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The Great Escape (Part 3)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off with MK fugitives Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe havingarrived in Lobatse.

According to Keitseng the two were with Special Branch Inspector John Sheppard when they ran into him at a butcher shop. Keitseng instantly recognized Wolpe, who had a decade earlier served, along with Nelson Mandela, as his lawyer when he had been arrested for his political activities in Newclare. Keitseng advised the two to continue with Sheppard so as to process their asylum claims. At the time the South-East District Commissioner, Police and Immigration offices were housed together. The then District Commissioner Bail was reportedly more upset that they had disguised themselves as priests than the fact that they had failed to declare themselves upon arrival. He reportedly observed: “This is a travesty, this is outrageous, this is blasphemy, how can you have dressed in the cloth of God and why did you not come direct to me?” In reply Goldreich and Wolpe confirmed their true identities, while pointing out that they had been on the run eluding Apartheid agents for the past two weeks. In their defence they further cited the recent abduction of SWAPO members Dr. Kenneth Abrahams, Hermanus Buekes, Andreas Shipanga and Paul Smit by plain cloths South African Police inside the Ghanzi District. Perhaps out of pride that he and his colleagues in the South-East ran a tight ship when it came to looking after political refugees, Bail is said to have been dismissive of the Abrahams comparison. He nonetheless reassured the two that their request for political asylum would be granted: “I will give you asylum, but I want you out of the country as soon as possible. You will have to make arrangements yourselves,and do so immediately. Nor are you to leave Lobatse without my permission. Before I get one of my men to take you to the hotel, you need to answer some questions.” Goldreich and Wolpe were thus escorted to the Special Branch office where they answered a series of questions by Sheppard from what was by this time a standardized form that included such matters as their personal profiles, political affiliation and further intentions. Goldreich and Wolpe were then driven by a police sergeant to the Lobatse Hotel. Along the way they met fellow Communist Party/MK comrade Jack Hodgson who with his wife Rica had by then been staying in Lobatse for about two months, while assisting Keitseng in the movement of Freedom Fighters through the Protectorate. A former member of Montgomery’s Second World War “Desert Rats”, Jack Hodgson, like Arthur Goldreich, was valued by the movement for his practical experience in guerrilla warfare. After registering at the hotel under false

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identities the pair next went to a small farm that had been recently purchased by the Hodgsons to serve as a MK transit centre. There they were joined by other refugees. During the meeting Keitseng was called away by news that seven more ANC had crossed the border near Otse. He would later recall: “So, I left these guys drinking tea [others would recall stronger stuff], and I went to collect these other seven by Otse Hill, at Manyanalenong...I was calling through the trees, knowing that people were hiding there. Then I found Max Sisulu. I put him and the others in the Land Rover and took them to eat at my place.” Keitseng then re-joined the Hodgsons, Goldreich and Wolpe. It was quickly decided

that it would be unsafe for the pair to remain in Lobatse. Further impetus was given for their early departure by the news that the ANC had succeeded in chartering an East African Airways plane that would arrive in Francistown the following day. It was therefore decided to depart for Francistown that night along with Max Sisulu, Ismail Bhanu and the others. Simon Tladi was recruited to assist Keitseng with the all-night drive in the Land Rover. Upon arriving in Francistown, the next morning Goldreich and Wolpe were taken to the house of the then District Commissioner, Phil Steenkamp, who was already known for his sympathy for refugees. Keitseng: “We arrived at Francistown in the early morning and went straight to the house of Steenkamp, who was now the District Commissioner there. He arrived at the door in pyjamas— ‘What’s wrong Fish?’ Then I told him that I’m bringing these guys. I left Wolpe and Goldreich there with Steenkamp. I also contacted Anderson Tshepe who took in the seven Africans. I then went back to Lobatse, where I knew others would be arriving. At this time people were jumping the border almost every day.” Over early morning tea with toast, Steenkamp reassured Goldreich and Wolpe that he would do what he could to assist them while they remained in Francistown. The DC is further said to have observed that: “The place was crawling with journalists yesterday. There had been rumour that the two of you had arrived in Francistown. The pack got fed up when there was no sign of you, and they all left. I think you will be fine at the local hotel. Nobody is around, and it might be better politically for you to not be staying with me. I might cause the British government some embarrassment” (to be continued)

 



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