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Mandela In Lobatse (Part 3)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off late in the morning of January 12, 1962 with the Divisional South Special Branch Officer, Inspector Innes-Ker, having finally contacted Nelson Mandela at the Peleng home of Fish Keitseng.

Thereafter, for the remainder of Mandela’s stay the BP authorities remained watchful while keeping their distance. As Keitseng later observed:

“Although Mandela didn’t go to the D.C., the police knew he was present. Both sides were just pretending to ignore one another.” For the then Resident Commissioner, Peter Fawcus, and a few of his reliable lieutenants such as Innes-Ker the mission was clear. As the Resident Commissioner’s office noted at the time in a communication to the Acting British High Commissioner in South Africa:

“Since the [March 30, 1960] State of Emergency in South Africa a very large number of ‘political refugees’ have entered the Protectorate. Some (e.g. Oliver Tambo, Ronald Segal, Dr. Dadoo, Kgosana etc. etc.) have been political personages of some consequence in South Africa who asked for temporary asylum and who eventually left the territory by air for Ghana and destinations overseas. They (as is now being done in the case of Mandela) were subject to special SB surveillance to ensure that the South African authorities did not kidnap or hijack them.

“Others who are much lesser fry and who are not of particular importance in the political hierarchy make use of established overland escape route through the territory to the Federation. It is impossible to keep track of all of them and when they disappear over the Southern Rhodesia border no further police action is taken, the policy I have instructed my officers to follow is neither to assist nor prevent refugees using the escape route.” In the above context, Fawcus knew that that the safe passage of senior political figures such as Mandela was not only threatened by Apartheid regime security agents and their local informers, such as Rybecki, but also from within the ranks of his own administration. In this respect he was surrounded by members of the BP colonial establishment, including officers embedded in its security services, who had been recruited from either South Africa or the Rhodesias, many of whom were overtly hostile to those seeking the overthrow of white supremacy in the region.

In carrying out his legal obligation of protecting bone fide refugees within the Protectorate, while also closely monitoring their political activities, at the time Fawcus and his superiors in London, apparently including MI6 intelligence, thus relied on a relative handful of trusted figures, who notably included Special Branch officers Innes-Ker and John Sheppard and District Commissioners Peter Cardross-Grant (Gaborone), Philip Steenkamp (Francistown) and Brian Egner (Kasane).

With Mandela’s

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onward flight delayed by at least a few days the ANC network based in Peleng and Innes-Ker’s SB team remained on high alert.

At 1100 hours the SAP Sergeants Pio and De Klerk returned to Lobatse via the Ramatlabama border post. Upon their arrival they called on Captain Bartuane at Bechuanaland Air Safaris, who by then had returned from Ghanzi.

In his conversation with the SAP officers Bartuane acknowledged that a flight had been booked, but later cancelled for the previous day. He, however, denied any knowledge of Mandela having been its intended passenger, informing Pio that the flight had instead been for a certain Mr. Modise.

Before returning to Mahikeng, Pio had Rybicki visit Innes-Ker’s office. Falsely claiming he had been trying to reach the Inspector since the previous day, Rybricki informed Innes-Ker of his suspicions that Mandela had tried to book a flight. Pressed on whether he knew anything about the matter, Innes-Ker simply told Rybricki he had heard a similar rumour and was investigating the matter. On the following evening (13/1/1962) a new, potentially dangerous, threat was detected when Kiba’s men operating in Peleng intercepted and detained “a strange African in civilian dress.” During their initial interrogation, the suspect admitted that his true identity was S.A.P. Special Branch constable Johannes Moabelo, stationed in Orlando.

It was subsequently revealed that Moabelo had entered the Protectorate via Pioneer Border gate earlier in the day acting on instructions of Major Moolman from RSA Special Branch headquarters in Johannesburg. Unconvincingly claiming that it had been his intent all along to liaise with local police, Moabelo further acknowledged that it was his mission to seek out and identify Mandela without alerting the latter to his presence.

Moabelo’s eagerness to stay out of Mandela’s sight was in the logic of circumstance given that the two knew each other from previous encounters. His mission was thus to confirm Mandela’s presence and whereabouts in Lobatse and then report to Moolman and another officer who were waiting in Zeerust.

Had his target been detected Moabelo’s instruction was to contact local police and ask them to detain Mandela, while alerting Moolman, who was carrying with him extradition papers for Mandela’s return to South Africa to face charges of High Treason. Feigning cooperation, over the next several days Moabelo was accompanied by a Bechuanaland Special Branch detail including the “experienced and efficient” Corporal Kiba, while he searched without any success for Mandela in Lobatse.

(to be continued)



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