ANC, the Lutheran Church
The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 15 July 2005.
Bloemfontein Student League and it’s loose structure attracted Malebo as a high school student in the late 1970’s.The Freedom Charter made a huge impact on him and he started to work for that within the ANC and within the church that he also started to use as a platform. Malebo came to Sweden to study in 1981 through Hans Engdahl, even without a passport he was let into the country. In Sweden he was introduced to a society that he deemed as just and equal and that spurred him on in the struggle. Upon his return to South Africa he became a youth church activist. He survived several attempts to his life but stayed true to his none-violence activism.
Bertil Högberg: Today is the 15 July 2005 and I am sitting here in Johannesburg with Sekopi Malebo and we are going to talk about your involvement in the struggle and your relationship to Sweden and so on. So when did you become involved in the struggle here in South Africa and in what way?
Sekopi Malebo: Like most of my generation I got involved during my high school years, late ’76 but from ’77 fully active in student body politics.
Bertil Högberg: Was it COSAS or was it before that?
Sekopi Malebo: No, COSAS was not there at that time, it was just Bloemfontein Student League. We were not fully structured at that time and I mean the structures could also not last because the repression was very high. We would constitute ourselves then the very next day or week or so people were arrested or they had to go into exile and at the same time one was also subscribing more to a Black Consciousness at that time. Then I think I moved into community and church about 1980.
Bertil Högberg: You were involved with the Lutheran Church?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, I was. We then found that what the church was saying was not compatible with the teachings of the church or what the national church in South Africa was saying. It was even worse among those State-leaning churches what they were saying, those gospel men, and that contradiction led us on to challenge within the church and then from within the church take the struggle outside. So we would mobilise people, use the church platform, justify the action, justify the need for resistance and then take that into shop-floor communities, schools, colleges, everywhere. In 1979 I was introduced to the Freedom Charter and that changed me and had a great impact on me.
Bertil Högberg: How did you get hold of that anyway?
Sekopi Malebo: From the underground structures. In preparation for the year that was going to be declared the year of the Freedom Charter one of the guys in my class had it and the second one I got as I was coming from school, walking through the industrial area, there were people who were distributing it in a very clandestine manner. So I picked it up there, I picked up the Freedom Charter that day and the Communist Manifesto and then I shifted from the Black Consciousness to the Freedom Charter side into the ANC.
Bertil Högberg: Did you have any formal position within the church at that time?
Sekopi Malebo: No, I was just a youth leader in our congregation and in our circuit.
Bertil Högberg: What was your role in the struggle in those times?
Sekopi Malebo: I was part of the community youth organisation. We were also part of the network that was supporting the detainees and the political prisoners. And in 1981 I went to Sweden and whilst I was told not to be in contact with the ANC I was.
Bertil Högberg: Who told you that?
Sekopi Malebo: Well to protect the church they said I must not, but I think they all knew that I used to. There was a restaurant opposite Uppsala Station, a Chinese one, that’s the first meeting I had with the ANC, with Lindiwe Mabusa who was the Chief Representative at that time. And from there the rest is history, I’ve never looked back and that year when I arrived in Sweden I think it would be correct to say for the first 6 months I didn’t do any school work because all the books I wanted were suddenly there and in those 6 months I read probably 50 books or so.
Bertil Högberg: That’s why your Swedish wasn’t up to standard in school.
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, because I was just reading and reading all these things that I wanted to keep because you see, we believe that as a non-violent activist your weapons are all in your head and therefore I had to really store a lot of information, and I don’t regret that as later it came to good use.
Bertil Högberg: I think you got a few of these books from my bookshelves as well.
Sekopi Malebo: Of course I also sent others through Botswana and I then smuggled them into the country and they circulated quite a lot. So my house became some kind of a library.
Bertil Högberg: Before we come back to South Africa we must stay in Sweden now, why did you come to Sweden and who brought you to Sweden?
Sekopi Malebo: I was actually hijacked, I didn’t want to go but Hans Engdahl and the Dean probably impressed them at the youth meetings and they felt that since I had completed my high school education I should be recruited into youth ministry and go to Sweden for one year‘s training and then come back and work for the church in the youth camp ministry.
So the important thing about before was that we had one of the greatest youth gatherings in the Free State where we talked about a simple topic, what the Free State would look like in 10 years time, and it was the most political meeting of the time, openly, people saying “Well I hope apartheid will be gone, I’ll see free and fair education”. And of course then we got in and then really gave a lot of explanations and analysed the society further. So I had a big struggle in going to Sweden because I could not get a passport.
Bertil Högberg: But you decided to go anyway?
Sekopi Malebo: I decided to go, yes, and I went to Pretoria to go and protest that I needed my passport and so they refused and said I need a Bophuthatswana one so I said “Whatever it takes” and that’s when they gave me what they called an International Travel Document which was not recognised anywhere but I think Sweden recognised it because they understood what was happening.
