Monday, December 16, 2013

Tanzania's Contributions to the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa

In light of President Kikwete's speech at Mandela's funeral, I have decided to post some excerpts from my dissertation manuscript that documents Tanzania's role in the liberation struggle in southern Africa.  The few excerpts I am posting here are from a Chapter entitled "Underground Railroad in Southern Africa."  The chapter documents how liberation fighters from southern Africa escaped through secret routes to Tanzania, then Tanganyika.  I have removed all the footnotes for this posting. I will post more excerpts in the days to come.

Freedom Fighters from South Africa Escape to Tanganyika: Thabo Mbeki’s Group

The next group was made up of at least twenty eight people.  They left South Africa sometime in September 1962 on a lorry, but they were turned back at Rustenburg, South Africa.  The South African government’s effort to prevent the free movement of refugees was beginning to have an impact.  On the second attempt, the group started again from Johannesburg and this time managed to cross the border into Bechuanaland. The group included Thabo Mbeki, Phila Ndlovu, Philip Mokgadi, Sidney Makana, Thabo Rangape, and a South-West African, Brian Bassingthwaite.  This group differed from the first group in its composition in that there were five women in the group: Zoe Mbobela, Vera Gule, Edmie Mali, Eslina Ndamase and Joyce Mbonwa. The group will be known here as the Mbeki group.  In Bechuanaland, Keitseng met them and assisted them on the second journey leg of their long journey.
Keitseng helped make arrangements for the journey to Tanganyika.  He was assisted by Motsomoi K. Mpho in moving them to the border with Southern Rhodesia.   Mbeki’s group was briefed about crossing the border at Palapye and instructed to cross the border at certain points on foot. Keitseng proceeded with the group inside Southern Rhodesia, where they made contact with Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
A ZAPU contact came with a small pick up truck, but it could not fit the whole group.  A decision was made to split the group, one part boarding the small pick up truck and the rest walking. The group that had to walk was intercepted by the British South Africa Police (BSP) on October 3 while traveling from Plumtree to Bulawayo.  The ANC Office in Dar es Salaam and the Tanganyika government swung into action to avoid or avert the high probability that the refugees would be sent back to South Africa.
 What the ANC office in Dar es Salaam and Tanzanian officials were facing a Federation government that was hostile to refugees seeking to transit its territory en route to Tanganyika.  Southern Rhodesia was a dangerous territory for refugees to traverse in 1962. The dangers are captured in a letter from K.H. Towsey, a Southern Rhodesia official in the Prime Minister and External Affairs Office, to D.A. Scott, the Deputy High Commissioner for the UK. It reported that in the first ten months of 1962, 413 people were either refused permission to enter the Federation or were declared prohibited immigrants at Plumtree and Bulawayo and were instructed to return to South Africa or High Commission Territories.  A further 204 were denied entry into the Federation at Beit Bridge.  At least 18 people were handed directly over to the South African authorities either at Mahalapye or Mafeking.  The refugees told Southern Rhodesia authorities they were students on their way to Tanganyika. Towsey complained to the British government that most of them “possess ludicrously inadequate qualifications for the courses which they claim that they are going to take.” Thus the 28 refugees under the custody of Federation officials in October of 1962 were caught up in a precarious situation. 
The Mbeki group was charged under the Federal Immigration Laws.  They appeared in Bulawayo magistrate’s Court on October 12. The refugees informed the magistrate that they were planning to go to Tanganyika where they planed to reside while seeking further educational opportunities.  The magistrate postponed the case until October 25 to allow them time to provide proof that they were welcome in Tanganyika.  The ANC made a request with the Tanganyika government to provide such a document showing the group would be allowed to enter Tanganyika. 
The Tanganyika government responded on October 22, 1962, with a telegram sent to the Chief Immigration Office in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia.  The telegram stated that permission had been granted for the 28 refugees to reside in Tanganyika. The magistrate withdrew charges against the group when trial resumed on October 25.  However, he gave immediate deportation orders. An appeal was made against the order and the refugees were held in Bulawayo while awaiting the final decision.
The group was released on November 9, 1962, but they were placed on a South African bound train under police escort. The ANC in Dar es Salaam did not know immediately the fate of the refugees on the day they were deported.  Later that day, Tambo received news about the deportation from a Tanganyika radio broadcast. At the time Tambo did not know whether the Federation officials were intending to hand over the refugees to South African officials or leave them in the Protectorate.   His best chance was to pressure the British government to intervene on behalf of the refugees to prevent being handed back to the South African authorities.  Tambo sent a letter to Dennis Healey, a Member of Parliament (MP), House of Commons, pleading for the British government to give asylum to the refugees in Bechuanaland while arrangements were being made to transport them to Tanganyika.  Tambo also sent a telegram to the United States Students Association and the Coordinating Secretary of International Union of Students (IUS) in Leiden, Netherlands asking for transportation and scholarships for the group.  IUS forwarded the telegram to the US State Department. The request for an airlift was denied, but the US governments offered find scholarships for the refugees once the refugees by the African-American Institute office in Dar es Salaam. This would not solve the predicament of the refugees facing expulsion from Southern Rhodesia.              
Also unknown to the ANC office in Dar es Salaam was the fate of three South-West Africans Brian Bassingthwaite, Peter Katjavivi, and Ferdinant Meroro.  Bassingthwaite escaped South Africa with Mbeki’s group into Bechuanaland.  It appears that he was separated from Mbeki’s group and joined two other South-West Africans in Bechuanaland.  Bassingthwaite’s group embarked on a journey to Tanganyika separately, but around the same time Mbeki’s group left Bechuanaland.   They too had been arrested in Southern Rhodesia and were being sent to South Africa through Bechuanaland before the Mbeki group.  The outcome of the immigration case against Bassingthwaite’s group would determine the outcome of the South African group in Southern Rhodesia.
