The Start


The Main House

Mango Tree

The Sentry

The Kitchen

The Heart

The Bedroom

The Arsenal

The Passage

The Nerve Center

Historical Facts


Number 43, Trelawney Park has been home for the Masilela family, for over 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, the family has been reluctant to accept this idea, let alone internalise it. Over time, however, they have developed a deep appreciation of their history.

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, uButhongo and uMagogo, had in mind.

When uButhongo arrived at Number 43 in 1965 he did not have enough money to construct a permanent house. Instead, he could only afford to build a makeshift structure out of corrugated iron that had been used and reused many times. As a result, the walls and roof had many gaping holes reflecting old scars left by nails over years of repeated use. One could stand outside the house, peep through these openings and literally see everything inside the house. Because of the porous nature of the building, it was quite common to find a snake or two in the house, and uTodd, one of the children, developed the habit of catching them.

While makeshift, the new house at Number 43 was fairly large, with decent partitions, allowing uButhongo and uMagogo the privacy of a bedroom, plus a kitchen and a spacious sitting area. By night, the nine children used the kitchen and sitting area as bedrooms. In summer, the house offered all the warmth required by any family. However, in winter it would be bitterly cold, with temperatures periodically around zero, and the family would cluster around a Welcome Dover coal stove for warmth.

A certain Solly Mahlangu, who became a close family friend and later a benefactor, was hired to assist in transporting the family belongings to Swaziland. On the morning after their arrival, they went to Peter Forbes also known as Mabhodweni by locals, hoping to be shown the plot that uButhongo had paid for two years earlier, only to discover that the subdivisions had not been done. Forbes suggested they move temporarily into a huge, decrepit Dutch farmhouse, which had not been occupied for many years and could well have been a hideout for criminals.

This turn of events left uButhongo in shock and disgust. The ‘great trek’ in search of a better life had instead landed them in misery. He was confused as to what to do with his belongings and the children. He felt as if he were in the ‘Gramadoelas’, an Afrikaans word for ‘in the middle of nowhere’. USolly saved the day by offering uButhongo temporary refuge on his property at Number 43, Trelawney Park, which was not far from Ngwane Park, but much closer to the centre of Manzini. This gesture was warmly welcomed. On their arrival at Number 43, which was still bush, they set about clearing the place and erected a makeshift structure to see them through the first few months. This structure ended up being the family’s principal dwelling for the next five years.  It served them well, providing the warmth they needed. This was in spite of the gaping holes, which allowed the vagaries of the weather to be felt at the slightest change.

Usolly, the original owner of Number 43, disappeared for about five years. On his return he found uButhongo having built the main house, at which point said “You have worked very hard on the property, you have paid off my debt . . . it is now yours, just keep it.”  A true stroke of good fortune. That is how the property ended up in the hands of the Masilela family

The construction of the main house called for hard labour on the part of every member of the family, young and old. Weekends and early mornings, before the children set off for school, were dedicated to construction. The allocation of tasks was strictly regimented, and productivity was extremely high. No labour was employed from outside the family – simply because uButhongo could not afford it. All the blocks used for the construction were made on site. They were solid blocks that took a lot of packing space, which meant clearing and levelling the entire yard by hand, shovel by shovel. By the end of the project, uButhongo did not owe a cent to a bank or anybody else, since the construction was funded directly from his own pocket. It still surprising how he afforded all this on the meagre salary he earned as a bricklayer.

It took slightly more than five years to build the house. In its final form it comprised four bedrooms, a lounge, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and toilet. We moved from the makeshift to the permanent structure in 1972. When occupied for the first time, the house had no electricity, no cupboards, no tiles or carpets (these were a luxury) and no ceiling. Nevertheless, it was quite habitable for a modest family and a significant improvement from the makeshift structure – worthy of celebration.

To this day, the house has never been altered from its original design. The paint configuration on the outside has been kept the same – cream walls and light green window frames, doorframes and fascia boards. The only major change was the fitting of burglar bars in 2000, after the family was held up at gunpoint. That was the first burglary in 35 years. It shook the family – for the first time they felt vulnerable.

