Thapelo Mokoatsi

Moving to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape to pursue my PhD research at Rhodes University in the earlier part of 2016, I had no idea that I would befriend the great Manasseh Tebatso Moerane’s grand niece, Matebatso Mokete Moerane.

My first encounter with her came about while walking past her office, on my way to Cory library on campus. I then recognised a name that rung a bell – Matebatso Mokete Moerane – written on a piece of wood placed on a desk at Human Resource offices. The first name that sprung into my mind was M T Moerane, a former editor of the Bantu World in the 1970s, whose pioneering story in the world of journalism I would later scribe this year. This is thanks in part to my research work and my friendship with Matebatso.

I had first come across M Ts geneaology while reading through biographer, Mark Gevisser’s, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred – a biography on Thabo Mbeki. In it he has a chapter titled – Chekhov in the Transkei: The Moeranes – which sheds light on who the Moeranes were in the history of Southern Africa. Their roots are in Morija, Lesotho where M T and his siblings including Epainette (who was later married to Thabo Mbeki’s father Govan) grew up under a watchful eye of their parents Eleazar Jacane Moerane and Sofi Majara who were farmers and educators.

The Moeranes also have a recorded and rich history that dates as far back as the 15th century. They were amongst the first to settle in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and were traditional doctors who oversaw the lebollo or circumcision rituals.

M T also came from a tradition of educators, and political activists who cut their teeth in politics and by the 19th century had found passion in reporting and editing the Bantu World. According to Thomas Karis and Gwendolen Carter’s book titled From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, published in 1977, M T was celebrated while he was still alive, he was always in the company of influential intellectuals and politicians.

He was an educator, prior to taking an editorship at Bantu World, he had taught at Ohlange in the then Natal, in 1935, at a school founded by the first president of the ANC – John Langalibalele Dube, whom he supported. In fact, M Ts father – Jacane – was also an ANC member in his time.

Connecting with Great Uncle

“The first time I knew I was related to such historical greatness was when I went to a tombstone unveiling ceremony of the late great uncle only known as and referred to as M T Moerane. The ceremony was held in Durban and I was only 12 at the time,” says Matebatso.

It is at the unveiling that she met M Ts children whose names are Matebatso, her name sake, Moroesi and Marumo Khabele -a renowned advocate who is the head of the Moerane Commission in Durban. His elder sister and brother had been named after others in the family, they too carried names Moroesi and Marumo Khabele respectively.

“We are all named after someone. In fact, in my family, everybody is named after everybody even when you study seboko sa Bafokeng you will see how that carries the heritage of the family to the future generation”, she says.

Matebatso goes on to explain that the trip to Durban with her father Tebatso marked the second time she had met Epainette. She didn’t know who she was and only learnt later that she is the mother of the former state president.

“I hopped into the car and insisted that I want to go with my dad, like any other child who enjoyed a ride. I didn’t know what was happening. I only found out the following day that it was the unveiling of my grand uncle’s tombstone”, she says.

She maintains that she knew of M T Moerane but did not expect to see his pictures in the history book. “I had not seen M Ts face before. It was the first time seeing him in books when it was brought to my attention who he was,” she says, admitting that it is humbling to be associated with such greatness.

Going back to my roots

Seboko – clan praise – forms the basis of one’s identity and during my conversation with Matebatso I quizz her about her knowledge, asking if she knows her Seboko by heart. It is at this stage that she confesses “I grew up on my mother’s side, with the Manyontas, my elder sister is the one who is fluent in Sesotho,” she immediately calls her sister and puts her phone on loudspeaker to recite their Seboko:

“Ke Mofokeng wa Mahooana abo Tlalane, wa Khabele, ba ha Khabele ha ho kgabelwe ho hlajwa ka lerumo. Ke motho was Mahase, Mahase wa hasa, Rampeoana. O hasitse dipuduloana ka naheng, o hasitse dikgomo le dinku, ere le dinku tsona ekare dikepuloana dinyoloha mokgwabong. Ke motho was MaMontsho, motho was Khabele, Mofokeng. Phoka”, recited Moroesi over the phone.

“My brother’s name is Khabele. My uncle is Marumo. And those two names are found in my Seboko”, she says with a smile. “I feel like my rich family history is unknown in the popular memory. My other grand-uncle, Michael Moerane, became the first black to qualify as a musicologist or composer while the other one, Fraser Moerane became the first black mathematecian and wrote a book. My aunt, who retired last year is named after Mphuma, my grand-aunt. Be that as it may, we have our Seboko and inter-generational naming system in my family that is keeping our family history alive”, says Matebatso.