Brian Bassingthwaite, Peter Katjavivi, and Ferdinant Meroro arrived in Francistown on October 4, 1962, with the intention of going to Tanganyika. They were assisted by SWAPO representatives in Bechuanaland, Peter Nanyemba and Maxton Joseph Mutongolume, and members of Bechuanaland People’s Party (BPP).  Bassingthwaite had been awarded a UN scholarship to study in the US, but he did not have any funds or travel documents when he arrived in Francistown.  The Bechuanaland authorities gave him two months’ temporary residence permit to allow him time to arrange for his journey to the US. He decided to leave Bechuanaland and enter Southern Rhodesia with the intention of reaching Tanganyika.  BSA police arrested the group five miles from the Southern Rhodesia border for violating immigration laws.  The police took them to Plumtree, Bechuanaland.
Immigration officers interviewed Bassingwaite together with two other South- West Africans in Salisbury. The three South-West Africans claimed to have been traveling to seek scholarships.  The interview revealed that Bassingthwaite’s companions had not progressed beyond Standard 6, which made their claim for scholarships all the more questionable. The British and Americans treated the case of South-West Africans differently.  A resolution, 1705 (XVI), passed by the UN in December 1961 had a provision for member states to facilitate travel for South-West African refugees.  UK subscribed to the resolutions and was under obligation to see that the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland also facilitated the travel for the refugees.
On October 15, a Southern Rhodesia court imposed a fine of £10 on Bassingthwaite, Katjavivi, and Meroro and face two months’ imprisonment.  They were unable to pay the fine.  There was, however, hope for Bassingthwaite.  The State Department instructed their Consul in Salisbury to approach Federation officials to try to secure Bassingthwaite’s release and obtain a permit for him to travel from Bulawayo to Salisbury.  The Americans were inclined to help the South-West African refugees if it could be proven that the refugees were students who qualified for scholarships.  Nevertheless, the US attempt to intervene came too late.  Bassingthwaite, Katjavivi, and Meroro were deported on November 7, 1962, “in leg irons and handcuffs” in the custody of the Southern Rhodesia police.  The police escorted the group on a train bound for South Africa via Bechuanaland.
SWAPO’s acting representative in Bechuanaland, E.P. Nanyemba, pleaded with British authorities in Bechuanaland for the release of the three South-West Africans who were then on a train traveling through Bechuanaland. The potential for the case to embarrass the US and UK at the UN was serious if the refugees were handed over to South Africans authorities. 
In order to avoid international embarrassment, the UK intervened reluctantly on behalf of the refugees. John Maud, UK High Commissioner, instructed the police in Bechuanaland to take the refugees from the Southern Rhodesian police once the train stopped in Gaborone.  Bechuanaland police took the South-West Africans from the train at Gaborone without incident on grounds that they were in unlawful custody while in transit through Bechuanaland. The Daily Telegraph, heralded the incident as a triumph over the South African and Federation officials. Nevertheless, the South-West Africans were back where they began and far from the destination of Tanganyika.  The intervention prompted Federation officials to reconsider their decision to escort the 28 South African refugees back to South Africa through Bechuanaland.
On November 9, 1962, the Southern Rhodesia officials escorting the Mbeki group to the Bechuanaland border without the intention to set them free at the border.  They escorted the group to Plumtree on the border of Rhodesia and Bechuanaland. The group left the train at Palapye and sought asylum from the African authority of Bamangwato Tribal Territory, Rasebolai Khamane.  The request for asylum was declined and they were given 24 hours to leave the territory. Khamane did not want to upset the British colonial officials by harboring the refugees.  This time help came from members of Bechuanaland People’s Party (BPP). Two National Executive members of BPP went to plead with Khamane for an extension of the order.  Again, Khamane refused to give an extension.  Mpho together with two colleagues left Palapye with the refugees on November 11 for Gaborone.  The group was given single journey rail tickets for Gaborone.  In Gaborone, the refugees were given ten days asylum with the possibility of an extension period.  Mpho wrote to Fenner Brockway, M.P., House of Commons, “who can be sure that the application for the extension will be given them?  And if not granted an extension after the expiration of 10 days as it is possible, what will happen to them?” This intervention helped put pressure on the British colonial government to rethink the position of refugees. 
The ANC in Dar es Salaam arranged for the charter of an East African Airline’s DC3 to airlift the refugees from Francistown, Bechuanaland to Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. The British authorities had been persuaded to assist the South-West African refugees, which led to their release and convinced the Federation officials not to send Mbeki’s group to South Africa through Bechuanaland.  To further assist the South-West African refugees, a telegram was sent from UK High Commission in Pretoria suggesting that the three South-West Africans also board the DC3 chartered flight carrying South African refugees from Francistown to Tanganyika. The flight from Bechuanaland was successful and the refugees were airlifted to safety in Tanganyika.  ANC list of refugees from 1962 includes at least 18 individuals who transited to Tanganyika in 1962.  The details in the list are not complete; nevertheless it contains the names of individuals who traveled in the Mbeki’s group; it includes W. William Mngadi, N.S. Malatsi, Thabo Mbeki, Yelleth Zungu, William Mngadi, Phila Ndhlovu, and Thabo Rangape.
Mbeki’s group was distributed to two ANC hostels in Dar es Salaam, Mandela and Mtoni hostels, while arrangements were made to find them scholarships.  Most in the group were able to get scholarships to study abroad. Some remained in Dar es Salaam until 1964, when they too secured scholarships to study abroad. P. Ndlovu and Samuel Malatsi were listed as the occupants of ANC student hostels in Dar es Salaam in March 3, 1964. Samuel Malatsi appears to be the same as N.S. Malatsi.  Malatsi is listed as living in the Mandela Hostel in November of 1963. P. Ndlovu appears to be the same as individual listed as Phila Ndhlovu, also in the same group. Ndlovu is listed as living in Mtoni Hostel in early 1964. He eventually left Tanzania to study Engineering in Moscow, USSR. Thabo Mbeki left Tanzania to study in the UK.  Thabo Rangape left Tanganyika to study in Kiev, USSR but returned to Tanzania after being expelled from his school.  He left Tanzania again to study in the US

