The Road to Tanganyika: Part 2
In this second of three instalments from the book Lest we Forget, the late freedom fighter Philip Kgosana details his dramatic escape into exile after leading the anti-pass campaign in 1960.
On December 26, as I pondered over the possible repercussions of my escape, I pulled out my pass book, gave it a last look and burned it. During that first week, I communicated with the leader of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) Julius Nyerere, seeking help to reach Dar-es-Salaam. In the meantime, I was introduced to Allen Nxumalo, a medical doctor at Mbabane Hospital. He offered to keep me at his place for a few days. Later, it was agreed that I should move to Manzini for safety as my disappearance had been exposed in the press. The story had been blown up after January 9,1961, when I failed to appear in court in Cape Town. To make matters worse, Drum magazine was carrying a serialised story of the Cape Town events – complete with photographs.
A week after my communication with Nyerere, a cable from Dar-es-Salaam signed by Oscar Kumbona, the Secretary General of TANU, asked me to prepare for a transfer to Maseru as it had been difficult for them to locate landing air strips in Swaziland.
I was then relocated to the brother of Dr Nxumalo’s residence in Manzini for safety reasons. The family was very kind to me until one evening when they confronted me with the Drum story. I apologized to them for I’d thought that they had been briefed about their unusual guest.
A few days later, Dr Zwane came to see me and told me that the charter plane to Maseru had arrived. I spent the night at his place.
The following day we flew to Maseru . The other two passengers were two ladies , members of the Basutoland Congress Party(BCP). Francis Mbelu who had decided to accompany me could not join the flight as it was full. He travelled by road.
Flying over South Africa was a harrowing experience. Each time the radio signals flashed, I got worried that our plane would be ordered down. But the bumpy little plane carried us safely into Maseru.
Ntsu Mokhehle, leader of the BCP, received us warmly in his office and spoke proudly of his mighty Party. His office was rather small, but it was clear that the people of Lesotho had a lot of respect for his Party. I was taken to a refugee centre in town, where some South African refugees lived. I spent about two weeks at the centre, where I was visited by the late Nat Nakasa and photographer Peter Magubane, both from Drum magazine. Days later, a short story appeared in the Rand Daily Mail, in which the reporter claimed to have picked up a story from the BCP office that I was possibly in Maseru. That story meant real problems for me.
Within a day, the South African security police were looking for me in Maseru. I only became aware of the manhunt one evening, when I went for a dance at Maseru Stadium.
Around 8.30 that evening, I invited two young ladies who stayed with us at the refugee camp to join me for a dance session at Maseru Stadium. About two or three streets away from the stadium, we saw a black limousine driving slowly towards us. As the car neared us, its doors suddenly flung open with its full bright lights beamed on us. As we suddenly stopped, four men jumped out and dashed towards us. One of them shouted: ‘Nguye lo uKgosana’ (Zulu for: This is Kgosana).
My reaction was sudden. I made a quick retreat backward , but then decided I must go back and confront what was clearly an attack. I walked straight to the car and told the men that if they were looking for Kgosana, they had found him. Trembling with anger, I told the men that they could take me if they wished to, and they would get their bonuses the next day for a job well done.
One of the men, who had decided to stay in the car during the attempted kidnap, shouted at his colleagues, telling them he had said before that the whole operation was fraught with unpardonable evil, and would have indelible repercussions.
I told them I was prepared to follow Patrice Lumumba of the Congo whose tragic assassination was filling the media then. I angrily told them that if they executed their heinous mission, Africa would never forgive them. Evidently, I had reached a stalemate with them.
The four would-be hijackers started exchanging insults with their dissenting colleague as they filed back into the car. I rejoined the girls, who had been terrified by the incident, and we continued to the stadium. Meanwhile, our would-be kidnappers sat in the car quarrelling among themselves.
As soon as we arrived at the stadium’s dance hall, many people started bombarding me with questions about what had happened. It was difficult to fathom how the story had spread so fast. Within minutes, a group of exile youths from Sharpeville stormed the dance hall and asked to see me. As 1 stepped forward, the youths gave the Party salute and asked me to describe the kidnap car. They then dashed out and 1 was later told that they had chased the car all around Maseru, until it escaped into South Africa.
Mr Koloko, the organiser of the dance, called me and assured me of his personal protection. At the end of the dance, he invited me to his house for the night.K oloko’s house was near the stadium, and also not far from the airport. We reached his home shortly after midnight and he showed me into his bedroom. He then pulled out two short guns from his wardrobe and loaded them. After examining the weapons, he handed one over to me and told me that if the enemy came, we would have to fight to the bitter end. We slept.
Early the following morning, Koloko woke up and told me that he was going to work, and that I would have to remain in the house under the care of his nieces. At about 9am, there was a gentle knock on the door and a lady’s voice reported that the bathing water was ready.
