Retracing apartheid era footsteps in Cape Town

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, April 3 2016.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Walking with younger comrades this week, Philip Kgosana showed his spirit still hungers for protest as he re-enacted a march he led against apartheid’s pass laws decades ago.

Kgosana was 23 when he was secretary for the Pan African Congress (PAC) in the Cape in 1960. On March 30 that year, he led an estimated 30,000 anti-pass laws protesters from Langa to central Cape Town.

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LANGA LEGEND: Eighty-year-old Philip Kgosana was 23 years old when he led thousands of people in a march against apartheid’s pass laws on March 30 1960. This week he re-enacted the march from Langa, where the mural in this picture has been painted in his honour. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

It is a date and event hardly mentioned in anti-apartheid history and Kgosana said this was the result ANC’s alleged hijacking of that collective narrative.

At 80, Kgosana is now on a mission to cement this historical day with an annual “celebratory” march. He believes the PAC’s march was victorious as it led the apartheid government to “panic”.

Kgosana is also part of a movement to rename De Waal Drive, the road on which he led the march into the central Cape Town.

To this end, he met this week with Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille whose first political home was the PAC.

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COMRADES: Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille (right) with Philip Kgosana. De Lille is a former member of the Pan African Congress and said there were talks to rename De Waal Drive in Kgosana’s honour. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

De Lille’s respect for Kgosana was evident: “I must call him tata (father).”

At her sixth-floor office in the Civic Centre, De Lille said the march Kgosana led was a “turning point in the history of our country”.

“Tata Kgosana led people to Parliament against the pass laws,” she said.

De Lille pointed out her PAC roots were still in tact, even though she left that party years ago to start the Independent Democrats and then joined the Democratic Alliance.

“The late father of the PAC, Robert Sobukwe, said he believes there is only one race and that is the human race. And that is what I still believe today,” said De Lille.

“Pan-Africanism recognises we are all Africans.”

She added: “We are recognising 30 March as part of our history. We need to keep it in our history books.”

Kgosana visited the building where he stayed in Langa in his younger days.

He also stopped by a sculpture and a mural in Langa, both marking the historic march and depicting him in the shorts he wore when he led the march.

“I had been authorised to give all direction (of the march) without being questioned,” he recalled.

“As we passed Groote Schuur hospital and climbing on to De Waal Drive we saw these columns of soldiers in tanks coming out of Simon’s Town to occupy the Parliament area.

“There were two helicopters over us, watching us. The SABC (TV news) was broadcasting the march, telling the Western Cape there is a column of natives coming out of Langa.

“That excited people to pour into Cape Town to see what was happening. By the time we reached here (the city centre) there were already 15,000 people waiting for us.”

Kgosana led protesters to the Caledon Square police station on Buitenkant Street in central Cape Town.

He eventually also dispersed the crowd and later the apartheid apparatus clamped down on him and others. This led him into exile for more than three decades in different African countries.

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REMEMBERING HEROES: Members of the Pan-African Congress along with Philip Kgosana this week re-enacted the party’s historic march in Cape Town that led to a state of emergency during apartheid. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Political parties, including the PAC, ANC and the SA Communist Party, were also banned just days after March 30, evidence of its impact on the apartheid state.

But Kgosana and his PAC party comrades remained undeterred. They continued their campaign against apartheid.

“Our demand was a total abolition of the pass laws. We pursued that until 1986 when the pass laws were abolished,” he said.

After Kgosana re-enacted his march, later in the day he went to the Cape Town Club, opposite the Company’s Garden on Queen Victoria Street, where he met the son of one of the police officers who could have killed him when he led the march.

In the old colonial hangout started in 1858, with its paintings of Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Smuts, Kgosana remarked that it was an evening of “reconciliation”.

“We owe it to the generations that come after us. They must know it’s not just (Dutch colonial) Jan van Riebeeck that made this city,” said Kgosana.

Kgosana said he hoped to be back on the Langa-Cape Town route next year. Perhaps then more than the 60 people who joined him would show up.

“This is the first attempt at organising people to recognise that we are going to have this events. It’s not the numbers that count. It’s a thing in our hearts,” he said.

“Our people died. I recall a woman from Langa who wanted to reach Groote Schuur hospital because she was carrying a sick child. The police told a fellow who was driving (a vehicle with the woman) that there was a line he should not touch. He touched it.

“The police turned around and shot the child. We will tell these stories. Nobody tells these stories except ourselves.

“There is a series of victories we have managed, which we would like our people to be proud about.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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