Thapelo Mokoatsi

As a politician and a newspaperman, Manasseh Tebatso (“M.T.”) Moerane, was a prominent public figure. He comes from a long lineage of progressive black figures, dating back to the early 1400s. Born on 3 May, 1913, M.T came into the world during the time when the Natives Land Act came into effect, the unjust law that dispossessed African people from their land. “M.T” was surrounded by black intellectuals throughout his life and joined the ANC in 1935, little did he know that sixty-four years later his nephew, Thabo Mbeki, would become the second democratically elected president of South Africa.

M.T. was a mission-educated thought leader. He attended the historic mission school, Adams College in KwazuluNatal. Later he pursued his tertiary education at the University of Fort Hare, where he read towards a Bachelor of Arts degree where prominent ANC leaders were educated, including Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Loyiso Nongxa and Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo. M.T. later attended the University of South Africa where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Moerane was born to Eleazar Jacane Moerane and Sofi Majara. They were farmers and teachers. Jacane (Mbeki’s maternal grandfather) trained as a teacher and after graduating, taught at Ha Masite in Morija, Lesotho in the 1890s.

Jacane and Sofi had seven children: Mphuma, Michael, Daniel, M.T., Fraser, Renee and Epainette. Mphuma was a liberation struggle stalwart in Lesotho and a teacher. Michael was a renowned musical genius and first black music composer and educationist. Fraser was the first black South African to qualify as a mathematician and wrote and published mathematics textbook. Daniel was a farmer and a teacher; Renee was one of the first black women in South Africa to obtain a university degree. Epainette who herself was educated at Lovedale School before qualifying as a teacher at Adams College in Amanzimtoti. She would later become Rivonia trialist, former activist Govan Mbeki’s wife, and mother to Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa between 1999 and 2008 and Moeletsi who is now a political economist.

Tracing M.T.’s roots

The Moeranes are members of the Bafokeng and their direct ancestry can be traced back 15 generations. In the 1400s, they were renowned for using iron equipment in their farming methods as agriculturalists and clay pottery as artists. They were amongst the first settlers in the kingdom mountains of Lesotho.

In the middle of the 19th century when Moshoeshoe consolidated the Basotho kingdom, Jacane’s grandfather, Moerane, was one of the prominent healers. In fact, the name Moerane means “a small worm whose silk has powerful medicinal and spiritual value, used in lebollo (initiation)” according to Mark Gevisser who penned the biography of Thabo Mbeki titled: Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred.

Moerane belonged to the Mahooana clan. They were traditional doctors who oversaw the lebollo or circumcision rituals. Towards the end of the 19th century, in 1899, Jacane migrated across the mountains where his parents had settled, to become a counsellor to Lebenya who was King Moshoeshoe’s son and governor of the Mount Fletcher district while it was still part of Lesotho.

A pedagogue

In 1935, upon completion of his degrees M.T. took up a teaching post in Natal, now KwazuluNatal, in Ohlange, a school founded by the first president of the ANC, John Langalibalele Dube, in 1901. Prominent figures such as Rolfes Robert Reginald Dhlomo, the prominent South African novelist, attended Ohlange.
After more than two decades of teaching, M.T. travelled abroad, in 1955, for Moral Re-Armament until 1963. Upon returning home, towards the end the 1960s, he became the president of the Association for the Educational and Cultural Advancement of African People of South Africa (ASSECA). Before then, he was president of the African Teachers’ Federation of South Africa for five years.

A Natal Congress Youth Leaguer

M.T. joined the ANC in 1935, the same year he accepted his teaching post in Natal where he played an active role in the politics of the day. M.T.’s father, Jacane, was also a member of the ANC.

In 1943 M.T. took part in the Atlantic Charter Committee. The Atlantic Charter Committee was a policy statement issued during the Second World War which defined the Allies’ goals for the post war world. The freedoms outlined in the document included African people and acknowledged the participation of Africans in the war effort. For this reason, various African leaders, including M.T. met in Bloemfontein in 1943 to deliberate on post war construction and the place of African people in this re-construction.

A year later, in 1944, the pressure of establishing a league for the ANC youth mounted and in the same year M.T. became one of the founders of the ANC Youth League in Natal along with Jordan Ngubane and others. The youth leaguers faced a strong dislike from one of the Natal ANC stalwart, Allison Wessels George Champion. Ngubane, as an editor of Ilanga would later use his editorial voice to depose Champion in favour of Chief Albert John Luthuli who became the president of the ANC.

M.T. continued to make his mark as a thought leader and Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) activist. He was a founding member of the Black People’s Convention in the early 1970s, an umbrella organisation of the BCM.

According to Ime Ukpanah in The Long Road to Freedom: Inkundla ya Bantu (Bantu Forum) and the African Nationalist Movement in South Africa, 1938-1961, Inkundla ya Bantu published an announcement issued by the Congress Youth Leagues in 1944 titled, “Calling Young Natal”. It was penned by M.T. Moerane who was then remembered as a co-founder of the National African Youth organisation with his comrade, Jordan Ngubane, about five years earlier. Moerane expressed the mission of the CYL to the readers of Inkundla:

“History will yet prove that when the Natal African Congress resolved to authorise the launching of a Youth League at its recent conference, a momentous decision was taken whose results may be of more far-reaching effects than anyone ever visualised…a force is going to be released such as this country has never seen before…forces…so immense that nothing short of a Revolution can hope to overcome them.”

A newspaperman

In June 1963, MT joined the list of prominent ANC figures who edited a white-owned newspaper for Africans, The Bantu World, later The World. He was its editor for eleven years, until 1973.

For twenty years, one of the prominent early ANC members and Abantu-Batho sub-editors in the beginning of the 1920s, Richard Victor Selope Thema edited The World until he retired in 1952. Rolfes Robert Reginald Dhlomo went on to become an assistant editor of The World in the 1930s to Selope Thema while Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo, an elder brother of RRR Dhlomo penned several articles for The World.

This was the life of M.T., a great man who came into contact with other prominent South African historical figures. In 1953 while he was editor of The World, M.T. praised another South African pioneer in the Black press, John Dube.

In his text, “History of the Black Press in South Africa- 1836- 1960”, Tim Couzens quotes M.T. as he refers to Dube and his struggle against English Colonial censorship;

“The story of Ilanga is an epic of the mighty deeds of a great people, struggling relentlessly against the odds uncounted, pitting themselves against principalities and powers, a panoramic pageant whose glories shall yet be sung, for the history of the last 50 years of Natal is mirrored in, nay, bound up with J.L. Dube and the Ilanga.”

M.T. passed on in 1989, aged 76. Five years before the first democratic elections took place in South Africa.