Refiloe Phelile Florence Jackie Sedibe (known as Jackie Sedibe) was born at White River in Mpumalanga. Sedibe’s mother was a domestic worker and her father (whose surname was Mdluli) worked in Johannesburg. Her parents parted when she was about six years old and she went to live with a maternal uncle, Ben Sedibe, in Barberton. Her uncle was an African National Congress (ANC) activist, he became her role model. Sedibe then took his surname.
It was not long before she was politically involved. At eight, she was distributing ANC leaflets and carrying messages to political activists. Soon after her 17th birthday, it was decided the time had come for her to become a fully-fledged guerrilla.
She joined uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and was sent to the Soviet Union for training at the Odessa Infantry Academy, where her aptitude for signals led to her being fast-tracked for advanced training in Moscow. She was one of three women who were chosen for the programme. After the year-long training programme Sedibe was deployed in for a period in the Tanzania.
One of her first jobs was the Wankie Operation against Rhodesia in 1967/68. Between 1969 and 1971 she was deployed as a radio operator in Lusaka and appointed as communications chief. Then, from 1972, she worked as a secretary and chairperson of various ANC branches in exile. She was also a writer and co-editor of the Voice of Women Bulletin, a publication aimed at women.
Between 1976 and 1977, she assisted Zambian immigration officials with processing the entry of new recruits from South Africa and Zambia. From 1969 to 1976, Sedibe served on the ANC’s Revolutionary Council. She attended a historic meeting between South African women and the ANC Women’s League in Harare, Zimbabwe, to present the view of the military. She also served at MK’s Central Operations headquarters (HQ) from 1976 to 1980.
In 1983, she became a member of the military headquarters and the following year was appointed to the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Thereafter, in 1990, she was employed at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg as communications head for the military department.
Sedibe was among the first group of former MK members to be integrated into the military in 1994, and has served in the office of inspector general, concentrating primarily on the interests of women in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
In 1994, she participated under the auspices of the Transitional Executive Council and a sub-council on defence in the proceedings of the Joint Military Co-ordinating Council.
In 1996, she was promoted to the rank of major general and appointed as chief director of corporate communications. In 1997, she was appointed as chief director of equal opportunities in the SANDF.
Among her other achievements attained by Sedibe was her appointment as head of the SANDF’s Gender Focal Points and her membership of the International Women’s Forum. She was also head of the Army Foundation board of control, the Department of Defence Military Court of Appeal, the board of the Group Life Insurance Scheme of SANDF. She received amongst others, the UNITAS Medal, the Ten Years’ Service Bronze Medal, the 20 Years of Service Silver Medal and 30 Years of Service Gold Medal.
Sedibe was married to former Defence Minister Joe Modise. When they returned from exile, both were employed by the ANC. The couple have two daughters Boipuso and Lesedi and one son Ezekiel. Her husband died in 2001.
Sedibe continues to serve in the SANDF.
• Soeters J. & Meulen v.d.J. (2007), Cultural Diversity in the Armed Forces: An international comparison (New York), p.80
• Vuthela N. (2004) Committed to the cause of women from the South African Soldier online. Available at www.dod.mil.za [Accessed on 6 August 2012]
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