Mokoena was born in Orlando West, Johannesburg during World War II. He grew up in the township, but due to his mother’s bad health was brought up by Anna Khomo. He was still in contact with his family, and they made trips back to the Free State to visit the graves of his relatives almost every year. His parents were unhappy at needing to move to Johannesburg, but were forced to look for work.
Although it was quite easy for the Mokoenas to find work, they found it more difficult to find a family home in Johannesburg. Only 10 000 houses were available for rental by blacks, and these were all taken. This meant the family joined the hundreds of homeless. They were helped out by James Mpanza, who had taken over a piece of land next to Orlando where he provided land for the homeless. The government eventually extended Orlando West into the area, and it became Soweto. Steven Moekena got involved with the African National Congress (ANC), although it was critical of Mpanza. He was also a strong Christian and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where his wife joined the Mother’s Union.
Aubrey Mokoena grew up between this environment and that in the Khomo house. In the Khomo house he was taught the value of education, and he developed a very close bond with his adoptive mother. He became aware of politics at a very young age through Bantu Education. He remembers how one day they were suddenly no longer provided with meals at school and how slogans about Bantu Education were painted on walls. One-day members of the ANC came to visit the school, and said that a boycott should be started. Mokoena was very unhappy about this, as was Anna Khomo, but his father, who was a branch organiser in the ANC, told him they must do something to get an equal education.
At the age of twelve Mokoena learnt about the potato boycott from his father, and from then on potatoes were not eaten in either the Mokoena or Khomo households. It was also in this year that the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned. While Steve Mokoena made his son politically aware, Anna Khomo continued to insist that he continue his education. He completed school, and was Head Prefect in his last year. He also got chosen to train as a Sunday School teacher while in High School.
When he was finished school he wanted to go to university, but could not afford it. He was able to get a teaching job at his old school, and by saving and being awarded the African Teachers’ Association bursary was able to enrol at Turfloop in 1970. At university he founded the university choir, became chairman of the Students Christian Movement and was elected Vice- President of the SRC, while Abraham Tiro was President. He was later elected chairman of the local South African Student’s Association (SASO), and was thus part of the SASO executive and soon became very involved in resistance politics. Mokoena had by this time been aware of politics for a long time, and this long awareness had developed into anger. He got involved with Black Consciousness ideas of Black power. If he looks back over the years he can list all his friends that were killed violently.
In 1971 Mokoena was elected President of the SRC at Turfloop, and Tiro gave the graduation speech. The speech incited the students, and a few days later Tiro was expelled from the university. The students began a protest and the university reacted by expelling the entire student body. After a month, the university sent letters to students telling them to re-register. The university however refused to register the SRC members, and instead expelled them and nine other activists. This led to student strikes and protests at other universities across the country, and more students were expelled from Fort Hare and Durban-Westville. This action led to a reawakening of political activity, and the formation of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) and Black Communities’ Programme.
At the insistence of Anna Khomo, Mokoena enrolled at UNISA to continue his degree, and got a job heading the Transvaal section of the Black Community Programme. From here he was able to help his community and develop and spread his political ideas. Although the government became concerned about the project, it did not attack the organisation directly. It did however use other means of attack until 1974, when SASO organised Frelimo rallies with the independence of Mozambique. The government banned SASO rallies. Despite not going on with the rally in Johannesburg, unlike in Durban, Mokoena and others were detained.
Mokoena was tortured in detention while the police tried to find about the links that they presumed existed between Frelimo and BPC. He was released nine months later with no charge. He began his clinic again and got married. The clinic however did not last long as the government began to clamp down on all ‘Black Programmes’. In 1976 the Soweto school uprising began, and the government placed the blame on Black Consciousness. Mokoena faced arrest again and SASO, BPC and other Black Consciousness organisations were banned.
From prison Mokoena wrote to Lybon Mabaso that ‘Your silence is deafening’, which Mabaso interpreted as a call for the organisations to resist banning by reorganising. AZAPO was founded in 1978, and Mabaso was arrested. A year later all were released, although Mokoena received a five-year banning order.
Over the next years Mokoena was excluded from political activity as a result of his banning order, which expired in 1983. He however decided not to return to Black Consciousness as he had been outside it for so long and because AZAPO had taken on an anti-ANC viewpoint. He felt that he would have given support to the ANC had it not been banned. Instead, Mokoena decided to join and get involved with the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1984.
In the UDF he became involved in the Release Mandela Campaign and joined the tricameral parliament campaign. He was again arrested, charged with treason in the Pietermaritzburg Treason Trial and was acquitted. He continued this work, until he was arrested again in 1986 and held in detention. On release he was once again banned.
Mokoena joined the ANC after it was unbanned, and is still a member. He is currently chairperson of the Committees of the National Assembly. He is Member of Parliament, and is on the committee for Environmental Affairs and Tourism and for Public Enterprises.
Meer, F. (ed) (1989). Treason Trial ”“ 1985, Durban: Madiba Publishers.|https://www.polity.org.za/html/govdocs/parliament/members/mokoena_d.html (details on Parliament members)