My Liberation Route with Ntate Joe Manana of Joe’s Butchery

Youth In Limpopo Prepare for the 2024 General Elections

By: Mogau Ntsoane for ACTIVATE! Change drivers

“The first rule of liberation is always to keep time. Young people of today would be dead by now because of failure to keep time.”

These words are thrown at me and my research partner as we walk through the glass door of Bra’s Joe’s butchery, Ntate Joe Manan to us as advised by Ntate Wally Serote our mentor.

He invites us to sit and offers us a cup of rooibos, their military drink as this is all they could request as a luxury from home when in Botswana. His lovely warm wife brings our drinks, and we prepare for our sit.

My partner was armed with a camera and me with a tape recorder and notepad. At this stage, my palms are sweating, and my heart is on a race of its own. Excitement, joy, elation, and gratitude.

We are sitting in front of one of the many struggle stalwarts that made it through the armed wing of the liberation movement. Joe Manana from Alexander, owner of Joe’s Butchery and dry cleaners, we come to learn that the latter was a disguise for political gatherings.

Eager to begin our quest for knowledge my first question is :

So, when did you first realize you were not free?

I was listening to Radio Lusaka in 1964, I sensed people opposing the white apartheid regime. From this one conversation, I then understood that Afrikaans people did not want us as people of a darker skin tone. I was 9 or 10 years old when staring asking myself, do they consider us human beings? Why do they treat us like this? This was my first revelation that something is amiss, so I continued listening on my brother’s motor car. Despite not understanding the linguistics as the commentators were predominantly Portuguese, I continued to listen. Then this became my pastime activity.

Despite the Portuguese language barrier, Bra Joe continued to listen as sometimes they would speak in English. This is when he picked up that a struggle is coming. His political journey slowly built up as he bumped into political literature. He even read the King of Swedish literature novels, Hadley Chase to familiarize himself with what was being communicated, The Daily Mail newspaper, The World Newspaper, but confesses he never read the New Age.

“The demeanour at school was cutthroat as students could feel being black is inferior. There was even a time they collected reference books (passes).” Seeing that he was tall he refrained and said he is a mere 12-year-old, they should call his mother for him to accept the pass. Ntate Joe Manan was born in 1952 and met comrade Wally Serote between 1969 and 1971. This is when he was introduced to the black consciousness movement and Sasco.

This comradeship built into their adulthood, meetings were held at his house, and University students were holding these meetings. They then noticed his collection of books and advised him to read the Drum Magazine. His turning point was when Bra Wally advised him to dabble in African Literature and one of his books was Chinua Achebe, things fall apart.

This literature affirmed his suspicions that indeed Africans were oppressed, by the government, he came to the realization that this beloved country has been dominated by white supremacists since 1652. He then read archives, explored the Wits library, was granted documentation on the ANC, and eventually became politically inclined. This inclination led him to reclaim his identity as a black man. Through Black consciousness theory from other African literature kept at the university, they taught him self reliance and he began quoting the founder of BCM in South Africa

“Black child you are on your own”.

Before he was exiled, he was a member of the Black People’s Convention launched in 1975 but founded in late 1972 as the nationalist liberatory flagship of the Black Consciousness Movement, it was a means for young people globally to partake in the international radical military. It was a political movement that gave non-students the opportunity to rise against Apartheid.

At this point in the conversation, I have stopped taking notes, this man is an amazing storyteller. He comically states he dropped out of school with some gusto in his voice.

“In 1975, comrades have come from a conference in Hammers kraal, they carried black consciousness material to drop off at my Dry Cleaners. On their way home after leaving me at the place they were arrested, just around PAN the taxi rank in Alex. There was a roadblock, and they were queried about their destination, they announced they are from the dry cleaner, and this prompted the police to trace them back to my place.”

The police arrived at the Dry clean and then went directly to his house where they found letters from comrades, talking about karate as he was a karate artist himself. They were all arrested and were the first people to be held in solitary confinement at the Alex police station, now revamped as Wynberg Police Station.

Ntate Joe was detained on a Friday evening and released just before noon on the following day, Saturday. He was threatened that Monday he should report to John Vorster Square. Fresh out of a confined prison cell with a scrambled brain he staggered his way out and his way home. Instead of heading home, he walked in the opposite direction, he eventually realized his error and found his way home. His guide was the non-existent traffic lights in Alex, but they still became a guide and as he turned to his home, he almost cried…

The Monday arrived and as instructed he was at John Vorster Square, interrogation was from 8 am to 2 pm in the afternoon. The purpose of the regime was to recruit him to work for them as a spy. To spy on his people. To which he refused stating “The treatment from the regime towards my brothers and sisters in the township forbids me from working for the oppressor. A time will arrive when South Africans will be treated equally, with dignity and freedom and maybe then I will consider being a soldier for a segregated regime. I was frank.” He shares.

For some reason these words sent a chill down my spine, I could see the pain in his eyes as he relives the moments that brought us here today. The time arrived, but still, he lived in Alex, his neighbour one of the richest square miles in South Africa Sandton, owned by the minority still. He has a butchery and a dry clean. He was surviving, after all these years Alex is stuck in a time freeze.

Colonel Frazer dismissed his remarks responding “The National Party will rule forever. If we are in power the ANC will be arrested”.

I would rather die a normal person than work for you” He was met with a slap across his face and let out. However, from that day forth for 6 months, he was randomly interrogated, at his dry cleaners. We were taken to this Dry Cleaners; we sat in the chairs that Bantu Steve Biko set and converses with a liberation hero.

Alexandra has a rich history, of burnt beer halls, government buildings, and a huge contribution to the liberation movement.


About the author:

Mogau Ntsoane is a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Writers’ Hub, a 2015 Activator, she is an inspiring writer with an unwavering passion for creating a more peaceful and accepting society. As a self-proclaimed black hippie child, she values the importance of recognizing each other as humans first and foremost, regardless of demographics.

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