Memoir that begged to get penned 

The year 1976 was in many ways a watershed year for the putrid politics of apartheid South Africa, and the carving of a new political order that was to come into place 18 years later, in 1994, forming a fulcrum upon which the new democratic dispensation of a free country would turn.  

The author of the memoir, Zwelethu Our Land, is the product of the June 1976 students’ revolution, with other students of his time, armed only with courage and the desire to effect change in the land of his birth layered with unjust laws of oppression, was prepared, with his young comrades, to lay down their young lives for a revolutionary cause. 

Jacki Seroke was that youthful revolutionary, a matric student at the time, forming one of the many important cogs or ingredients of the people’s struggle for justice including the return of land to its rightful owners. 

It is generally agreed by scholars and social scientists that the June 16, 1976 outbreak could be attributed to the pent-up anger that was socially building up over the years following the banning by the apartheid oppressors of liberation forces such as the ANC and the PAC in 1960, 16 years earlier in 1960. 

It is appropriate to note that the massacre that befell the people of Sharpeville, with at least 69 gunned down by apartheid firepower, and more than 200 suffering serious injuries, this was bound to build a revolutionary fervour flowing from the Sharpeville conflagration embers in which a peaceful anti-pass laws protest was quelled violently by the barbaric apartheid system. 

The peoples’ struggles for justice and liberation have over the years been -recorded by authors, or remembered -orally by those who were at the receiving end of oppression and injustice of all kinds for the benefit of posterity and remembering. 

Famous author Charles Dickens, in his depiction of the French Revolution, reminds us that its root causes had to do with the struggling working class who revolted against the oppressive feudal system accompanied by, among others, the tyranny of French aristocracy, unjust laws and a total disregard of the welfare of the suffering masses. 

Dickens states that oppressive laws turned out to become social injustice intolerable to the populace most of whom had to make do with little or no resources to eke out a decent living, while the rich and aristocracy enjoyed a life of opulence. 

Veteran journalist, editor and former Robben Island prisoner, Joe Thloloe, in the foreword to the memoir describes Seroke in these terms: “It’s poetic that Seroke titles his memoir Zwelethu. His guerrilla name in the Azanian People’s Liberation Army was Zwelethu.  

“And there are deeper layers of meaning to the title: he was born in 1960 when the slogan Izwe Lethu (with an open palm salute) reverberated around the world after the Sharpeville Massacre. The massacre occurred when the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania led a protest against the pass laws that forced every black person over the age of 16 to carry a pass at all times.”  

Thloloe adds that the publication of the memoir “comes when South Africa is at the start of its own version of the Arab Spring, when years of bottled-up anger and resentment among the masses are ready to burst out”. 

In his own words, Seroke says: “It is important for leaders… to write their stories. The new South Africa is an anti-climax. It is a haven for exploiters and oppressors under a majority-based black government.  

“I chose to struggle without expecting any reward, except for the return of our land and the restoration of dignity to [the]African people.”  

Seroke, who has for many years been the national spokesperson for the PAC said it was his friends, some of whom are authors, such as Fred Khumalo, a renowned author, columnist and journalist, who have been prodding him to write his memoir, and reflect what life looked like on Robben Island, and how his incarceration there shaped his politics of a future democratic country where everyone would enjoy equality and could do anything legally with it. 

“I am on the PAC national list for the May 29 elections to strengthen the voice of those who hanker for the return of the land to the African people.” 

Seroke, now secretary for finance for the organisation, says the PAC plans to make a meaningful contribution to -reconfigure this country to serve the people with commitment.  


  • Mdhlela is the acting news editor of Sunday World, an Anglican priest and former editor of the South African Human Rights Commission journals

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