Elias Motsoaledi

Elias Motsoaledi (26 July 1924 9 May 1994) was a South African anti-apartheid activist and one of the eight men sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial.[1] The Elias Motsoaledi Local Municipality in Limpopo province was named for him.

Early life

Elias Motsoaledi was born on 26 July 1924 in Phokoane in the Nebo District in Limpopo He moved to Johannesburg at the age of 17. His first brush with the law in Johannesburg was his arrest for failure to produce his pass book – he was sentenced to work on a pretoria road construction. Upon his release he got a job in a furniture factory. He married Caroline and they had seven children: Leshoro, Sethololo, Mphoreng, Lithogoaneng, Nape, Malope and Kokoi.

Role in Trade Union movement

He joined the Leather Workers' Union, served on the Committee of Non-European Trade Unions, and later played an active role in the establishment of the South African Congress of Trade Unions. He met David Modibane who had been an Organiser for the South African Clothing Workers Union since 1940, which later became Clothing Workers Union (SA). Mr Modibane lived on Ndabezitha Street in Mzimhlope, three streets from Elias Motsoaledi. During the Robben Island years Mrs Motsoaledi and Mrs Modibane continued to be friends and senior members of the Mzimhlope community until they later died on 30 July 2009. They both worked in the clothing and textile industry in Johannesburg until retirement. Mr Modibane sent his documents leading up to the Rivonia Trial to our uncle in Bethanie outside Brits, where they were burnt to destroy evidence. Mrs Motsoaledi also recalls that her family also burnt several documents during this period.

Role in ANC and SACP

In 1948 he joined ANC, in June he was elected as a branch secretary. He was a member of the South African Communist Party. He played a central role in many campaigns, including the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the year in which he was first banned. He was imprisoned for four months during the 1960 State of Emergency.

Mandela summed it up in his speech at Elias Mostoaledi’s funeral as follows: "We began our political careers as members of the ANCYL and comrade Motsoaledi was a member of the Communist Party of SA as it was then known. As the YL we were fiercely nationalistic in our approach and anti-White, anti-Indian and anti-Communist. We had many clashes in which he criticized us and at times attacked us viciously for what he considered very conservative and reactionary views.

But in that debate we learnt a great deal because when you debate issues of that nature if you approach that debate with seriousness and earnesty at the end of the debate you find yourself closer to your rivals than you were before that debate.

Even during that time when we accepted the Communist Party of SA was committed to the very ideas to which the ANC and Democratic Movement in this country was fighting was established to achieve Cde Motsoaledi was one of those members of the Democratic Movement who was non-conformist. He did not find it easy to agree with ideas unless he has considered them seriously and carefully. Comrades and friends that has been and still is the strength of our movement."

The third of eight children, he was born in Nebo, Sekhukuneland. Motsoaledi moved to Johannesburg at the age of 17 in search of work. He soon became involved with trade unions, and later played an active role in the establishment of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

A lifelong member of the SACP and the ANC, he played a central role in many campaigns, including the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the year he was first banned. Detained during the 1960 State of Emergency, he was imprisoned for four months. When he was released, he went underground and worked for Umkhonto we Sizwe. After 26 years on Robben Island, Motsoaledi was elected to the National Executive Committee of the ANC. Mzimhlope Rivonia Trial Trail

Motsoaledi received an Isitwalandwe Medal on 8 January 1992 along with Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Ahmed Kathrada, Harry Gwala, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba, and Wilton Mkwayi. He died on the day that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of South Africa.


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