Bertil Högberg: Because you were not living within Bophuthatswana’s borders then, you were living in Bloemfontein?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, because I’m Motswana speaking and Motswanas we were by force citizens of Bophuthatswana at that time. Well it was bad because on my way back we tried to visit international solidarity organisations in Geneva, ILO, World Council of Churches, but I got arrested there. They said I had faked a passport. Our first Minister of Education, Dr Bengu, and the current Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation they came to bail me out the next day and so I was freed and I then stayed there for about 2 weeks and came back to South Africa.
But Sweden was quite an important meeting because I think there I had a chance to interact with many schools of thought, many activists for freedom, justice and peace. I also met with people who had devoted their lives to our cause in South Africa. Sweden was in itself enough to be exposed to because in a way it was the exact opposite of what South Africa was in many respects, I would leave out the language and the culture and so on and religion but say that there was a society where there was no or very little hunger, if there was any, a society where they had free education, a society which had freedom for all and all were equal before the law, all rights were respected irrespective of who you were. I went into a police station to handle my residential permit, I was there, the policeman stretched out his hand and greeted me, I mean I would never expect that in a South African police station, it would either slap me or something like that as a welcome. And so the ideals then that one was cherishing got confirmed - that there are indeed societies like the one that we professed to work for and to achieve. So that really meant a great deal of inspiration to me and I mean when it was difficult at home I could always say “Well, in fact these things do happen, there are societies that are like what we say we want to be so it’s not a far fetched dream and it’s not true that if you say you want these things you are a Communist or you are a terrorist as the white supremist apartheid government would call us. No. And there is one church, everybody’s going into it”, so all of these things, ideals, all of a sudden became a daily experience so it needed a hell of an adjustment for me. And of course a great learning curve.
Bertil Högberg: So the exposure to the society was one thing but what about the training that you received at Sigtuna Folkhögskola [Residential College for adult education] or RKU Leaders Training Institute was that training in itself also valuable for you?
Sekopi Malebo: Very little of it, quite frankly. I’ll give you an example, there was a session when we were dealing with how to deal with young people involved in drugs, abuse of drugs, alcohol, cannabis and so on, that was not an issue in South Africa at that time, I need not, I did not apply it until I left youth ministry, it only becomes relevant now more than 20 years later. And I can understand this because the context of the education was mostly for Sweden.
But what was most relevant was the pedagogy because you take that theory and you apply it in different circumstances, that’s what really made the whole thing more worthwhile than any other thing. So from that point of view one learnt a lot and I think that adult based education, that kind of training was also a shock because you come from an environment where the teacher knows all and tells you everything and you must reproduce everything that he says, whilst I was normally criticising that and saying “That’s not the correct education”, when I found myself in that environment it was a hell of a challenge. But I think later on I enjoyed myself, enjoyed myself greatly.
Bertil Högberg: What is the strongest memory you have from that time in Sweden?
Sekopi Malebo: The 1 May march.
Bertil Högberg: Where were you taking part?
Sekopi Malebo: In Uppsala. I could not believe it, here were thousands and thousands of people marching peacefully, so it’s true, you can march peacefully. And funny the police are there but they are part of the marshals that have been mobilised to do crowd control. So I think I kept on talking about this experience the whole of May. Yes, that was that.
The other important thing for me was the appreciation for international solidarity - it was unbelievable that people who really need not have wasted their time with our situation they were so devoted to it, with their time, resources, everything, pursuing our struggle, that remains one of the most important points to remember and I always say to people, who accuse our President of doing too much for the international world, I say they do not understand how the South Africa struggle was fought because if they did know then they would understand that as ANC we have never approached matters only from South Africa’s point of view and stopped there. We would start from South Africa but then address Africa, the southern part of the world and the whole world at large because we are intertwined in various respects.
Bertil Högberg: You got exposed to this different type of solidarity work, what organisations did you have contact with during your time in Sweden?
Sekopi Malebo: Africa Groups, Isolate South Africa Committee, mostly these two, and I was covertly working with the ANC so it was not in the open. Yes, I moved around a lot in schools and churches promoting the cause.
Bertil Högberg: Did you have any contacts with the other Nordic countries?
Sekopi Malebo: No.
Bertil Högberg: How was it to come back to South Africa? You came back to be in charge of a youth centre?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: So how was that return?
Sekopi Malebo: Well it was like a freedom fighter who is sent to go and fight with nothing, he’ll find his way as he travels, he’ll make his weapons as the journey progresses, he will draw his strategy as the conditions demand and resources he will have to be very innovative to get those. In a nutshell, I came back and “Welcome, go and start working”, that was it. Different, my colleagues worked in an organised situation, clear cut job descriptions with resources to work with and so on, but I understood that to be a challenge and I actually liked that because it meant that I could arrange things the way I wanted to.
Bertil Högberg: It was within the church but obviously there came to be a lot of political work also, how did you combine these things?
