Thapelo Mokoatsi

Historian and academic

Thapelo Mokoatsi (27) sees himself as the Mweli Skota of the 21st century, following in the footsteps of the 1920s founder of the ANC newspaper Abantu-Batho. He is busy completing his PhD in history at Rhodes University, focusing on the life of ANC founding member Saul Msane.

Like Skota, he aims to write biographies of the greats during the 19th and 20th century, in the hope that the current generation can fully perceive the magnitude of the shoulders upon which they stand. He first attended the University of the Free State, obtaining his undergraduate degree majoring in Political Science and Communication Science in 2011. With a passion for history and storytelling, he continues to write for the multimedia website, The Journalist.

During his postgraduate years he focused on liberation struggle heroes and heroines. He received the Best Honours Student Award at the University of the Free State in 2013, and then became a researcher on Charlotte Maxeke’s biography, authored by Zubeida Jaffer. Under her tutelage, and a few others, he continues to hone his skills as a biographer and life-long student. “I am very interested in how people saw their lives at a different time long ago,” says Mokoatsi.

“As a historian, the moment I discover some unknown historical facts, a fire burns in me. This fire pushes me to go the extra mile to make others aware of what I know.” Mokoatsi invites others to be part of an emerging generation of scholars who are expanding on struggle history, which, he adds, “excludes many stories and favours a few”. Moving to Rhodes University as a PhD student, he co-wrote the historical assessment on land reform and restitution report with Professor Emeritus Julie Wells. The research provided historical roots of communal land uses to inform policymakers on land reform. This remains a career highlight. He plans on converting his thesis into a book and writing a play to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of founding ANC member Saul Msane. Documenting the history of kwaito music as part of South Africa’s heritage also tops his list as a historian.

Drawing from a rich Afropolitan identity, he eagerly embraces the rich heritage of the region’s people, history, culture and language. By documenting the past and its stories, he is determined to find his identity through his own lens and help others to do the same.

— Leigh Wils

Twitter: @Moquartz_TM