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The way we lived. 35. (Part 1) Seven(+) square kilometres of anti-apartheid heroes.

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

This Google satellite view of the Cape Peninsula sets the scene for my latest blog. The highlighted red spot is a bit below the middle of the Cape Flats. On the sides of the Flats, the western Cape Peninsula mountains run almost parallel with the Helderberg Mountains out east. In 1580, The Cape Penisula was Sir Francis Drake’s fairest cape in all the world during his global circumnavigation. By contrast, after the National Party introduced apartheid in 1948, the Cape Flats became a dumping ground for displaced Blacks forcefully removed from the best and most scenic suburbs as a result of the Group Areas Act, part of the master plan to divide a nation which is now still struggling to find its reunited identity. We became a country of haves and have-nots where the master race created the most iniquitous society in the world; sadly this may still be true today, another apartheid legacy.

There were many others who ended up on the Flats after fleeing the destitute Homelands created by the Bantustan policies where indigenous people lived and died in impoverishment as I experienced all too often during my time working in Ceza Mission Hospital, Kwazulu. Having said that, death also stalked the Cape Flats where poverty-based diseases, malnutrition, TB, crime and violence also plagued people’s lives as part of the detritus of pro-White bias and ant-Black discrimination.

So, what’s the red spot in the satellite view above? It’s located in Weltevreden Valley North, Philippi in the garden areas which fed Cape Town for centuries, largely due to large fresh water aquifers. The spot marked is in Basil February street which I had occasion to look up purely out of curiosity as part of the ongoing debate about the ANC ignoring many of the fallen. Imagine my surprise to find several of the surrounding streets named after our freedom-fighting heroes in the Weltevreden Valley North and adjacent Farmer Brown’s Farms’ townships in Phillippi.

The North township block, surrounded by Steve Biko Crescent and Oliiver Tambo Street in the north, James Gerwel Drive in the west, Cape Flats Freeway in the south , and the eastern Parkway, is about seven square kilometres. Several of the names are known to me; most are not. There are many martyrs who died in the struggle for freedom, like Basil February – and those who struggled for change until they died. This blog is my tribute to them – in the process I encountered more of the tragedies that apartheid’s opponents suffered.

Names known to me are alongside the red stars; from top to bottom they are: Trojan Horse, Dulcie September, Ruth First & Anton Fransch(single star for the pair), Samora Machel, Hector Pieterson, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani.

The next part of the map includes: Chris Hani, Basil February(in the middle), Oliver Tambo, Coline Williams, and Albert Luthuli.

A much smaller block of street names nearby in Brown’s Farms reflects the hero status of people like Desmond Tutu, MD Ntlanganiso, Thabo Memani, Ruth Mompati, Oscar Mpeta, Mildred Holo, M Dyantyi, Bantu Holomisa, J Maqoma, Walter Sisulu, Langa-Libalele, Agnes Zantsi, M Sityatha and Joe Mlilwana.

The anti-apartheid cleric, Archbishop Tutu (red star) is well known. His many accolades include the popularisation of South Africans as a Rainbow Nation, first heard in public after the Freedom March when he delivered his speech to thousands from the small Cape Town City Hall balcony. A year later, Nelson Mandela spoke in public for the first time from the same balcony after his release in 1990 following 27 years of imprisonment.

ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu was at Mandela’s side on the City Hall balcony with Winnie Mandela. His street is a few blocks south of the more central block of heroes’ streets. –>

Roll Call of martyrs and Heroes

I have picked out most of the names and listed them in no particular order except in the way in which they died. I’ve provided thumbnail sketches of their lives and activities which should not be forgotten in a world where false news or no news dominates, especially via social media [SM]. Along with Donald trump, SM has normalised lying which used to be the domain of the conquerors in their efforts at recording a one-sided history, that of the victors. Let the efforts of our fallen not be forgotten.

The highlighted names of people or events are those with streets named after them in the area. Others may have street names elsewhere in the Mother City.

a. Death in action

This is a short list of many brave young men who for various reasons believed that violence begets violence; that liberation could only come from the barrel of a gun. It was the ultimate answer to the violence of security police on detainees, of military and police actions which resulted in indiscriminate killings still etched in people’s brains with names like the 1960 Sharpeville and 1976 Soweto massacres, the 1985 Trojan Horse massacre and the Gugulethu seven assassinations and the Fires of 1986 with the sacking of Crossroads and the TRC informal, squatter housing rendering homeless 60,000 people with the loss of dozens of lives … and that’s only in Cape Town as there were many more such violent episodes around the country.