Sekopi Malebo: I always understood that the church was my base which I used as a springboard to do all sorts of things. I believed that I must strengthen myself theoretically with political understanding of the situation and so on and also have a clear understanding of my biblical foundations for attending to the issue from the spiritual or the Christian point of view, and then armed with that go in and do the work. I believe that whilst it was important to do the work within the church it was less than 1% of the work that had to be done, 99% of the work had to be done outside the church from Monday to Saturday. Or you could say within the youth for 7 days, except that one day when the youth met for 2 hours and my plan was then that when they met they were to be armed and be prepared to go and wage battles outside, whether at school, whether on the factory floor, whether they are at home, college, wherever. That’s how I structured my work and it paid off because we then built a very strong ICY, Inter-Church Youth, which was an ecumenical movement. We then also built a very strong Christian student movement, high school and tertiary level. We, in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church, had young communists – well, no, we didn’t call them communists we said “Young Christian Workers”, which was a school for those who were working but preparing them for their trade union work.
Then we also had the advice offices where we used to advise community members on various issues that were confronting them. So from that little – well, I lived in a one-roomed house which I regarded as an office, as a youth centre, because it was always full of young people, my bedroom, my kitchen, my office, everything, and it worked.
There was a guy, he was a seamen’s church pastor in Cape Town, I remember in 1986 when during the State of Emergency when the security police missed me I ran to hide at his church in Sea Point. When he left at the end of that year they sold me their car for nothing and it was a red Mazda and it was called Tarzan because it used to go anywhere. The car was in Cape Town, it was in Kimberley, it was in Jo’burg, it was in Gaborone, it was in Swaziland.
Bertil Högberg: So you worked not only in Bloemfontein, you were in many other places also?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes. I was meant to work for the Free State but also assist in the Cape Orange Diocese. But because of our church affiliation to the SACC I became part of the SACC youth desk and I was their President for 3 years. So national and international work we did it from that point and I remember 1984/’85 we hijacked the whole conference, I mean when I look back you can just see the youth that had overpowered all these powerful churchmen and then did what they wanted to do. The only thing we fought for was to speak for ourselves, we would table our reports, we would move our resolutions, we sought our right to express ourselves on whatever thing we wanted to move on there.
Bertil Högberg: Not waiting for the elders?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, because mostly we acted as the stewards, helping with the running of the conference, and we said “No, as youth leaders our task does not end here in serving you. We are leaders of today and tomorrow”, and 1985 we had one of the most beautiful years because it was the International Year of the Youth; we had activities throughout the country. It was the time when the training of leaders as activists, as organisers, as leaders, as shop stewards, was at its peak. There were various institutions that did that with assistance of various donors.
We had a theme every month but two important things there, one was bringing the church closer to the youth and the poster had this church that had ropes on and young people pulling it out of the clouds to the ground. And the second one was participating for justice and freedom, and under that you can say anything, and it worked. I remember for the Lutheran church youth for the next 3 years that became the theme, no other theme was favoured other than that one, and it was easily sub-divided, participating for justice, participating in the church, participating in support of the community, your participation in support of the political prisoners, your participation in support of the workers, you know you could sub-divide it and address the individual and after that that individual is pumped with such information that the first thing when he walks out of there you know that he’s going to work.
And Paulo Freire’s literature was very key at that time because his methodology fitted very well with what we wanted to do.
Bertil Högberg: And that you had come with from Sweden?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes. And it’s very important to say that I remember in ’94, February – no, it was June ’93 as we were now getting into high involvement for the first democratic election, some of the comrades were saying, ANC, “Where are those trained church activists? If they get into this campaign it will move at a speed that you won’t recognise, they will mobilise everybody behind our campaign”. For me, that was the biggest ‘Thank You’ to hear that statement because it said that those that had gone through our training could be relied upon, were effective and indeed were making their mark.
And when I look back at it now and I see them in commerce, I see them in the church, in schools, in various organisations; I can say that what we did was basically human resource development. The tools of analysis that we gave people there, the tools of leadership, the tools of management we gave people there, of planning, most are still applying it today. And if you read all the gurus in the world today you will read books, whether by Tom Peters or whoever, or these balance sheets or whatever, finally they come to the simple picture we’ve drawn where you act, you evaluate, you plan, the three things just goes around that, how we said people should go about doing the thing. So in a way those intensive years we did well in providing South Africa with some of the finest leaders of today.
Bertil Högberg: Were there any really big conflicts with the church, with the more established church, around your political involvement?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, of course. I remember after the centre was built, I won’t mention their names now, they are very high in the church, they came to tell me to stop using the centre for that because the youth centre became almost a “Folkets Hus” [People’s House] but bigger than that. Youth could come in there, read, there was a small library, they would go in there, play games, they could go in there for discussions, the community could hold their meetings there, we had training facilities there for those who came from outside and who could sleep there.
Bertil Högberg: That was this youth centre that was built with money from Sweden, wasn’t it?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: What’s it called?
Sekopi Malebo: Ikageng.
Bertil Högberg: When was that built?
Sekopi Malebo: It was built in ’86 and it was opened formally in ‘87 that was 5 years after I’d returned from Sweden.
Bertil Högberg: It was the youth movement of the church in Sweden that was involved in that?
