Poetry tribute to salute the “Lion of Azania,” Zeph Mothopeng

SOWETO — The Soweto Poetry Project (SPP) is hosting a poetry session on June 13, 2009 at Basothong in Pimville, Soweto to honor the selfless contribution of the late PAC president, Zephania Lekoane Mothopeng. SPP coordinator Lehlohonolo Shale said, “We saw it necessary and important to pay tribute to Uncle Zeph.” He went on to say, “We are using art as a form of education to teach youngsters about our heroes and the influence that Uncle Zeph had on the young to carry on with their program of action…which led to the Soweto Youth Uprisings on the 16th of June.”

Zephania Lekoane Mothopeng, popularly known as “Lion of Azania”or “Uncle Zeph” was born on September 10, 1913 in Free State near the town of Vrede. A few months after his birth, his family moved to Transvaal, today known as Gauteng, in search of greener pastures.

After his family arrived in Johannesburg, Uncle Zeph got all of his formal education at the St. Mary’s Anglican school and then went to St. Chatswold Training College. In 1933, Zephania moved to Johannesburg to continue his formal education in 1937. Upon working a short time in Johannesburg, Zeph enrolled in a new college in Amanzimtoti, Natal called Adams College.

There at this place and college after completing his studies he was awarded a post matric teachers certification. He taught high school in the Orlando district of Soweto. His criticism of inferior black education led to his dismissal as assistant principal there in 1952. He went to Lesotho to teach for two years before returning to Johannesburg to apprentice as a law clerk.

Comrade Mothopeng began his struggle against the imperialist apartheid regime as a member of the youth league of the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 1940’s. He was active in the African National Congress but disapproved of its multiracial philosophy and links with the South African Communist Party.

He left with Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and others to found the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania in 1959. Comrade Mothopeng was arrested in 1960 for taking part in a PAC-led defiance campaign against the pass laws used to restrict and monitor the movements of blacks, and he was jailed for two years.

After his release, he was again detained in 1963 and then imprisoned again in 1964, spending part of his sentence with many POQO political prisoners at the prison on Robben Island before being released in 1967.

He was director of a community organization when he was arrested again in 1976 under the Terrorism Act following the Soweto Uprising and charged as accused number one. This was known as the Bethal Treason Trial.

He and his co-defendants refused to plead at their trial, stating that they did not recognize the court. He was sentenced to 15 years. When giving the judgement the apartheid judge said, “You, Mothopeng, sowed the seeds of anarchy.”

He was later elected PAC president in 1986 while in prison.

While the African National Congress opened exploratory talks with the reactionary government, the Pan-Africanist Congress continued to insist that only guerrilla warfare would end white minority rule, though at the time of his death the PAC seemed to be reconsidering its stand. “Our liberation will be brought about by Africans themselves, by having to struggle for it,” Uncle Zeph said in an interview. “They will not achieve it at the negotiating tables.”

Uncle Zeph Mothopeng repeatedly refused to submit to the white authorities that imprisoned, detained and exiled him. In November 1988, he was released early from his last term in prison, a 15-year sentence for his political activities. Zeph still kept his same position that even years of prison couldn’t quiet, that “the power of government should be in the black peoples hand in South Africa.”

While held in Diepkloof Prison in Soweto, he had become ill with cancer of the throat. After his release, he settled in Soweto but never recovered his health. On October 23, 1990, Comrade Mothopeng died at the age of 77 still an activist for political equity of the South Africans.

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