The daring escape from Edendale

2014-02-13 00:00

“THE year was 1986, the month April. I’ll never forget that day, the 27th. It was at 6.45 in the morning when I entered the gates of Edendale Hospital.”

This was veteran ANC operative Gordon Webster starting his talk at the hospital yesterday, as a hushed hall listened.

Webster’s daring rescue by fellow uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) member Robert McBride 28 years ago made international headlines. As part of the hospital’s 60th anniversary celebrations, the gathering of past and present staff was given a first-hand account of the dramatic events on that fateful day.

Webster, 22 at the time, and fellow MK operative Bheki Ngubane, had been shot at by the police on Sinathing Road. Ngubane was dead and Webster, with gunshot wounds, was rushed to Edendale Hospital. There he gave his operative name — Steve Mkhize. He was rushed into the theatre for an operation and was later in the ICU when he heard a voice saying, “Steve Mkhize, huh? Hello Webster.”

“That’s when I knew I was in big trouble because the security police already knew who I was,” he said.

Later, a doctor was to whisper a code word to him, alerting him that his fellow combatants were aware that he was at the hospital. Webster’s brother’s girlfriend, Pam Cele, a nurse at another hospital, walked in as an Edendale staffer and informed him of the plan to spring him on Sunday, May 4. Webster’s rescue took place in a hail of gunfire. He had just undergone a second operation and could not walk. He was thrust on to a laundry trolley that collapsed, and later onto a hospital trolley.

“All the way the nurses and staff sang struggle songs. Some shouted ‘Viva ANC!’ It boosted my morale, especially as our escape plans went horribly wrong. A car was supposed to be waiting under the bridge near Huletts Aluminium.

It was not there so we had to drive all the way to Camperdown with me completely naked, like Adam, on the back of an open bakkie on one of the coldest nights,” Webster said.

Webster, who lives in Port Edward, is currently writing his memoir.

The hospital is holding three memorial lectures, each focusing on a period of 20 years in the build-up to its 60th anniversary celebration in March.

Dr G.T.T. Buthelezi, who gave the keynote address yesterday, defined the period 1974 to 1994 as the resistance years. He said the story of staff who contributed to South Africa’s liberation needed to be told.

Yesterday’s lecture was in honour of Dr Norman Ngciphe, an intern at Edendale Hospital when he was blown up during a South African Defence Force raid in Lesotho on December 9, 1982. He was killed along with 41 others.

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