By Owei Lakemfa
When I boarded the protocol bus at Algiers Airport on November 28, 2016, a lady politely greeted me in faulty Yoruba. Given my dressing, she guessed correctly that I am Nigerian. She then added “Iyawo Naija la wa” meaning, I am married to a Nigerian. Her name is Boshigo Ntsi Rosinah Matlou, a South African who at 15 in 1966, arrived in Nigeria with four of her younger ones, the youngest being seven.
The children, refugees from the insane Apartheid regime in South Africa, had arrived Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana from Tanzania certain of being given refuge. Their father, Jonas Matlou was the African National Congress (ANC) Representative in Ghana. Unfortunately, Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-organised coup and part of the coup plotters’ mandate was to expel all African liberation fighters taking refuge in Ghana.
The new Government which expelled Matlou, gave him a concession, that his young family could stay. But the children were not allowed to go to school. A white South African informed their mother that a social crusader, Tai Solarin ran a school in Nigeria called May Flower School, Ikenne and that he would readily accept and educate the children. That was how five of the six Matlou children made their way to Nigeria. After May Flower and Sixth Form in Ijebu Ode Grammar School, she went to Cape Coast University, Ghana and returned to Nigeria in 1980 where she worked for a dozen years before making her way to Botswana, and finally to a liberated South Africa. While in Nigeria, she worked for the Liberation Movement including receiving young South Africans who had led the 1976 Soweto Uprising. She cannot forget the late Tsietsi Mashinini, leader of the Uprising who made his way to Nigeria.
The senior Matlou had opened the ANC Office in Botswana in 1961 before moving to Tanzania and then Algeria, where he helped to bring in South African youths for military training. He went on to Cuba and sent for his family to join him in Ghana. They did, only for him to be expelled. He went back to Tanzania, then Europe, back to Botswana in 1985 and was killed in a car crash in 1991. He never saw a free South Africa. The Algerian Government in organising an international conference on ‘Algeria’s contribution to the decolonisation of Africa’ remembered Jonas Matlou, and invited his daughter to the conference.
His face was unmistakable. Theo-Ben Gurirab the outstanding liberation fighter from Namibia. In liberated Namibia, he went on to become its Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, and, internationally, President of the United Nations General Assembly. He said he was a primary school child in the village when he heard over the Apartheid South African Broadcasting Corporation that the French were carrying out massacre of Algerians who dared challenge their takeover of Algeria. It was a stark warning to Namibians not to resist like the Algerians, otherwise, they would be massacred. Namibia was the first country genocide was carried out in the 21st Century so they knew the language of massacre. Gurirab said when the Algerian revolution triumphed: “That gave me courage and I joined the movement and later became a leader of SWAPO. The first weapons we used, were given to my leader, Sam Nujoma by the Algerians as a hand luggage and he had to go on a round trip to get them to Tanzania. It was Nujoma who briefed us about the bravery of the Algerians and he linked it with the resistance of our forebears”
The liberation war took an ironic twist for Masala Mziwandile. Fifty-three years ago, he was one of the enthusiastic youths trained in Algeria. He returned to Tanzania and was in 1964, infiltrated into South Africa. His brief was to anchor the attacks of Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) the military wing of the ANC in the Soweto area. He told me: “We started underground operations in Soweto. Unfortunately, the comrade housing me was arrested on an unrelated charge. When you are arrested, the police took you back to search your home. The kids came running, shouting ‘The white people are here!’ I could not break the burglary proof and they found me in the room. They didn’t know who I was, and that was the beginning of a gruesome interrogation. I had a DOOM –PASS; it was actually a pass, it had my photograph, but the details on the pass belonged to somebody else. Eventually, they cracked my identity. They took me to court in 1965 and I was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment which I spent on Robben Island. I was released in 1976 and settled in the Eastern Cape Province, mobilising for the ANC. In 1983, we founded the United Democratic Front which we operated until the ANC was unbanned in February, 1990. I was elected the Mayor of my home town, Alice, in the Eastern Cape and after a few months, I went to the Provincial Legislature”.
In the case of Ambassador Reddy Mampane alias Mazimba, it was initially the challenge of how to enter the Apartheid enclave after his military training: “We could not go through Botswana because it was a British colony, Rhodesia (Zimbabawe) was under Ian Smith (White minority rule) and Mozambique was a Portuguese colony. So we joined the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) forces to go fight in Rhodesia in order to infiltrate South Africa. But South Africa sent its military to fight on the side of Ian Smith and we were pushed back to Tanzania. When Botswana became independent, we moved there but were detected by the police who deported us to Zambia. In the case of Swaziland, you could come from South Africa, but not go back.
In 1972, I was part of a group of ten who were to be infiltrated into South Africa by sea. We had trained in Baku, USSR, and from Moscow we were taken to Somalia where the ANC had a boat to take us to South Africa. When we approached Kenya, the crew sabotaged the engine and radar and the boat was drifting in the sea. The Somalis discerned something was wrong, and had us towed into the port. The group was broken up and I returned to the party school in Moscow.
“I was appointed the ANC Representative in Tanzania in 1974, and after the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Tanzania gave us land and we built the Solomon Mahlagu Freedom College which we handed to Tanzania when we returned to South Africa.”
Reddy was Head of ANC Security during the Negotiations that led to independence. Later he was South African ambassador to Angola, Zambia, Sudan and Swaziland. Learning from the liberators, was itself liberating.