Writing this book was motivated by numerous defining moments in the life and history of the Masilela family, as I observed them through the eyes of a young boy growing in an environment full of tumult. The urge to write has gone through peaks and troughs – with the final peak coming in December 2004.
I had harboured this thought for a long time. To the best of my recollection, the first time the idea crossed my mind was during my student days, at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), following the signing of the Nkomati Accord in March 1984. The signing followed the assassination in Mamelodi of my brother-in-law by the South African security forces. His story is discussed in detail in chapters 21 and 23. In the period immediately before his death he had been classified as one of the most wanted terrorists in Swaziland. The idea of writing would come back when uNelson Mandela.
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- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
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Origins and Life at Number 43 Trelawney Park
Number 43, Trelawney Park has been our home over the past forty years, from the time uButhongo arrived in Swaziland in 1965. Many people have argued that the house qualifies for a place in the annals of South Africa’s liberation history. Aware of the temptation of self-praise, I have been reluctant to accept this idea, let alone internalise it. Over time, however, I have grown to agree with it, and to develop a deep appreciation of my family’s history. Whether this view will gain general acceptance is difficult to determine. Perhaps it would be best simply to tell the story of Number 43 and leave the reader to judge.
Number 43 started from humble beginnings, both of structure and intent. Like any other home, it was developed for the purpose of raising a family, of strengthening family bonds, of offering decent education for the children and a healthy lifestyle. That at least, is what its architects, my parents uButhongo and uMagogo, had in mind.
At the heart of the Masilela family, and of the liberation struggle as it was waged from Swaziland, as well as my own personal success, is a humble woman, greatly deserving of recognition, who herself would never acknowledge this view. She was born Rebecca Makgomo Kekana, but later in life came to be known simply as uMagogo, a title bestowed on her to show respect and admiration for the position she held among South Africans in exile. Even her children ended up calling her uMagogo, instead of uMama. Interestingly, even people of her own age would come to call her uMagogo.
UMagogo is my mother, but because of her abundant love and care for people in general, many friends and comrades have seen her as their mother as well. As a direct consequence of that, I have always viewed her as a shared asset. I write about her here not as my mother, but as this unifying character for many who sought the security of a family in exile.
I cannot think of anyone who has gone through the Masilela homestead and has left without a feeling of warm appreciation and admiration for the old lady. She has been a pillar not only for the family but also for the comrades and other activists who were based in Swaziland or transiting, in particular during the period of the 1970s through to the 1990s.
My father, Solomon Buthongo Masilela, has a family history as interesting and challenging as that of uMagogo. The only difference is that he does not boast the heritage of royalty that uMagogo enjoys. The name Buthongo means ‘sleep’ in isiZulu, which is a contradiction to the man’s character, because he never sleeps. We have always wondered how he ended up with the name.
According to uButhongo, he was born on 5 August 1924, in Ngobi, Middelburg, to Moraka Daniel Masilela and Sarah naMngwane. He was one of a family of eleven – uElias, uAlfred, uJoana, uNamdlangu, uBetty, uButhongo, uPhillip, uWilhemina, uJoel and uJonas, the latter two being twins. One child, Losaniya, was lost early after birth to an unknown illness.
Interestingly, his identity document gives a different date of birth. It shows that he was born on 5 August 1925. It is not clear whether this was an error at the time of registration or a result of the generally observed arrogance of government officials of the time. This tendency resulted in many people assuming incorrect personal details, which they had to live with for the rest of their lives.
UButhongo and uMakgomo were blessed with nine children: uSwazi (1949), uTodd (1951), uThandi (1953), uGrace (1956), uGranny (1957), uLucky (1958), uJoana (1962), uElias (1964) and uAngel (1966). At the time of writing, there were 27 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
As children born into this family, we never really had the luxury of making a conscious choice as to whether or not we entered politics. It came as a given. From an early age, we found ourselves deeply immersed in it. I have often asked myself the question, “Would I have ever entered politics and would I have been actively involved had I been born into a different family?” This is clearly a difficult question to answer.
We, however, had the option of making the decision whether to align ourselves with the ANC or the PAC. At that time, those were the only two credible choices. Indeed, in Swaziland they were the only available choices, since the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) never really had any notable form of representation in that country.
Owing to the default alignment of our parents with the ANC and its prominence both inside and outside South Africa, most of us ended up in the ANC. A factor in this may have been the sheer organisational superiority and recruitment drive of the ANC compared to the PAC. This notwithstanding, uLucky and uGrace went a separate route and joined the PAC. However, uGrace, whose political alignment was never obvious to me while she was in Swaziland, would later switch to the ANC.