Sekopi Malebo: CSM and the youth movement, yes. Now, I mean to be quite honest, at one point I felt that, yes, I was doing more community work than church work and as a result I asked that I be taken off the roll, pay roll, and my wife was seeing to my well being, and thank God that she never complained about that.
Bertil Högberg: She was working as a nurse?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, she was a nurse. And I got very angry because for all the years I lived in one room I never complained, whether I got money or no money I never complained, but when I said “I’m married now I can’t live in one room” they looked the other way, nobody wanted to answer. I can understand but I thought I would be given the same privileges as all other church workers, housing, that’s all. But I was not given that and I was – I said, “No, I have to find my way”.
Bertil Högberg: So when was that, that you left the work officially?
Sekopi Malebo: ’87, but then I came back the following year and we continued. But when I returned then it became worse because there were three big meetings. Wednesdays it used to be community meetings, I tell you that church would overflow, we ended up holding the meeting in the open, the space became too small and it became bigger. I together with other leaders, community leaders, were addressing the people every day there. Others used to be the student gatherings, we would meet with the student leaders, hear them out, help them with ideas where they needed them, big community meetings with students, workers. The 1987 strike of the South African Rail Workers it was conducted from there. Those that were chucked out of the hostels we accommodated them, but that’s where they met every day to plan daily activities of pursuing the struggle, the strike.
The International Decade of Women was launched there as well, there was no other venue, and we had women from all over southern Africa and the space was too small but none of them ever complained about where to sleep, inadequate bathrooms and so on. No, it was just “This is the base that we can afford, we use it to the fullest”. And some of the people are there now as ministers and mayors and what-have-you so I’ve got very fond memories of the work that we did there. It was the home of the democratic actions, it was buzzing all the time with activities, so if you didn’t know what was happening you knew you must get in touch with somebody who had been at the centre to find out what was being done and then you would see it.
You would hear some other time that the consumer boycotts were coordinated from there, all sorts of – all of these things.
Then when I became the Secretary General of the Residents Association I was still there. We used that place and the centre ran one of the most effective advice offices. People would come with whatever problem, children that did not want to take the parents counsel and authority, and they were brought to us young as we were. People came and complained about their wives, their husbands, being young we would go out and go and get someone who was man enough to handle such a topic, to handle it on our behalf, all that we would do was we would just come and warn the person that “You must behave” and our authority was respected and was not abused.
The other one was that when Kennedy came here, ’85, Archbishop Tutu hosted him in Johannesburg, he was Bishop Tutu at that time, in Durban by Archbishop Dennis Hurley, in Cape Town by Allen Boesak and in Bloemfontein it was me, and you should have seen how derogatory the newspapers were. I had to take them to Winnie Mandela’s place.
Bertil Högberg: In Brandfort?
Sekopi Malebo: In Brandfort, yes. And then from there I took them to Botshabelo which was where blacks were being dumped with the idea of creating a buffer or a labour reserve, people would be bussed in and out to go and work in Bloemfontein.
Bertil Högberg: Botshabelo became part of Bophuthatswana, didn’t it?
Sekopi Malebo: No, they wanted to make it part of Qwa Qwa at the time and it was resisted and we won that resistance. And so when Kennedy arrived the security branch realised that I was the man but there’s nothing that they could do at that point in time and I also flexed my muscles, the lead car was from the security branch, I said “No, where we go if we are going to be led by security branch it’s not going to go well” and they were thrown out of the road and our car led the whole entourage. I took him to the graveyard primarily for the reason that he should see for himself the mortality rate. There were strips and strips of open dug graves, of toddlers and minors. You found graves of 3-month-old babies, many, many, thousands below 7-years were dying of malnutrition, hunger and common diseases that could be attended to, because we were saying that was the standard of living there, that said a lot about the living conditions, that said a lot about the quality of life.
Then the police quickly arranged for the Commissioner in charge of the area to come and he came to tell lies that “No, it’s not true, there were doctors and what-have-you there, this place is fine, it’s better than the rest of Africa”. I said to him “Ask him where are the doctors”, he said no, they are at the clinic, I said “Tell him we are going there now he must call one out”. We rushed there; no one was there, not a doctor. A sister came out and he told the sister to make an excuse why the doctor was not there, the sister said “No, he comes once a week for 30 minutes and then leaves. We are struggling ourselves”. I forgot to say whilst we were there at the graveyard three children’s funerals came and he saw it. At the clinic he saw it, so then we went around there. The irony of it all is that now it was time for him to move from Bloemfontein to Durban, now you must remember he came by taxi. We are at the airport and the security branch says, “We are going to deal with you”. I said, “What am I going to do here?” Kennedy’s secretary at that time was the daughter of Andrew Young, I said, “Listen, I’m not staying, I’m going with you guys otherwise these guys are going to beat me up”. So I flew, I got a lift in the plane to Durban. From Durban I went to East London and then came back home and of course nothing happened for a day or two. After that they came and beat me up and just left me like that.