These men took up arms to become guerrilla fighters and liberators in the true sense of the word, not terrorists as the government tried to portray them. A few of their images are included. Most of those who took up arms did so with MK – uMkhonto wesizwe. The Spear of the Nation was the armed wing of the ANC (African National Congress) established on Dingane’s Day on 10th December, 1977 after the ANC was banned during a draconian State of Emergency in the country.

1. Basil February was an early casualty, killed in battle in Rhodesia in 1967 as an MK freedom fighter on his way back to South Africa during the ANC’s first armed military deployment as part of the Luthuli detachment during its momentous Wankie campaign. Basil and James April gave up their studies at UCT to undergo MK training in Czechoslovakia, before returning to bring the fight back to the South African forces. Basil died in a shootout with Rhodesian forces. April, later captured, spent fifteen years imprisoned on Robben Island. Chris Hani (see later), part of the Luthuli detachment, spent two years detained in Botswana before moving north.

Basil’s sister was part of our senior school group of pals including students from Livingstone, Trafalgar and South Peninsula High schools. She lived down the road from us in Lansdowne with another political luminary, her brother-in-law. Leslie van der Heyden, one of my LHS teachers, served time on Robben Island with Neville Alexander, another of my teachers. As a family, the the van der Heydens were unique with Leslie and sister Doris sentenced to five years and older sister Elizabeth to ten years imprisonment. Few families could claim such a revolutionary pedigree  

2. Anton Fransch had been detained several times for his activism by the age of 16. At 17, he underwent military training with MK in Angola. In 1989, the lone 20-year old Fransch held off police in a seven-hour gun battle in Bonteheuwel township. He finally succumbed to a hand grenade blast only after a Casspir armoured vehicle was brought in to suppress him. The fight, known as the Battle of Athlone, contributed to the collapse of the Bonteheuwel Military Wing of which Fransch was a member. In the mid 1980s, cells of the BMW had managed to turn parts of Bonteheuwel into no-go zones controlled by them. In the course of their activities, they petrol-bombed and burned down satellite police stations that had been set up to control them. Police homes were razed, forcing resident policemen to move out of the township. After BMW’s collapse, many of the convicted BMW members were deliberately incarcerated with hardened criminals who repeatedly raped them. The BMW fighters were probably South Africa’s most successful urban guerrilla group, in the process, they became the stuff of which legends are made.

3. Hector Pieterson was the 12-year old Soweto student whose dying moments in 1976 were captured in the arms of a fellow student after the police shot him while protesting against the increased use of the Afrikaans language at schools. For publishing Sam Nzima’s photo, the government banned The World newspaper. Mbuyisa Makhubu, the accidental hero carrying Hector, was hounded by the police, forcing him to go into exile. In the large photo outside the Hector Pieterson Museum, Hector’s sister is seen running alongside the two youths. Besides Pieterson, around 70 others died in the attack; most of them were students.

4. Reggie Hadebe, an ANC regional executive committee member, was gunned down in Natal during the Midlands War between the ANC and IFP. IFP was heavily favoured and supported by the apartheid regime including the provision of arms during the undeclared war. Over 30,000 lost their homes in the fighting which also cost 60+ people’s lives during the seven days of fighting in March 1990.


b. Deaths by police ambush

1. Trojan Horse St – yes, this extraordinary outrage is there too in the form of a short street.

Captured by NBS TV, the obscene scene of a police ambush went viral globally. Forces hidden in wooden crates (depicted in and above the grey rectangle) on a South African railways truck opened fire on a group of young demonstrators in Athlone. The multicoloured graffiti appeared within 24 hours of the tragic attack. Firing at close range with rapid-fire, pump action shotguns loaded with buckshot, it was surprising there were only three deaths in the withering hail of gunfire – Jonathan Claasen, (21), Shaun Magmoed (15), and Michael Miranda (11). Many more of the  injured lay or sat groaning on the ground in the aftermath of this deadly ambush by police and soldiers.

Part 2 to follow in the new year. Till then, enjoy the festives and stay safe and well.


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