Swazi Wilhelmina Masilela
The eldest in the family is uSwazi. She is an important figure for us, as she has become the pillar for those of us who have resettled in South Africa. She has assumed the role of uMagogo.
Our paternal grandmother, maMajampela, in Hammanskraal, raised her. Later, she went to live with Magogo’s elder sister, uAnnah Moeketsi, whom we called Mmamogolo Annah, further simplified in day-to-day speech to ‘Gol’ Annah’. They lived in Lady Selbourne, from which they were forcibly removed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to be resettled in Vlakfontein, now Mamelodi, a location that later became important for its resistance against apartheid. Some people were moved to Atteridgeville and Saulsville, while others were dumped in Winterveld and Garankuwa. Lady Selbourne gave way to a white suburb called Suiderberg.
Her house, 7381 Mamelodi, became our second home. Whenever we visited South Africa, during the years when this was possible, that is where we would go. Unfortunately, the house became a source of dissension among the Kekana family on the death of uGol’ Annah in July 1994. UMagogo, as Gol’ Annah’s only surviving sibling, found herself at the centre of a fierce family feud that involved cousins and grandchildren – one that destroyed the strong bond we had all treasured as a family. When all this was happening, uSwazi was staying in the house, but as a result of the feud was forced to leave, moving to Nellmapius, where she still lives today. Much against the will of uMagogo, the house was sold off, ending a very painful chapter.
The House of Todd
Busisiwe Glory Masilela
Together with uGrace, uTodd was one of the most active members of the family. He worked closely with people such as uGebhuza, uSeptember, uSatane, uJabu Omude, uPaul Dikeledi and many other prominent members of the ANC operating from Swaziland. He is cited directly and indirectly in a number of places in the TRC documentation.
In particular, he is cited in the confessions made in connection with the assassination of uViva. I would have liked to present his story, but am simply unable to do so, given that we worked at different levels and deliberately avoided common operations. I have, therefore, left this account principally to my sister-in-law, uBusisiwe, whom we familiarily refer to as uSis’ Busi. This is how she recalls the life of uTodd.
“Throughout his life, Todd’s house was open to all kinds of people, regardless of who they were or where they came from. Despite the fact that his house was supposed to be a place to raise his family, he strongly believed that he should share whatever he had with those who were less privileged and who happened to visit his house, without asking for anything in return.
“However, those who were welcomed in the household would sometimes spread the word around and soon the house would be full of strangers. I sometimes feel that his interest in newcomers was enhanced by the fact that he was a teacher whose natural instinct was to work with people. Coupled with his flair for reading, his love of music, and of course his bottle, this allowed him to connect easily with a wide range of people from all walks of life. He thrived on good conversation, initiating robust discussions that often led to fruitful developments. His interest in bringing people together earned him many friends from far and wide.
The Prodigal Daughter
Thandi Elizabeth Masilela
UThandi was always a ‘prodigal-type’ child. During her high school days, she was known as ‘Fanta’ among her friends, because of her exceptionally bright complexion and bubbly character. However, the latter trait seems only to have been displayed to non-members of the family. At home, she was seen as ‘itshobolo’, meaning ‘a mean woman’.
Among all the siblings, uThandi spent the least time at home with the rest of the family. To this day, she prefers to live an isolated life – at least, isolated from the family. It is ironic, therefore, that outside of the family she is seen as ‘a people’s person’.
Destined to be a Freedom Fighter
Grace Khabakazi Masilela
No one in the family knows the details of the activities in which uGrace was involved outside Swaziland. Even after she returned, her work was strictly clandestine. She was the only member of the family trained in military combat. She worked in Gebhuza’s machinery and had a friend and confidante in uSindiswa Olive Mthembu, who later became part of the Number 43 family. She was known to us simply as uSindi, but was later given the nickname ‘Syndicate’ by uMagogo.
This happened when she was first introduced to Number 43 by uCassius and uKelly. UMagogo, in her usual jovial spirits, on hearing the name Sindi, burst out with “Dumela, Syndicate!” (Greetings, Syndicate!) The name stuck.
Ideologically Different, Yet the Same
Lucky Lucas Masilela
In every family there is a special child. ULucky seems to hold that position in the Masilela family, owing to the circumstances around his birth. This has been much talked about in the family, for four reasons.
