On this day 17th April, 1990, exactly 24 years ago, the PAC of Azania was robbed of one of its greatest leaders, Jafta Kgalabi Masemola – ‘The Tiger of Azania’, who died in a mysterious car crash or accident six months after spending over 26 years on Robben Island and other apartheid prisons. It will be remembered that Jafta Masemola, popularly known as ‘Bro Jeff’, and others including Judge Dikgang Moseneke were arrested on the night of the 21st March 1963 in Atteridgeville, some in Lady Selborne, Mamelodi, Hebron High School where Kilnerton Training Institution had been moved to. They were all underground operatives of the banned Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) at the time of Poqo the forerunner of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). Prior to his arrest, he had been teaching at Atteridgeville (in a temporary capacity) then to Rama village (in a permanent capacity) and subsequently Banareng Primary School, at Atteridgeville, where Isaac Rammopo Makhudu was Principal.
He was charged with 15 others and sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr. Justice Cilliers sitting with two assessors in the Pretoria Supreme Court on July 2, 1963 for conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage and overthrowing the government by violent means. The other PAC-Poqo activists who were sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated on Robben Island with Jafta Masemola included John Nkosi (still alive), Ike Mthimunye (still alive), Philemon Tefu (no more), Samuel ‘Chips’ Chibane (no more), Dimake ‘Pro’ Malepe (no more). Jafta Masemola spent 23 years on Robben Island and the rest in the Sun City Prison from where he was released on October 10, 1989. The very day he was released he was flown to Cape Town to meet Nelson Mandela at Victor Verster Prison. After his meeting with Mandela, he was flown back to Johannesburg where he joined Walter Sisulu, Mkwayi, Kathrada, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni who were also released at that time.
On arrival at his home on 26 Makgatho street, Atteridgeville, Jafta arrived to a jubilant welcome from neighbours, friends, family members, former students and PAC members including Zephania Mothopeng, then President of the PAC. Jafta did not waste time. He immediately plunged into intense political activities travelling the length and breath of the country reviving and establishing PAC structures. In Atteridgeville, the people organised a home-coming celebration which attracted a huge crowd that filled the super stadium. This event unsettled the apartheid authorities who intervened and sent the police to disperse the crowd. Jafta had to be whisked out of the stadium before he could address the people that had come to welcome him. This was the beginning of strict surveillance on his life and activities. It is evident that his movements were closely watched and followed because the day he died he was not accompanied by anybody.
Jafta was a tireless and great organizer; a powerful speaker; disciplined, incorruptible, committed, fearless, selfless, straightforward and uncompromising; that is why the apartheid authorities feared and hated him because he was not the type to do business with. He was not amenable for their liking. He was like Sobukwe and Mothopeng. And like these leaders, he died at the time when PAC needed a leader of his caliber, stature and credentials. As we remember Jafta on this day, let us stop looking for a leader; let us build and develop leaders of tomorrow who will sustain this party into the future. The PAC will finally not survive if it continues to be as divided and fragmented as it is currently. The PAC must unite to become effective and thus restore its image and the dignity of the Great Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, Zephania Lekoane Mothopeng -‘The Lion of Azania’and Jafta Kgalabi Masemola – ‘The Tiger of Azania’ and of all other PAC stalwarts and struggle heroes who served, suffered and sacrificed for national liberation, self-determination and social emancipation of the indigenous African people of this country and the entire African continent.
By Molefe Ike Mafole
The writer is a member of the Azania People’s Liberation Army (APLA) Military Veterans Association and a member of the PAC of Azania. He can be contacted on 072 630 2206.