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On a lukewarm Monday greeting connected August 24, 1981, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi walked into the Zimbabwe-based outer bureau of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, the African National Congress (ANC), to conscionable her comrades.
Moments later, she was escorted retired of the gathering successful handcuffs, nether apprehension connected suspicion of murder. It was her 21st birthday.
Two achromatic officers with the Zimbabwean constabulary towered implicit the “Coloured” South African pistillate successful a hostile, racially charged interrogation that lasted respective hours. It was a gruelling encounter, Geraldine remembers. Although the officers did not physically harm her, she was near emotionally reeling from the verbal assaults.
Without appearing successful court, Geraldine was detained. She would walk 17 days successful solitary confinement – portion of it astatine the notoriously unsafe Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison – for a transgression she did not commit.
The communicative of her apprehension and detention is grim. But for Geraldine – the now-61-year-old who has gone from the beforehand lines of anti-racist activism to occurrence successful authorities and concern – the infinitesimal was a catalyst.
Her politically charged detention lone made her much determined to combat what she saw arsenic the far-reaching power of the South African apartheid regime, and it would enactment her connected a trajectory that took her from young idealistic extremist to the helm of a caller antiauthoritarian authorities successful 1994.The injustice of apartheid
One of six children, Geraldine is the kid of a schoolhouse main begetter and a assemblage activistic mother. She has fond memories of increasing up successful a location wherever robust statement was the bid of the day. “Both my parents were precise progressive successful the community, truthful we grew up successful a politically progressive family,” she says from her location bureau successful Cape Town.
“My parents would ever promote america to cognize what is happening astir america from a precise young age. We were raised to ever bash the close happening and situation injustice erstwhile we witnesser it,” she continues, saying that her grandmother, “a fiery pistillate and a staunch commercialized unionist”, was 1 of her top aboriginal influences.
“Because of my family’s values, and activism, determination was ne'er a clip successful my beingness wherever I wasn’t alert of the brutality and injustice of the apartheid system,” she says.
Geraldine’s mother, Cynthia, and her uncle, Mervyn, were a dynamic sibling duo of assemblage activists. She recalls however they would administer “illegal” progressive governmental accusation successful the 1960s, and however she would aboriginal travel successful their footsteps. “My parent and her member utilized to manus retired pamphlets and newspapers similar the Guardian and the New Age, that had changed their names aft they were banned.”
From the 1950s to the aboriginal 1980s, the apartheid authorities collected thousands of books crossed the state each twelvemonth and burned them. They past banned books astir Black Consciousness, resistance, gyration and communist literature, arsenic good arsenic respective newspapers that reported critically astir the apartheid regime.
“One time my begetter had fetched my younger sister and I from our grandmother’s house. It’s precocious successful the evening and we get stopped by the police. Now, remember, astatine the time, Black and Coloured radical were treated with suspicion, truthful it wasn’t antithetic for the constabulary to inspect not lone the car but our idiosyncratic belongings,” Geraldine recounts.
“In my schoolhouse bag, I had the ‘illegal’ pamphlets that we had started distributing similar my parent had done before. The pamphlets were truly conscionable governmental accusation and different mostly banned revolutionary content. By a changeable of luck, the policeman fto america spell without inspecting the vehicle, but we could person been successful superior occupation had they checked my bag,” she adds, somewhat amused by the ordeal successful hindsight. “That was my archetypal adjacent call.”
At the time, the National Party – the all-white minority-rule South African authorities – had intensified segregationist authorities that divided radical based connected their race. A wide favoritism was made betwixt goods and services “for Whites only” and those “for Coloureds”, “for Indians” oregon “for Blacks”.
In 1974, Geraldine was 14 years old, spirited, politically conscious and increasing much impatient with the radical injustice that permeated each facet of her beingness – education, transport, entree to basal services. So erstwhile she had her Claudette Colvin infinitesimal successful a segregated autobus connected her mode to schoolhouse 1 morning, nary 1 who knew her was surprised.
“There were seats successful the beforehand reserved for whites, but everyone successful the autobus was Black truthful they were each standing. I retrieve lasting determination thinking, this is … ridiculous,” says Geraldine, animated arsenic she remembers the greeting her proclivity for confronting inequality astir landed her successful superior trouble.
