Keith (Skido) Joseph was born on 14 May 1959 in Mayville Durban,,where he lived until his family was relocated to Austerville due to the infamous Group Areas Act of 1950.
Growing up all he had was a mother who cared, five siblings, and a desire to succeed and exceed expectations. Growing up in Wentworth this young man was not privileged. He abhorred the apartheid government, and it’s marginalisation strategy.
Apartheid was a political and social system in South Africa during the era of White minority rule. Under the system, the people of South Africa were divided by their race and the different races were forced to live separately from each other. There were laws in place to ensure that segregation was abided by.
His observations of the sheer poverty of the masses contributed to his eventual conclusion that the only solution lay in riotous revolution.
He was a natural-born leader, as described by those who remember him. He had a knack for mathematics, science, and strategic thinking, while displaying his prowess in the game of soccer. These traits made Joseph the quintessential spearhead in the vanguard of protests and political involvement in the UDF in 1985.
Despite his youth, Joseph was an eloquent public speaker and coordinator. He became influential in the Austerville area with his involvement in the UDF, where he organised school boycotts, protests and other activities of rebellion in line with the African National Congress (ANC)’s defiance towards the apartheid government.
Along with fellow activists, Myrtle Beaunoir, Clifford Collings, Vincent James, Gordon Webster, Antonio Du Preez snd Kevin Curtis,he became a target for the apartheid security police for his contribution to the anarchy in Wentworth.
Due to the indefatigable surveillance from the security police, he was forced to go underground, a detour that would see him grow from a juvenile into a man. During this period he became part of the ANC’s armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), where he was covertly assisted to move across borders and finally ended up at an MK training camp in Angola.
While at camp, he was trained in the use of various small arms and the making of explosives, as well as close-quarter, unarmed combat. He quickly rose in the ranks, and was under the command of the likes of Chris Hani and other freedom fighters.
He viewed himself, not as a terrorist, but a ‘freedom fighter’. To the people who knew and loved him, he was the ‘champion of the underprivileged poor'”,
Political terrorists rationalise their violent and destructive behaviour by considering themselves ‘idealists’ and benefactors of humanity. Joseph on the other hand, sincerely believed that the focus should not be on ‘soft targets’, but the sabotage of the enemy’s essential infrastructure.
Upon his release in 1990, former president Nelson Mandela, in his first speech as a free man, paid tribute to Joseph and other anti-apartheid activists for participating in the fight for freedom. Joseph acknowledged this tribute, as he together with his mother, Joyce Joseph were present with the masses, jubilating and celebrating the release of the ultimate freedom fighter himself. The exhilaration that he felt within, may well be imagined.
Keith Joseph’s life was centred on serving the ANC. That was what gave meaning to his existence.
His bond with the ANC and the rest of his cadres went beyond solidarity. Their lives were merged and their dreams of a free South Africa intertwined. His relationship with the ANC was more than a political affiliation but an almost familial one.
Over the years, tight relationships were formed between these people who faced danger together, were willing to die for one another and often put their lives at risk in order to save other comrades and oppressed South Africans.
Ten years into the democracy that he fought for, he felt betrayed and abandoned by those he served during the liberation struggle.
He had suffered for MK during the struggle and after obtaining freedom, he felt that he had been abandoned. The people of Wentworth still lived in abject poverty, the youth were jobless, Thousands of people were on the housing waiting list, and tertiary education was virtually unattainable.
Jobs, better schools and new houses for thousands of people who were crammed into, the sprawling township built by the apartheid government were promised, but never delivered.
He was led to believe that in the new South Africa, people of mixed race, would be equal citizens. To someone like Joseph, who had lived only as a second-class citizen, derided as the progeny of forbidden racial mixing, it was a powerful message.
All citizens would be South Africans now, not Coloured, Black, Indian, or white, just South Africans.
Single mothers struggled to feed their families. They still lived in a two-room cinder-block house, with 10 other relatives living in shacks in the backyard. He felt that people of mixed race were still caught somewhere in the middle of South Africa’s rainbow.
The betrayal that he felt from members of the ANC, dug deep into the psyche of this cadre who was loyal to his people. The organisation enjoyed the trust of a significant number of people at the time of their unbanning in 1990 and thereafter. They were seen as heroes of the struggle for freedom from the apartheid regime. They were also viewed as saviours who secured the freedom of oppressed people in South Africa. That is why he relied on them, and could not conceive of such betrayal.
He sincerely embraced his Africanism. It was in essence the realisation by Joseph himself of the need to rally together with his African brothers around the cause of their oppression-and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bound them to perpetual servitude to European imperialists.
Sadly, some of the brotherhood did not mirror his sentiment.
As a person of mixed-race he felt rejected from the collective Black identity. This rejection was as a result of being perceived as unable to fit into the discrete, monolithic racial and ethnic categories of the day.
He also considered his Indian brothers who were the progeny of indentured labour to be as African as umqombothi, (African beer) that they displayed in their proficiency in the isiZulu language.
In due course, whether as an analgesic or to mask his mental anguish, he turned to vodka. Sadly, it was the alcohol abuse that inhibited his rational thinking in very detrimental ways,and this is also what led to his self inflicted demise. On 28 December 2006, he put a gun against his head and took his own life.
At his funeral, St Gabriel’s Anglican Church was packed to capacity with over 1500 mourners.
We often say this with seeming ease, that when we come to bury great patriots and outstanding leaders of our people such as Keith Joseph, we do not mourn their departure, but celebrate their lives. We speak these words routinely as though we had committed them to memory, as part of the poetry we have been trained to recite.
That day it seemed as though the birds had come together to eulogise this fallen hero. The leaves were still; as though they too were observing a moment of silence.
The sun shone brilliantly high up in the African sky, touching the shoulders of each and every mourner with his warmth, exactly the way Keith Joseph would have done.
He let his rays cascade onto the church, bringing the scene into full view, adjusting both the brightness and contrast.
He Ignited the scene with such brilliance, almost as if he seemed to acknowledge with casual elegance the significance of Keith Skiddo Joseph as an African hero.
Then the decibels of his golden voice appeared to exclaim;
Phumula ngokuthula, ndodana umhlabathi,Rest in peace Son of the soil !!!
By: Lorraine-Quarrie Richards