Bertil Högberg: Were you ever arrested by the police over those years?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, but not for long spells. It was always like this. There was one thing they could never understand - that I always appeared so good, such a good Christian, liked by church communities, people liked my sermons, but there’s this angle that crops up now and then of my political involvement which they can’t really understand, and then that led to them having a special unit that was monitoring Christian activities. So when they were looking for me in ’86 during the State of Emergency, I moved to Cape Town to go and assist the comrades there.
Bertil Högberg: When you say ‘the comrades’ do you mean the underground struggle?
Sekopi Malebo: No, both the UDF comrades and the underground structures.
Bertil Högberg: Because you were part of the underground ANC network in these days?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, I was. Let me tell you first about that time when they discovered I crossed into Swaziland as a priest with the priest attire. I stayed there for a couple of days and came back, because during that time we were saying “We are defying, we are living underground and refusing to go into exile and we are saying we are not going to make mistakes that will take us to jail but we are not going to stop doing anything that we think will take our liberation struggle forward”. So the point was that you must do whatever you did with such precision that they were always late. And we won.
That’s why I’m going to where I’m going to today in Upington because I was part of the underground structures and some of the people that I worked with we brought them in through the church network I had around the Botswana border and I was in a prestigious organ of special ops. I was passing on the information, I was fetching people, dropping them, helping them to go out and so on. So many a time I used to drive at nights and I remember in 1994 when we had our conference in Mafeking I tried to go and walk there, I got lost, but I went at night and I found the houses and the comrades said “No, actually we saw this car, we were in disagreement whether it was you or not, so we felt that we’d rather observe your operations from underground, we wouldn’t talk to you, you shouldn’t know what we are dong here”. So that was very good and that was in fact the most effective way.
I remember I developed a relationship with somebody at Bophuthatswana Consulate who would always give me a fake passport to cross into Botswana, in and out to drop off things and so on. So I got a big hiding from two commanders I was with at one time and that I did not know of myself because I had a gun and I’d always ensure that it was in a combative point at any given time and vowed that I would never be taken alive. But there was this occasion when I got a tip off 5 minutes before people were going to burn down the centre, it was a large group coming, and I took the gun, 521, and ran there. I was big at that time, I’d picked up a lot of weight, and when I got there was nothing but I could hear the song, it was moving towards my house because I was living about 500m away from the house. I evacuated my wife and two kids and so when I arrived there they had surrounded the house, so I tried to fire a warning shot, it didn’t work, so I did it again, the warning shot went off and then they spread out and then they were chasing me. So as soon as they came near I would fire a warning shot, they would fall down, and I went on like that.
There was a party somewhere where they were playing, with a very loud noise, struggle songs. They kept singing so I was confusing the attackers with this song wherever I went, so out of the 50 people that came to attack me there were 10 that followed me consistently all the time. Now they then went to one guy I was working with, they got hammered, he beat them up and I think one guy got killed. So when I returned home at 5 o’clock in the morning, tired, the commander was there and some people of our unit, they were very disappointed. They said not very nice words to me, grabbed my gun, “You are useless, people come to kill you, you don’t kill? You don’t fight back? You scare them off? What kind of a soldier are you?” Now that was a revelation to me that yes, indeed I was a non-violent person. Never, never got to me so strong, but I was not sure if these people were genuine, or sent by the system to come and get rid of me, or some had been fooled into being part of the mob because they all had axes and big knives and those things. So they took the gun. I said “No, fine”. It made me think.
Bertil Högberg: Did you have to use the gun again?
Sekopi Malebo: No, I said they could keep it. I realised also at that point that I couldn’t point it at anybody. I mean I remember I used to take the guys to go and make them feel the AK-47 in the water, in the dams, just how a shot takes you, the sound of it so that you don’t get scared, but when the moment came I couldn’t shoot.
Then they bombed my house two times, we lost everything. And then that made me really think of this stance of mine because I saw them the day before, so I organised people just to disturb them and they went away. They came the next day and they found me dead asleep, I just saw the petrol bomb and in anger I was rushing out, my wife pulled me, just as she pulled me a hand grenade went through the window straight through the other window outside and exploded outside. Lucky. And a petrol bomb is silly, if you put down the flames with water you give the flames a chance to move fast because it burns on top, and people woke up and came and stopped it and they asked me if I was going to the police, just following the law to report the matter.
They asked me “Do you have a suspect?” I said “No, I don’t have” then they said “It is not perhaps one of your – maybe you are having a secret affair with somebody’s wife and that person is afraid of you and therefore he decided to take this action on you?” I said “Well, that’s too far fetched”.
So I never met that guy who did that. They called me to the Truth Commission, they wanted to see me but I was too busy, I said, “No, okay, it’s forgiven, fine, I don’t want to come”. The African and the other one, the white fellow, I never saw him until 2 years ago. There was a big disaster of a bus that fell into a dam.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, I remember that.
Sekopi Malebo: Yes. One of the policemen who was assisting to take out the corpses; when I looked it was him and he looked at me, because he saw me, he dropped the corpse out of there and I walked away and he came, I said “No, go and work, it’s over, man”. He was nervous.
