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Like a pocket Moses, Philip Kgosana was hoisted on his friends’ shoul­ders. He held a po­lice mega­phone and called for quiet. He had an im­por­tant mes­sage. He wore a bor­rowed jacket, short pants and no socks. He was so very young at 23. He was bare­headed in the hot sum­mer sun. He was head­ing for his­tory.

Most of the 30 000 protesters who milled loudly around him in the central city were much older, and wore hats. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand.

He pre­pared to speak to them. He first told them to “be as quiet as the grave­yard”. They obeyed. This was des­tiny in ac­tion.

The scene took place out­side Cale­don Square po­lice head­quar­ters in Cape Town on March 30 1960.

As a re­porter a shade younger than Philip, I was as­sid­u­ously look­ing for a place to hide be­fore the Sten gun shoot­ing inevitably started.

Lines of young and armed white po­lice of­fi­cers stood in­side Cale­don Square head­quar­ters.

I peered through a gap be­tween the two mas­sive, bolted wooden doors and saw them, ner­vous, wait­ing for or­ders to come out and fire. Troops were pour­ing into the city.

Par­lia­ment, sit­u­ated right around the cor­ner, was tense. I had seen white-faced, mainly Pro­gres­sive Party MPs, who had mer­ci­fully bro­ken from the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion United Party in 1959, peer­ing through the rail­ings, and ar­moured Sara­cen vehicles at the ready.

The lib­eral-in­clined MPs were look­ing into the jaws of ev­ery­thing they feared most and warned against: mass re­volt against in­jus­tice. Gov­ern­ment MPs were mainly bat­tened down in their of­fices. A drunk caused a diver­sion by climb­ing onto a Sara­cen and slith­er­ing off.

Philip – who died on April 19 at the age of 80, af­ter a short ill­ness, and who will be re­mem­bered in our his­tory for gen­er­a­tions – spoke wis­dom to all South Africans that day. The city was at a stand­still, with chil­dren taken out of schools, shops closed and tele­phone switch­boards jammed.

Philip had marched along De Waal Drive, with an­other massed column tak­ing Main Road be­low, into the city – where Par­lia­ment sat, and still does.

The House was then all white and the laws metic­u­lously re­pres­sive. To­day the place is non­ra­cial and is en­joined to re­spect democ­racy.

Philip had been an im­pov­er­ished com­merce stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cape Town. He was there on a bur­sary, and had come to Cape Town from the north. He was also not well-versed in isiXhosa.

An un­known, his lengthy pre-march in­ter­view with Ger­ald Shaw in the Cape Ar­gus that af­ter­noon had been cut down by sube­d­i­tors to a tiny, sin­gle-column item: “Peace is Aim, Na­tive says”.

For Philip, the struggle over passes and op­pres­sion came first. He had been cat­a­pulted from his stud­ies early in the year to be­come the full-time Cape re­gional sec­re­tary of the Pan African­ist Congress.

His re­gional chair­per­son had al­ready been in­car­cer­ated af­ter the bloody con­vul­sions of Sharpeville and Langa shook South Africa and the world on March 21 that year. His na­tional leader, Robert Sobukwe, had been im­pris­oned with many oth­ers.

Philip was on his own as a leader as he took his fol­low­ers out of the bondage of Langa and neigh­bour­ing black spots to meet with un­invit­ing power.

He knew Sobukwe in­sisted that demonstrators should es­chew vi­o­lence.

He also knew what had hap­pened at Sharpeville: 69 peace­ful protesters killed by tum­bling (“dum-dum” like) po­lice bul­lets, many in the back.

Things could go any way. It was nine days af­ter that black­est day in our his­tory, and protesters were now al­most at the very gates of Par­lia­ment.

Af­ter some thought, Philip de­cided to avoid march­ing to the cock­pit of white power. He chose Cale­don Square – luck­ily for Cape Town and all in the city that day.

His emergency as­sump­tion of duty as re­gional sec­re­tary set the course of Philip’s long life.

It would mean prison, skip­ping his bail and the coun­try, ex­ile, study abroad, helping child refugees in many parts of the world (which rings bells to­day), and earn­ing plau­dits from the UN for ded­i­cated work.

It meant ul­ti­mate re­turn to his home­land af­ter Nel­son Man­dela’s re­lease, then some political and valu­able com­mu­nity work. He died in April, al­most ex­actly a year af­ter I met him face to face for the sec­ond time in our lives. In March last year, we em­braced each other as we shared mem­o­ries of those un­be­liev­able days.

Why is this story sig­nif­i­cant – not only for the Cape, but for all of us South Africans?

It is im­por­tant partly for what did not hap­pen. The leg­isla­tive cap­i­tal city was not burnt to the ground, with bul­lets fly­ing and blood in the streets, with in­cal­cu­la­ble con­se­quences for hu­man life – and, in­deed, with the grimmest tid­ings for the al­ready ter­ri­bly pes­simistic prospects of peace for South Africa.

So it is time now to re­mem­ber Philip Kgosana in a highly vis­i­ble way, and I have for­mally pro­posed a way for­ward which, shorn of party wran­gles, all can share in with equal en­thu­si­asm.

The City of Cape Town has ac­tively be­fore it the sug­ges­tion that De Waal Drive should be re­named Philip Kgosana Drive, in the same way that, in com­mon with other parts of the coun­try, Cape roads – from boule­vards to tiny lanes – bear the names of peo­ple such as Nel­son

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