Nimrod Sekeramane Sejake was born on 8 August 1920 in Evaton, south of Johannesburg, to Basotho parents. He attended a mission school in Evaton later went to the Wilberforce Native Teacher’s College. He then worked as a teacher at Mooki Memorial College in Orlando Johannesburg, Transvaal [now Gauteng] until he was dismissed in 1953 for “rebelliousness.” He also worked as a building site clerk. He married, and settled in Jabavu, Soweto.
During the 1950s, Sejake was a leading member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, (SACTU) and the African National Congress(ANC) in Soweto. Noted for his ability as a union organiser, he became secretary of the non-racial, though mainly African, Iron and Steel Workers Union, affiliated to SACTU. His militant, uncompromising approach is recorded in Organise or Starve, the history of SACTU. He was arrested and charged with illegally striking along with 78 workers and fined £10 [R20] for ‘inciting an illegal strike.’
Sejake joined the ANC and was active throughout the 1950s in its increasingly radical demonstrations, strikes and burning of the hated passbooks. For instance, he was also said to be responsible for the unlawful strikes from July to September 1955 at “African Lamps (Pty) Ltd” and “Phoenix Foundry (Pty) Ltd” in Johannesburg, and to have caused upheaval at the firm “Prima Iron and Steel Foundry and Engineering Works (Pty) Ltd.” He was charged in the latter case but apparently worked mostly from behind the scenes so that no evidence could be found.He also participated in the Congress of the People of 1955when the ANC proclaimed the Freedom Charterat Kliptown. Speaking on 23 January 1955 at Dadoo Plain, Johannesburg he said:
I have been a teacher and was kicked out because I was against poor education. I appeal to all non-members of the African National Congress (ANC) to join now, so that we may fight this Bantu Educationwhich has been introduced without our consent.
As a result of his political activities Sejake was banished to Driefontein Native Trust Farm, Vryburg District, [Western] Transvaal [now North West Province] on 21 March 1956. He was laterarrested with other leaders of the ANC, SACTU and the South African Communist Party(SACP), accused of treason in the famous Treason Trialof 1956-61. The government sought the death penalty for treason and, as oppression intensified, limiting the possibilities for legal political work, Sejake and others left the country through Basutoland (now Lesotho) for training in the Soviet Union where he also spent time studying Marxism. He became a supporter of the ‘Militant’, the forerunner of the Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers’ International affiliate), and joined the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC.
Sejake returned to Africa as political commissar of the ANC training camp in Morogoro, Tanzania. He was convinced of the central role of the organised working class in the liberation of South Africa, and insisted their priority should be to send trained activists back to organise militant trade unions to bring down the regime. Such views led to a clash with the more conservative exiled leadership which prioritised the armed struggle and appeals to the United Nations. Sejake was removed from his post.
The President, Julius Nyerere, ordered his expulsion from Tanzania, a decision probably influenced by Sejake’s involvement in a Marxist circle at Dar es Salaam University which was critical of Nyerere’s "Ujaama", or African Socialism. Participants included the Zanzibarian A. M. Babu, later jailed by Nyerere, and Walter Rodney, author of the influential How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, assassinated by the CIA in Guyana in the 1970s.
Exiled to Zambia, Sejake worked with the South African Pan-Africanist Congress(PAC), and travelled to China and Albania, seeking support for the organisation, before being deported to Egypt, where he lived in poverty while appealing for political asylum in Europe. In these difficult times, he was greatly heartened by the uprising of the South African school students in Soweto, 1976and by the rapid growth of the independent trade unions.
In the late 1970s, Sejake was offered asylum in three European countries and chose Ireland, remembering that his sister worked for an Irish family as a domestic servant. They treated her well and he was impressed when they told her Ireland was a country oppressed by the British Empire.
Living in the Red Cross Hostel in Ballsbridge, Sejake loved Ireland. Sejake became a well-known and loved figure by the left in Ireland. He attended meetings of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement but was disappointed to find no recognition of the now hugely significant independent unions. He found kindred thinkers in the Militant Tendency of the Labour Party [forerunners of the Socialist Party] that had direct links, through South African exiles, with these rapidly growing unions. A "retying of the knot", he would say, after 25 years in exile.
He devoted himself energetically to solidarity work with the struggle in South Africa. He regularly travelled across Ireland, Britain and throughout Europe to speak at public meetings on the struggle of the black South African working class. He made speaking tours throughout Europe, the United States and Brazil, and during the 1984/85 anti-apartheid strike at Dunnes Stores, was regularly found on the picket line. During his travels and addresses Sejake took particular interest in engaging with young people.
At the beginning of 1985, Londonderry (Derry)Young Socialists launched a campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The aims of the campaign were to encourage direct links between trade unionists in Ireland and South Africa; to get people to boycott South African goods and, to pressurise the British and Irish governments to enforce economic sanctions.
One of the highlights of the campaign was a public meeting on the 4 September. The main speaker, was Nimord Sejake, who emphasised the role of the working class in the coming South African revolution. The meeting was very well attended. Sejake was eloquent and biting in his attacks on the apartheid regime.
On following days Nimrod toured the city visiting trade unionists. He met ambulance workers who had just returned to work after a victorious strike. Various collections raised £50 for the struggle in South Africa and more followed. Sejake’s visit has got excellent coverage in the local media.
In October 1985, Sejake requested permission to address the Trades Council. He was in Derry to raise support for the black working class in South Africa, particularly the South African National Union of Mineworkers. Right-wingers and Sinn Fein members on the Trades Council Executive refused his request because he was unacceptable to the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM), despite the fact, that Sejake was a member of the IAAM and a former member of the ANC.
Many Trades Council delegates believed that the Executive’s decision overstepped their authority. At their next full meeting, the decision was challenged. The Trades Council openly discussed all issues and Sejake, as an exiled trade unionis,t had a right to address the meeting. The executive’s position was upheld on the casting vote of the Chair.
In October 1986, Sejake faced eviction from the Red Cross hostel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, where he had lived as a refugee for the last six years. By building support for South African black workers in their struggle, this very political activity was cited by the Red Cross as one of their ‘reasons’ for attempting to evict him. The Red Cross, who continued to buy South African fruit, said that Sejake’s political activity, amongst other things, ‘contravenes the principles of the neutrality of Ireland.’
In addition, Nimrod had been battling with the Red Cross and particularly the hostel management for some years. He has protested vigorously about the lack of heating in the refugees’ rooms. Many of whom were considerably older than Nimrod’s 66 years. Because of the conditions at the hostel Sejake refused to contribute from his dole or his pension.
In 1989, he spoke by phone to his wife and family with whom he had not been in contact for 30 years. The ANC and other political organisations were unbanned, Mandela was released from prison and the exiles returned to South Africa, Sejake’s own return was delayed for months when he refused to complete the application for indemnity. He complained, "They are asking me which crimes I wish to be indemnified for!" Eventually he returned to South Africa in November 1991.
Reunited with his family, at 71 years of age, Sejake again threw himself into the struggle. He was elected secretary of the Soweto ANC Veterans League and led delegations from Evaton to Pretoria to seek compensation for land seized during the 1950s. He also re-established links with the workers in heavy industry through the Metal and Allied Workers Union.
Although he voted for the ANC in the 1994 election, he insisted that the massive vote for the party would not be enough to transform life for the poor in South Africa. He remained a committed socialist and Marxist, believing that only the overthrow of capitalist economic relations would end inequality.
Nimrod Sekeramane Sejake died on 27 May 2004.