Simon Peter Matseke was born in Pretoria in 1878, but little is known about his early life except that he was a member of the Bakgatlo tribe. He was drafted as a driver for the Boer commandos during the South African War. During his time there he learned to speak High Dutch. Following the war he was employed as a coalminer in Middelburg, Transvaal, where he also learned a number of African dialects. He was a court interpreter for 12 years.
Matseke returned to Pretoria and soon came to play an important role in social, educational and political areas. He was elected to the Pretoria Location Advisory Board (PLAB) in 1928 and was involved in all the meetings. At the first of these meetings he severely criticized the Pretoria City Council for appointing the location superintendent, A.C. Lowe, as chairman of the PLAB. He argued that as a result of the power awarded to the location superintendent, other members would be unable to hold free discussions. The debate was ruled out of order, but the council took heed of Matseke’s complaint and after a period Lowe no longer held the position of chairman.
Using the limited powers of the PLAB in an effort to improve the well-being of Africans Matseke spoke out against inadequate policing in the locations and challenged the council’s increase of rents. He persuaded the council to appoint African nurses to work in clinics in the locations. Through his defence of Africans’ right to brew their traditional beer in their own homes he gained a reputation as an influential civic leader.
Matseke represented Africans of Pretoria on the PLAB from December 1928 to June 1931, July 1933 to June 1934 and November 1938 to November 1939. His political involvement stretched from a provincial to national level and he served on the National Executive of the ANC in the late 1920’s. In the 1930’s he was listed as the Deputy Speaker and Organizer of the ANC, and was also a member of the Transvaal African Congress (TAC). Here he succeeded S.M. Makgatho as president. In 1941, as president of the TAC, he presided over the conference that resulted in the establishment of the African Mineworkers Union (AMWU), which played a very important role in the 1946 mineworkers’ strike. Matseke remained president of the TAC until his death.
Matseke was a committed Christian and played a leading role in the Lutheran Church. He did, however, resign from that church as a result of external pressure and joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC). He was also appointed an officer in this church and promoted education of Africans as Chairman of AMEC Schools.
Matseke was married and fathered four sons and a daughter, who later became the first African matron in a Pretoria hospital. He passed away on 13 December 1941 in Pretoria.