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Mandela In Lobatse (Conclusion)

We left off with Nelson Mandela having wasted little time between his evening landing in Kanye and return to South Africa via Pioneer Border Gate.

Keitseng: “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. We did not get out to greet our comrades. Working in the underground people only needed to know who they needed to know. Mandela went through the gate alone. At that time there was no question of a passport. They would just ask you your name and where you are going to. Rakola just opened the gate, no questions.”

Mandela: “I was to drive back to South Africa with Cecil Williams, a white theatre director and member of the MK. Posing as his chauffer, I got behind the wheel and we left that night for Johannesburg. After I crossed the border, I breathed deeply. The air of one’s home always smells sweet after one has been away.”

At around dawn, Mandela and Williams had reached Liliesleaf farm, which served as a principal safe-house for the then underground Congress alliance. While still at Liliesleaf, Mandela was reunited with the Makarov pistol he had received as a gift from the Ethiopians, which he had left behind at Lobatse.

Keitseng: “Later on [Joe] Modise came back after dropping Mandela off, and picked up the gun and half of the bullets we brought from Mbeya.”

For his part Bechuanaland’s Resident Commissioner, Peter Fawcus, in a top-secret July 24, 1962 report on Mandela’s return observed that: “Plane returned on 23 July and request landed at Kanye. Passengers were Keitseng and Nelson Mandela. Mandela proceeded directly to Johannesburg. No indication that the S.A.P. [South African Police] were aware of his arrival.”

Fawcus’ communication was notably marked for “UK eyes only”, indicating that it was not to be shared with other intelligence services in the region or beyond.

Having left the safety of Liliesleaf to confer with the ANC president Albert Luthuli, Mandela along with Williams were arrested while leaving Durban on August 5, 1962. Initially, Mandela was only charged with two counts - that of inciting persons to strike illegally (during a 1961 stay-at-home campaign) and that of leaving the country without a valid passport.

It was only after the S.A.P. raided Liliesleaf, almost a year later on July 11, 1963 that Mandela was further charged with treason in the famous 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, alongside Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others.

Available evidence suggests that Apartheid’s agents were caught off guard by Mandela’s landing and quick exit

through Bechuanaland. Indeed, it appears that the apartheid regime only came to know the timing of Mandela’s return around the time of his capture.

On August 15, 1962 Inspector Innes-Ker of the BP Special Branch (SB), joined by his trusted Lobatse deputy Inspector Shepperd, honoured S.A.P. Sergeant Botha’s invitation to meet in Mahikeng. After initially citing a letter the S.A.P. had received from K.T. Motsete warning of links between Motsamai Mpho’s B.P.P. faction and South African “communists”, Botha went on to press his guests for information about Mandela.

Innes-Ker: “He [Botha] was of course very interested in Mandela and kept bringing him into the conversation; he asked whether we were able to confirm that Mandela had been in Serowe, according to the information he had given us a week or two ago.  I cannot help forming the opinion that the S.A.P. are aware of the fact that Mandela returned to the Republic via B.P.”

On August 28, 1962 S.A.P. SB Sergeant Pio made a follow-up visit to Innes-Ker in Lobatse during which he “stated that they had definite information that Mandela returned to the Republic via B.P. and requested any information we had”; further adding that Mandela had “flown from Dar to the B.P. about the 25th July,” thereafter spending a week in Serowe, where he was possibly hosted by Patrick van Rensburg and/or Seretse Khama. According to Innes-Ker, Pio went on to assert that: “It was as a result of information from contacts in Serowe, so he said, that they were eventually able to arrest Mandela.”

Innes-Ker, however, believed that Pio’s account was “deliberate false information to mislead us”.  While Mandela certainly did not pass through Serowe on his return passage, he may have tried to reach out to Seretse Khama as well as K.T. Motsete, during his January 1962 stay.

This author has been told by one witness that Seretse Khama, joined by Lenyeletse Seretse, did secretly meet with Mandela. But this alleged incident cannot be confirmed and may rather refer to Seretse’s documented meeting with Joe Matthews at about the same time. As readers may recall J. Matthews had joined Mandela in his outward flight from Lobatse.

What is clear from the B.P. records is that Mandela’s departure and return trips through Bechuanaland in 1962 underscored the growing divergence between Pretoria’s securocrats and their British counterparts as it became apparent that senior Protectorate officials had been secretly aware and supportive of Mandela’s movements through the B.P.

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