In the National Military Museum in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, hangs a painting of a man with his eyes fixed upon the horizon. Beneath the painting are the words: Job Maseko – Military Medal.
For many years, only soldiers who fought in the Second World War knew who Job Maseko was. Few others knew that he single-handedly blew up an enemy ship during the war and received a medal for his remarkably heroic deed. Before the war, Job Maseko had been an ordinary delivery man at a dynamite factory in Springs. This peaceloving man liked to visit his grandparents’ farm and to keep an eye on his younger sister – exactly what an older brother should do.
But then one day in 1942, Job heard that Hitler’s German soldiers were already in East Africa. Right there and then he decided to join the army. He would do anything to stop the cruel leader, who hated black people, from reaching South Africa.
Thousands of black, brown and Indian South Africans did the same when the then premier, General Jan Smuts, promised them the same treatment as white people when they returned home after the war. Job was allocated to a division known as the South African Native Military Corps, where – much to their horror – the men were given spears instead of rifles. Here they received training as carpenters, clerks, truck and ambulance drivers, stretcher carriers and nursing assistants. And before long, they were ready to confront the enemy in North Africa.
Even though Job and his comrades were paid only half of what white soldiers received, they did their best. On top of that, Job learned to put together a bomb. Great was his surprise when he was promoted to lance corporal.
“When this war is over, we will be free!” he and his comrades regularly encouraged each other.