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Mandela In Lobatse (PART 5) The Return

We left off with Nelson Mandela having safely departed by air for Dar-es-Salaam from Lobatse on January 19, 1962, after having spent a week in Peleng township hiding from the South African Police.

For the next six months Mandela toured much of Africa and the UK to mobilise support for Umkonto we Siswe’s then budding campaign of armed resistance. After meeting then Tanganyika President Julius Nyerere he flew on to Addis Ababa to attend the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA). There he also gained the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s agreement to provide the MK with military support.

Thereafter, Mandela went on to Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal, receiving funds and pledges of support along the way. In London Mandela met with anti-apartheid activists, prominent politicians and the media.

Mandela then returned to Ethiopia to begin a six-month course in guerrilla warfare. He had, however, only been able to complete two months of the training before deciding with the rest of the ANC leadership that he needed to return to South Africa. Before his departure for home, Emperor Selassie presented him with a Makarov semi-automatic pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition.

At Dar-es-Salaam Mandela was joined by the head of the ANC external wing, Oliver Tambo, to finalise planning for securing his return to South Africa, where the agents of Apartheid had been closely tracking his movements. Having decided the best route was through Bechuanaland it was arranged for Fish Keitseng to once more charter a plane from Captain Bartuane to join Tambo and Mandela at Mbeya in south-west Tanganyika. Keitseng would later recall: “I don’t know how long Mandela was gone. For some months he was touring all the countries up there in the north. One day I got another phone call. “Mr. Keitseng, if you’ve got some people, bring them to Mbeya by plane. If you arrive before us, don’t move anywhere.” I wasn’t told I was going to pick up Mandela, but I could tell something important was up.”

“Three people had arrived at my house so I took them and rented a charter from Bartaune, who had earlier flown Mandela to Tanganyika. He was a big chap who used to fly a lot of our people to safety. Others were also dealing with him. Once, when I was at our [ANC] headquarters in Lusaka I found him discussing payments with [ANC treasurer Tennison] Makiwane. On this trip another pilot who worked for Bartaune flew. So many people were flying that Bartuane had bought an extra plane.

We went, and slept in

Kasane, because we left at half past two here and it was dark when we arrived.”

The alternate pilot’s name was Mildenhall, while the identities of the three additional passengers were Mary Mayosi, Moti Ranku and Richard Tlala, all relatively junior activists in the banned South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). For appearances SACTU, fronting for the ANC, paid for the flight.

The flight had been booked by Keitseng, accompanied by Jonas Matlou on the July 14, for July 20, 1962. When its details reached Special Branch inspector Inns-Ker, he immediately suspected that the return flight would be carrying “either Joe Matthews, Nelson Mandela, or possibly both.” Of the SACTU trio it was further noted that:

“Party stated that they were going to unknown destination in Tanganyika for 12 to 18-month trade union training course but gave impression of being in considerable ignorance of true destination and purpose of journey.”

Keitseng recalls that during their overnight stop in Kasane the party was harassed by the local police head named Webber; who was at the time also considered by the then Chobe DC, Brian Egner, to be a security risk. Egner’s own posting in Kasane was a reflection of its strategic importance as a transit point for political refugees. At the time he was part of Resident Commissioner Fawcus’ small circle of officials entrusted with providing covert facilitation along the refugee pipeline.

Keitseng continues: “We tried to find where we could put up for the night. There is a big tree there, a mowana [baobab] tree, inside which they used to lock the criminals up. Webber told us to sleep down there. Fortunately, there was one policeman who liked us, and he said he didn’t know what this white man was thinking.

“This guy took us to the hospital. There was a Malawi chap named Duncan Malazie [father of his namesake the late MP] working there who took us in and got us mattresses. So, we slept comfortably at the hospital. Early in the morning we got on the plane again. “It was about twelve o’clock when we arrived in Mbeya. Because we were told we mustn’t move anywhere, we just stayed at the airport. Later on, Mandela and Tambo joined us and we moved to the local hotel. We discussed plans the whole night. They wanted to know if it was safe to return through Bechuanaland.” (to be continued)

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