Thanks to NB Publishers, keen readers interested in South Africa’s ‘Social History’, are in for a treat, from a new book, about the life-story of Mr. Jaki Stone Seroke, entitled Zwelethu-Our Land. Explicably Zwelethu was Mr Seroke’s nickname (p.64), inspired from his affiliation to the Pan African Congress (PAC) of Azania’s ‘rallying open palm salute’ Izwe lethu. He is among the hordes, of obscure and avant garde ‘black’ South African activists or Sons of the Soil (p.117), subscribing to the motto of Serve, Suffer and Sacrifice (p.131). In their jargon within PAC, their reference to Azania, is their adopted name for South Africa. Mr. Seroke’s book is invigorating, as it successfully foregrounds details, about him and other activists, whose diverse contributions remain less known apropos South Africa’s socio-political struggles. The latter is significant given that from 1994, it may be argued that unbecoming hegemonic accounts, about South Africa’s history, are commonly derived from the lives of socio-political activists, across the colourline who are chiefly affiliated to the governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC).
The aforesaid has problematically contributed towards biased versions, of South Africa’s history. Notably Mr. Seroke opted to present his life-story, as A Memoir. The latter decision is instructive, as some readers may struggle to distinguish, the chronicles in this book, from those of an autobiography. My impression is that a ‘memoir’ suited Mr. Seroke’s writing style, as his elegiac narration travels back and forth in a deliberate and conversational tone, from his birth until his partaking at the Conference of Democratic South Africa (CODESA). Mr. Seroke palpably did not worry, about adhering to a rigid chronological timeline, merely congested with taciturn facts.
My assumed zest about this book, may perhaps be justified once considering how Mr. Seroke, as a veteran of the PAC (since the late 1970’s while residing in Alexandra and later in Moteong, Tembisa), has authored his life-story, as one amongst the plethora of unsung local South African political protagonists, who fought against what in their PAC jargon, continually classify as ‘settler colonialism’ (p.112). Since the advent of the PAC in 1959, under the intellectually sharp presidency of Mr. Robert Sobukwe, Pan-Africanists have always been consistent, that they were organised to annul the incongruous agenda of ‘settler colonisers’, who sought to legalize their countless acts of inhumane criminality, flagrantly intended to subjugate Africans, ironically sited in their native land. Once prospective readers grasp Mr. Seroke’s unflinching devotion to PAC’s ideals throughout his lifespan, then it may be unnecessary to advise, that they should brace themselves, for mostly his subjective Pan-African laden perspectives. As a seasoned man of letters in his own right, Mr. Seroke crisply articulates the latter, from Chapters Four until Eighteen.
In his memoir Mr. Seroke invites readers, into ontological experiences that make up his life-story. The latter commences from his birth, on 24th of February 1960 (p.19), within the grime of Alexandra Township or tounship (p.32) and ending sometime in 1994, at the dawn of the democratic dispensation, which demanded a new pre-occupation beyond politics (he opted for the corporate sector). This memoir can be divided, into two main segments. The first segment covers Mr. Seroke’s childhood, until his late teenage years. The latter features, Chapters One to Six (I did not grasp why most chapters, did not exceed ten pages yet the latter alone, consisted of twenty pages, making it the longest chapter in the book). Anyway the second segment addresses Mr. Seroke’s advancement into politics, until what he colloquially refers to as his reluctant partaking in “talks about talks with the regimes representatives” (p.189).
Both of the aforesaid segments make for captivating reading however at various parts of numerous chapters, I had to ponder about some critical points. My contemplation included: a) Mr. Seroke’s intimate proximity to his maternal family, is thoroughly pointed out from the first chapter however it is ambiguous what dilemma he had, with his paternal side especially with his father; b) Was it intentional that key concepts, such as Zwelethu, Azania, Son of the Soil, are mentioned in passing (Izwe lethu is conspicuously not even mentioned at all)? ; c) Perplexingly Mr. Seroke neglects to specify, when he joined the PAC; alas d) Mr. Seroke lists five girlfriends when discussing his romantic life, subsequently marrying the fifth girlfriend and were blessed with two kids, due to the volatility of his family life, the reader is nonetheless left guessing, whether this status quo has not altered. Lastly I opine that scholarly readers, may have expected an Index. With the latter notwithstanding, the following pedagogic points stood out: a) this book makes a worthy contribution to the discourse of South Africa’s History, with a refreshing perspective from a Pan-Africanist lens; b) this book contributes to the less known critical pages, in the discourse of South Africa’s Politics; c) this book impressively contributes towards the knowledge about South Africa’s pioneering literati, spanning miscellaneous local authors and artists, lost under the discourse of ‘African literature’ and ‘African Philosophy’.
The overall feat achieved by Mr. Seroke’s book, is that its narration derived from his ontological experiences both challenges and transcends ‘social historical’ contents, captured by traditionally ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ historians, in mainstream academia and beyond. Perspectives of the latter, have to some degree been continued, even by ‘black’ South Africans, who may uproariously deny that they are also culprits of the two aforesaid categories. Provision of specified evidence, to support the latter claim is acknowledged, as important however such details are superfluous, within this book review. For those insisting however to purge the authenticity of the latter claim, they are advised to amongst others survey, a sample of prescribed textbooks, on ‘South Africa’s History’, both authored prior to 1994 and those authored post-1994. Finally as a seasoned ‘man of letters’, evident from his track record as a past editor, essayist and poet amongst others at Ravan Press and Skotaville Publishers, fellow readers may (like me) ponder, how come Mr. Seroke’s memoir, is his only book!
By Dr. Tshepo Mvulane Moloi
The writer is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study.