I have him on as high a plane as Roger Jourdain, Wendell Chino, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of the smartest people ever to emerge from the repressive government of South Africa. The government, condemned and infamous for the system of racial segregation it invented, called apartheid, repressed all the native Africans of all tribes for decades. Its title for them, kaffir, was the same as nigger in the U.S.
The leading political party, the Nationalists, had supported Hitler and Nazi Germany in the Second World War. They were mostly Boers, or Dutch colonists who had settled South Africa in the 19th century. After they were defeated by the British in the Boer War (1899-1902), they still ruled the nation with an iron fist for almost 100 years. The war was about who had the right to exploit the native Black South Africans. Even though the Boers supposedly lost the war, they ended up as the rulers of the nation in most ways.
Winston Churchill, a war correspondent, was captured and placed into a concentration camp for several weeks during the war, finally being restored to his regiment after he escaped.
Mahatma Gandhi, later the leader of the movement to free India from British rule, was the leader of the Indian ambulance drivers during the war. He and 38 other Indian ambulance drivers were awarded the prestigious War Medal by Britain after the war. He had enlisted 1,100 ambulance drivers, many of whom had to carry the wounded out by hand when their vehicles could not drive over the rough terrain.
The Boer government created “homelands” for Black people, who were members of several dozen tribes. These homelands were modeled on Indian reservations in the U.S. and Canada. They officially established the cruel system they called apartheid in 1948. The Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, Tsonga, Ponda, Swati and Ndebele are some of the leading tribes of South Africa, all speaking different languages. The tribal people could work in the white areas, but they could not live there. The Boers owned 87 percent of the land, leaving the much larger Black tribal populations with only 13 percent.
In addition to the Black tribes and the white Dutch and English, Coloured, or mixed blood people, and Indians were the other two main populations. The British had brought the Indians in as indentured servants in the 19th century.
Black people in South Africa were held down, not allowed to have adequate educations, had only menial jobs, could not vote, and were denied the right to live in white areas. The only real difference between the South African system and the segregated south in the U.S. was that southern Blacks were mostly tenant farmers on what had been white plantations before the Civil War.
Nelson was a prince of the Xhosa Tribe, an attorney, and the leader of the African National Congress(ANC). He spent his boyhood in the Transkei region that had been assigned to his tribe. The government framed him in 1963 and put him in prison for life. They accused him falsely of being a Communist, which he never was, and of plotting subversion, espionage, and rebellion in the nation.
He spent 27 years in two cruel prisons, the last one the infamous Robben Island, where he spent almost 20 years. He was denied food, beaten, denied visits from his wife Winnie, and made to pound rocks for hours each day. The government finally released him in 1990, after national protests started.
Winnie Mandela was meanwhile jailed several times, fired from at least two jobs as a social worker, banned (which meant she was restricted severely to where she could go), and was under heavy police scrutiny the whole time. Nelson’s first wife, Evelyn, had basically left him when she became a major convert to Western religion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She tried to convert him, but his commitment was to the ANC. During one of Nelson’s stays in prison, she left and took the children, which devastated Nelson She even took the curtains from their home.
A few months later he met Winnie, who was one of the most beautiful women of the world, and they married several months later. While he was in prison, she was forcibly moved by the police from their comfortable home in Johannesburg to a miserable frontier town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and was forbidden to leave.
After Nelson was released, they were reunited. He had served 27 years in prison. They were only together two years after he was released. Nelson found out she had been unfaithful to him while he was in prison.
Winnie had formed a bodyguard to protect herself. These guys, called the Mandela United Football Club, kidnapped four children on December 29, 1988. They released three of them, but allegedly killed one, Stompie Moeketsi. The ones they released were Kenny Kgase, Pelo Mekgwe, and Thabiso Mono. The footballers accused Stompie of being a police informant.
The other three boys were beaten but not harmed greatly. Stompie’s body was found on a garbage heap a few days later, January 1, 1989, just a few blocks from Winnie’s house.
The doctor who examined him, Dr. Abubaker Asvat, was later shot and killed for possibly revealing to the government spies what had happened to Stompie.
Jerry Richardson, the coach of the soccer team, allegedly killed him with a samurai sword; Stompie’s throat had been cut. The other boys protested that Stompie was not a police informant, but Richardson killed him anyway. Richardson was convicted of his murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Nelson was still in prison. He was released a year later, and shortly thereafter in 1994 was elected president of South Africa, after he and the Nationalist Party developed a new constitution, which gave Blacks the right to vote for the first time. President F. W. DeKlerk released him from prison, yielding to the nationwide protests that had been happening for years. They both got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for ending apartheid peacefully in South Africa. Nelson lived until 2013; he was 95 years old.
Stompie’s real name was James Seipei. He was only 14 years old when he was killed. At the tender age of 10 he had become an active member of the resistance to apartheid, joining the United Democratic Front (UDF) and becoming one of its leaders before he was a teenager. He was arrested by the brutal Boer police at the age of 12 and placed in jail. His school expelled him shortly thereafter for his active resistance to apartheid.
Nelson’s book “Long Walk to Freedom,” never mentions Stompie. But I put Stompie on par with the three civil rights workers who were killed and buried in the earthen dam in Mississippi—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Their sin was registering Black people to vote. It took 41 years for the killers to be brought to trial. I was stationed in Mississippi three years after the murders and lived among some of the people who had them killed, including police officials and Ku Klux Klan members. I dated a constable’s girlfriend’s sister and knew him well.
Stompie is on par with the first Black man killed in the Revolutionary War, Crispus Attucks. He was half black and half Native and was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre, which started the War.
I put him on par with John Brown, the heroic white man who gave his life in the fight to free Black people in the Civil War. He believed armed insurrection was the only way to end slavery in the American South and gave his life in the cause. He had fought anti-slavery battles in Kansas as early as 1856. He led the raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859, was captured by the racists of Virginia, convicted, and hanged.
He is on par with our Lumbee Indian tribal hero, Henry Berry Lowrie, who fought the white racists in the Civil War era. Henry Bear disappeared in 1872, never to be seen or heard from again. The Home Guard had killed ten Indians, and Henry Bear and his boys killed ten of the Home Guard leaders. He became famous as an outlaw when he escaped from the white jails twice.
History has largely ignored Stompie. But I think he deserves to be remembered as a hero, one of the oppressed who fought against oppression. He is one of the youngest martyrs. In death he joined the students in the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976. Over 170 of them—possibly as many as 700—were shot and killed by the brutal Boer police because they did not want to be forced to learn in Afrikaans, “the language of the oppressor.” Adult police killing children is inexcusable.
Dr. Dean Chavers is director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship program for Native college students. CTD funds students from freshman to post-doctoral study. Students should find enough scholarship funds to avoid student loans. Applicants are required to send their essay for appraisal before they apply. His e-mail is CTD4DeanChavers@aol.com.