“I walked up to an bare spot and sat down. I told myself I was not going to move. So the driver, a Black man, says to me: ‘You cognize you can’t beryllium there,’”
Unwavering, she flatly refused to get up until the operator stopped the bus. The adults connected the autobus were unhappy with her, astir were headed to enactment and disquieted astir being late. So the operator got up, picked up the petite teenager, and near her connected the broadside of the road.
“I utilized to precise consciously and critically look astatine issues. So my biggest fearfulness wasn’t that I was going to beryllium successful occupation with the unjust instrumentality of the time, I was disquieted that I was going to beryllium successful occupation with my granny and my parents for not going to school,” Geraldine lets retired a burst of youthful laughter.
Education was ever important successful the Fraser household but, successful an epoch of radical inequality, governmental acquisition was profoundly entrenched successful the household arsenic a means to navigate a repressive, brutal society.
Geraldine thrived successful debates and governmental organisation astatine Livingstone High School, past a schoolhouse for non-white children only. Like her grandmother, she was known to beryllium fiery and had garnered immoderate supporters who saw her arsenic a person successful the school. In the ninth grade, she was elected to the Student Representative Council.
By property 15, Geraldine had joined governmental classes that were disguised arsenic publication clubs – arsenic good arsenic 1 “normal” publication club, she says.
“In the ‘illegal’ governmental class, we work and studied everything specified arsenic the Freedom Charter, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and truthful on, but past successful the mean class, we work cleanable books, truthful to speak.”‘I wanted to conflict for change’
Early on, South Africa’s liberation question mostly adopted a non-violent attack towards ending apartheid akin to the civilian rights question successful the United States. This changed successful 1961 erstwhile the ANC took up arms with the enactment of Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK), which translates to Spear of the Nation.
The MK – led by Nelson Mandela – was the authoritative equipped helping of the ANC, and it ignited successful effect to the progressively brutal repression of dissidents done extrajudicial killings, torture and detention without trial. In retaliation, the apartheid authorities outlawed the MK and designated the radical a violent organisation.
By property 19, Geraldine was determined to marque a important and drastic publication to the conflict against apartheid. She gravitated towards an ANC ally, the South African Communist Party (SACP). By then, she had afloat entrenched herself successful activism, taken up enactment roles successful assemblage authorities and fostered meaningful governmental connections crossed antithetic organisations successful Cape Town.
Through her connections to the ANC underground, she initiated the process of joining the equipped struggle.
“The concern astatine the clip necessitated that we research different ways to combat against apartheid. Remember, astatine the time, we were a fewer years caller from the pupil uprising of 1976, hundreds of Black younker had been killed successful Soweto by the regime,” says Geraldine, referring to the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, erstwhile Black schoolchildren demonstrating against inferior, racist acquisition and different injustices were gunned down by apartheid police.
In 1980, Geraldine was a second-year assemblage pupil erstwhile she near the state for subject grooming and landed successful Harare, Zimbabwe.
“You know, erstwhile I walked retired of the gross of the University of the Western Cape field to permission the country, I knew what I wanted to bash was conflict for change. I wasn’t naive to the dangers, I was conscionable … not fazed,” she says, recounting the time she joined the equipped struggle.
In Zimbabwe, Geraldine underwent subject training. She earned her combatant stripes and worked alongside Joe Gqabi, a salient anti-apartheid person – who was antecedently incarcerated connected Robben Island with Mandela and others – and who headed ANC operations successful Zimbabwe.
“Life was precise structured, our movements were preplanned each the mode down to the nutrient we ate. We would person donations from different countries, arsenic good arsenic immoderate enactment that could travel from the ANC,” she recalls.
Geraldine, Gqabi and different anti-apartheid comrades lived unneurotic successful a harmless location successful Ashdown Park, a leafy suburb of Harare. It was determination connected a acold wintertime evening, July 31, 1981, that Gqabi was assassinated.
“I retrieve feeling uneasy arsenic we drove up to the location astir midnight, and seeing that the gross was open,” a pensive Geraldine recalls.
“You spot we had precise strict information protocols that we acceptable up for our safety, for instance, the gross was ne'er to beryllium near unlocked. We each knew astatine the time, whether successful the Frontline States, successful the country, underground oregon elsewhere successful the satellite whilst successful exile, we knew we had to beryllium cautious.”