I woke up and dressed. In the dining room were two charming young women who greeted me homely and quickly arranged for my bath. I realized I was in good company. I chatted with the ladies, and as I took my breakfast, I found the ladies were fairly knowledgeable about current events. They had also read quite a bit about me. Later, they produced the Drum magazines with my story. Mmanoko was the elder of the two ladies. The other one, who was doing matric, was darkish and rather shy. Her name was Alice. I spent the day with the ladie and by the end of the day, Alice and I had become great friends. Six years later, Alice and I got married in far way Ethiopia. But that is another story of its own.
From the verandah of Koloko’s house, I could see the airport about 1500 yards away. As Alice and I sat chatting, a CA (Cape Town) registered car passed by in front of our house and enter the airport. From the airport distance, I could see the white man who came out of it. It was Detective-Sergeant Sauermann, the first state witness in our aborted Cape Town case. He was accompanied by two other whites and a black man. Later two other cars, one bearing Bloemfontein number plates and the other a Pretoria registered number also entered the airport. It was clear that a big man hunt had been mounted. As the days passed, the three cars maintained their vigil at the airport.
Mr. Mokhehle sent me a message saying that while I was waiting for the plane that would take me to Tanganyika, it was desirable that I went into hiding, preferably outside Maseru.
I was taken to a village called Koalabata, about seven miles outside Maseru, on the way to Teyateyaneng. There I lived with mainly women who looked after Mbelu and I very well. The home where we stayed belonged to a BCP member of the Legislative Council. I occasionally sneaked into Maseru, if only to say hello to the young ladies at Koloko’s residence.
My first visitor at Koalabata was none other than Mr Z. B. Molete of the PAC. He was accompanied by a white reporter from the Golden City Post, a weekly newspaper published mainly for Africans in Johannesburg. Molete told me that he had been in touch with Sobukwe, and that the latter had sanctioned my departure from South Africa. He wished me well, and he and his companion left.
To my shock and disbelief, the late edition of the City Post carried a story about Molete’s visit to Koalabata. Although neither Molete nor Koalabata were mentioned in the article, mention was made of the fact that I was preparing to leave Basutoland any time soon. Quite obviously, the article alerted the Boers to watch for me on the ground and in the air.
The big bang came a week later with the arrival of the rescue aircraft from Tanganyika.
The plane arrived on the afternoon of Saturday March 25. It was a red twin-engine plane which approached the airport at very high altitude. It then circled twice and landed. As it touched down, four cars passed in front of Koloko’s house, where I happened to be a visitor, and entered the airport zone at breakneck speed. As the cars screeched to a halt, doors flung open and the passengers, all white, rushed to meet the pilot. I was watching all this from Koloko’s house during one of my secret visits there.
The pilot was a tall young man dressed in blue shorts. He walked slowly, with a small briefcase in his right hand. The South Africans pounced on him and seemed to be bombarding him with questions. Later, I saw the pilot enter the airport building, while the four cars drove off.
Around midnight, a messenger from Mokhehle came to my hide-out in Koalabata to inform me that the pilot could not fly me out of Maseru as the South Africans were planning to arrest me at the airport. It had therefore been decided that the pilot would take off the following morning and wait for me in Bechuanaland. I would have to try to reach him by all means before Tuesday. This could, however, only be possible if I had a car to drive me to Bechuanaland.
The following morning, I saw the plane take off with some BCP officials on board, including the Secretary General, Mr Kolisang. The South Africans were at the airport, but were disappointed not to find me.
Koloko had offered his car for my escape trip. Two Basotho young men, Tsiu Selatile and Chazi Mapefane, and the veteran BCP driver, Ntate Ntshasa, offered to join Mbelu and I on the drive through South Africa.
The car, a Plymouth (registration No. B A 565), arrived at Koalabata around midnight on Sunday the 26th March. Outside, it was drizzling, and in the African tradition, we agreed that the journey had been blessed and would be a success.
We hit the road to Teyateyaneng and headed for the South African border. Just after crossing the Caledon River Bridge which marks the border with the Republic, and hardly 100 yards inside South Africa, we were stopped by flashes of torchlights. Three policemen, one white and two black, surrounded the car and after inspecting it, asked the driver why we were driving at such a late hour. Ntshasa told them that we were going to the nearest petrol station to fill up. He assured the police that we would return shortly as we intended travelling very early that morning to attend a funeral up in Maluti Mountains.
The police signalled us to go, but I noticed that they had noted the car’s number plates.
We drove along for some time, until we passed the town of Winburg. After another hour’s cruise, we passed Ventersburg. After a short while, we reached a T-junction at which we had to turn left into Welkom. The time was about 4.am. On one side of the T-junction stood a white police pickup van (or white Phongo, as it was called) inside which was a white policeman wrapped in a heavy overcoat, and on the ground , an African policeman who signalled us to stop.
Ntshasa told us that he was not going to stop, and he turned into the road leading to Welkom. The African policeman shouted at us to stop, but Ntshasa drove on. The African policeman then rushed to talk to his master, and we expected a chase. There was no chase – the white man had probably decided against it. That was the first of a series of dramatic incidents along the long and precarious journey to Bechuanaland.
*Lest We Forget is a self-published autobiography of the struggle veteran. To order a copy of the book contact Bani Kgosana at Bani.Kgosana@gmail.com