Memoirs of South Africans in exile

2007-10-31 00:00

A large part of the ANC's history was played out while the movement was in exile and little is known about this period, but bits and pieces are coming together through books, such as Number 43 Trelawney Park by Elias Masilela.

The author writes about growing up in his parents' home which was always full of people. Strangers would arrive and stay for long periods, becoming part of the family. After 1994, seeing the important positions assumed in the new South African government by many of his former housemates, Masilela realised the role that his home at 43 Trelawney Park and his own family played in South Africa's liberation history.

In his personal memoir, he sets out to meet some of the cast of characters that passed through his home. These include the more well-known personalities like John Nkadimeng and Siphiwe Nyanda as well as an array of forgotten heroes.

At times it is difficult keeping track of the large number of characters who flit through the pages of his book, but in telling their stories Masilela offers a glimpse of what life was like in exile. The reader gets to know about the sacrifices made by young people, the tensions of living in a situation always fraught with danger, the tactics used by the South African government and their furtive operations in Swaziland, as well as coming to terms with betrayal.

Masilela offers a view that 43 Trelawney Place, known to operatives as KwaMagogo (place of the grandmother), has as important a place in the history books as the farm Lilliesleaf in Johannesburg. This was the hideout where 19 ANC leaders were captured in the sixties, leading to the famous Rivonia treason trial. No doubt as South Africa's liberation history unfolds many more centres of importance will be discovered.

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