Firstly, he was born on Christmas Day, which coincides with our family day. Secondly, the birth took place at home, contrary to a long family tradition started by our maternal grandfather, who insisted that the first birth take place in a hospital environment. Thirdly, when he emerged, he was covered by the caul (called ‘i-veil’ by Africans). This was seen as a good omen, hence the name Lucky. And fourthly, uMagogo was struck by lightning while carrying him. Both survived unscathed.
Life with a Freedom Fighter
Joana Namdlangu Masilela
Our relationships with ANC operatives varied widely, depending on circumstances. Some of these were defined by social rather than political factors. UJoana was one of the family members who extended these boundaries when she was courted by uNkosinathi Maseko. Her relationship with him would later completely redefine the way Swazi officials perceived the family.
The Masilela family drew in people from all walks of life. Among them were operatives of MK. Many saw the latter as comrades, but to me they were much more than that – they were brothers and sisters.
I had a complex yet fascinating relationship with many of these people. The brotherhood grew from a need to engender a deep level of trust and dependency. As a consequence, we kept close, but were also very cautious with one another. The relationship was made complex by the fact that, while we had to trust and be dependent on each other, there was an asymmetry in the sharing of information.
The operatives had to know everything about me, but I could only have limited knowledge of them. The only data I was given about an operative was his or her name or alias and, where relevant, the name of the operation.
This inherent asymmetry was there for strategic reasons. It was important to preserve the security of operatives. I had to know very little, so that should I be caught and tortured I would be unable to reveal identities and other sensitive information. I would later appreciate this deliberate ignorance, after the kidnap and subsequent desertion of uGlory September (discussed in Chapter 16).
John Kgoana Nkadimeng
Among the senior members of the ANC based in Swaziland in the period from 1976 to 1982 was John Kgoana Nkadimeng, known to those close to him simply as Ntate Nkadimeng. ‘Ntate’ is seSotho for father, but is also used as a mark of respect for any elderly male fi gure. To me, the title ‘Ntate’ was not simply a fi gure of speech. John Nkadimeng was a true father fi gure during those times of hardship.
When I made the proposal to interview him, to my surprise and delight he jumped at the idea. He was one of the few I approached who made themselves immediately available.
Ntate Nkadimeng is an old hand in the ANC. He first served the ANC under the leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli. Following the 1953 elections in Queenstown, he was co-opted onto the National Executive Committee (NEC). Together with Advocate Duma Nokwe, he became one its youngest members. He continued as a member of the NEC from 1976 to 1980, only this time in exile.
A Lifetime Commander
Siphiwe Gebhuza Nyanda
Siphiwe ‘Gebhuza’ Nyanda is described in many accounts as the ANC’s most successful regional military commander. The name Gebhuza was bestowed on him by uMoses Mabhida. Even today, those who worked with him in exile know him simply as uGebhuza. The name Siphiwe has a more official ring to it. He had a number of other aliases in Swaziland, such as ‘Kgole Tebogo’ and ‘Zakhele’. On several occasions, especially during the 1980s, he topped the list of wanted people in Swaziland.
He headed the Transvaal urban machinery from 1977, based mainly in Swaziland. He trained in the German Democratic Republic in advanced military tactics, and was a close confidant and partner of people like Mac Maharaj and Ronnie Kasrils. He came to prominence in the world outside the ranks of the ANC when Operation Vula became public, to the deep embarrassment and annoyance of the South African government. For me, his most outstanding achievement was commanding the G5 Operation. This operation reignited the firepower of the MK after years of inaction, largely by carrying out attacks on police stations.
Every Step of Growth was Fully Earned
Like uGebhuza, uJabu Shoke found himself constrained in the amount of detail he could provide for this book. This was partly because of his position in the South African National Defence Force, but also because of a task he had been entrusted with relating to ANC activities in Swaziland. At the time of the interview, he was the Chief of the army. He achieved this position after rising steadily through the ranks of the ANC. He prides himself in having been well grounded in military and political discipline, but notes that he was never among those high flyers of the movement who shot to glory in a short space of time. As he says, “Every step of my growth was fully earned.”
Those close to him knew him as J-Cabs. To the Masilela family, he was uJabu Omude, meaning ‘tall Jabu’. Like many other activists, he joined the ANC at the height of the student uprisings in 1976. In September of that year he joined MK and underwent military training in Angola. Following this, he was posted back to South Africa, working on missions run from Swaziland and Mozambique.
