Heroic leader was ever the com­mu­nity ac­tivist

CityPress - - Voices -

Be­tween 1956 and 1960 there were three marches that de­fined the his­tory of po­lit­i­cal re­sis­tance in South Africa. The first one was led by Lil­lian Ngoyi, who marched with more than 20 000 an­ti­a­partheid fe­male ac­tivists to the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria.

The sec­ond was the march led by Pan African Congress (PAC) head Robert Sobukwe. He and the peo­ple of Sharpeville in Gaut­eng walked to the lo­cal po­lice station, while other peo­ple did the same coun­try­wide, on the fate­ful day of March 21 1960.

The third one was the march to Par­lia­ment in Cape Town by 30 000 peo­ple to protest the pass laws on March 30, nine days af­ter the Sharpeville mas­sacre. Hith­erto, there had not been any march to Par­lia­ment, the seat of the racist apartheid regime since 1910.

In lead­ing that 9km walk to Par­lia­ment, Philip Kgosana etched his name in re­sis­tance his­tory and be­came one of the poster boys of defiance. He had come to Cape Town as a stu­dent and stayed at Langa’s hos­tels, where he im­bibed the pol­i­tics of the PAC.

His for­mer school prin­ci­pal, Bob Leshoi, had seen to it that he was ac­cepted at the Univer­sity of Cape Town and as­sisted him with pocket money to buy books.

This af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing at Lady Sel­borne High School in Pre­to­ria, where PAC pol­i­tics and rad­i­cal African­ist ide­olo­gies were preva­lent.

In Langa, he lived among mi­grant work­ers and struck up a last­ing friend­ship with Manelisa Ndi­bongo. The visit by Sobukwe in Fe­bru­ary 1960 to Langa set Kgosana on a path of no re­turn. Those whose lives Sobukwe touched could not be the same, and so it was for Kgosana.

Kgosana had at­tended the in­au­gu­ral launch of the PAC in Or­lando in Soweto in 1959, and served in the res­o­lu­tions com­mit­tee un­der John Ny­athi Pokela. Back in Cape Town, he was elected regional sec­re­tary un­der the lead­er­ship of Sitem­biso Mlokoti Mlokoti, who was the chair, and Clarence Mak­wetu, who was deputy.

Kgosana’s life mir­rored the tur­bu­lent his­tory of the PAC, go­ing from great heights to conflict and un­end­ing strife.

Af­ter skip­ping the coun­try in 1960 while on bail, he re­ceived a hero’s wel­come in places such as Dar es Salaam in Tan­za­nia, where he was hosted by Mwal­imu Ny­erere, and then Ethiopia. He was one of the first PAC cadres to re­ceive mil­i­tary train­ing in China and Ethiopia.

Be­cause of strife in the PAC he was ex­pelled, along with other mem­bers.

Kgosana then worked for the UN’s refugee com­mit­tee as a pro­gramme de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer. He served on var­i­ous com­mit­tees while at the UN for 34 years. It was here that his lead­er­ship skills were honed. He blos­somed as a com­mu­nity ac­tivist, or­gan­iser and able fundraiser for the world’s op­pressed. He re­ceived many awards for th­ese ef­forts.

While sta­tioned in Uganda as the UN rep­re­sen­ta­tive there, Kgosana was in­stru­men­tal in work­ing with the Chi­nese to build a rail­way line link­ing Tan­za­nia with Zam­bia and Uganda.

When the con­sul­ta­tive con­fer­ence was con­vened in Moshi, in Tan­za­nia, in 1967 to ad­dress the ills of the PAC af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of one of its lead­ers, David Sibeko, Kgosana re­turned to his or­gan­i­sa­tion and worked clan­des­tinely for the PAC, ne­go­ti­at­ing the sup­ply of arms from Nepal to its mil­i­tary wing. When Kgosana re­turned home in 1996, af­ter 37 years in ex­ile, much was writ­ten about him. His heroic role in the 1960 anti-pass cam­paign was not lost to our gen­er­a­tion. The iconic photo of a young man lead­ing a march in Cape Town, dressed in shorts and wear­ing what looked like a hand­made jacket, given to him by Leshoi, re­mains etched in our minds.

His book, Lest We For­get, was banned and cir­cu­lated un­der­ground in the many po­lit­i­cal classes that were es­tab­lished by the PAC cells. Th­ese formed the ba­sis of the revival of PAC pol­i­tics in the 1980s.

Kgosana was in­stru­men­tal in or­gan­is­ing the PAC con­ven­tion, held at Vista Univer­sity (now Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria), where a strat­egy was crafted to revive the PAC. The con­ven­tion re­sulted in the 1996 PAC con­fer­ence in Tho­hoyan­dou in Lim­popo, where Kgosana was elected the party’s na­tional or­gan­iser. He played a piv­otal role in re­viv­ing the PAC and over­saw the re­struc­tur­ing of the party’s youth cells.

Kgosana was a fa­ther fig­ure to PAC mem­bers and led the lobola ne­go­ti­a­tions of more than 40 of them. Louis “Ma­genge” Ng­wenya, who be­came Kgosana’s body­guard and personal as­sis­tant, shed tears as he nar­rated the event­ful life he had lived serv­ing his men­tor.

A com­mu­nity ac­tivist, Kgosana used his UN pen­sion to pay the univer­sity fees of many needy stu­dents.

He leaves be­hind his beloved or­gan­i­sa­tion, the PAC, in ru­ins. His gen­er­a­tion, who raised the flag of the PAC high, lived to see it dis­in­te­grate to the point of a mute re­cep­tion from so­ci­ety.

In most of his pub­lic ad­dresses, Kgosana would belt out his sig­na­ture song: “I bam­beni we bafana! Ibam­beni we zint­sizwa!”

He loved rock mu­sic and was a keen farmer, an ac­com­plished busi­ness­man, a de­voted hus­band, a com­pas­sion­ate free­dom fighter, a dili­gent friend, a car­ing hu­man be­ing and a soft-spo­ken men­tor. Go well, son of Afrika. Izwe Lethu. –

Thami ka Plaatjie

PHILIP ATA KGOSANA

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