This year 21 March 2013 will not only mark the 53rd Anniversary of the Sharpeville and Langa Massacres but also marks the 50th Anniversary of the brutal clampdown on PAC-Poqo underground activists and operatives. This I am reminded by the discussion I had with the late Philemon Tefu before he passed on. He had expressed the wish that we observe this day to remember those who were arrested, tortured, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on Robben Island, other prisons and some sentenced to death and hanged at the Pretoria Central Prison.
The emergence of Poqo, the forerunner of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), was one of the consequences of the Sharpeville and Langa Massacres of the 21 March 1960 that also led to the declaration of the state of emergency on the 30 March, 1960, followed by the banning of PAC on 8 April 1960. It will be remembered that the banning also affected ANC and its alliance partners and other organizations opposed to white minority rule and apartheid. It is these repressive measures and conditions of illegality that forced the PAC to go underground and to exile to forge new forms and methods of struggle as dictated by the new conditions. Exile was a tactical retreat to prepare for the continuation of the struggle.
At the time of the clampdown on PAC-Poqo underground activities some PAC leaders and cadres had regrouped in Maseru, Basutoland (now Lesotho) where PAC had established its first external headquarters before moving to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1964. It was from Maseru that the underground activities and networks of Poqo underground structures were coordinated under the leadership of the Presidential Council headed by Potlako Leballo and other members of the PAC National Executive Council including Regional leaders who had fled to Maseru following the Sharpeville and Langa Massacres. It will be remembered that John Nyati Pokela was also in Maseru before he was kidnapped, tried, convicted and sentenced to 13 years on Robben Island in 1965.
The discovery of Poqo underground structures following attacks by some cells that had become impatient but also because some had already burst at the cims due to their organsational strength and size, as confirmed by Edward Roux in his book ‘TIME LONGER THAN ROPE’ (P.429) where he says the PAC-Poqo organization was strongest in the Cape with 64 000 members. The Free State was the smallest with 12 000 members. The PWV area had cells stretching from the East to the West Rand. In the Vaal area the key townships were Sharpeville and Evaton including the high schools in that area. In Pretoria the most active townships were Mamelodi and Atteridgeville including the high schools such as Kilnerton Training Institution (KTI) which had been moved to Hebron, Mamelodi and Hofmeyr High Schools as well as Sekitla and Nchaupe High Schools.
It will be remembered that the first PAC-Poqo activists sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island came from Mamelodi and Atteridgeville including those arrested at Kilnerton Training Institution (KTI) which had been moved to Hebron. These included Japhta Kgalabi Masemola, John Nkosi, Ike Mthimunye, Philemon Tefu, Samuel Chibane (Chips) and Dimake Malepe (Pro). Not only were they the first to be sentenced to life imprisonment but they had also arrived on Robben Island before Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other Rivonia trialists whose prison numbers end with 64. However, it is known that Nelson Mandela was in prison since 1962 but not on Robben Island. It is also known that the majority of freedom fighters who were hanged at the Pretoria Central Prison were PAC-Poqo operatives who were arrested during the clampdown on PAC-Poqo underground structures in 1963 and those who participated in the attack on the Paarl police station in the 1962 and other armed encounters with the apartheid security forces and elimination of puppet chiefs.
This is to remind those who were victims of this brutal clampdown and those who lost their love ones at the hands of the Pretoria hangman to remember this day and to rededicated ourselves to the struggle of the poorest of the poor, the have-nots and the dispossessed who have yet to enjoy the fruits of the freedom for which they served, sacrificed and suffered.
By Molefe Ike Mafole
The writer is a member of APLA Military Veterans Association (APLA-MVA) Tshwane Region and member of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania. He can be contacted on 072 630 2206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.