Job Maseko was a South African soldier during World War II, who gained fame by his actions in sinking a German vessel whilst serving as a prisoner of war.
Maseko was employed as a delivery man in Springs before he volunteered for service with the Native Military Corps. After completion of basic training, he was sent to North Africa with the 2nd South African Division.
Maseko became a prisoner of war (POW) on 21 June 1942 when Major-General Henry Belsazar KIopper, commander of the South African 2nd Infantry Division surrendered to Rommel at Tobruk with 32,000 men, including 10,722 South Africans of the 2nd Division, of whom 1,200 were members of the Native Military Corps.
The Germans separated their prisoners by race. The white troops were sent to prison camps in Europe, while the black prisoners were retained in Italian prison camps in Africa where they were forced to work as manual labourers under horrific conditions.
Part of the prisoners’ forced labour involved loading and unloading supplies from German freight ships in the port of Tobruk in Libya. With Maseko’s pre-war experience and exposure to explosives, while unloading cargo from a German freight ship in the Tobruk harbour on 21 July 1942, he sank a fully laden enemy steamer while moored in Tobruk Harbour.
He sank the ship by placing a small tin filled with gunpowder in among drums of petrol in the hold, leading a fuse therefrom to the hatch and lighting the fuse upon closing the hatch.
Maseko later escaped from the Italian POW camp in Tobruk and walked for three weeks through the desert and enemy lines to El Alamein.
In October 1942 he joined in the defeat of his German and Italian captors as a member of the Native Military Corps in the Second Battle of El Alamein.
Members of the NMC were not issued firearms, but could carry traditional weapons, and served as non-combatants, working as labourers, guards or in a medical role.
Maseko, himself, was a stretcher bearer for the allied forces in the battle, where he rescued wounded men often under heavy fire.
After the battle of El Alamein, Maseko was transferred to the 6th South African Armoured Division and was gazetted as recipient of the Military Medal “for meritorious and courageous action” for his actions in Tobruk.
The award was later bestowed on him by Major-General Francois Henry “Frank” while in Italy with the armoured division.
About 80,000 black South Africans served in the Native Military Corps (NMC). After the war, they were treated unfairly. The Blacks were given bicycles and boots, and sometimes a suit, as a reward for their sacrifice, while White soldiers received housing and land.
According to Neville Lewis, the first official war artist for South Africa during the Second World War, Job Maseko was recommended for a Victoria Cross but, being ‘only an African‘, he had received the Military Medal instead.
Lance Corporal Job Maseko died a poor man in 1952 and was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs.
To honour this unassuming hero, the community of KwaThema near Springs has a primary school in the township named after him. The main road linking the town of Springs to KwaThema Township has also been named after him.
Currently, there’s an ongoing campaign backed by his family to get his Military Medal upgraded to the Victorian Cross, which is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for valour “in the presence of the enemy” to members of the British Armed Forces.