Bertil Högberg: He was scared because you were then the MEC for Transport?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes. I’d never met him. And so I said “Okay” but anger came because my wife was pregnant too when they were doing that. But it’s over. So there are a lot of these kinds of stories.
But I must tell you that there in Botshabelo, and I think this point is very important I’m going to make now because when Allen Boesak was arrested and the Swedish organisations went there to testify against him, I was really heart-broken because I said that they should have done it with Mandela and all of us because, I was part of the propaganda machinery in Botshabelo. We got money from Diakonia, Margaret somebody, do you remember Margaret?
Bertil Högberg: Yes.
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, I think Margaret was also involved in that. It was a printing press also my house. At night we would put up this thing, you know the stencils, making lots of pamphlets and after that we’d clean the house and we used to hide it somewhere, not in the vicinity there. That was what turned that whole community like this because weekly they used to get propaganda from us and I mean those chaps just did not know how to counter it. And we always said to the recruits “You become a revolutionary with the first step of having the courage to take the pamphlet door to door and be seen, not to be noticed but ensure that it’s found. When the students get into class they must find that newspaper man has passed by with information from the underground about what is happening, what the reality of South Africa is, what Oliver Tambo said, what Chris Hani said and so on”.
We ran that and one day they raided the house where we were holding the things and it was taken. I can’t remember me declaring in particular that we got the money for that and it was for something else I remember but when we looked we realised “No, this money will be properly used if we had our own printing press”. We printed T-shirts, we printed pamphlets, leaflets, and so I’ll never forget Margaret for that.
Bertil Högberg: Did you get support from any other sources?
Sekopi Malebo: I must be honest I got support from RKU for example, people making donations. I must say that I was never close to the Swedish government, whether they are social democrats or whoever, no. My Swedish contacts have been in the NGOs and in the church and in the solidarity movement. So on that score there used to be things coming but mostly from friends that were supporting me from the Church of Sweden Mission, from Church of Sweden Aid from Africa Groups, from – what is that one? – U-veckan. So really it worked.
Bertil Högberg: Was there any money or resources coming in the underground structures?
Sekopi Malebo: Oh, yes.
Bertil Högberg: Did you also get access to money that way?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, from Boesak, from Dr Naude, from Brigalia Bam, from ANC itself and that’s why I always like Nedbank because I used to get some of the money through Nedbank and they never reported me and for that reason I have got a sentimental attachment to them. So it’s very difficult for me to leave Nedbank.
Bertil Högberg: So there was cash flowing also via the ANC structures in this way?
Sekopi Malebo: Indeed there was.
Bertil Högberg: What was it used for?
Sekopi Malebo: Petrol, looking after comrades who were in detention, helping people to visit people in detention, arranging projects, arranging meetings, running around. It was always the case. For example, if we were underground and you had a cadre with you your car must never have petrol that was below half tank, it was the golden rule, because you’d never know when you must hit the road. Okay, so it was things like that. And then we also had lots of safe houses that had to be rented without exposing what they were for.
Bertil Högberg: You know a lot of this money to ANC came from the Sida allocation for underground work and of course there was no structure to account for this at all and there’s been very little written about what actually this money was used for so it’s quite important to have your input.
Sekopi Malebo: I can tell you that the UDF, the detainee support group, the resistance movement within the homelands, those organs, it was very difficult to sustain them without money. There was the network and that was key. And you must remember we never liked cars because we always said that was the easiest way to be detected. If there was a car it was somewhere else, mostly we would walk, we would use public transport because you had to be sure all the time with whom you were, except at night and so on when we would use transport. And that made that work very expensive because it meant renting cars under pseudonyms and so on, for that I must say that budget was good. I don’t know how many times I was caught at the border and the people said “No, we know him, he’s just going to see whoever’s coming back” and I would escape arrest at the borders.
And there are also other things that people can point out that they did with those monies, including the T-shirts, making all sorts of materials that were needed for advancing the cause. The scholarships of people at universities, that was big. I look at many people who went to varsity not even having a cent, but qualified today. And some of them got the money that came through the ANC and so on, especially towards the late ‘80s when the ANC started saying “Don’t forget that we need well qualified resource persons”. So as the mobilisation towards attaining full freedom took effect there was so much preparation for the take over, the personnel and so on, the alternative policies. That’s one structure that I took part in, that of mobilising the educated to assist in writing the post-apartheid policies. We participated in the writing of the constitutional principles, there was SAREID there was PASAD, there was CDS, which drove these things and they meant a lot, they meant a lot.
Bertil Högberg: You went back to Sweden a number of times during these years, didn’t you? One of the big things was the Pula, how did that come about and what was it?
Sekopi Malebo: I think one of the most impressive points really that stands out for me is how people really could link or delink themselves to our struggle. A certain school found that their school had shares in a company that was operating in South Africa and therefore the decision was taken to disinvest in the company and the money was given to the students and other people to use for the cause. And in their wisdom they decided that “No, let’s bring a group that will come and heighten the level of awareness and of mobilisation of the Swedish opinion to back our cause”. I was then asked to put a group together which would make that tour and we had 3 months to put up the choir, to do poetry, to do music, to do drama, to do various kinds of dances. And that was touching that people would say “I won’t take apartheid money to live on it, I’d rather lose those good returns in that company for the sake of my belief in everybody’s freedom and non-oppressive lifestyle”. So that really meant a lot, that exposure meant a lot to them as well and for me in particular I did not know that I could conduct a choir but there at that time it came.
