Reflections on Maseru

2014-12-14 15:00

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Tito Mboweni recalls the morning of December 9 1982, when ‘ANC terrorists’ had been killed in Lesotho

All reasonable human beings have emotion – except those who have killed so many people that hatred runs in their veins.

I am still human. I cry, I get angry, make mistakes, apologise, reflect, meditate, and seek to do better for myself and my fellow human beings.

I was a student at the National University of Lesotho in 1982.

On the morning of December 9 1982, I woke up to the “information” – not news – broadcast by Radio SA that “ANC terrorists” had been killed in Maseru, Lesotho.

According to Radio SA, these were dangerous people about to launch a major attack against South Africa. Thus the attack was a “pre-emptive strike” to avoid major losses of life in South Africa.

Well, 42 people had been killed – 12 Basotho and 30 South African refugees. Among the dead was four-year-old Teboho Jafeta. Four years of age!

Ngoako Ramatlhodi and I, together with good old Ntate Setshabi (vice-chancellor of the National University of Lesotho at the time), rushed to Maseru to find out what had happened. We moved from residence to residence and found a shockingly indescribable situation.

For the first time in my life, I saw people who had been shot and killed in their sleep, drowned in their own blood. Some were wearing pyjamas, but most were in their underwear.

They had no guns. You could see that some had earlier eaten dinner – their dirty dishes waited for the morning to be washed – but most had everything cleaned and well organised after dinner.

But they were dead. That was when the phrase “Amadelakufa!” rang a bell. “We have come to join the struggle, victory or death!”

I think that, on reflection, I died on that day. Amadelakufa!

After the 1976 student uprisings and the renewed vigour to fight against the apartheid system, it had become clear to the apartheid government that the “die was being cast”.

The war in Angola and Namibia was hotting up, mass resistance was gaining traction in South Africa, workers were getting more and more organised, the economy was faltering further and international isolation was now real.

What to do? The state became more and more “regulated” and “centrally controlled”, and thereby more oppressive and offensive.

They created the State Security Council. This was a highly militarised and repressive mind-set. The motto was: Crush internal rebellion at all costs, and go out and kill members of the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress, or whoever was fighting apartheid.

Despite all other international commissions’ findings, my view is that Oelof Palme, former Swedish prime minister, was killed by apartheid agents.

And so the apartheid machinery set about killing people who were opposed to it. Ruth First in Maputo; Jennifer Schoon in Angola; comrades in Swaziland, Gaborone, Maputo, Lesotho and everywhere.

They maimed Professor Albie Sachs, Father Michael Lapsley and Father John Osmers. They bombed Max Sisulu, Phyllis Naidoo, Pallo Jordan, Welile Nhlapo and many others. They butchered Griffiths Mxenge and his wife. They dished out unimaginable brutality, but they could not stop the freedom train.

So, as we remember December 9 1982, let us reflect on some of the most talented freedom fighters who died in the Frontline States in cross-border massacres.

And then there are those who did the killing. There are too many of them to mention.

But the names of General Jac Buchner and Brigadier Calie Steijn come to mind. In Matola, they commandeered Operation Beanbag in 1981. In Maseru, they commandeered Operation Blanket. They confessed this at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Then there were the Askaris, senior ANC commanders or chiefs of intelligence who defected to the apartheid forces either after capture, torture and interrogation, or simply deserting to join the enemy forces.

There were a few of them and they were the ones who were pointing out the residences where our comrades lived. They were the

sellouts. Read Jacob Dlamini’s book Askari to understand this crowd.

Well, is it time to move on?

For my comrades who fell in Maseru that night, a passage from Pontoki the poet: “Great Kingdom of Lesotho?...?the majestic land of peace?...?the Kingdom in the sky. Yes, near Heaven. I speak of naha ea bana ba thari, the children of the great Moshoeshoe, your death was not in vain. Amadelakufa!”

Mboweni is the former governor of the SA Reserve Ba

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