Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe, Helen Suzman, FW de Klerk, Imam Abdullah Haron, Jakes Gerwel and my close friend, the banned, brave Reverend Theo Kotze. They helped our nascent nationhood in their different ways, and it is always a real pleasure to drive on such renamed roads – as it is to rustle our banknotes with Madiba half-smiling up at us.
I have even managed, on my road travels, to overcome a long political reserve about De Klerk, who, after all, bravely pulled the freedom trigger in 1990. He alone survives of those listed above.
Renaming De Waal Drive – named after the first administrator of the Cape – is arguably unfinished business. However worthy he might have been, that name has reached its expiry date. Something apt can be found to remember the early administrator, who at least persisted in having Chapman’s Peak Drive built in spite of the many sceptics.
Put simply, De Waal Drive was owned by Philip Kgosana and his horde of supporters for a courageous day. They resolutely marched on Cape Town to demand elementary justice. The Cape Times black Chev, with a photographer and myself in it, accompanied him in the lead all the way. It was one of the biggest stories I covered in my life.
He could have used the occasion, as he confided to me at dinner just over a year ago, to say to the 30 000: “Kill the wizards.” He had no such intention; nor did they. And it would have been a gain, not a loss for his cause, and for so many lives. Our history has been luckier than that of some nations, and we hope it stays that way.
Remarkably, Kgosana secured the promise of a meeting with then minister of justice Frans Erasmus – only if he got the crowd to disperse and then returned later in the day with a small group of supporters. He did this, with a lone police van solemnly preceding the crowd on the way home to Langa.
Kgosana then returned to Caledon Square, no doubt expecting an unusual parley for South Africa, but this did not take place. The group was simply arrested.
The treachery coincided with the proclamation of a state of emergency, and the country endured an unfolding generation of suspicion, guerrilla warfare and bloodshed before the mid-1990s, when that darkness finally ended.
Enter the good cop who nearly did the deal, but was betrayed.
Colonel IPS Terblanche was in charge of the Caledon Square police that fateful day. He parleyed with Philip and promised that, if the crowd dispersed, there would be a meeting with Erasmus. Something unknown, he had already defied the minister, who had ordered him to shoot. Instead, I am told by his proud family, he fell to his knees inside Caledon Square and prayed. He sought peace.
Terblanche, a seasoned policeman who had seen strife, strictly forbade his forces from leaving the inside of the police HQ. He walked out, unarmed, with a few senior colleagues and spoke to Kgosana “as one gentleman to another”.
I was within metres and heard this, and also heard him give the critical assurance, which was then relayed to the crowd by Philip over the police megaphone.
Later, while the government was trying to wriggle and deny the assurance – which it turned into a “request” – when challenged in Parliament by sharp-witted Harry Lawrence, a Progressive MP, fellow journalist Peter Younghusband and I were jolted into action. We made a statement to the effect that the assurance was given, and in due course handed this in to the Diemont commission of inquiry into the Langa events of that period.
As if to show guilt, the government had hastily arranged, soon after the arrests, for the secretary of justice to “interview” the incarcerated Kgosana in the police cells, which was a meaningless joke.
This is an object lesson for any politician daring to treat the public and media as dolts.
The fundamental importance of this tale is that it speaks to the current need for peaceful, disciplined protest and for negotiation, with one’s word kept on both sides. These are causes that both Kgosana and Terblanche upheld, and the Hendrik Verwoerd government betrayed.
I am convinced that the actions of these two men, as suggested in my commission statement and in my book The Cape of Storms, “avoided bloodshed that day”.
Renaming De Waal Drive after Kgosana would be a visible public act and underline the serendipities and ironies of history as so many people, from presidents to peasants, pass there on the way to the city and back daily.
Such renaming is not remotely a party political act, which I hope the minority parties will appreciate in the City Council. It is the recognition of incredibly prescient courage and forbearance, of such value to our future now. Any who may struggle to pronounce “Kgosana” will soon get used to it.
While we are about it, it would be appropriate to rename Caledon Square after the decent cop, Terry Terblanche, who was denied promotion for years for disregarding unjust ministerial orders.
Having been a witness, I deeply admire both these South Africans, now gone. I hope the broad community will share this, at least at a human level, and actively support the Council initiative*.
This can help us as a nation while we edge our way – as we can all hope in our hearts – to happier, socially just success in our sometimes still challenged country.
The march was, said Joseph Lelyveld of the New York Times, the hour when “the Bastille might have been stormed in South Africa and wasn’t”.
Whatever the Council decides, two brave men stand in our history as beacons to what we were and what we could yet be.
HISTORIC Police on De Waal Drive in Cape Town ride along the route taken by Philip Kgosana and 30 000 marching protesters to Caledon Square