introduced, he was vehemently opposed it and mobilised against it. He travelled the length and breadth of the country canvassing for support to reject Bantu Education. He was subsequently dismissed for teaching.

He worked closely with the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and in 1975 he was invited to address their conference on Imperialist Penetration into African Universities in which he explained how an African university should be and do in order to qualify to be called an African university. He also said:

“The role of students in our universities is to proclaim the truth at all times irrespective of the consequences thereof. They should realise that it is their bounden duty to address themselves to black people and to show them the way to freedom without flinching.”

The following year, the 1976 students’ uprisings erupted. Mothopeng, Mike Matsobane and other 16 Bethal treason trialists were subsequently arrested and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 5 to 30 years in the marathon trial conducted in secret. Here is the link to the background about the story http://mayihlomenews.co.za/the-secret-bethal-treason-trial-revisited/

Another Pan Africanist said the words below about imperialism:

“Imperialism, like the prehistoric hunter, first killed the being spiritually and culturally, before trying to eliminate it physically. The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of Black Africans was cultural, mental murder, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world,” Dr Cheikh Anta Diop.

We learned from our elders such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, Mothopeng, Robert Sobukwe, Jafta Masemola, Cheikh Anta Diop, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Amilca Cabral and many others about the dangers of imperialism and we are grateful to them.

Uncle Zeph was also a founding member of the Congress Youth League and of the PAC. He was involved in the anti-pass campaign for which he was jailed. He chaired the founding conference of the PAC in 1959.

He was against the secret negotiations the ANC held with apartheid leaders and captains of industry and he is vindicated. He is quoted in this article https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2010-04-13-masemola-and-pac-leaders-forgotten/ Mothopeng passed away on the 23rd October 1990 in what we believe was poisoning.
Forward ever, backwards never!

Long live the spirit of Zeph Mothopeng! 

By Sam Ditshego


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