Bertil Högberg: So you also spent 3 months in Sweden.
Sekopi Malebo: Remember I came late because I was refused a passport and on the eve of the day when I decided that I was going to leave illegally I got a passport but at that time the apartheid forces thought that when I came back they would like to involve me in being one of those who would negotiate with them in exclusion of the ANC and of course that was a very important message for me to take out. I said “Hey, guys, those people are doing this”.
Bertil Högberg: So they told you that?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, that’s when they gave me my passport. I met with our late President Oliver Tambo.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, I remember that.
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, I took the message directly to him and he said – and the late Steve Tshwete was there – he said “There is your confirmation now and it’s fresh” and they wanted to know in particular who was there and I could tell them where those people in the ranks of the security branch were that called me in for my passport and so on.
And at that time the Harare Declaration was being brewed inside the country and outside the country so December that year we met at Wits, in ’89, and adopted the road map towards a negotiated settlement and 2 days later I think the United Nations also adopted the very same, which was, I think, one of the first United Nations resolutions that had the backing of the majority of any particular country or a particular country that had participated in the process of arriving at a particular resolution.
Bertil Högberg: What did these contacts that you had in Sweden mean during these years?
Sekopi Malebo: Incredible support. I mean I was not worried, I always tell people that I was never afraid to die because I felt that it didn’t mean anything if I died because there were so many who shared this with me and who did more in their own little way in their own area. So that support, those prayers, used to sustain me. Even in the most difficult circumstances I would know that I was not alone.
Secondly, it used to be very inspirational once in a while to get a letter, a phone call “There’s a donation and that”, that was energising support indeed. And that also kept the memory in me that these freedoms are possible, other people are enjoying them so there’s nothing untoward in what you are saying you want to do.
Bertil Högberg: So what happened in 1990 then?
Sekopi Malebo: In 1990 I was in the ANC just before the negotiations we got to know. I went to briefings with Mandela and I became part of the internal leadership core that had to see to the re-establishment of the ANC. I became the Interim Secretary, a year down the line I became the leader in our region, a member of the National Executive Committee, and went to parliament and participated in the writing of the Constitution and after that I was sent to the provinces to be the provincial Minister for Public Works, Roads and Transport and I stayed in that position until the last elections.
Bertil Högberg: And was it your decision to opt out?
Sekopi Malebo: Well I wanted to opt out a bit, but I was not put back in terms of the party way of doing things. I was struggling in my innermost whether I wanted to play politics that you see in other parts of the world, that I saw some of my comrades playing, or if I wanted to stand against that, and I decided that I wouldn’t seek another political term if it was going to come on that basis. I therefore stood outside, and I think we are waging a campaign now to cleanse those kinds of outside elements, out of the ANC, and ensure that the ANC remains with the image that we had associated it with.
Thirdly, I was reluctant to go to parliament and now that I see that the political solutions are not yet complete - there’s economic, there’s other ones and so on - I feel that I’ll continue to be active in the party but for those 5 years I wouldn’t go back. I was asked to return after a year or so but I declined.
At the moment I’m working with former trade unionists, student activists, HIV/AIDS groups, disabled people, we have formed a consortium and we are doing business that helps those organisations now to be self-sustained and not dependent on the donations. So it’s a big learning curve for me but that’s what I’m doing now. And partly I’m also doing consultancy work from time to time in various government departments, especially new provincial ministers, to help them with one thing or the other.
At the moment I’m trying to do aviation, we are going to do housing construction, computer training and literacy, yes, there’s all sorts of small business here and there that we hope to start.
Bertil Högberg: Part of this black economic empowerment drive?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes, it is. Our group has got now about 3,500 people just in the Free State, but there are those that we combine with in other provinces and then we can end up being 300,000 if we want. So it depends on the size of the deal that you want to chase and so on. But it’s not easy because financing is absolutely impossible in South Africa. If you want R50 you must have R50 before you can get R50, then the question is where are you going to borrow the first R50?
But I must say that when one looks at it, yes, as you say, we train people. We’ve got some of the finest intellectuals and leaders and we won our struggle on the basis of the corruptness of apartheid, the immorality of apartheid, the disrespect for the law and the inequality meted out in the name of justice; we are very strong on some of these things. But there’s one important thing that I think - and the first mistake is in the church and in the society - that we never really passed this experience on so that comrades could digest it and it would become part of them. Paulo Freire puts it nicely, he says “When you ask the oppressed to mete out justice they would mete out the justice that the oppressor metes out because for him that’s how it’s done. He has no experience of the other way”. So when you hear of people who have now become the worst capitalists, people who have become corrupt, then I’m happy that I’m out of public life because this helps me to calm down as well. We did not say to comrades “How do we handle power in such a way that you don’t end up corrupt yourself, you don’t end up being power hungry, you don’t end up being immoral?” and in this society where more value is given the more you carry yourself like the white capitalists, bourgeoisie and middle class, that’s the standard that the leadership must keep. And when you lead people who are very, very poor it becomes a problem if you conduct yourself and you live yourself, you dress, and you stay in places like those ones, some people don’t take you seriously, they say “How do you balance that out?” It takes a strong character to do that.
