Kgalema Motlanthe’s Rise From Rags To Riches

  Kgalema Motlanthe was the third President of the Republic of South Africa since Nelson Mandela historically became the first black President of the Rainbow Nation in May 1994. Nelson
18 Jun 2016 12:58
Kgalema Motlanthe’s Rise From Rags To Riches
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are greeted by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and his partner Gugu Mtshali for a private dinner at his residence in Pretoria, South Africa. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 3, 2011. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire


Kgalema Motlanthe was the third President of the Republic of South Africa since Nelson Mandela historically became the first black President of the Rainbow Nation in May 1994.

Nelson Mandela, the first President served his five-year term from 1994 to 1999 and did not wish to take up a second term, preferring a new younger team to take over.

Thabo Mbeki took over the reign as second President from 1999 to 2008 when he stepped down.

Mr Motlanthe came into power as head of state in 2008 and was succeeded by Jacob Zuma.

Being the President of a country that has over 55 million inhabitants is no easy task.   Also taking into consideration the vast size of the country and also the many different ethnic communities to serve and you certainly have your hands full.

South Africa has a presidential system which is similar to that of the United States of America; therefore there is tremendous pressure for the President to serve his country in a fair and transparent way.

The former President Motlanthe chose to serve his people by adopting his hero Mandela’s philosophy which preached love, compassion and forgiveness. After spending time and interviewing him at length, it was here I learned about the man and not the myth.

The story of Mr Motlanthe rising from rags to sit on the highest seat in the land is quite incredible and begins with him being born on July 19, 1949 at Boksburg-Benoni Hospital in Johannesburg. He grew up in the poverty-stricken township of Alexandra, his mother was a cleaner and father a simple domestic worker.

Mr Motlanthe also had two younger brothers Tlatlane and Lekota who like their older brother struggled to enjoy a simple and humble lifestyle, because of the colour of their skin and their abject poverty.

The family was forced to move around as the Government of the day used their racial laws to move black people around like herds of sheep. Regardless of this Motlanthe continued his education in a quiet and dignified manner.

This quiet yet caring and thoughtful nature drew him very close to his faith of Christianity, which influenced his outlook on life. He served as an altar boy at the local church and intended to enter the Anglican priesthood. All Mr Motlanthe’s family and friends would describe him as a very gentle, compassionate and kind person.

In 1964 at the age of 16 the Anglican Church awarded him a bursary to attend St Christopher’s School to complete his secondary schooling and then enter the priesthood. His application for travel documents from the education department was turned down and they informed him that he had to study elsewhere.

Disappointed but unaffected Motlanthe finished his education and was introduced to the African Nation Congress (ANC) in 1969, this organisation was fighting for equality for black Africans and other races of South Africa who during this time were ruled by an apartheid system that encouraged white domination.

During his time with ANC he was captured by the government in 1976 and put on trail. The ANC was a banned political party and he was charged for having membership and also for furthering the aims of the ANC and was kept in detention for 11 months in central Johannesburg which was a terrible jail. Unable to obtain bail because of the colour of his skin, Mr Motlanthe was left to survive the horrors of this institution.

In 1977 he was tried and found guilty of three charges and sentenced to 10 years in jail on Robben Island from 1977 to 1987. Imprisonment on Robben Island was a similar set up to Alcatraz Island, it was a small rocky Island Jail surrounded by shark infested waters, but it also housed a man called Nelson Mandela who served 27 years in prison for crimes against the state.

It is incredible to think that two former jail inmates would one day walk free and both rise to become the President of the Republic of South Africa.

On Robben Island the two comrades were spat on, tortured and treated like dogs, yet there spirit was never broken. Mr Motlanthe commented on prison life.

“We were a community of people who ranged from the totally illiterate to people who could very easily have been professors at universities. We shared basically everything,” Mr Motlanthe said.

“The years out there were the most productive years in one’s life, we were able to read, we read all the material that came our way, took an interest in the lives of people even in the remotest corners of this world. To me those years gave meaning to life.”

Next week we look at Mr Motlanthe’s rise from prison shorts and torture to the Presidency of South Africa with total forgiveness for his captors.

Edited by Maraia Vula

 The writer is a Fiji Sun  columnist.



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