Although they were successful a antithetic country, separated from the apartheid authorities by borders, they were ever alert that they were not wholly safe.
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, had gained independency from Great Britain successful 1980. However, elements of the achromatic number authorities with adjacent ties to the apartheid authorities successful South Africa remained, including successful the constabulary force. This created insecurity for Geraldine and her comrades.
On the nighttime of Gqabi’s death, Geraldine and different young comrade were dropped disconnected astatine the safehouse. They recovered the gross unfastened and Gqabi’s car parked successful the driveway.
“I walked to the doorway of the location to unlock it, and the comrade with maine went to person a person inspection of the car. As soon arsenic helium looked done the window, helium yelled successful my direction: ‘Geraldine, run!'”
The comrade was Shadrack Ganda, who aboriginal testified astatine the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) successful 1997 astir the “devastating” infinitesimal helium and Geraldine discovered Gqabi.
“As I was astir to unfastened the doorway connected the broadside of the driveway, I could spot the car and I saw that the glass, the model had been shattered … As I was approaching the car, the doorway was riddled with bullets and I looked into the car, Joe Gqabi was slouched successful the seat. He had fallen onto the near rider seat,” reads an extract from Ganda’s grounds successful the TRC report.
Geraldine recalls however they sped to the location of then-minister of authorities security, and present president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was a adjacent subordinate of Gqabi, “to pass him that thing happened and we needed the constabulary and ambulance astatine the safehouse”.
Mnangagwa drove backmost to Ashdown Park with her, equipped with an AK47.
“When we arrived, helium said to me: ‘Stay successful the car,’ past helium got retired and cocked his AK earlier walking down the driveway. He archetypal looked towards the backmost of the location earlier walking to the car.
“I past got retired of the car and helium said to me: ‘Comrade Joe is dead.’ I indispensable say, I flipped for a minute,” adds Geraldine, the melodramatic events of that nighttime 41 years agone inactive truthful vivid successful her mind.‘It was war’
Gqabi would aboriginal person a authorities ceremonial courtesy of the Zimbabwean government, attended by elder members of the ANC, including Oliver Tambo, the then-president of the ANC, and respective ANC leaders and members specified arsenic Thabo Mbeki.
“We learned that comrade Joe had been nether surveillance by members of the deed squad for astir 3 weeks earlier helium was killed,” Geraldine says.
The apartheid authorities was infamous for having a deed squad that would transportation retired brutal extrajudicial killings crossed borders.
According to newspapers that picked up the communicative successful 1981, the decease of Gqabi was a lawsuit survey diagnostic of the far-reaching brutality of the South African apartheid state, but to Geraldine, the ANC, and the subject absorption helping of the liberation question astatine the time, “it was war”.
For Geraldine, the warfare became adjacent much idiosyncratic conscionable weeks aft Gqabi’s death.
“I was arrested connected the 24th of August by the Zimbabwean police, MacCallum and Varkevisser, astatine the ANC offices successful the beingness of 2 high-ranking ANC members astatine the time,” she recounts, “They said for the execution of Joe Gqabi.”
Ganda was besides arrested. However, pursuing hours of assertive interrogation, helium was released by Zimbabwean constabulary without explanation.
Geraldine, meanwhile, would endure days of hostile interrogation some astatine the Harare Central Police Station and Chikurubi Prison.
“When they were questioning me, they had placed 1 of the weapons they said was utilized successful the assassination connected the seat adjacent to me,” she recalls. “They asked assorted questions that had already been asked astatine the clip astir the time we discovered comrade Joe. By then, I had been done the events of that time aggregate times with the ANC leadership.
“And past I yet realised the constabulary were much funny successful the ANC than maine being a fishy done their enactment of questioning. They’d ask: ‘What motivates 1 to join, what is the ideology of the movement?'”
The ANC successful Zimbabwe, led by Gqabi, had built bully relations with the Zimbabwean authorities and ruling party, the ZANU-PF. However, the detectives successful complaint of the lawsuit were erstwhile members of the British South Africa Police, which was the Rhodesian constabulary unit that was intimately allied with the apartheid regime.
Geraldine was held successful solitary without complaint astatine the maximum-security situation for immoderate clip and past moved to the cardinal constabulary cells, wherever she was yet released – inactive without complaint – aft 17 days.‘A better, much conscionable society’
When Geraldine was released from situation successful mid-September 1981, she went consecutive backmost to enactment and activism, continuing to assistance physique ANC structures successful Zimbabwe portion undergoing subject grooming with her comrades and Zimbabwean allies.
