Benjamin Moloise-The Black Poet Freedom Fighter
Blood Of Moloise
"Blood of Moloise!" That was the cry of outrage of the blacks that reverberated through the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa on October 18, 1985. These cries were occasionally interspersed with the Swahili war cry, "Mayihlome" or a call 'to arms,' to fight the oppressive apartheid regime of the nation. That day, prior to dawn at around 7 a.m., Benjamin Moloise, a poet, freedom fighter, and father of two was hung to death at the execution hall of Pretoria Central Prison. The prison itself was surrounded by jacaranda trees that were brilliant in their color and hue, enhanced more so with the onset of a long summer ahead and the lingering memory of a just ending spring. The brilliance of the jacaranda trees obliterated the dreary brown prison complex within where a young poet and freedom fighter lay dead, strung by a rope, and laid down on the cold hard stone floor of the prison. His parents, Mamike and Robert Moloise, and other relatives had arrived at the prison gates an hour earlier, but were not allowed to enter for more than one-half hours until a prison official came out and informed them that Benjamin Moloise was dead.
Prior to his execution, 800 blacks had laid down their lives within the past year. Tempers ran high, the call of freedom was omnipresent, and the last straw to ignite the fire of an entire population of black people against the racist regime was the cold blooded 'murder' of Benjamin. Defying the diktat of the regime, approximately 3500 black mourners and protesters took to the streets, and for the first time in the apartheid history, spilled into the whites only preserve of downtown Johannesburg. That was the consequence of various factors including stepping up of repression by the regime, the ban on foreign correspondents and television crews, and the extension of the reprehensible emergency policies into Cape Town. The regime had purportedly reacted to the then American President Ronald Reagan's sanctions against South Africa in an avowedly cruel, barbarian and repressive way.
Benjamin Moloise, 1955-1985
Benjamin Moloise was born in Alexandra in South Africa in 1955. He was a poet, factory worker, an upholsterer really, and an ardent follower of the banned African National Congress, the main guerrilla group fighting the racist South African apartheid regime. Moloise was accused of killing a black policeman, Warrant Officer Philipis Selepe, in 1982, who was shot down just outside his home in Pretoria. The African National Congress headquartered then in Lusaka, Zambia had declared in a statement that it had ordered slaying of the police informant Selepe for his role in arresting ANC sympathizers, but Moloise was not involved in the slaying. Moloise himself had admitted to planning the assassination and stated that he had accompanied the actual killers to prove that he was not an accomplice of the police, but he never killed Selepe. He was however convicted, and sentenced to death at the gallows.
On the day before the execution, Pauline Moloise, Benjamin's mother, was allowed to see her son. After the 20-minute visit she said, ''I found him stronger than ever ... ready to die.'' He had told her, "Mummy, I want you to know something. I didn't kill Selepe. I was involved with the ANC and I know who killed Selepe. I do not regret my involvement. Tell the people that the struggle must go on." He had also said that on his ways to the gallows, he would sing hymns praising the black freedom fighters.
The president of South Africa, P.W. Botha, had received appeals from the Commonwealth, the United States, United Nations and EEC to commute Benjamin's execution. The United Nations Security Council had also passed a resolution earlier advising the South African authorities to refrain from executing Mr. Moloise. A State Department spokesman for the US Government stated,''We have made plain our opinion that clemency in this case was justified.'' Despite worldwide protests and requests, the repressive regime went ahead with the execution. Prior to passing the judgment, Mr. Moloise's lawyers had requested that the case be heard again in view of new evidence which they felt would not have attracted the death penalty, but the court and the regime had refused that.
Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar of the United Nations described the hanging in deplorable terms, while the Organization of African Unity denounced it as an ''act of barbarism.'' The entire world condemned the execution, but the regime continued with its racist policies of apartheid unhindered and unfazed by the criticism.
Vigil Of A Mom Outside The Prison To See Her Son One Last Time
Banjamin Moloise's lawyer, Ms. Jana, said Moloise told her at their last meeting,''We shall overcome, and tomorrow I will spill my blood for those who remained behind.''
Moloise's mother, Mamike, 53, was outside the prison gates by 6 a.m., but she was not allowed to enter inside by the prison guards. She was asked to produce her pass book that identified her as a black and granted her permission to visit white areas. This was to provide evidence to the guards that she was indeed the condemned man's mother. However, an hour later, she marched past the prison gates saying, "I am prepared to be arrested because that is my son."''From 6 o'clock I have been waiting,'' she said. ''Even this time, the last time to maybe see my son, they tell me to go away. I can't go away. This is my son. If they arrest me, fine. It is my son they killed.''
The guards then let her in, but Benjamin by then had already been executed. Mamike was not even allowed to see her son one last time, only allowed to see his closed coffin.
She, her husband Robert, and three others came out from the prison with fists raised and singing a protest hymn. Outside, she slumped on the shoulder of lawyer Priscilla Jana, and was hugged by Winnie Mandela, wife of then jailed Nelson Mandela.
"I did not expect this government to be so cruel," she said. She said that when she was not allowed to enter the prison, "I begged, I said, 'It's the last time, that's my son.' "
'I once felt sympathy with these people,'' said Mrs. Moloise. The night before the execution soldiers had surrounded her home and fired tear-gas shells to disperse several hundred people who had gathered to offer her sympathy and hold a vigil for her son.
After the execution, under the prevalent South African laws then, the body of the executed was state property and Mr. Moloise was to be buried in the prison cemetery. Mamike was instructed to visit the prison the subsequent week to obtain her son's grave number.
Later in the day, an emotional memorial service was held for Benjamin at a chapel in downtown Johannesburg. Mrs. Moloise crumbled and tears fell from her eyes as Mrs. Mandela hugged her. Their relatives assembled in a parking lot adjacent to the prison and chanted 'God Save Africa' with raised clenched fists. Some 500 people attending the service took to the streets and sang freedom songs while carrying placards that read, ''The struggle will go on, Ben.''
Aftermaths Of The Execution
Later, after the service was over and after the assembly at the parking lot, the crowd spilled out into the streets where thousands of others joined them. They watched the police break up small gatherings of people on the street. This set off rioting where a black man was shot by the police, two policemen stabbed, and at least eight whites were beaten. Thousands others chased whites through the streets and attacked policemen and civilians alike. Some youths stoned the police while the windows of at least three stores were broken and a store looted, something unheard of in South Africa then. A white woman was dragged through the streets in the city's shopping area by a crowd.
End Of Apartheid
Just prior to his execution, Benjamin had famously written the following lines
"I am proud to be what I am…
The storm of oppression will be followed
By the rain of my blood
I am proud to give my life
My one solitary life."
After the execution, South Africa witnessed a dramatic fall in its international standing along with a prolonged collapse of its currency, the rand, that was reduced to nearly three-fourths of its value in 1985.There was a cascade of outrage internationally, along with economic and diplomatic sanctions causing further isolation of the regime even in mainland Africa. By the end of the Cold War, apartheid was also on its way out, thus vindicating Benjamin's final message.
By then, Nelson Mandela had also been freed from prolonged imprisonment, and his release gave an additional fillip to the freedom movement of the nation which subsequently declared itself a democratic republic, free of its colonial past and its repressive apartheid policies.