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Izwe Lethu iAfrika: The Life And Legacy Of Philip Kgosana

Ferial Haffajee looks at the humble approach of Philip Kgosana, who was just 23 when he led 30,000 people in an anti-dompas march.

20/04/2017 17:20 SAST | Updated 20/04/2017 18:09 SAST
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South African Philip Kgosana, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in London.

The Pan Africanist legend Philip Kgosana, who died at 80 years old on Wednesday, spent his final years tending his oranges at his farm in Winterveld and contemplating the state of his country.

Izwe Lethu, iAfrika. He has returned to the land.

Kgosana was part of a group of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) stalwarts who had formed a loose grouping to consider both the state of their party and also see how they could contribute to steadying the lilting ship of South Africa.

The director of the Press Council, Joe Thloloe, met Kgosana at the launch of his updated biography "Lest we forget" a few months ago. It was a jovial affair where old comrades caught up, said Thloloe, but he added that Kgosana and the veterans were concerned. The PAC has splintered several times and is a shadow of the force it used to be.

The head of Wits University's school of journalism, Mathatha Tsedu, said: "Kgosana symbolised the kind of people who were in the forefront of the PAC at the time. If you look at where we are now and the state of the organisation, it is lacking that type of leadership."

Rallying cry over land ownership
For many decades, the PAC was the font of black intellectual and political capital. Its Pan Africanist ideals and its rallying cry for land justice are the centre of South Africa's international relations as well as in a renewed focus on the patterns of land ownership in South Africa.

Tsedu said that in one of his final conversations with Kgosana, he had joked that while everybody was fighting about land in the cities, he had returned to the land and was doing well on it. His farm was part of a successful citrus co-operative in the North West. One of the most recent published photographs features him nurturing a citrus tree.

On his return from exile, Kgosana was not hungry for political positions and while many exiles wanted to go to the national parliament in Cape Town, he chose instead to become a councillor in Pretoria, said Tsedu.

"Part of what struck me about him was that for someone who had that profile, that sort of stuff didn't go to his head," said Tsedu, adding that Kgosana immersed himself back into the PAC without wanting serious positions. "He had no airs about him."

'You need to build houses'
South Africa is a country of many walks to freedom. On March 30 1960 Kgosana, who was 23 years old, led one of the most eponymous marches in the country's history when he walked with 30,000 people in an anti-dompas march from Langa to Cape Town.

When Tsedu reviewed the book, he wrote that Kgosana had miscalculated when he dispersed the march and went into a meeting with the apartheid justice minister of the time. He was swiftly arrested and future marches were banned. "He had relieved himself of his only bargaining chip," says Tsedu.

"Top of his mind was that the point had been made. He didn't want anybody to die. Let's not have more people killed." Just under a year ago, Kgosana and the PAC restaged the march of 1930 to symbolise the ongoing struggles in South Africa.

At the end of the march, he said, "Enough is enough," said Kgosana. "When you have political power, you need to build houses for your people, provide them with health and schooling. This has not happened."