“… I will resist racism and oppression to the end of my days.” – Philip Kgosana (Lest We Forget, 2016). We owe our ideo-political beings to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania and we grew up within the ranks of its student wing – the mighty Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA).
From a very tender age, we were taught and drilled into the life and politics of service, suffering and sacrifice for the revolutionary cause as enshrined in the basic documents of our beloved party. Amongst all the party stalwarts and veterans, no- one epitomised such a life and related to us as student activists like Philip Ata Kgosana.
It was therefore a dream of every young PASMA activist to meet, interact and drink from the wisdom of Comrade Kgosana. Reading the rich history of beloved party and its basic documents left every student activist eager to meet this renowned “elder” student activist who led a charge against the brutal Apartheid during its most vicious time, we were inspired and drew courage from ‘the great man of history’ and we all wanted rub shoulders with him.
Those of us who were fortunate to meet him were blown away by his eternal smile and humility. A very highly knowledgeable man, who could debate us on every subject including the most sophisticated, yet humble and forever smiling. The old man remained ideologically sharp and became sharper to the final days of his life.
Philip Ata Kgosana was born on the 12th October 1936 in Makapanstad in Bophuthatswana (current day North West Province), the son of a St John Apostolic Church Minister. He graduated from the Lady Selborne High School in Pretoria in 1958 and was awarded a bursary to study Bachelor of Commerce and Economics degree at the University of Cape Town(UCT) in 1959. He joined the PAC in 1960 and was elected its Western Cape Regional Secretary.
He was instrumental in organising and preparing for the PAC’s Anti -Pass Laws Campaign. He delivered a launching speech on the 20th March 1960 at Langa in anticipation of the unrolling of the campaign the following day as declared by the PAC founding President Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
On the fateful day of the 21st March 1960, the Apartheid Police in panic from the overwhelming support for the “Anti – Pass Law” campaign from ordinary masses of the African people, opened fire and killed scores of unarmed and peaceful protesters at Sharpeville and Langa. In protest to the massacres at Sharpeville and Langa, Kgosana and the Western Cape PAC Regional leadership intensified the campaign through mobilization of the workers into 10 days long strike action that paralysed many industries in the City of Cape Town and left white owners and the government frustrated.
This workers mass rolling action culminated into a huge protest March of over 30 000 workers led by young activist, Philip Kgosana then aged only 23, on the 30th March 1960. Kgosana and other leaders of the campaign were arrested and charged with instigation and inciting the crowds later in the evening of the 30th March.
These events were described as the “turning point” in the struggle against evil and oppressive Apartheid regime, for they exposed to the International community the brutality and fascist nature of that regime. The young Philip Kgosana, under constant torture and harassment, remained in custody until he was granted in bail in November, having spent close to seven months without trial.
Whilst out on bail, on Christmas eve of 1960 he escaped to exile; first to Swaziland, then to Lesotho, Botswana and Dar-es-Salam. He resumed his studies when he went Military College in Ethiopia between 1964 and 1966. He enrolled and graduated in BA in Economics at the University of Ethiopia between 1967 and 1970.
He later enrolled and obtained Diploma in Public Administration at Makerere University, Uganda between 1972 and 1973. He was deployed and appointed to various roles and positions throughout his stay in exile, including Military instructor in Angolan camp at Kolwezi (DRC) (1971 – 1972) and Statistician, Uganda, Ministry of Education (1974).
He returned to the country settled in hometown of Winterveldt, North West of Pretoria and immediately became involved in community development projects. He helped established community based farmers’ cooperatives to produce crops and vegetables. At the PAC National Elective Congress held in Thohoyandou in 1997, Kgosana was elected into the National Executive Committee (NEC) to serve as the National Organiser, a position he held until he reported out in 1999.
He was later deployed to serve as City of Tshwane Local Municipal Councillor between 2000 and 2006. Ntate Kgosana, as we fondly called him, represents the generation of non-repenting Pan Africanists who dedicated their entire lives to the struggle for the total emancipation of Africa and her children.
He played a very fundamental role in helping build the PAC student wings – from PASO to PASMA. When the sad news of the untimely fall this Pan Africanist stalwart broke various generations of leaders of our student wing shared their fond memories with Comrade Kgosana.
They had this to say: “…he was an inspiration to us for his bravery as a young fellow being a student at an ivory tower institution but able to mix with the working class community…” – Sithembiso Malusi (First generation of PASO in 1989 and Former President of AZANYU).
“The enigmatic figure of a young man in shorts leading a march has been etched in me since was a mere boy. He always in his humility had confidence of thought and intellect…More importantly even though we were rough, in haste and bullish as young people and especially students he saw diamonds in the rough…For PASMA to be grounded on revolutionary theory and worker cantered it’s no less to the effort of Ata Phillip Kgosana, umuntu omdala as we called him in the corridors…” – Tshiamo Moela (First Secretary General of PASMA 1997/8).
As the younger generation of the Pan Africanist Student Movement, we were also fortunate to interact with him when he served Municipal Councillor in Tshwane and recently when the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests broke. He expressed wholehearted support to struggle and it was refreshing just to realise how update and knowledgeable he remained even as a senior citizen.
It was remarkable and fittingly progressive when the UCT branch of PASMA was renamed in his honour -Philip Kgosana branch. The great mind stopped thinking, the giant has fallen and our master teacher is no more. He passed on the 19th April 2017 and shall be laid to rest on the 28th April 2017 at Zandfontein (former Lady Selborne). Memorial Services are to be held throughout the country. “Yibambeni webafana, yibambeni wezinsizwa. Isibhamu salabafana, singikhumbuza eSharpeville”. (Comrade Kgosana’s favourite revolutionary song).
Vusi Mahlangu is a former Pan Africanisy Student Movement (PASMA) leader. He is currently the leader of Fees Must Fall Movement in Tshwane.