This is a new series, featuring Dr Tlou Setumu’s works. This is an excerpt from TT Cholo biography, entitled, Heeding the call to fight for the Fatherland.
LIKE those loyal and dedicated freedom seekers, Tlou Theophilus (T.T.) Cholo also heeded the important call of putting his interests aside and took a vow to defend and fight for his fatherland.
After taking such a patriotic decision, in 1962 T.T. skipped out of South Africa in a unit of three recruits. By then T.T. was living in Soweto in Central Western Jabavu, known as Vukuzenzele, just behind Ndlezani station.
He had not closed his Jeppe hostel room as he sometimes used it when he was running from the police.
He had also stayed in Alexander, Sophiatown, George Koch Hostel and Meadowlands.
The other two members of the three-member unit were Mate Manyas, a young woman from Durban, and Patrick Bapela from Ga Marishane – whose traveling/pseudo name was Richard Tlabela. The three were all trade unionists.
Before leaving the country, the ANC called T.T. for a briefing. Walter Sisulu, Joe Modise and Ahmed Kathrada contacted T.T. through SACTU leaders such as President Leon Levy, Secretary General Mark Shope and Phyllis Altmen.
T.T. was briefed about how to leave the country and where they were going and why.
He was informed that he was going to the Soviet Union in Moscow for training.
Sisulu, Modise and Kathrada also briefed T.T. about the fact that he was going to meet Nelson Mandela, who was already abroad to prepare the ground for other comrades who were recruited to skip the country. Everything looked ready for T.T. and his unit to skip but there was a weeklong delay which T.T. did not understand.
T.T. had already bid his relatives and wife farewell. He had informed them that he was going to Cape Town for a six months study.
At last, the day of leaving arrived. T.T. then met his other two colleagues and they were driven from Johannesburg by Joe Modise towards the northwestern border of South Africa and Botswana into the small town of Lobatse. No problems along the way. They crossed the border after four o’clock p.m. and as it was a weekend, only a black guard was manning the border gates and he allowed them to pass. They informed him that they were going to watch a soccer match at Lobatse.
At Lobatse they were met by a certain Fish Keitsing and they found out that Fish was a former ANCYL member who had stayed in Sophiatown back in South Africa. Fish was also a former Treason Trialist. It became apparent that Fish was expecting T.T. and his two comrades. While at Fish’s place, Joe Matlou, another former ANCYL and Treason Trialist, arrived.
Matlou was among the first group of the Treason Trialists who were released (the group which included President Albert Luthuli). Matlou had been sent by the ANC as a contact point in Botswana.
He was tasked to welcome and guide comrades who were skipping the country from that point.
As the leader of the three-member unit, T.T. was involved in preparatory talks with Fish, Matlou and Joe Modise.
T.T. was briefed to inform Nelson Mandela, who he was told he was going to meet, about the progress in South Africa as well as the routes via Botswana.
After seven days at Fish’s place, T.T., Fish, Mate and Richard took a plane from Lobatse Airport.
It was for the very first time that T.T. came so close to an aeroplane and he was so overwhelmed by excitement when he even touched it and boarded it.
Fish only joined the three-unit members as he was going to come back with Mandela.
At the airport, they were introduced to Captain Hill who was a very stout man. Hill was to fly to East Africa and he received them with a warm heart.
He was a very kind white man, something as South Africans they were not used to. In South Africa they only knew of superiority-obsessed whites who enjoyed humiliating and belittling black people.
After taking off around one o’clock p.m., they had a stop on the northern border of Botswana with Northern Rhodesia (named Zambia after independence) and Southern Rhodesia (named Zimbabwe after independence).
The following morning Captain Hill flew the crew to Mbeya, along the border between Northern Rhodesia and Tanganyika (named Tanzania after independence) – where they slept over. It was at Mbeya where they were going to meet Mandela.
The following morning T.T. was helped by the Northern Rhodesian trade union comrades to hire a taxi to fetch Nelson Mandela from Mbeya Airport.
The Northern Rhodesian trade unionists had long been briefed about their coming. Mark Shope had arranged the whole trip as well as the scholarships for T.T. and his colleagues to go to the Soviet Union.
T.T. was so excited about the trip.
However, the weather was not favourable and because of the fact that he was not used to be on a plane, he ended up vomiting on the plane, unfortunately.
At the airport, T.T. expected Mandela to be alone, but he came up with O.R. Tambo, the ANC Deputy President. Tambo who was abroad by then, was deputising President Inkosi Albert Luthuli as they had been elected as such back in the 1959 ANC conference in Natal.