I stayed in my house for a very long time before I moved to the outskirts of town and people used to fight me “But why don’t you move out to your peers in town?” and I mean I said “But I’ve got a house, they bought their houses there because they had nowhere else to buy, and when we liberated this country we liberated also the fact that we must be able to live wherever we want. Those are the consequences of the freedom that we wanted, the right to choose to live wherever you want to, and so I have that right to choose to live here”. The people did not understand it because they thought when you’ve got money its time to move into the white suburbs.
So then I moved into the smallholding outside town and those who were accusing me of not moving said “You see, now you have left us, now you have forgotten about us, you are on the other side. We are not sure if you can still articulate our needs properly”. I said “I did not join the struggle by mistake and I don’t only articulate the problems of this country when I see you every day, I experience them myself too in different ways and my analysis of this society remains an effective one to guide me through”. So there’s a challenge of how we are going to make other people handle power, they need to understand that there’s an energy that you must apply to achieve certain things and how you need to do that.
Secondly, what is money and what does money mean to you? I asked somebody “If you are now a businessman and you are only interested in profits, in making money, what for? What are you going to do with the money?” “Are you mad? How can you ask me that question?” I said, “No, I’m asking you the question seriously. What are you going to do with the money? What is Bill Gates doing with the money?” See? So you would strive to accumulate it and be very, very rich, for what? Why don’t you just strive to have enough to live and have? I’m not saying it’s wrong for people who accumulate their money in fair trade, it’s not wrong, no, I don’t have a problem with that, but all I’m saying is that when that becomes what drives you, what determines how you spend your day, how you relate to other people, how you look at the environment, it promotes selfishness, it promotes power hunger, it promotes manipulation and that’s where corruption comes in.
So I also say money for me is an energy to do things, I don’t want too much of it because it will ruin my system. I need enough to continue. So I’m not sure whether we are passing in with that, and I don’t like to say value system or ethic, whatever. But because we were very strong on issues of the corruptness and the immorality of apartheid, we cannot come and replace that immorality with our own immorality. We need to sort it out fast.
Bertil Högberg: And you see that happen now within the ANC?
Sekopi Malebo: Of course there are some people who are corrupt, yes.
Bertil Högberg: But is there a cleaning up process going on?
Sekopi Malebo: The cleaning up process has started and that’s the one that I say that makes me stay within the party and be part of that cleansing thing.
Bertil Högberg: You’re still part of the ANC Executive, are you not?
Sekopi Malebo: No, now I’m just in the province.
Bertil Högberg: Oh, you are just in the province?
Sekopi Malebo: Yes. And secondly you see there’s an effort to say “We are a liberation movement”, I don’t think we have obtained the goals of the liberation movement fully and as a result we need to stay like that, refine ourselves here and now on tactics and maybe strategies that we used to apply.
But also there are those who say that you must now become a political party and behave and conduct yourself as such, I said “I don’t want to belong to a political party, I belong to the liberation movement and that liberation movement will reach a point when it will have to be that party”. So when will we be satisfied with what we have done? I think we’ve still got a very long way to go.
And the church is rising, we have been meeting as former Christian activists to say what our role is and many want to go back to the church to go and – because that’s the tract that they know, they would be able to address government, political party, everybody, correctly from that platform. So I’m talking to them as well. Our bishop has disappointed me because I wanted our church to be part of those who form our consortium because the church of the poor they can’t afford it. I mean the church is in a mess like any other person, but it doesn’t change with the times, it lags far behind. The church used to be far ahead but now it lags far behind and it’s a result of a number of things. Our church independence is now 30, in October this year it will be 30 years since ELCSA was born and it calls for serious evaluation. But the problem is that all the donor churches impose conditions on them and they will just accept those conditions because otherwise they don’t get the money or they don’t get seconded personnel, which is good because it has no financial obligations on them.
I have become de-stressed now, I mean you know, I realised I could not drive a car at 60-kph. I got a shock when I realised it 9 months after I’d left work that “Oh, look, I’m driving at 60kph”. So I’m still recuperating and I’m reflecting on lots of things and I’m writing to various ministers about what I see now that I’m outside, what I hear now that I’m outside, and that is very interesting to say “Look at this point in your policy from this angle and that angle and try this”.
Bertil Högberg: You have their ear?
Sekopi Malebo: Some, yes. And I enjoy that because it’s for nothing, I mean I can say whatever I like, it’s up to them to decide whatever they see.
Bertil Högberg: Okay, I’m not going to detain you longer because you are busy going to Upington. Thank you.