Young at Heart
Welile ‘Satane’ Nhlapo
The ANC circle has proven to be an extremely wide one. This is reflected in the frequency with which one stumbles into comrades, sometimes in the least likely of places. My relationship with uWelile Nhlapo, known to others and us close to him in Swaziland as ‘uSatane’, extended beyond the borders of Swaziland and as far afield as Addis Ababa. In 1995, when I was studying at the Addis Ababa University (AAU), uSatane was posted as South Africa’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, the OAU and the Horn of Africa region.
My relationship with uSatane was a close one. He almost doubled as a replacement brother to me, given his closeness to uTodd. Like everybody else, he was fond of uMagogo, but with a slight touch of sensitivity. His role in Swaziland was that of a political commissar and intellectual. At the time I interviewed him, he was the President’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes. This is a responsibility he carried over from his ambassadorial days in Addis Ababa. This is how he opened the discussion for this chapter.
Trail of Terror by a Trusted Commander
Glory ‘September’ Sedibe
It was a warm Saturday night on 9 August 1986. I had just started working at the Central Bank of Swaziland, having joined in July. That evening, as was the tradition, we sat in the kitchen at Number 43 with a handful of my former university friends who had an interest in politics, both regional and South African, as well as ANC politics.
We sat up till the early hours of the next morning, philosophising about the progress of the struggle. This included the role of the neighbouring states, in particular of Swaziland, which at that time was perceived by many university students to have sold out, after the secret pact with South Africa signed four years earlier. The impact of Askaris on the liberation struggle was also analysed, uncharacteristically in detail – as if we were having a premonition. There was general consensus about the ultimate success of the struggle and the ineffectiveness of the death squads in halting the momentum towards freedom in South Africa.
Among those who took part in this discussion were uBheki Zwane (a son of Dr Ambrose Zwane) and uBhadala Mamba, a very close friend with whom I had spent my entire school life, shared the same course at the university and later worked for the same employer. Leading the debate was none other than uGlory Lephosa Sedibe, also known as ‘September’. To my family and those close to him he was called ‘S’bata’, a name uMagogo was passionate about. Also in the discussion was uHumphrey Mkhwanazi, now better known as Xolani, who would later be arrested with uSeptember.
Confidant and Friend
Xolani Humphrey Mkhwanazi
Xolani Humphrey Mkhwanazi’s political career began early in his school life. His relationship with Number 43 also dates back to the late 1960s. He would later be linked to one of the most infamous kidnappings and would assist in decoding one of the key puzzles in the history of the ANC in Swaziland. He was close to uSeptember and worked with him, up till the point when he disappeared.
Theophilus Sidima ‘Viva’ Dlodlo
The death of uViva was one of three assassinations that followed the kidnapping of uSeptember. UViva died together with uMusa and uTutu Nkwanyana, a close friend of mine, with whom I attended Salesian High School and later the University of Swaziland. They were killed in Mbabane, virtually on Todd’s doorstep.
The effect of Viva’s loss was both personal and political. He was a warm, sociable and cultivated personality. According to his wife, Felicia Azande Ntshangase, he adored choral music, the Manzini Choir being his favourite. This is a side of him I did not know. More than being surprised about the information I was fascinated, given that I loved the same choir, and uSwazi was one of its leading choristers.
Many people have fond memories of uViva, not to mention uSis’ Busi whom I found to have the fondest memories: “To know uViva was indeed a privilege. He had such a smooth character, one that caused most people to be drawn towards him. He was soft-spoken, articulate, tactful and very intelligent.
An Amazing Escape from Death
Candy Sue Mhlahlo
Few people go through the experience of looking death in the eye, and then walking away from it almost unscathed. This is the story of Candy Sue Mhlahlo, one of the three survivors in the assassination of uViva.
Personally, uCandy had nothing to do with the movement unfolding in Swaziland. She was an innocent victim of a hostile onslaught on the ANC, caught in the crossfire. My interview with her was quite revealing, providing for the first time details of how the ambush actually took place, as well as the last words of those who perished.
Last Encounter with September
Mamabolo ‘Philipos’ Nwedamutswu
When I came to interview uPhilipos, I had to drive to Tohoyandou in Limpopo. Despite the tiring journey in the middle of summer, I especially enjoyed seeing his parental home, meeting his mother and siblings, as well as relaxing in a scenic rural setting, with the backdrop of a towering mountain, as if embracing the Nwedamutswu homestead.