Indeed, over the years this house at Number 43 has raised three living generations.

A mango tree that anchors the southeast corner of Number 43 bears its own interesting history. With this in mind, it is protected. Previously, the front of Number 43 was populated with a wide variety of trees, ranging from mango and guava to avocado. All the other trees have been felled, but not the mango tree. While it provided wonderful shade for family and friends, it was also used for other interesting purposes. Comrades used it on several occasions to hide from the police when raids were staged. The same police, in turn, used it during many of their camps at Number 43 to ambush those who dropped by unsuspectingly. It also served as a sentry post in the post-August 1986 period, following the kidnap of uGlory September, when security at Number 43 was stepped up significantly, with 24-hour armed surveillance.

On one occasion, when the whole family had been rounded up and detained, it was shared under very interesting circumstances. It was used as an overnight shelter by relatives, among whom were uBaningi Masilela, visiting from South Africa. Finding that the house was barricaded, and having no access and no other place to go, they parked their car under the tree. While trying to settle down to sleep, they observed unfamiliar movements above them. It turned out there were armed police who had perched in the tree, laying an ambush for operatives. Surprisingly, they did not bother the relatives, presumably because they were seen to be innocent.

It was under the same tree that the first interview for the book Number 43 Trelawney Park; kwaMagogo was conducted and its title conceived.

The central image of life at Number 43 is that of the old man and old lady sitting in the kitchen, merrily chatting away for hours on end. This is a departure from common tradition, where people spend most of their time in the family or living room. At Number 43, that part of the house commonly used for cooking is instead used for a much wider range of activities, from eating and drinking, to storytelling and praying. It is also used as a place to reminisce. This tradition of spending time in the kitchen is probably what has kept the family as closely knit as it is today.

Being a large family, we might have been expected to use the living room for relaxation rather than the hot kitchen. Instead, the living and dining rooms, which are very large relative to the kitchen, were reserved for guests, whom the children grew up calling ‘strangers’, a term they would later in life discard after learning how inappropriate it was. But thinking about it a little deeper, it was the best way to describe some of the people who visited Number 43.

While possessing the features of a regular homestead, Number 43 was also an important meeting place and a haven for many people, friends, acquaintances and operatives of uMkhonto WeSizwe (MK) the military wing of the ANC. Likewise; the kitchen was the main part of the house for these meetings.

Besides the family, there were almost always people residing in the house, sometimes on an almost permanent basis. A few are worth mentioning here. The first is uBilly Mabiletsa, familiarly known as ‘uTa Billy’, who spent over ten years at Number 43, died there and was buried by the family and the ANC in 1994. The others are uVictor Greenhead, uPhilip Nkomo, uChippa Ndabandaba and uVusi ‘Jwi’ Kunene. All were de facto part of the family. Indeed, uPhilip and uChippa even put their sweat in the construction of the main house. Another important person in my early development was a half-brother, uDumisani Masilela. We grew up together and went to the same school, but by the height of the political activities, he had moved to stay in Ngwane Park. He was never really exposed to my experiences and is amazed when he hears the depth of the stories being told today.

All and sundry enjoyed meals around the same table. It was common for uMagogo to prepare food for as many as twenty people at any one time. It remains a mystery how they afforded this kind of expenditure, given their meagre income. None of this hospitality was sponsored. Unlike others, the Masilela family has never received an allowance from the ANC, or any other organisation for that matter.

Mealtimes at Number 43 were always eventful and remain truly memorable, particularly to those who were children at the time. Like at boarding school, mealtimes were announced by a resounding call to assemble at the kitchen. However, unlike at a boarding school, this call was not a bell, but a unique Masilela call, “Under age!” The person responsible for dishing out would stand at the door leading to the kitchen and shout out the words at the top of his or her voice, “Uunnderrrrr – aaaaaaaage!” In the blink of an eye, every young one would scuttle from every corner of the yard and the street to join the queue for a plate of food, which was always delicious even though simple pap, gravy and a piece of meat if they were lucky. Mind you, this did not exclude neighbours and friends who were visiting at the time of the meal. They also had a claim. At times, when resources were low, two to three children would share a plate, just to ensure that the food got around to all present. Nobody complained.

