Obituary: Zolile Hamilton Keke

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

31 October 1945 - 6 February 2013

‘There are people whom you meet who say things that they don’t do, but in our father’s case he lived what he said, not just publicly, even in his private life. So that is what we are taking with us going forward.’ Khanyisa Keke, at his father’s funeral

The Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) was saddened by the news of the death of an old comrade and friend Zolile Hamilton Keke, who was Chief Representative of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) in the UK at a crucial time in the 1980s.

In the years that followed the Soweto Uprising in 1976, the struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid rule had spread and deepened into a revolutionary challenge to imperialism itself in Africa. The apartheid regime represented not only the cruel and barbaric oppression of the black majority in South Africa itself, but also the interests of British and US imperialism across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, as liberation wars were bitterly fought in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This was the time when the building of a solidarity movement in Britain to challenge the role of British imperialism in the region was of vital importance, not only for the future of the majority in South Africa, but also for humanity itself.

Comrade Keke’s determination to fight for freedom was forged in struggle over many years. As a teenager, following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he had been active in POQO, the armed wing of the PAC. At the age of 17 he was imprisoned for ten years on Robben Island along with Robert Sobukwe and other PAC leaders, who faced a regime of unparalleled brutality. Keke’s commitment to the struggle did not falter and on his release in 1973 he continued his political activities. As a result of his involvement he was one of 86 members of the PAC who were arrested in 1977. 18 men were charged under the Terrorism Act, including PAC leader Zephaniah Mothopeng and Comrade Keke, with fomenting revolution and organising the Soweto Uprising. Most of those detained were severely tortured and four men died during interrogation. The Bethal Treason Trial was held in secret and all 18 were found guilty. As the youngest, Comrade Keke was given a suspended sentence and banned from political activity. Later, when Comrade Keke acted as adviser to Richard Attenborough during the filming of Cry Freedom, in particular in relation to the life of Steve Biko, his experiences of struggle in South Africa were vibrantly portrayed.

As a result of the Bethal trial, in 1981 Comrade Keke went into exile, as many had been forced to, and became Chief Representative for the PAC in London. It was in the course of building City of London Anti-Apartheid Group that we met Comrade Keke and it was no accident that he worked with us to build a principled anti-imperialist solidarity campaign at this crucial time. Comrade Keke’s post was not a sinecure, and despite massive difficulties he inspired everyone he worked with by his commitment to the struggle. He actively gave his time to support events organised by City AA over many years, speaking on platforms, pickets of the South African Embassy, and even turning up as Santa on Christmas day during the Non-Stop Picket. Despite the fact that the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain was ostensibly acting in solidarity with all liberation forces in South Africa, in practice their support was given only to the African National Congress. As a consequence the representatives of the PAC and the black consciousness movement AZAPO, even of the calibre of Comrade Keke, were never invited on to AAM platforms or given support. It was only as a result of pressure from City AA members present that Comrade Keke was the first PAC representative to speak on the AAM AGM platform in 1985 – such was the AAM’s sectarian contempt for those who devoted their lives to the struggle.

In 1992 Comrade Keke returned to South Africa with his family and he never gave up the fight for the liberation of his homeland. He will always be remembered by us as a most dignified and honest revolutionary leader.

Izwe Lethu – the Land is Ours