This visit fulfilled one of my many wishes, that of knowing more about the people I had lived and worked with in exile, as well as their families. In this case, there was an added bonus. Not only did I meet the family but I met their in-laws. My visit coincided with the Nwedamutswu family receiving their in-laws from Nigeria, in traditional Venda style.
Father to a Freedom Fighter
Dokotela Moses Maseko
The liberation struggle has brought the Masilela family not only many friends but also a substantial number of relatives. Among the latter is the Maseko family in Mamelodi, Pretoria, whom we did not know until late in our lives. Indeed, too late: it took the death of my brother-inlaw, uNkosinathi, to bring the two families together. It is a relationship that we cherish and one that has a great deal of meaning for both sides.
It took the initiative of Moses Maseko, known to us as uBab’ Maseko, to bring our families together. After one of the most painful experiences a parent can go through, he decided to take the long and risky journey from Mamelodi to Swaziland, to introduce himself to the Masilela family. This followed the precarious condition and ultimate death of his son, uNkosinathi, who had left home five years before to become an ANC freedom fighter.
A Wife’s Deep Scars
Just like me, many people have questions about events during the days of struggle, why they happened and how they happened. One of these is uAnnah Maseko, the surviving wife of uEzekiel Mloywa Bakayi Maseko, one of those killed at the scene of the Pretoria Church Street bomb blast. UAnnah has always wondered what happened to her husband, when and how he became involved with the struggle and
with whom he was involved. When I approached her about this book, she was quite appreciative and ready to give an interview, as she hoped that her unnerving questions would finally be answered. This is what she had been longing for ever since that fateful day, which changed her life and that of her family forever.
She knew she would never be settled in her mind until she found out what had really happened. All she remembered being told about her husband’s death was that he died not of the blast but of a bullet wound. She was shown photos of uEzekiel just before he was taken to hospital in an ambulance. She had also been told that he had died calling for his wife and children.
Whilst it was clear to me that I could not provide answers to her questions, I did motivate that at least part of the story should be documented, for her children and her grandchildren to learn and cherish what happened to their father and grandfather. She was comforted by knowing that we were together in the cause of searching for the truth.
An Armed Robbery that Went Badly Wrong
Dumisa Edgar Dlamini
Dumisa Dlamini is an old friend and schoolmate of mine. His role in this book is a critical one, not only for me but for the entire family.
He was one of the last people to spend time with uNkosinathi and the only one in whom he confided. Their association came to an end rather sourly, however, when he was given a death sentence for a double murder and nine years for armed robbery. The sentence was subsequently commuted to twenty years in prison. When it was first passed, however, I did not think I would ever see him again.
Survival by Mistaken Identity
Cassius Phahle Motsoaledi
Also known to us as ‘MaCash Cash’, uCassius Phahle Motsoaledi is one of the few people who worked in Swaziland in the underground but returned later to work legally. He held office as First Secretary, Political, in the South African High Commission to Swaziland from 2002 until July 2004. In both these periods in Swaziland, he was very close to Number 43. He would later preside over the preparations that led to the hosting of the ANC cleansing ceremony in Swaziland.
This event is discussed in the last chapter, as the closure of the work of the ANC in exile, as carried out from Swaziland. Born into an ANC family, he joined the fighting ranks of the ANC at a tender age. He is one of six sons of uElias Motsoaledi, one of the Rivonia trialists, who died in 1994, on the same day uMa diba was inaugurated.
Lion of the Great North
David Malada (Peter Dambuza)
Known to us as Peter Dambuza, David Malada first came into contact with Number 43 in 1980. He hails from Venda in the northern part of South Africa. Peter was one of those I met, but with whom I never spent sufficient time to know and understand well. I only came to understand him better during the writing of this book, drawing on his vast experience and leadership role in the Transvaal rural machinery.
During his stay in Swaziland, he spent more time with uMagogo. Because of his quiet demeanour and towering height she named him ‘Thutlwa’, which is ‘giraffe’ in seSotho.
While he did not spend a long time in Swaziland, he nevertheless left an indelible track record. He hit the headlines in the Swazi press on many occasions. On 29 December 1984, the Weekend Observer carried a picture of him on the front page, with the caption, ‘WANTED’. On the third page of this issue he was paraded with other comrades. Strangely, I could not find this page anywhere in Swaziland during
my research. I dug through the UNISWA Swaziana section, the Swaziland National Archives, the Times of Swaziland, and the Swazi Observer itself, with no success. Ironically, the National Archives has a copy of the issue, but with the third page neatly torn out. The officials were taken aback when I pointed this out to them. They had never noticed that the page was missing, prior to that day. The family possesses an old battered version that we kept in the Masilela specialised archive – Magogo’s wardrobe.