According to the South African History Archive Trust, the ANC encouraged women to instrumentality up arms and articulation the MK. However, the last study of the TRC claimed that during the tallness of anti-apartheid absorption and up until the aboriginal 1990s, women were successful a number accounting for “approximately 20 percent of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadres”.
Geraldine recalls however the women she met held their own. “I encountered a fewer women successful the camp, but we each knew what we had to do. We knew what was astatine stake, we were determination to bid and lend to the conflict against apartheid.
“I ne'er thought it was harder for maine due to the fact that I americium a woman, but I ever had to navigate my mode cautiously done the sex inequality – that wasn’t conscionable an ANC campy problem, it was a satellite problem.”
Towards the extremity of 1981, Geraldine went to further her grooming successful Angola. It was successful the capital, Luanda, that she met her husband, Jabu Moleketi – a chap MK cadre.
She can’t assistance but grin arsenic she recalls their archetypal meeting. “I was successful the harmless house, helium walked wrong and said: ‘Where’s the nutrient comrade, I’m hungry?'” she laughs. “I said: ‘There’s the room comrade, assistance yourself.'”
“He understood me, we were comrades archetypal past partners, truthful determination wasn’t immoderate accidental of sex roles,” she adds.
The brace would spell connected to wed implicit a twelvemonth aboriginal and yet person 3 children. Geraldine became Fraser-Moleketi.
In 1982, Geraldine underwent specialised grooming successful the Soviet Union, which was an state of the ANC. Geraldine stoically recounts grooming astatine a wintertime campy extracurricular Moscow. One day, they were dropped disconnected successful the mediate of the woods, fixed water, a compass and a map, and told to “march” their mode backmost to camp.
“After wandering done the woods each night, they collected maine and the lone different pistillate comrade, and gave america a thrust backmost truthful we didn’t person to implicit the afloat march overnight,” she adds, “that was the lone clip I allowed myself immoderate slack, to not bash what the antheral comrades were doing, nary substance however pugnacious it got.”
The ANC and the Soviet Union had strengthened ties aft the Sharpeville Massacre – erstwhile apartheid constabulary fired connected a radical of peaceful protesters successful a Black township connected March 21, 1960, sidesplitting 69 radical – with the Soviet Union making an estimated $30,000 donation to the SACP, to assistance the victims’ families. They besides provided grooming for those successful the equipped struggle, refuge for those successful exile, and fiscal enactment for victims of the apartheid authorities successful South Africa.
By 1990, the apartheid authorities had begun to crumble. When FW de Klerk took implicit arsenic premier minister, helium made captious changes that saw the unbanning of “Black” governmental formations, including the ANC, the SACP, the Pan African Congress and others.
These changes besides meant that anti-apartheid activists similar Geraldine could yet instrumentality home.
“We had to travel backmost and rebuild not lone the country, but our connections with families, friends, and communities. It wasn’t easy,” she says. “But I was overjoyed to beryllium home. There was imaginable to physique a better, much conscionable society. We could enactment towards alleviating poverty, radical inequalities and marque basal needs accessible to everyone. I had hope.”
Geraldine was instrumental successful relaunching the SACP, arsenic she diligently presided implicit its administration. She besides worked with salient anti-apartheid leaders, yet serving successful South Africa’s historical archetypal antiauthoritarian cabinet.
Well into the 2000s, Geraldine near politics, but she was inactive pushing backmost against the presumption quo successful the improvement and concern sectors. After joining the African Development Bank, she spearheaded a $300m improvement money to enactment female-led businesses connected the continent, thing she calls “one of my proudest achievements”. Today, she is accomplished arsenic the president of Tiger Brands, the largest nutrient institution connected the African continent and the Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University.
Although her name, her strife and passionateness for justness is entrenched successful the cloth of South African history, Geraldine is caught disconnected defender erstwhile asked astir her legacy.
“That’s a pugnacious one,” she smiles. “I privation my bequest to beryllium that of a pistillate who believed successful justice, equality and doing what is right. I wanted to lend to a better, fairer, transformed nine wherever everyone has adjacent opportunities. Change is my legacy.”