Zephaniah “The Lion of Azania” Mothopeng

“You Mothopeng, acted to sow seeds of anarchy and revolution. The riots you engineered and predicted eventually took place in Soweto on June 16 and at Kagiso the next day.” These are the words of Judge Curlewis in the Supreme Court of South Africa in a secret court hearing on 1 July 1979. He was sentencing to imprisonment for the Soweto Uprising(June 16) the following accused Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leaders and members: Zephania Mothopeng 30 years, Moffat Zungu 7 years, Michael Matsobane 15 years, Daniel Matsobane 12 years, Marks Shinners 12 years, John Ganya 11 years, Benny Ntoele 10 years, Johnson Nyathi 10 years, Themba Hlatswayo 8 years, Goodwill Thlale 8 years, Julius Landingwe 8 years, Sithembele Khala 7 years, Goodwill Moni 7 years, Zolile Ndindwa 7 years, Jerome Kodisang 5 years and Hamilton Keke 5 years.

As we mark the 36th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, it is important that suppressed facts and truth about this inspiring history of political bravery and heroism by the youth of this country are revealed and recorded for posterity and for humanity in general.

In the Supreme Court of South Africa at Bethal, Judge Curlewis found for the apartheid regime’s prosecution in 1979, that the Pan Africanist Congress played a leading role in the Soweto Uprising which erupted on 16
June 1976. Evidence before Judge Curlewis showed that the PAC organised and fixed the date on the Soweto Uprising.

Several witness testified how PAC under the leadership of Zephania Mothopeng organised the Soweto Uprising. For instance, Adam, one of the witnesses testified before court that in one of the underground meetings of the PAC disguised as the Young African Religious Movement(YARM), Mike Motsobane introduced PAC leaders as from Soweto.

Adam told the court that one of them stood up and said, “This is Uncle here, pointing at Zephania Mothopeng Accused Number One.” This PAC leader then addressed the meeting. He said that students were to organise riots. They must start simultaneously throughout the country. When the riots begin students must organise things like stay-away from school and from work. Apartheid government property must be destroyed in order to cripple the economy of the country.

It is the aim of the riots. A date will be set and the students at Kagiso must start, Judge Curlewis was told this is what Mothopeng said. Indeed, when sentencing the 17 accused members of the PAC to a total of 162 years, the Judge referring specifically to Zephania Mothopeng said, “You Mothopeng acted to sow seeds of anarchy and revolution. The riots you engineered and predicted eventually took place in Soweto on June 16 and at Kagiso the next day.”

Application on behalf of the 17 PAC accused to appeal was heard in the Supreme Court of South Africa Appellate Division on the 16th July 1979. This court dismissed the appeal of the accused the same day.

It affirmed the judgement of Justice Curlewis when among other things, he said, “It should be clear that these incidents are not something the witness invented or that he can invent nor is there a reason to do so. The details of the incident and their sequence the contents of what was told he did not suck this out of his thumb. No matter how desirous he was of being released and getting indemnity.”

Judge Curlewis found that there were 86 PAC co-conspirators in the organising of the Soweto Uprising. Some of them were: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (Kimberly), Potlako K. Leballo, T.M. Ntantala, Elias Ntloedibe (Tanzania), Joseph Mkhwanazi, Joe Moabi, Gasson Ndlovu (Swaziland), Solly Ndlovu, Isaac Mafeche, Sabelo Phama, Baldwin Hlanti (Botswana) and Mlamli Makwetu (Transkei).

Four other people that the apartheid regime’s prosecution said conspired in the Soweto Uprising were women named as Victoria Makhetha, Beauty Mofokeng, Leanah Mawela and Felicia Sehume.

Commenting on the Bethal trial of 18, A.P Mda lawyer and political scientist wrote, “Mothopeng will go down in the history of South Africa as the leader who orchestrated the Soweto Uprising in 1976. He operated quietly from his private quarters in Soweto right under the nose of apartheid security police. He gathered groups of youths around him, injecting them with the spirit of African nationalism and Pan Africanism. The cells he was able to form multiplied rapidly. Underground the movement grew in scope and depth and converged with the patriotic efforts of Steve Biko of Black Consciousness Movement, who was later to receive injuries while in the custody of the South African secret police.”

Reporting the PAC court case on the Soweto Uprising the Sunday Times of 1 July 1979 said: “South Africa’s biggest terror trial and one of the longest in the country’s judicial history wound up this week when the Pan Africanist Congress supporters were jailed for underground activities. They were sentenced to a total of 162 years imprisonment. The statistics of the trial have set their records. It has taken 165 court sitting days. 5200 pages of evidence and argument were recorded and 86 co-conspirators were involved in the entire trial including the marathon 21 hour judgement held in camera.”

Judge Curlewis further said, “And then the last thing that I would like to mention here…is Pan Africanism is the goal of the Pan Africanist Congress….They propagate and promote the concept of Pan Africanism. This is also prominent throughout the existence of the Pan Africanist Congress…from the beginning the aims of the organisation were radical in the sense that they strove for a fundamental change.”

For his part Sobukwe said, “In Sharpeville we overcame the fear of the consequences of disobeying colonial laws….It became respectable to go to jail and emerge as what Kwame Nkrumah called ‘prison graduates.’ The white man now, in Soweto had to fall back on his ultimate weapon the gun….Soweto has been a lesson in overcoming the fear of the gun. And now that he relies on the gun and we too, can get the gun, confrontation is inevitable.”

How long shall the verdict of Judge Curlewis which the Appeal Court found reason to interfere with; be ignored in order to falsify the history of Soweto Uprising for cheap political propaganda and promotion of ignorance nationally and internationally? The Court Record of the Supreme Court of South Africa is available for anyone to read the facts about how, why and who organised the Soweto Uprising.

Calling June 16 “Youth Day” is a deliberate attempt to hide the real history of Soweto Uprising.

By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
(The writer is author of several books such as HIDDEN SIDE OF SOUTH AFRICAN POLITICS and TOWARDS AFRICA’S AUTHENTIC LIBERATION)