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Mandela In Lobatse (Part 5)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off with Fish Keitseng having been joined by Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela at Mbeya, Tanganyika.

There, the three spent the evening at a local hotel discussing security issues surrounding Mandela’s intended return to South Africa via Bechuanaland (BP).

 Keitseng would later recall:

“They wanted to know if it was safe to return through Bechuanaland. I told them it was risky, the Boers were on the lookout for Mandela night and day. They were all over Lobatse. Not just sell-outs and tsotsis but South African Special Branch. We were watching them and they were watching us. Of course they knew about Mandela’s promise to return, it had been in all the newspapers.

“Since Mandela was determined to take his chances, I suggested that it would at least be safer to land in Kanye rather than Lobatse. In the morning we got in Mr. Bartaune’s plane. It was me, Mandela, and that pilot [Mildehall]. The other three that I came with flew with Tambo to Dar-es- Salaam. “Mandela gave me a bag with a big sack of bullets, a big bag. I took his gun, a big pistol, and put it under my jacket. He had got these things while training to be a freedom fighter in Ethiopia”

In his own account, “A Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela confirmed that his Ethiopian military instructor, Colonel Tadesse “presented me with a gift [from Emperor Sellasie]: an automatic pistol and two hundred rounds of ammunition.”Keitseng continues: “We intended to land in Malawi, but there were certain problems there and they refused. We picked up again, until we came to Kasane, where we stopped briefly for petrol.

While waiting we went into the bar at the hotel, and sat down at a table. Mandela says, “Man, I’m thirsty. Can you buy two stout beers?” I went, but when I got there they said, “The Africans are not allowed to buy liquor in this area.” Mandela was upset. He came, and said “Can you repeat that again?” “In this place, Africans are not allowed to buy liquor.”

“Can you quote a book of law that says that?”

“The barman, he failed to explain. He gave us a beer. We drank, and then we got in the plane again.           

“When we were over Moshupa, I saw some people waiting by the airstrip. This made us uneasy but I told Mandela we had better land there anyway.

“When we landed at Kanye [in the evening of July 23, 1962], there two men who had come from Lobatse, Innes-Ker, who was Special Branch, and Mr. Grant, the Gaborone D.C. Innes-Ker greeted me,

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then he greeted Mandela. Mandela says, “I’m not Mr. Mandela. I’m David Motsamayi.”

“Innes-Ker said “well if you’re not Mandela I think I’ll have to do something with you, I was told to meet Mr. Mandela who would be arriving with Mr. Keitseng.”

“Then Mandela, said, “Yes, I am Mandela.”

“Then Innes-Ker introduced Mandela to Grant who had nothing to say. The policeman, he didn’t think about guns, he didn’t ask me what I had in my coat.

“Innes-Ker then offered to drive us to Lobatse. Our own pickup was not in sight. Mandela was very suspicious of these guys, and he looked at me. I said, “Don’t worry. Let’s get in their car man. They already know were here anyway. Let’s go.” So we got into Innes-Ker’s car.

“Just about fifteen miles from Kanye we saw Jo Matlou’s Chev coming from Lobatse. We stopped and got in it. Innes-Ker, he said, “Mr. Mandela, please don’t cross before I go see what’s taking place over the border, there may be people waiting to catch you on the other side.”

“Once inside Matlou’s car Mandela smiles, and says to me, “This bastard he wants me to be arrested. Why is he interested in me?” It was disturbing. We expected some British would be watching, but did not know why they had come to greet us. 

“When he got to Lobatse we went to my place. Mandela, he didn’t even take a cup of water. He said “I’ve no time for tea.” Plans were already in place. Mandela put on a white overcoat and cap so he was dressed like a chauffeur. He then took his clothes, put them in the car, and we went. Matlou and I took Mandela down by the border gate. There was just a Mongwato policeman there, Rakola. We didn’t wait long before two cars from Jo’burg arrived to pick up Mandela.”

Further note - While Mandela’s suspicions about the presence of Innes-Ker and Gaberones D.C Peter Cardross-Grant were understandable, available evidence suggests that they were misplaced.

In this respect, Mandela may not have recognised Innes-Ker as the British officer who had briefly engaged him at Keitseng’s house during the morning after his previous arrival and he otherwise would not have been aware of the BP Special Branches’ proactive role in thwarting SAP efforts to apprehend him during his earlier stay in Lobatse.

At the time Cardross-Grant, rather than his Lobatse counterparts, was also often entrusted with protecting the movement of Political Refugees.



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