After brief comradely greetings, T.T., Mandela and Tambo withdrew to a hideout restaurant for lunch and talks. T.T. was sent to buy foodstuffs.
One of the items that caught his eye was a large, hard, cooking banana which he picked up as he thought was going to supplement a delicious lunch.
Unfortunately, a young man from Mmakala’ a Motlopinya, ledubeng and lehwelereng, did not know that that banana was only edible when it was cooked.
When T.T. brought back the huge uncooked banana as part of lunch, Tambo and Mandela just only laughed at him.
After lunch and comradely discussions, O.R. had to return back to Dar-es Salaam with the same plane which was apparently specifically arranged by President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to bring Mandela to the Northern Rhodesian airport of Mbeya.
After O.R.’s departure, T.T. then helped Mandela to get a separate hotel from them.
The two comrades then continued with talks in which Mandela was eager to get a brief about the situation back in South Africa.
Mandela had been abroad for a very long time, and because T.T. (and his unit) had just skipped out of South Africa, Mandela was understandably thirsty of the developments in his country which was gripped by a bunch of selfish white henchmen.
Eventually, Mandela and Fish left Mbeya and traveled back to Botswana.
Mandela was on his way back to South Africa via Botswana. T.T. and his three-member unit traveled from Mbeya to Tanzania. Their trip from Mbeya to Dar-es Salaam, by bus, took them about three days.
They arrived in the Tanzanian capital at about eight o’clock in the evening. They were warmly welcomed by James Jolobe “J.J.” Radebe. J.J. had skipped out of South Africa earlier.
Before skipping he was the Transvaal secretary of the ANC. J.J. met them at the bus terminal in Dar-es Salaam and took them straight to Hilton Hotel.
The spirits were high as they had vowed to continue with their mission of equipping themselves so that they could go back home to fight the white minority regime that had robbed and dispossessed their own people of everything.
As South African fugitives continued to flock to Tanzania, their leaders gradually realised that accommodation of the ever-increasing comrades was a necessity. The newly independent Tanzanian government under the presidency of one of Africa’s greatest thinkers, Mwalimu Nyerere, assisted South Africans to be at home away from their homes.
The first camp of South Africans was opened about twenty kilometres south of Dar-es Salaam and it was named after Inkosi Albert Lithuli.
While in the Luthuli camp, the South African refugees were sometimes picked up to assist at the ANC office in the capital town.
T.T. also stayed for a month at a place called Ilala.
While staying at Ilala one day something miraculous happened.
One night while he was sleeping in a house in which he was staying with the comradely permission of its owners, his pair of trousers mysteriously disappeared.
In the middle of the night, T.T., there he was, looking for his trousers everywhere. Inside the pockets of his trousers was a sum of money as well as a golden wrist watch which he was very fond of. T.T. was astonished by the miraculous disappearance of his trousers mainly because in that room there was no opening where one could suspect that the trousers had disappeared into.
After all the drama, later in the next morning, it was found out that the thieves had used a small opening above the closed window to hook T.T. trousers with a long object.
The footprints next to the closed window indicated from where the trousers – with a watch and money – were hooked.
When T.T. and his crew left South Africa, they thought that they would only take few days – or weeks – in one of the African countries before they could proceed to the communist East (either USSR or China) for training. However, that was not going to be.
They stayed in Tanzania for the whole six months.
They were really tired of staying in Tanzania without proceeding to the East, where they were very eager to go and get training – and guns – because their ultimate aim was to return to South Africa to topple the apartheid regime.
Now, there they were, stuck in Tanzania.
Apparently, Tennyson Makiwane did not approve of trade unionists having to be sent to the East for military training.
As a result, trade unionists such as T.T. and his unit, were prevented from proceeding to the East for military training. That was really frustrating.
While still at Dar-es Saalam T.T. met the following comrades: Andrew Mlangeni, Patrick Mthembu, Joe Qabi and Wilton Mkwayi. They were all from military training in China.
It was in December 1962 when Mlageni, Mthembu, Qabi and Mkwayi left Tanzania for South Africa to implement their plans which they had trained for.
The group joined underground activities of the movement – the Rivonia group. Moses Mabhida, a representative of SACTU in Czechoslovakia, also arrived from China.
He had also finished military training there. Mabhida was one of the earliest individuals (like Oliver Tambo) who had gone out of South Africa in 1960.
Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).
This is a new series, featuring Dr Tlou Setumu’s works. This is an excerpt from TT Cholo biography, entitled, Heeding the call to fight for the Fatherland