Kalushi Drake Koka

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Biographical information


Member of the Liberal Party, founder member of the Black Consciousness Movement and the Black Peoples’ Convention, Honorary president of Socialist Party of Azania trade unionist, teacher, Roman Catholic layman. 

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Date of death: 
20 December 2005

Kyalushi Drake Koka was bornin Pietersburg. He enrolled for teacher training after completing his matric. In 1960, he became actively involved in politics, serving as Transvaal vice-chairperson of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). 

He later left the LPSA and worked alongside Steve Biko and became a founding member of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). He was appointed as secretary of the organization, and thus worked closely with several leading student activists. 

Koka’s house in Dube, Soweto was a venue for secret meetings for BCM activists, earning the nickname “House of Exile”. As the security police began hounding activists, Koka became concerned with the safety of his comrades. As a consequence, he assisted fellow activists Tsietsi Mashinini, Barney Makhatle and Selby Semela to leave the country to Botswana disguised as churchgoers.

Koka served on an ad hoc committee formed in 1971 which precipitated the formation of the Black People’s Convention (BPC). Later, when an interim committee was formed that would serve until an executive committee was elected, Koka was elected secretary-general. That same year, the government refused to issue a passport to Koka among other BPC members.

Together with Tom Manthata another veteran activist, and others, Koka called for the appointment of black bishops in South Africa’s Roman Catholic Church. He served as chairperson of the Church’s Justice and Peace Association (JPA), something that caused racial tensions within the Catholic Church. Bishop Hugh Boyle of Johannesburg demanded Koka’s resignation from the JPA, but this was refused by the association. In 1971 he read a prepared statement on behalf of dissenting black Catholics at a plenary meeting of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The association was disbanded owing to the bishop’s failure to force Koka to resign.

In 1972 Koka established the Black Allied Workers' Union (BAWU) after the BCM-aligned South African Students’ Organization (SASO) resolved to mobilize the trade union movement as part of advancing the struggle. He became BAWU’s general secretary.

In March 1973, Koka - among other BPC activists - was given a five-year banning order that placed him under house arrest on weekends and holidays, and prevented him from attending public meetings. Koka was arrested and detained for eight months in solitary confinement by the apartheid police in November 1974.

Despite his banning, Koka continued to work with students aligned to the BCM until the Soweto Students’ Uprising. For instance, he organized the printing of pamphlets when a stay away was called in September.

When a warrant for his arrest was issued after the Soweto Uprising in 1976, Koka left the country for exile in Botswana where he worked with refugees from across Southern Africa. He also mentored exiled youth and played a role in the affairs of the South African Youth Revolutionary Council. Later that year he was scheduled to visit Britain where he would work in an educational post at the Catholic Institute for International Relations.

In 1980 Koka was invited to the Liberation Day celebration in Trinidad, but was barred from entering the country.

Koka returned to South Africa in 1990 after spending 15 years in exile. He joined the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO), but internal differences resulted in Koka, fellow member Lybon Mabasa and others leaving the party to form the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA), which he was elected honorary president. Alongside Dr Mathole Motshekga he became the founder of the Karaites Institute, which is dedicated to "the study of Africa in its totality".

Koka died on 20 December, 2005 and was survived by hiswife and children.  

• Mphaki, A, (2006), Koka's gone - but only in name because his legacy lives on, from the City Press,  
Cosgrave, A, (1977), Banned South African trade unionist to work for CIIR, from the Catholic Herald, 25 February, [online], Available at https://archive.catholicherald.co.uk, [Accessed 28 February 2013]
• Martin. T, (1985), In Nobody's Backyard: The Grenada Revolution in Its Own Words, Volume 2, (The Majority Press), p.52-53.
• Nolutshungu, S.C, (1982), Changing South Africa: Political Considerations, (Manchester University Press), p.188.
• Hill, C.R, (1983), Change in South Africa: Blind Alleys Or New Directions?, (London), p.88, 188
• Wilson, L, (2011), Steve Biko, (Ohio University Press), p.78.
• CORAY-DAPRETTO, L,  Acceptance through resignation: healing or surviving?, from Universite De Geneve, [online], Available at www.unige.ch  [Accessed 28 February 2013] 

Last updated : 01-Mar-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 01-Mar-2013

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