Zeph Mothopeng: Forgotten Hero of South Africa’s Struggle for Liberation

Published on 24th October 2017

It is a truism that history is written in the corridors of power. South Africa’s ANC government and South Africa’s mainstream media epitomises that egregious chapter in post-apartheid South Africa. The ANC government and South Africa’s mainstream media lie to themselves and believe their own lies.

On October 23, 1990, one of South Africa’s history makers, a revolutionary intellectual and gallant  freedom fighter, Zephaniah Lekoane Mothopeng died from poisoning. Unlike anniversaries of ANC leaders, Mothopeng’s anniversary has gone uneventfully for the past 27 years. His birthday on 10th September also passed uneventfully as well as his centenary in 2013. Yet on October  17, 2017, the country was abuzz with the birthday of former ANC President Oliver Tambo which coincided with the unveiling of his statue at the Johannesburg International airport named after him.

On 23rd October, I sent several tweets to various radio and television programs one of which reads:

“We are constantly reminded by the SABC about the centenary of Oliver Tambo but the centenaries of Mothopeng and (Anton) Lembede passed uneventfully. Why is that so?” The only radio hosts who read and retweeted those tweets and also concurred that what I raised was absolutely true was Ms Sakina Kamwendo of SAfm Radio which is part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), a public broadcaster. She has absolutely no political axe to grind.

Who Is Zeph Mothopeng?

Mothopeng was born on 10th September 1913 and passed away on October 23, 1990. He was the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) founding member and its second President . He was fondly known as “Uncle Zeph” and “The Lion of Azania” because of his uncompromising and non-collaborationist stance. Zephaniah Mothopeng is one of those great African thinkers and intrepid freedom fighters whose contribution to our struggle for liberation has not been acknowledged the way it is supposed to be.

Uncle Zeph was also a founding member of the Congress Youth League in 1944 with Anton Lembede, Ashby Peter Mda and those we always hear about in the media. Mothopeng was among the first graduates in the country to complete a post matric Teachers Diploma. He completed his Teachers’ Diploma at Adams College after which he went to teach at Orlando High in 1941 and subsequently became Deputy Principal. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 1946. His Alma Mater run by ANC apparatchiks still seems unwilling to honour its former student posthumously or naming something at UNISA after him. There are buildings at UNISA named after Walter and Albertina Sisulu who have never attended at UNISA. There is not a single major street in all the major cities named after him. One in Soweto was recently named after him, I think last year.

As a teacher at Orlando High he used to invite his friends Lembede and Ashby Peter Mda to give lectures to students and this we hardly hear about in the South African media. Those who are ignorant of the relationship between Mothopeng and Lembede would be forgiven to think they never knew each other. He was an excellent Mathematics and Science teacher and a superb Choir Master. Mothopeng fought for better working conditions and remuneration for African teachers in the 1940’s and was eventually elected President of the Transvaal African Teachers Association (TATA), now known as the Professional Educators Union (PEU) which hasn’t made an effort to honour him. Mothopeng was known for his hard-hitting speeches as TATA President.

The Einselen Report of 1950/51 which recommended that African children be taught an inferior type of education called Bantu Education was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Mothopeng was fiercely against the introduction of Bantu Education and rallied support against it far and wide until apartheid authorities expelled him. Mothopeng’s campaign generated resistance against Bantu Education. Had Apartheid authorities heeded Mothopeng, there wouldn’t have been the June 16, 1976 student uprisings. The Lion of Azania was one of the organisers of the 1960 Anti-Pass campaign together with PAC founding President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe which culminated in the shooting of peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville and Langa on the 21st March 1960.

He was arrested following the anti-pass campaign and sentenced to a two year jail term at Stofberg Prison. After his release he was rearrested in 1963 and convicted in 1964 for promoting the aims of the PAC and served time on Robben Island. On Robben Island he was kept in isolation because the Apartheid regime feared him just as they feared Sobukwe. He was released in 1967 and immediately banished to Wietsieshoek in the Free State. By the end of the year his banning orders were amended to permit him to return to his house in Orlando West, Soweto. In the 1970’s he continued his underground work  and also visited Sobukwe who was banished to Kimberly.

During the heydays of the Black Consciousness oriented South African Student Organisation (SASO), Uncle Zeph was occasionally invited to address them as in 1975 when he gave a lecture on Imperialist Penetration into African Universities, see link.    https://twitter.com/i/moments/852155278866952192?lang=enork This was when the Soweto Uprisings were nigh for which he was jailed after the end of the marathon Bethal Treason Trial held in camera for having predicted and organised the Soweto Uprisings. Judge Curlewis who presided over the case said Mothopeng was “a dangerous” influence on the youth. At the age of 65 Mothopeng was sentenced to 30 years in jail in 1978 and was released in 1988. We in the PAC believe he was poisoned by the Apartheid authorities because his health deteriorated precipitously following his release.

ANC leaders who are now celebrated used to criticise the Black Consciousness Movement as immature and racist because they didn’t understand the philosophy of Black Conciseness. Mothopeng and the PAC did. Mothopeng was involved in the 1960 anti-pass campaign which culminated in the Sharpeville massacre and the 1976 Soweto Student uprising. During the latter, Tambo was living in exile in London; yet the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the mainstream South African media celebrates him more than Mothopeng who served time in apartheid prisons thrice, twice on Robben Island. Something is just not right with the thinking of those who control the SABC and the mainstream media.

The South African media won’t be a solution to the country’s problems because they are so much in love with the ANC that they throw objectivity out of the window. They are critical of the incumbent but they love the ANC more than the ANC loves itself. They can’t be relied on to record the history of the South African struggle for liberation impartially.

By Sam Ditshego

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My twitter handle is @iamsamditshego

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