Minister of Defence
Member ANC NEC
Member ANC NWC
Former Premier of the Free State Province
Former Chairperson of the NCOP
In a letter to his daughter from prison - later published in a collection of such letters - "Terror" Lekota writes:
"Above all then, my dear, I am in prison for the sake of peace for our country and the world. I am in prison so that our generation may leave to yours and later generations a country and a world that has the greatest potential for progress."
Inspiring words from a man who spent nearly a third of his life behind bars.
Lekota was born in Kroonstad on August 13 1948. He was the eldest of seven children in a working-class family. He did his schooling mainly in Kroonstad, but matriculated from St Francis College, Mariannhill, in 1969. Steve Biko had passed through this school just a few years earlier.
Lekota entered the University of the North in 1971. Here he became involved in SASO. At the end of 1973, SASO's full-time organiser Abraham Tiro had to flee the country and Lekota took his place.
In September 1974, when SASO began to organise rallies to celebrate the independence of Mozambique, the state stepped in. Lekota was arrested, along with eight other SASO leaders, including Saths Cooper and Strini Moodley, and charged under the Terrorism Act. In the trial that followed he was sentenced to six years in prison, which he served on Robben Island. He was released at the end of 1982.
On the Island Lekota shared the company and experience of the ANC's imprisoned leaders. Like many other black consciousness adherents, his political beliefs moved towards non-racialism. On August 20 1983, exactly eight months after his release from prison, he attended the national launch of the UDF and was elected national publicity secretary. As he afterwards confessed, it was not an easy task.
The UDF's leaders were harassed ruthlessly in the years that followed. Lekota was arrested in 1984, and then released. He became involved in the rent boycott in the Vaal Triangle. In April 1985 he was arrested again, along with other leaders, and charged with high treason.
The Delmas Trial ground into motion. In November 1988 Lekota was one of four accused found guilty. He was sentenced to 12 years. However, the trialists appealed against their conviction, and in December 1989 they were acquitted. Lekota, who had been held without the possibility of bail throughout the proceedings, had spent four and a half years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
After the unbanning of the ANC, Lekota spent time as first chairperson of the Southern Natal region, then chairperson of the Northern Free State region. He was elected on to the NEC in 1991.
It's strange that such a warm and caring man should have the nickname "Terror". In fact, he did not get this name in the political arena as many people think, but on the sports field. As a soccer player his boot struck terror into the heart of the bravest goalkeeper.
From 1994 until 1996 Lekota was the first Premier of the Free State province. He was chosen to be the first Chairperson of the new National Council of Provinces when it convened in February 1997.
After the second democratic elections, June 1999, he was appointed Minister of Defence.