Just to give an indication of the likely number of children who would constitute the ‘under-age’ of the time, a rough count was done and we came up with the following: uDombolo Masilela, uSizwe Hlongwana, uZozo Hlongwana, uOupa Hlongwana, uRanthobeng Matlala, uPeter Mekoa, uStanley Nkadimeng, uBongani Makhubu, uNtombi Makhubu, uSibusiso Makhubu, uKhwahla Brown, uPitjie Brown, uBeverly ‘Bheveli’ Brown, uMolly Cunha, uDumisani Masilela, uLinda Masilela, uBhekani Masilela, uDavid Ngozo and many more.

All these people were part of the larger family in the house and many remain close to Number 43 to this day.

Operations were structured very precisely, particularly in their timing. In most instances, we knew exactly when the strike would be carried out and when the team would return to base. If an operation were to take off from Number 43, the boy’s bedroom would be used as the place for rumination. Today, this room is kept locked to preserve its historical importance. It is only opened to guests.

In almost all cases, the missions went according to plan. The night before an operation would be filled with anxiety and fear that something might go wrong and they would fall foul of the South African security forces. Nerves were always on edge. There would be little conversation. The only sound would be that of quiet background music from old vinyl LPs. This music was essential therapy to calm nerves.

The materials used in all operations were kept in the wardrobe in my bedroom. They included full arsenals of AK47s, Makarov pistols, limpet mines and both offensive and defensive hand grenades, as well as thermite (used to improve the effectiveness of the limpet mines). The stuffing of the limpet mines were actually carried out in the bedroom, before the units set out on the operation.

It was common practice to keep these materials at Number 43, but care would be taken to keep them for more than a day in the house. This principle was applied very strictly. On launching an operation, the room was thoroughly cleaned of any trace. However, gremlins did creep in from time to time. This led to an unfortunate event in January 1983 when a grenade detonator was forgotten underneath the bed. It was among the materials used for the Tonga operation. Police discovered the detonator during one of their raids. It led to one of the most publicised cases in Swaziland at the time, during which Elias was arraigned in court. Out of all the arrests he experienced, this was the only one that culminated in a court hearing. Luckily, the state did not have enough evidence to convict.

A very long passage defined the house. It was one of the nerve centers of the operations and the lives of operatives and relatives in Swaziland. Amongst the most vivid of events that took place on this passage, was when we received a call announcing the assassination uViva.

It was a cold winter evening on Friday, 22 May 1987, when the telephone at Number 43 rang. Someone, I can no longer remember whom, ran from the kitchen, where we were sitting, to the passage to pick it up. On the other end of the line was uTodd who was uncharacteristically emotional. He reported that uViva had been assassinated; his comrades shot and wounded. The calmness that usually defined uTodd was replaced by panic and anger. Coupled with his description of the event, this led everyone to jump to the same conclusion – it was the work of uSeptember. Our intelligence had indicated that uSeptember had earlier been spotted somewhere along the Ezulwini Valley.

466   –  House number of the property that uButhongo owned in Mofolo North, in Soweto, before the family relocated to Swaziland, in search of an alternative to Bantu Education. He sold the house to his brother, uBhomo, who in turn sold it to a Manyapye family in 1996.

1964 –  This was the year in which the first attempt was made to start the long journey to Swaziland. It would have been the year in which the planned relocation was implemented, had it not been for two factors that prevented uButhongo from effecting his plan. Firstly, was the birth of his eighth child, uElias, on the 27th of April of the same year. This date, the 27th of April, would later be declared South Africa’s Freedom Day. Two months later, in June, Abraham Jambo Kekana, the father to uMakgomo, died. Together, these events stopped the migration.

466/64 – If you combine the numbers above, you end up with  Madiba’s prisoner number. The first part of the number is Madiba’s individual prisoner number. The second part of  the number is the year Madiba was arrested and sent to prison on Robben Island.