Jafta Kgalabi Masemola – “The Tiger of Azania” also popularly known as “Bra Jeff” by many others, 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 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.
After the banning of the PAC on April 8, 1960 under the Unlawful Organizations Act, Jafta Masemola continued with underground activities. He and other operatives formed underground structures that were planning an armed revolt in 1963; to this effect they gathered whatever weapons they could put their hands on for the planned uprising. The state security police uncovered these activities and Jafta Masemola and other underground activists were arrested during a swoop on PAC-Poqo suspects on the night of March 21st, 1963.
Jafta Masemola was arraigned before the Pretoria Supreme Court along with 14 others charged with conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage and with the intention to overthrow the government by violent means. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island .
He spent over 26 years on Robben Island and other prisons. He was released on October 15, 1989. On the eve of his release, Nelson Mandela asked to have a meeting with him. Jafta Masemola was flown from Johannesburg (Leeukop Prison) to Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town to meet Nelson Mandela. Nothing has ever been disclosed about what transpired in that meeting.
On his return home, Jafta Masemola immediately plunged into active politics of mass mobilisation. He used the church just opposite where he lived on 26 Makgatho Street to address masses of people who came to his meetings every evening. The church belonged to Rev. Brander whose son Simon Brander died on Robben Island convicted as a PAC-Poqo activist. As a former teacher ‘Bra Jeff’, invited teachers to a meeting at the Atteridgeville Community Hall, where he was showered with presents.
The meeting with teachers was followed by a homecoming reception by the Atteridgeville Community at the Super Stadium that was filled to capacity. This disturbed the Apartheid authorities who instructed the police to intervene and ordered the people to disperse before the occasion could come to an end. The meetings by Jafta Masemola were growing by the day and as a result the PAC was becoming more visible. Jafta Masemola travelled the length and breadth of the country reviving PAC structures. He was asked to intervene in conflicts between the PAC and UDF members and this enhanced his stature and influence.
In all these activities Jafta Masemola did not seem to take care of his personal security. He never thought anything bad could happen to him because he had so much trust in the African people. This lax attitude to security meant that Jafta Masemola travelled without a bodyguard on the fateful day of April 17, 1990 when he was killed in a car crash just six months after his release from prison. This accident brought the life of this young, dynamic and promising leader to an end. The truck that was involved in the crash with Jafta Masemola’s car disappeared from the scene of the accident and has to this day never been traced.
This is how the life of this hard working, powerful, intelligent, creative and Fearless leader Ended. Jafta Masemola’s death was a serious blow and setback for the PAC as he was looked upon as the next to succeed the then aging and ailing President of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), Zephaniah Mothopeng -The Lion of Azania. We are meeting on the 31st July 2010, set aside by PAC as Heroes’ Day to honour and memorialize this great son of Africa .
By Ike Mafole
(The writer is the current Chairperson of Tshwane APLA Military Veterans Association and a former member of the PAC National Executive Committee (NEC) and the Central Committee (CC))