Mkhuseli (Khusta) Jack delivered a talk last night discussing his role as one of the central organizers of the Port Elizabeth consumer boycott in protest of South Africa’s system of apartheid. Jack started with a discussion on the origins of colonialism in South Africa that contributed to the later introduction of apartheid, as well as the origins and events of the consumer boycotts between 1985-1990. He explained the steps required to organize the action against white shop owners in downtown Port Elizabeth, which succeeded in obtaining 100% observation. This step, which threatened the the ruling government’s financial base and caused white shopowners to clamor for reform, so frightened the government that violet martial law was implemented in the black communities as retribution twice in a single year. Mkhuseli’s observations on the use of nonviolent struggle to topple an entrenched system of discrimination and his advice for nonviolent practitioners provides valuable lessons for current and future grassroots organizers.
Mkhuseli joined the struggle against South Africa’s racist laws, inferior system of education for black people, and the restricted movement of black people due to the stringent and infamous Pass Laws, in 1975. It was at this time, during his high school studies in Port Elizabeth, that he began to be more deeply involved with anti-apartheid movements. He joined the student uprising of 1976, though very young, and when older leaders were jailed, he had to step in and fill the vacuum. He was one of the founding members of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) in 1979, and was one of the leaders of the student boycott of 1980 – as a result of which he spent most of 1980 in police detention. In 1983, he was one of the founding members of both the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress (PEYCO) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), and from 1985 to 1990 he was the spokesperson of the Consumer Boycott and the regional publicity secretary of the UDF. In 1986, the government sentenced him to a five-year period of house arrest.
In 1989, he was one of the many national and exiled leaders of South Africa invited by then-French president Francois Mitterand to promote national dialogue in South Africa. In 1990, Khusta Jack was one of the national leaders invited by Nelson Mandela to his prison in Pollsmoor before his release. After Mandela’s release, he decided to leave active politics and went to the UK to pursue his tertiary education. Khusta graduated from the University of Sussex with degrees in Economics and Development Studies. Upon returning to South Africa after his studies, Khusta joined the private sector and remains involved in numerous charity organizations.