 Freedom Fighter From Namibia Escapes to Tanganyika: Sam Nujoma

South-West Africans refugees traveled through the refugee pipeline to Tanganyika.    Hundreds of South-West Africans were able to escape with the help of representative of liberation groups in the High Commission territories and the Tanganyika government.  The South-West Africans had at least used at least two routes; one going through the British High Commission territory to Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia; the second route going through Angola to Northern Rhodesia, and finally Tanganyika. Thus, like other refugees in southern Africa, Tanganyika was the main destination for South-West Africans.   
One of the first South-West Africans to escape to Tanganyika was Sam Nujoma. Nujoma left South-West Africa in February 1960 with intentions of going abroad after reaching Tanganyika.  He traveled by various means, walking, train, vehicles, and aircraft, in a journey that took him two months to reach Tanganyika. He traveled through Bechuanaland, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and finally, Tanganyika. In Bechuanaland, Nujoma pretended to be a returning immigrant labor from Nyasaland, in order to avoid arrest by immigration officers on board a train heading for Southern Rhodesia.  Nujoma was assisted by members of National Democratic Party (NDP) in Southern Rhodesia and United National Independence Party in Northern Rhodesia (UNIP). TANU officials in Mbeya, Tanganyika hid Nujoma from British officials and secretly transported him to Dar es Salaam where he met Nyerere in April 1960.  Nujoma’s experiences set the stage for other South-West Africans to follow.

Azaria Mbughuni is Assistant Professor of History at Spelman College, Atlanta, USA. (  You can follow me on twitter @AzariaTZ  

© Azaria Mbughuni


Thuwein said...

Thanks for sharing this. Its the part of our history that many Africans were not aware and not taught in schools.

Being a fan of the late Musiba (Wily Gamba) reading this makes so much sense of his fiction. This also justify why we (Tanzanians) feel comfortable dealing with Black South Africans than Kenyans.

Azaria Mbughuni said...


It is unfortunate that this important part of our history is not taught in schools. I remember reading Willy Gamba stories; there is so much that Tanzanians soldiers/agents did that even the Willy Gamba stories cant come close to. For example, armed Tanzanian agents infiltrated South Africa and operated inside South Africa in the last days of apartheid. Fascinating stories. I worry that we will not get to hear some of these incredible stories if we are not careful.

faraja simon said...

It sound good when we share unwritten history of Tanganyika.We sacrificed our life, time and resources in liberating Africa, something which was hidden and untold.
i have a request, to share this, may i repost this precious history in my blog (THE AFRICAN LIGHT)?

Azaria Mbughuni said...

Sorry I just saw you request now. I am glad that you have an interest in the article. Give me your email and we can discuss it.