Jafta Masemola – The Tiger Of Azania
The 17th of April marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of PAC founding member, Jafta Kgalabi Masemola, the longest-serving political prisoner on Robben Island in modern history. We republish this tribute by Sam Ditshego.
“Bra Jeff” or “The Tiger of Azania” as he was popularly known was murdered on 17th April 1990 in a mysterious car accident, an assassination which was disguised as a car accident. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1963 together with his PAC comrades Philemon Tefu, Samuel Chibane, Dimake Malepe, Ike Mthimunye and John Nkosi. The latter two are still alive. They were jailed for conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage and overthrowing the government by violent means.
PAC stalwart and former exile who knew Masemola personally Ike Mafole gives his background thus: Jafta Kgalabi Masemola was born at Bon Accord near Pretoria on the 12th December 1931. He lost both his parents at an early age and was raised by his sister like one of her own children. The family moved to Marabastad and then to Atteridgeville in 1942 where he enrolled at De Jong Primary School and completed standard six in 1947. He proceeded to Hofmeyr Secondary School where he obtained a Junior Certificate in 1950. Then he went to Kilnerton Training Institution (KTI) where he did his Higher Primary or Teacher’s Training Certificate.
His first teaching post was in Atteridgeville where he worked on a temporary basis until he got a permanent post at Mmakau Primary School (Rama) in Western Transvaal. In 1956 he returned to Atteridgeville to teach at Banareng Primary School where Mr. Rammopo Makhudu was principal. In 1958 he joined the Youth League of the African National Congress. He was impressed by the vigorous politics of the principal. In 1959 he joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania at its inception and thus became one of its founding leaders. His Africanist politics influenced the school children and some of his colleagues. As a result some of his pupils became members of the PAC when they got to high schools and were later incarcerated with him on Robben Island in 1963.
Masemola’s death has not been properly explained and the PAC and his family should ensure that his case reaches finality. For instance, who was the driver of the truck that collided with his car? Did he appear in court to answer charges? Which court? Are there records of the scene of the accident? Who were the emergency officers who attended the accident and were reported to have arrived late that day? Who were the police officers who were dispatched to the scene of the accident and from which Police Station? Where is the car that Masemola was driving when he got involved in a car “accident”? If Masemola died in a car accident, why were there bullet cartridges found in the car he was driving?
PAC political prisoners were treated harsher. Although I disagree with most of the things he wrote about the PAC in his 1991 review of Benjamin Pogrund’s book How Can Man Die Better: Sobukwe and Apartheid, former SACP member who lived in exile in Britain, Baruch Hirson was right that PAC political prisoners on Robben Island were treated worst of all. Hirson says Pogrund had little to say about those conditions. He is absolutely wrong to even suggest that Robert Sobukwe was treated better than other prisoners. We now know that he was poisoned and operated on without his family’s knowledge. Sobukwe was not supposed to have been on Robben Island in the first place because he had completed his jail term.
Masemola endured hardships including solitary confinement and hunger strikes but he didn’t attract international media attention. So far, he hasn’t even attracted local media attention. What one would have thought was going to attract the attention especially of African media personalities was that on top of his suffering on Robben Island, Masemola was assassinated six months after he was released from a twenty six jail term.
Why was he assassinated? On the day he was released from prison he was flown to Cape Town to meet Nelson Mandela at Victor Verster Prison. After his meeting with Mandela, he was flown to Johannesburg. He disagreed to take part in the secret negotiations the ANC and Mandela were holding with the apartheid government.
The PAC was clear on non-collaboration with the oppressors. Masemola once said: “We cannot negotiate with the usurpers of our land.” Just like other PAC leaders he was uncompromising, steadfast, committed and sagacious. Other PAC stalwarts, such as former president Zeph Mothopeng, who had foresight and whose analysis was insightful, said: “We must put our heads together over this question of negotiations because it is bandied about as the most important thing in the liberation struggle. PAC founding president Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe said: “We do not wish to use anybody, nor do we wish to be used by anybody. We want to make the African people conscious of the fact that they have to win their own liberation, relying on themselves to carry on a relentless and determined struggle instead of relying on court cases and negotiations on their behalf by ‘sympathetic whites’.”
In any assassination there is a motive and an assassination is carried out by those who have the means and ability of executing it without being found out because they can cover their dirty tracks. The motive for assassinating Masemola was that he refused to be part of the imperialist-backed sell-out deal Nelson Mandela and the ANC were involved in and also knew a lot about Nelson Mandela and could have scuppered the deal. There was a lot at stake in that sell-out deal for the imperialists and apartheid government.
Masemola was taken out through an assassination that was disguised as a car accident and the decks were cleared for the sell-out deal to go ahead. The British spy agency MI6 specialises in assassinations that are disguised as car accidents and it has been revealed that MI6 has a big office in South Africa.
Another reason that makes it clear is that the imperialists and apartheid government were involved in the assassination of Masemola is that they suppress and downplay the widespread publication of assassinations in which they are involved with the hope that people will forget about it and go away. Examples abound. Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral, Onkgopotse Tiro, Thomas Sankara, Salvatore Allende of Chile and many others.
Unfortunately for them, Masemola’s assassination will not go away anytime soon and the PAC and his family will fight tooth and nail to have this assassination case reopened.