Livingstone Mqotsi (Livie) was born in the village of Rabula in the Keiskammahoek district in the former Ciskei, now Eastern Cape, on 18 April 1921.
Mqotsi was born into a low income family, his father was a farmer. After completing primary school in Keiskammahoek, Mqotsi went to Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth where he matriculated in 1943. After school he went university acquired the following degrees: B.A. and B.A. (Hons) at Fort Hare (1948), UED at Rhodes (1951) and an MA at the University of the Witwatersrand (1957). At the Fort Hare University College, he studied social anthropology, psychology and English.
Mqotsi’s career as a teacher started at Newell High School (1950) and continued at Healdtown Training College (1952-1954). This career was short lived as he came into conflict with the Nationalist Government over their policy of Bantu education. In 1957 Mqotsi delivered a stinging attack on the regional director of the Bantu Education Department in King Williams Town, John Dugard, and the Nationalist government noticed. In a carefully reasoned paper he debunked the government’s notion of a separate destiny for the African child in South Africa future and presented an argument proving that Bantu Education was creating a class of slaves to the ruling herrenvolk (meaning master race).
Soon after becoming a teacher, he joined the Cape African Teachers' Association (CATA) and he soon became an executive member. He was in the forefront of the campaign waged by CATA against Bantu education. The Bantu Affairs Department responded by banning Mqotsi and 200 members of CATA from teaching.
Thus began a nightmare of persecution by the state, after being dismissed from the teaching profession the State made it very hard for him to get a job.
Later Mqotsi was offered a post as a Senior Education Fellow by the University of Fort Hare. The job entailed that he conduct research work in schools. The Native Affairs Department objected to his appointment, they made it very clear that a man with Mr. Mqotsi's political beliefs may not enter any of the schools under their control.
Mqotsi was then employed as a research psychologist with the National Institute for Personnel Research, part of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Within a month of his appointment the police sent a report to the Head of the Council demanding that he be dismissed as he was a political risk. He was given a month to quit this post.
Rhodes University then offered him a job as a Senior Research Officer. But the officials of the Native Affairs Department and members of the Broederbond (who held high positions in the scientific field) objected to his appointment. They declared that he had been dismissed by the highest scientific research body in the country for his political beliefs and activities and thus could not be allowed to assume a position at the university. Once again he could not take the job.
Later Mqotsi completed a master’s degree in industrial psychology and was employed by the Chamber of Mines to come up with a new system of labour relations. The mining bosses were disenchanted with his proposals, as Mqotsi laid much emphasis on the need to improve the lot of African workers. He was fired and told that his ideas would ‘damage profits’.
Out of desperation, he tried to find work as an unskilled labourer. His wife and children went to her parents in the Transkei and Mqotsi went to East London where he tried to obtain a labourer's pass, because as an ‘unemployed native’ he was not allowed to be in an urban area.
At the time Mqotsi was also a political activist, a leading member of the Non European Unity Movement (NEUM). As a member of this organization he managed to get a job at the printing press of the NEUM's newspaper, lkwhezi Lomso (The Morning Star), in East London. This was the beginning of his second career, as a newspaper editor. Subsequently, in 1957, he started a paper, Indaba Zasemonti (East London News), a Xhosa-English weekly in which he lashed out at the injustices of apartheid South Africa. The paper was especially critical of the Matanzima regime in the Transkei. In 1960, the government closed the paper down and banned Mqotsi for five years under the Suppression of Communism Act.
In 1961 the NEUM's newspaper, lkwhezi Lomso (The Morning Star) was also closed down by the State. In order to avoid banishment to the rural areas for not having a permit to be in an urban area without a job, he focused on a third career, as a lawyer.
Louis Mtshizana, a member of the Unity Movement, came to his aid with an offer to do his articles of clerkship in his legal office. After two years Mtshizana and Mqotsi had established a practice famous for handling ‘political’ cases. Both men, at different times, were charged by the apartheid state with attempting to defeat the ends of justice. Each time they were acquitted, but both men were eventually served with a five-year banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act. During the 1960 state of emergency, Mqotsi was imprisoned for two months without trial in East London. As a result of this persecution the Unity Movement instructed him to leave the country.