Rejected by Father, Adopted by Masilela Family
Madoda ‘Linda’ Motha
ULinda is one of those people who had an exceptionally close relationship with the Masilelas from very early in his life, to the extent that he became part of the family. Until he left Swaziland, he maintained this closeness, albeit with due respect for security precautions.
Loneliness in the ANC . . . and in Death
Kopi Ben Baartman
The life stories of those who operated in Swaziland are widely varied. Quite a few of them are not so pleasant. They include the story of Ntate Baartman, told through his daughter and son-in-law, uMary and uHarry Nxumalo. These are close family friends. My relationship with uHarry began as a professional one. I first met him in the early 1990s when we established the Swaziland Staff Association for Financial Institutions (SSAFI), a union for senior managers in the financial sector. I had no clue then as to who he was, and it was only later in our relationship that I discovered his background.
Ntate Baartman passed on in July 2002, before he could tell his own story. What follows is an infusion of memories and recollections from uMary and uHarry. In particular, I was fascinated by Harry’s depth of knowledge about his father-in-law.
The story of the Baartman family is one of those that uncover a concealed unhappiness and bitterness towards the ANC. The family feels that the ANC deserted them at a time when they needed it most – when Ntate Baartman passed on. According to uMary, not one of those they had always considered close friends and confidants of Ntate Baartman offered their condolences, let alone came to the funeral. Instead it was the PAC leadership, in particular uJoe Mkhwanazi, who worried about him. “He was lonely in his death,” was how uMary described it. It was a repeat of his life of isolation, before he went into exile.
The year 1981 was a major turning point in my life. My academic future hung in the balance. This was because of an arrest that coincided with my Form V ‘O’ Level examinations. I faced an abyss, only to be saved by Fr Larry McDonnell, who went out of his way to ensure that I wrote the exams despite being virtually behind bars.
Fr McDonnell was headmaster of Salesian Boys’ High School, one of the finest schools in Swaziland. The pupils and students affectionately called him ‘iNyoni’, which means ‘bird’ in isiZulu and siSwati. The name derived from the position of his office, which was on the upper floor of the building. From there, he would conduct assembly, looking down over the students and the rest of staff on the ground floor. A multi-storey building was still a fascinating novelty in those days in Swaziland. Salesian and the Swaziland Warehouse, which is now Builders Warehouse, were among the first such buildings in Manzini.
The year in question was a trying time for me, not only because of the arrest but also because of its further implications for my life. I had been arrested several times before, and was to be again, but this instance was uniquely challenging.
Golden Age of Salesian
Frs Larry McDonnell and Patrick Ahern
The perspective of the South African liberation struggle as seen through the eyes of the Salesian priests, in a school where many South Africans either worked as teachers or attended as pupils, is a humbling one. During one of my visits to Swaziland to interview people, I took time to have a discussion with Fr Larry McDonnell. I was very pleased when, with very little persuasion, Fr Patrick Ahern joined us. They displayed the same abundance of care and sensitivity as they had during our days as students.
When asked about his view of the events in the school during his days as headmaster, Fr McDonnell responded in a startling manner: “My reaction was that of deep ignorance about the things that happened, not only around me but right under my nose. Where these things really came to challenge me was at the funeral of an old colleague and friend, Stan Mabizela. When his obituary was read, I could not resist the temptation of asking myself questions about this person with whom I had worked so closely, yet knew very little about. It amazed me how he was never late for class, yet he would have been out all night, for nights on end, carrying out all sorts of clandestine activities. I feel I was stupidly innocent. History just passed us by.”
Apex of Sacrifice for the Movement
Victor ‘Mtolo’ Fakudze
It was certainly not South Africans alone who waged the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. In contrast to the political stance of the Swazi authorities across three decades, many Swazis participated. Not only did they provide moral support as sympathisers but some went as far as laying down their lives for the cause.
The cross-border raids launched by the South African security forces into Swaziland resulted in many Swazis being maimed physically and psychologically, abducted and killed. One abduction that caused a major diplomatic scare was that of four people on 12 December 1986. These were two Swazi nationals, Grace Cele and Danger Nyoni, as well as two Swiss nationals, Dr Daniel Schneider and Corinne Boschoff. Two people were killed during this raid.