Philip Kgosana lashes out at ANC as he speaks to Biénne Huisman about 79 years of fighting the good fight
Philip Kgosana credits two decades of UN deployment in countries ranging from Idi Amin’s Uganda to the US and India for teaching him to pity racists.
“Working for the UN in various countries for years taught me, when I detect someone is a racist, to pity them,” Kgosana (79) told the Cape Town Press Club last week.
The struggle veteran appeared unperturbed about speaking to the audience under an oil painting of Cecil John Rhodes, which adorns a wood-panelled wall at the inner-city Cape Town club.
After 37 years in exile, Kgosana returned to South Africa in 1996, and today shares a home in Pretoria’s Karen Park with his wife, Thungthung.
Their five children – aged from 37 to 54 – are married; their two daughters live in Tanzania and the US, and their three sons live in South Africa.
Between tasks for the Methodist Church, where he is a deacon, Kgosana cultivates mushrooms, citrus, marula fruit and moringa trees on land inherited from his parents, 40km outside Pretoria in the Winterveld. He also rears earthworms to help process the farm’s compost.
Kgosana carved his name into the history books when, as a 23-year-old Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania leader, he led 30 000 protesters on a peaceful anti-pass march to Parliament on March 30 1960, nine days after the Sharpeville massacre.
Photographs taken at the time show Kgosana in short pants, marching over De Waal Drive ahead of the throbbing crowd.
Later that day, Kgosana was double-crossed and arrested – and the apartheid government declared a state of emergency.
“For a few hours, the fate of Cape Town and the course of South African history was in the hands of two men, a colonel of the South African Police and a student in short pants,” wrote Gerald Shaw in his 1999 book, The Cape Times – An Informal History.
Many consider March 30 1960 a pivotal day in South Africa’s liberation history, and there is currently a move to change the name of De Waal Drive to Philip Kgosana Drive.
Last Wednesday – 56 years later – City Press joined Kgosana as he retraced his historic footsteps under grey skies from Langa to central Cape Town.
With swift steps he led a small procession of PAC supporters, who were transported along a section of the N2 by bus in compliance with city regulations.
Addressing a crowd at Cape Town’s Grand Bazaar, Kgosana lashed out at the ANC government.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “Political power is a tool, a tool that should be used to improve your country; to build houses for your people, to provide them with health and schooling. This has not happened.
“Vast parts of our population are illiterate. How can we say we’re free when people can’t read. It is terrible how this has worked out.”
Kgosana accuses the ANC of squashing the PAC’s role in South Africa’s liberation history by, for example, changing the name of Sharpeville Day to Human Rights Day.
Over the years, the PAC’s numbers have dwindled, and today the party only has one member in Parliament.
“As veterans of the struggle, we [the PAC] might not be in power, but we’re still interested.
“We might even have to congratulate the Economic Freedom Fighters for upholding South Africa’s Constitution.
“I mean, how many times was the president asked to appear before court and he didn’t? He was reducing the Public Protector to a dummy.”
Kgosana’s autobiography, Lest We Forget, details how he slipped out of South Africa via Swaziland and Lesotho while on bail in 1961, catching a secret flight to Dar es Salaam with help from then Tanzanian statesman Julius Nyerere.
Remarkable moments in Kgosana’s years of exile include meeting Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who allowed him to join the Ethiopian Military Academy, where he completed parachute training in 1967.
“I have a beautiful framed picture with the emperor at my house, which I treasure,” he tells City Press.
“You couldn’t play around with the emperor, though. I mean, there was strict procedure – you had to bow to him three times and sit down, and your weren’t allowed to look him straight in the eye.
“When I was brought before him [Selassie], he started asking about South Africa and my dreams for the future.”
Kgosana graduated from the University of Addis Ababa with an economics degree in 1971. Two years later, he joined the UN.
His unflinching leadership style is perhaps well reflected in his thoughts on parenting.
He has nine grandchildren, but is adamant that their rearing is best left to their parents.
“I refuse to look after my grandchildren,” he says. “People must learn responsibility, and my children must learn to look after their own.
“Unless a grandchild is unwell, of course. And so far, so good.”