He fled to Botswana and then to Zambia (1964-1970) and finally settled in England (1970-2001). His wife and children, unable to obtain travel documents to join him, had to acquire exit permits. While living in exile he worked as an educator at West Greenwich Boys High School from 1970 to197, and later as headmaster at Catford Boys High School from 1978 to 1986. He retired in 1986.
During his years in exile, he continued to be a prolific writer, contributing to numerous magazines, journals and newspapers. Some of this work includes:
being co-editor of the Unity Newsletter (1966-1969) a monthly publication of the Unity Movement in exile
publishing articles in an East African publication, Frontline Worker, which conveyed the political thinking of the Southern African liberation movements,
authoring numerous papers on the South African liberation struggle and writing numerous letters to the press and comrades in the struggle
re-working his play written in the late 1950's into a novel ‘The House of Bondage’ which was published in 1989.
writing an account, as yet unpublished, of the liberation movements engaged in the struggle in South Africa, ‘South African Liberation at the Crossroads’.
He continued to promote the programmes and policies of the NEUM and became a member of the New Unity Movement (NUM) soon after it was formed in 1985, while still living in exile in London.
After returning from exile in 2001, Mqotsi settled in East London. He was instrumental in the formation of the Border branch of the NUM in 2007.
After returning from exile Mqotsi wrote and published a second novel, a sequel to the first, called ‘The Mind in Chains’ (2008). A third book, ‘A study of Ukuthwasa’ was also published in 2008. This book was reworked from MA degree thesis.
He was particularly interested in the lot of the ordinary person, the workers and the poor. He was so moved by the plight of adult men constantly looking for work and begging for food that he and his wife, Iris, began buying extra bread to give to those who came begging at his door. When the local supermarket discovered what they were doing, they donated more bread to them. Thus began a weekly programme of bread distribution to the poor and hungry.
Mqotsi was also passionate about the youth. Over the years, the Mqotsi residence housed and nurtured many young political exiles (from various political persuasions) who required a safe place to stay. He made it his duty to encourage them to read and study the books in his well-equipped library. While Mqotsi was in exile in Zambia, the ANC entrusted the young Chris Hani to his care. Hani was a young Mkhonto weSizwe (MK) and later South African Communist Party leader. The two grew close and as a mark of affection Hani gave Mqotsi the combat boots he had worn in the ill-fated Wankie campaign in the late 1960s and a volume of revolutionary poems.
He was a fierce critic of the negotiated settlement entered into between the ANC and its Alliance partners and the apartheid regime in 1990 as can be seen from some of his writings:
ANC's Constitutional Guidelines: Recipe for Betrayal. Frontline Worker, August 1989, no.1
Non-Collaboration NOT Negotiation. Apdusa Views, August 1990, Issue No. 34
A United Front of Struggle: 1991
CODESA – A witch’s cauldron -. 1992
He was equally critical of the new, democratic dispensation ushered in by the 1994 elections. Again, he wrote articles to express his displeasure, namely,
Tribalism: An Archaic and Divisive Myth. Apdusa Views, May 2004, No. 72
NEPAD ””A Blueprint for Total Surrender. Apdusa Views September 2004, No. 75
Livingstone Mqotsi died at the Frere Hospital in East London, on 25 September 2009 at the age of 88. He is survived by his wife, Iris (retired radiographer), and two daughters, Nzwakie and Yvonne.
Border Branch ”“ New Unity Movement, East London ”“ Memorial Booklet, October 2009|
Chris Barron, Livingstone Mqotsi, Champion of the working class, author, Sunday Times Obituaries, p 8, 4 October 2009|
APDUSA Views, Issue 34, August 1990, "NONCOLLABORATION NOT NEGOTIATION" BY LIVINGSTONE MQOTSI.