typical Farm boy who made good

Nthabiseng Moreosele

Nthabiseng Moreosele

Prominent medical practitioner and political activist Nthato Harrison Motlana has died.

Motlana was a typical black farm boy who made good and played an important role during the apartheid era in Soweto and the rest of South Africa.

He was born in 1925 in Marapyane, Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, the son of farm labourers Jacobus and Betty Motlana.

He first came to Johannesburg when he was 10. Even at that young age he noticed that all the educated people were whites.

Motlana lived in Kensington (Johannesburg) with his mother, a domestic worker. They also lived in Sophiatown before moving to Western Native Township.

Motlana was elected secretary of the African National Congress in 1949 while studying for a BSc degree at Fort Hare University.

He was one of the few blacks of his generation who qualified as a medical doctor at Wits University in 1956 when the quota system restricted blacks to homeland or bantustan universities.

Motlana had been arrested on treason charges for taking part in the Defiance Campaign. He received a suspended sentence and a banning order from 1952 to 1957. He had to obtain special permission to attend his graduation ceremony.

His practice in Soweto, which opened in 1957, was a decoy to fool the apartheid authorities while he went about his political activities.

He was married to Sally Maunye, also a political and women's activist, in 1953. The couple had one daughter and three sons. The Motlana's had 13 grandchildren. Motlana and Sally later divorced.

He was detained for six months in 1976 after the June 16 eruptions because of his membership of the Black Parents Association.

He was one of the founders of the Committee of Ten in 1977. The municipal authorities had been paralysed and the committee was mandated to run the township. The policy documents and plans of the organisation were not revealed to the people as the committee was detained.

He was detained several times at Modder B Prison outside Benoni between 1976 and 1987 and banned from attending public meetings in 1978.

When police stopped him from driving to the funeral of Steven Bantu Biko in the Eastern Cape, the resourceful Motlana flew instead. He condemned the black policemen for their brutality towards black mourners.

Motlana was a fearless leader who stood up to the bullying of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the 1980s. He took former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to task for her disastrous utterances about HIV-Aids and beetroot. He was scathing of her support for Dr Mattias Rath.

Motlana was a keen sportsman who jogged every day even when he was overseas.