Book Review: My Own Liberator: A Memoir by Dikgang Moseneke

Book

This has to be my top 5 book of the year for 2017.

It is when you read such books that you remember where we come from and sometimes feel that we are not doing enough to capitalise on the sacrifice made by those who fought and struggled for the liberation of South Africa.

I grew up being a huge fan of Justice Dikgang Moseneke. It is people like him and Shucks Sefanyatso who inspired me and other young men to have hope that we can be professionals of the highest quality.

My own liberator is well written. It takes you through the life of Rre Moseneke from childhood, through Robben Island, until freedom, practicing as a lawyer, a businessman and ultimately the Constitution Court deputy chief justice.

The first thing you encounter about this book is the remarkable foreword written by Former President Thabo Mbeki. It’s after reading this preface that you know you are in for an amazing ride and you must buckle up.

In the book, he talks about his family background, his childhood, high school which was cut short due to his activism.

As a young activist, at the tender age of fifteen, Moseneke was arrested, detained and, in 1963, sentenced to ten years on Robben Island for participating in anti-apartheid activities.

He was the youngest political prisoner in Robben Island.

He takes us through incarceration, through the trials and tribulation of court trials, though the emotions of his first day of prison after being sentenced to 10 years.

He takes us through the harsh conditions of Robben Island, the food, the clothes, he shares stories of parent visits in jail.

He is so vivid about each major step taken on the day, about how he felt, about what kept him going.

He is equally vivid about his last day in prison, about the emotion he felt when they called his name that he is going home.

These events happened long time ago, but they are so well captured in this book, it is as if they happened yesterday. It is as if he was keeping a journal and documenting each step of the journey.

This book captures you. It owns you. It transcends you and takes you through the steps of a giant. It is as if you are sitting front row watching Judge Moseneke’s life unfold in front of you in big screen.

At some point in the book, the judge talks about the moment when he is out of prison and he is a lawyer and then meets the judge who sentenced him to 10 years in jail in one of the private tea rooms in a courthouse.

He was a hero then, he remains a hero today.

He was a role-model then, he remains a role-model today.

One gets the sense reading this memoir that you are walking in the footsteps of a giant.

He pays tribute to everyone that helped define him as a husband, father, lawyer and ultimately, guardian of our Constitution.

It is obvious from this very personal account of his life that a strict moral code, a deep empathy for those affected by apartheid and an unflinching refusal to accept its injustices inevitably shaped him into the jurist he is today.

Some of the chapters in the book are:

  • On my mother’s side
  • Eagles, sir!
  • High school years, twice cut short
  • Arrest, detention and interrogation
  • Robin Island, here we come
  • Wheelbarrows and handguns, the first six months
  • Prison letters, visits and unfailing support
  • ‘Dikgang, I am glad I have found you…’
  • ‘What matters is what is good for our people’

Rating

9/10

This is an amazing story of overcoming, of courage, of professionalism of the highest order.

The book is so well written.

The thing with lawyers, accountants, engineers is that the are technical people. You don’t expect these professions to write like artists, journalists or philosophers.

You expect lawyers, accountants and engineers to write like lawyers, accountants and engineers, to write technical things, using industry jargon and structured following rigid thought-patterns. It is always about less emotion and more logic.

My Own Liberator has artistic swag to it like Shakespearian novels, it has that emotional connection that hits to the core of your soul.

Long story short, this book is beautiful art. It is very emotional, it is a remarkable story of a brutal system of apartheid, and a young man who had overcame it and rose to the highest courts of the land.  

It is stories of Justice Dikgang Mosekene that reminds us that we have the best people in our midst. That we were once led by greatness and that we come a history of remarkable men and women.

Thank you Lolo for this gift, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Quotes that stood out for me:

  • “They cheered me on to blow out the candles. ‘Cut the birthday cake, Tata; cut the cake! they yelled and clapped excitedly. Love without qualification flowed abundantly. Unconditional affection is the only stuff grandchildren trade with grandparents.”
  • “Even the racist types did not lightly mess with a black person wearing a coat and tie.”
  • “Mma, as most wives do, outlive Papa and lived as a widow for nearly a decade. She was visibly depressed and lonely.” 😦
  • “Over only a few weeks, Ike had introduced us to a man who lived in Saulsville, John Nkosi, a self-effacing and rather irritatingly quiet man. He seldom made eye contact and he spoke in monosyllables, and yet the word ‘revolution’ was written all over his forehead.”
  • “After all, only medical doctors had this compelling title. You had to call them Dr Nkomo, Dr Moreosele, Dr Tsele, Dr Mogoba, and nothing less. Doctors saved lives. You never knew when you might have to wake them up late at night, so they were revered. They married the prettiest wives, lived in best homes, drove the best cars and still they did not have to work for white people. They were gifted the best of all worlds even under racial oppression. But this was not to be my path after all.”
  • “I had to give up looking for my parents to save me. They were not allowed to. The message was clear: Dikgang, you must paddle or drown, my boy. Nobody was allowed to or could do it for me. I had to find inner vigor, a big heart, to go through this challenge.”

  • “My mother tongue, Setswana, teaches that matsha ga ana swele. For certain, a new dawn will come and displace darkness. And every dawn is a new day. It holds promise of a new beginning.”
  •  “Dikgang, kom uit! Vermeulen yelled. I wondered that was on my handler’s mind and he soon told. “You will be appearing before Supreme Court in Pretoria this morning. ‘Vandag gaan jy tronk toe vir ewig, kleintjie.’
  • “When you walk a difficult road, you do well to have a companion at sunset.”

  • “A prisoner who cared to study would, in effect, escape from prison. It was a case of mind over matter. The space to study freed fresh energy and gave us abundant hope.”
  • “Lack of formal tuition does not deprive a person of common sense and native intelligence. A sense of self-worth is not diminished by illiteracy alone.”
  • “Matsha ga ana swele [dawn will surely break]”
  • “We need heroes. They are a glimpse of what we can be.”

  • “A good few [Robben Island political prisoners] were served with divorce summons while they were on the island, events that unleashed a deep grief of rejection. In some instances, news would arrive that a child has been excluded from school on financial grounds or that a daughter has fallen pregnant. News of that kind hurt more than the scorn of captivity.”
  • “Towards the end of the 30 minutes [prison visits] she [mother] never omitted to say: ‘Son, this, too, shall pass. We love you, Dikgang. She used the ‘royal we’ because my father never dabbled in unmanly stuff like ‘I love you’. He tended to be a matter-of-fact. He would probe the progress of my studies, and ask whether he needed to send me prescribed books or money, and whether I had grievances he should know about.”
  • “Se se sa feleng sa tlhola [every hardship comes to an end]”
  • “The monitor shouted: ‘Sabela wena, Dikgang Moseneke, uya bizwa! Sabela S’boshwa [Answer, Dikgang Moseneke, you are being called. Answer, you prisoner] It had been ten years since I had been spirited away on 21 March 1963 from my parents’ home. I had been on the island for nine years and nine months. As the monitor called my name, my gut took over. It felt hollow and my stomach churned. Had my moment come? Did I have to pinch myself out of disbelief?”
  • “But then prison is not a tourist venture, certainly not for an inmate. What mattered was the ticking clock. From day to day, I waited lazily for my time, counted in days, to run out.”

 

 

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