Masenyeki Priscilla Mokone (1906 - 2008)
The Order of the Baobab in
Profile of Masenyeki Priscilla Mokone
Masenyeki Priscilla Mokone was born in 1906 in Ventersdorp. Throughout her distinguished and extraordinary life of 102 years, she never sought self-glorification but allowed her actions to speak for themselves. Affectionately known as “Mokone”, she served South African society in different capacities, namely, as an educator, leader, community worker and farmer.
In 1926, she married the renowned author, Nowen Godratious Mokone, who wrote popular children’s books. Mokone completed her training at the Kilnerton Teachers’ Training College and with her husband she began to walk a noble path by contributing as educators towards the lives of their people.
In 1929, they settled in Sophiatown where Mokone taught at the St Cyprians and Mary Magdalene primary schools. While working at the latter, she witnessed how children were expelled from the school because they were non-Anglican.
Understanding the value of education as an instrument of personal liberation for all South Africans, especially the previously oppressed, and driven by her belief in inclusive education regardless of race or religion, Mokone’s conscience would not allow her to work at a school that expelled innocent children for religious reasons. So she resigned from Mary Magdalene’s, forfeiting two months’ salary. However, her belief gave her the strength to work towards establishing an inclusive school that would cater for all children.
As a first step towards achieving that goal, she started a sewing business, which produced and sold women’s garments. This business yielded positive results when Mokone used its profits to establish a new school. She managed the school efficiently and continued to use the profits she earned through her sewing business for the school’s development, including the improvement of teachers’ salaries. The success of the school prompted the Lutheran Church to support it.
Mokone’s leadership and sacrifices were rewarded when the church appointed her as the principal of the school. In further recognition of her efforts, the church established the first Women’s Fellowship in South Africa, known as uManyano, and appointed Mma Mokone as Life President of the fellowship.
At the time of forced removals in Sophiatown, she and her husband decided to move to the Mokone ancestral land in Botshabelo near Coligny in the North West.
In Botshabelo, she was soon appointed principal of the Rankudu Primary School and continued serving the people with distinction. Realising the need for a high school, she and her husband established the Batloung High School in the village. On the family property they built a dormitory for 20 girls, where she served as matron.
In 1977, when they were once again forcibly removed from Botshabelo by the apartheid government, the whole community was dumped at Ramatlabama on the border of Botswana.
As a leader with the interests of her people at heart, she allowed the World Vision Organisation to set up a base on her property. This culminated in the establishment of important projects for the dispossessed community, including the drilling of boreholes, building of reservoirs, a feeding scheme, payment of school fees, day-care centres and sewing lessons for women.
The then government feared the success of the projects and closed down the World Vision programme. However, this did not affect her passion for the advancement of her community. Mokone continued working in the area as part of the hospital committee, which succeeded in starting a clinic and securing an ambulance with the help of sponsorship from South African Breweries.
In 2000, at the age of 93, she led her family back to Botshabelo. With the help of her children, she emerged as a farmer and continued to raise funds for the Lutheran Church in that area.
Mokone could have limited her duty as educator but instead went beyond the call of duty and extended herself and her services to the community. Mokone died in the Lichtenburg Hospital on 10 May 2008. She left a great legacy and inculcated a spirit of community service in her people.