27 Years In Prison Was The Price He Paid For Freedom

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In 1948, the all-white South African government introduced a system of segregation and oppression known as apartheid, which forced all Black South Africans to live in separate neighborhoods, go to separate schools, and use separate public facilities from whites.

Like Jim Crow laws in America, apartheid was a racist jab at Blacks aimed at making white people feel superior. Whites in South Africa were minorities, and they feared the political power of Black citizens, so they planned to divide them along tribal lines to decentralize their influence.

While Nelson Mandela has been touted as the leader that brought an end to apartheid, he was not the only one who made significant sacrifices in the 50-year political conflict. His colleague and confidant, Jafta Masemola, is an unsung hero of the apartheid struggle.

Masemola spent 27 years in prison, a few months less than Mandela, for his involvement in a conspiracy to overthrow the South African government in association with his participation with the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

Masemola, known as “The Tiger of Azania” for his relentlessness and refusal to compromise, taught political education to children at an elementary school until the government declared PAC to be unlawful.

When the government banned PAC in 1960, Masemola started an underground guerrilla organization that gathered weapons and planned a revolution against the oppressive government. Unfortunately, someone exposed the group’s plans and Masemola went to jail for almost three decades.

While in jail, Masemola remained politically astute and kept in contact with Mandela as much as he could. Prison guards and judges hated Masemola because he refused to budge, would not denounce the armed resistance against the government, and swore to only negotiate if the terms included returning land to dispossessed Africans or establishing a free African society.

After serving what felt like a lifetime in a maximum security prison, Masemola returned to politics, but started at the grassroots level this time. He held nightly meetings at a local church to educate other Black South Africans about the tyranny they faced and how to mobilize in the face of it.

Unfortunately, Masemola’s fervent leadership soon came to an abrupt end. While he was driving one night in 1990, a mysterious truck came out of nowhere and ran into the side of his vehicle. The driver sped off and was never caught, leaving Masemola dead in the street in what is thought to be a South African government conspiracy.

Apartheid ended four years after Masemola’s death, and Nelson Mandela has often acknowledged his invaluable contributions in the good fight for a just and fair South Africa. Masemola spent his entire life fighting for a better future for his people, yet his name has long been erased from the history books.

So, today is the day --- Jafta Masemola was a true hero and his legacy shall never be forgotten. To learn more about South Africa’s Apartheid, check out Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa.

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