Insurgent on a bicycle

2011-03-08 00:00

IN the sixties, when the political situation intensified and the fight for liberation became more robust, I used to tag along with Creina Bond (later to become Creina Alcock), who worked for the Daily News in the Pietermaritzburg Bureau.

We became firm friends over the years (50 years to be precise) as we worked closely covering raid after raid on activists in the townships.

I was a part of an intelligence network, keeping abreast of the security police and Special Branch. When I received information about a raid on activists, I passed on this information to other activists involved in the struggle against apartheid.

I was working at Eddels shoe factory at the time. It was my job to get on my bicycle and pedal as far as New Scotland Road, where the late Archie Gumede lived, studying to become a lawyer; I would notify him and other people, like Baba Harry Gwala, Dr Chota Motala, S.B. Mungal, A.S. Chetty, Comrade Ramdeen, Dr D.V. Chetty and others, of imminent raids. The reason I travelled by bicycle was because in those days the phones were tapped so we didn’t want to communicate that way.

I was very close to Baba Gwala and visited him at his “headquarters” on the corner of Langaliba-lele and Thomas streets. There stood a high-veranda hall that was known as the People’s Hall and later the Red Square, the hangout for the late Ramdeen and the late Mungal. Opposite the hall was where Dr Motala first started his surgery. Next to his surgery were the offices of the South African Workers Union from which my dear friend Joel Kunene used to operate. I used to do my physical training at the hall under the expert guidance of the late Sam Percy. Today at this historic site stands the business of Willowton Meats.

When Baba Gwala was released from prison, his second stop after meeting his family and close friends was to visit me at Jaguar Shoes in Willowton Road. His first public appearance was at the wedding of my son Nellan and Shirmala at the showgrounds in 1989, where he was the guest of honour. What a blasting he gave white people in his maiden speech.

Other times we would be caught napping because the information did not filter through. On numerous occasions I also wanted to go underground but because I had elderly parents, who were dependent on me, I stood aloof. I had many daring escapes from the security police myself. On many occasions Creina and I would be parked in the Alexandra Park gardens outside the Alexandra Road Police Station from midnight onwards, because we had received information that a convoy of 200 army trucks would be leaving from there to go raiding in the townships.

Several times Creina and I were stopped and told that we would be charged under the Immorality Act, because I was an Indian person and she was a white person. We were not allowed to be together, especially at that time of the night and above all in a park. So we had to shut up and drive off. At the time you could be put in jail without trial for three months. Not even your family members or lawyers would know where you were and you had no recourse to legal representation.You could be put in jail for three months without a trial.

On one such raid, Creina and I were parked outside Alexandra Road Police Station. We got to the park opposite the police station at around one o’clock in the morning and at around four o’clock in the morning the large convoy of army trucks started rolling out. We had to wait until every truck had moved out, so that we could follow. We got as far as the old railway bridge, just before Sutherlands, when a police officer spotted us following. He came rushing up to us and instructed us to leave the area immediately, as we were in a reserve and had to have permits to be there. I asked the officer if he knew that there were thousands of Indians living in the area and why we needed a permit. He said, “Shut up you coolie, you talk too much. You either leave or we will have to arrest you.”

In our quest to find out what was going on and to follow the convoy of trucks, Creina and I would turn around and drive for about a kilometre and, determined as we were to find out what was happening, we would then go back and continue following the convoy of trucks. As the soldiers and police in the convoy combed Edendale, Snathing, Dambuza, KwaPata, Machibisa, and Slangspruit, we would follow, going through the front door as the police left by the back door. By some coincidence, though it seemed the security police knew which homes to target, no Indian homes were raided.

Creina and I would enter the homes and ask the occupants what the police and army had said they were looking for. Their answer would be that they had been told the police were looking for a dangerous criminal who had escaped from police custody, but they had taken away knives and forks from the kitchen cupboards.

Every now and then someone would phone me and give me certain employees’ details, telling me “these people” were dangerous activists working to overthrow the government and that I should release them from my employ. They would give me specific and detailed information of where they lived and where they met and how they were secretly having meetings to overthrow the government of the day, and threatened me to release themfrom my employment or else they would burn my house down. At the time I lived in a block of flats in Pietermaritz Street.

I knew the employees and kept a low profile, but a few weeks later the same people would phone again and threaten me and tell me they were coming to burn the factory down, because I was harbouring activists.

On another occasion I narrowly escaped going to jail. We worked in the factory until late one night. Sometimes there were transport difficulties and one such night while I was dropping off the workers, the old Supreme Court, which is now the Tatham Art Gallery, was bombed. Whether I was a marked man or security police were keeping a close watch on me, I don’t know; however, when the bombings took place, the police were looking for me. They frantically contacted my wife Gwen and later my boss Roy Eckstein, who told them I was in Edendale taking back workers who worked until late that night. The security police thought they had their “man” who had pulled off the bombing and was delivering the culprits. I was surrounded by police vans and cars on the main Edendale Road, near the Edendale Hospital, and was taken into custody for questioning.

On asking the security police why they suspected me, I was told that my business card was found at the scene of the bombing. Whether this was the case, I don’t know, but what I do know is that some weeks prior to the bombings I had met with a young activist at Fedsem in Edendale. I was impressed by him and left my business card with him should he need any assistance from me. It’s still a mystery — did he drop the business card there or were the special branch keeping tabs on me?

Indian police officers with the Special Branch of the security police approached me on several occasions, asking me to make a duplicate copy of the speeches or share my notes of the Natal Indian Congress and other political meetings. They said if I handed the information over to them, they would reimburse me handsomely. Although at that time I was living from hand to mouth, my allegiance was with the struggle.


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