BIOGRAPHICAL BRIEF OF BLOG STORYTELLER – EDUCATOR:
The aim of this blogsite is to celebrate the heritage of the descendants of Cape Indigenes and the enslaved and to provide educational stories that encourage all to go and read and learn more about our ancestors, their struggles and their ability to rise above adversity.
Patric Tariq Mellet, aka ‘Zinto’ was born and grew up in the working class districts of old Cape Town – Salt River, Woodstock and District Six. My family were poor working people from what was regarded as a grey area community of people who were classified during the Apartheid years, as ‘Coloured’, ‘Indian’ and ‘White’ in the same family. Both my grandmothers were classified “Coloured” and my paternal grandfather an Afrikaner with strong Camissa lineage and my maternal grandfather was an Englishman. My family contradicted the official segregationist paradigm as we did not neatly fit into these labels.
Though I grew up as an only child with a single parent, my mother, late in my life I came to know that I was one of 13 siblings. My mother had four children from a marriage which ended during the second world war years, and my father had 7 other children with three other women in his life. We siblings always qualify the numeric by saying “thirteen that we know about – there may well be more.”
From the age of 4, I grew up in three foster homes, a children’s home and a residential welfare industrial trade’s school. I first went out to work in a factory at the end of my fifteenth year, having only attained a rudimentary vocational education at Junior Certificate level.
My mother was a single parent working as a machinist in the garment industry and later as a shop attendant in laundry and dry-cleaning shop in District Six. She was a member of the SA Congress of Trades Unions aligned Cleaners and Dyers Union. As a working single parent and having to find board and lodging in other people’s homes she found it hard to cope and thus I was placed in foster care.
One of these places was with a family that had eight children of their own. In desperation my mother had placed an advertisement in the smalls column of a newspaper and this family answered her plea for a foster home for me. I lived with them for 2 years and they were the third home which fostered me. I would see my mother briefly about three times in a year.
Once I was in primary school I came to stay with my mother briefly and she was assisted in caring for me by one of the Holy Cross nuns from Nile Street in District Six. It did not last long before I was placed in a very cruel Dickensian Children’s Home where hard labour, beatings and other abuse and deprivations were the order of the day. While there for over three years I saw my mother once every two months and during some school breaks when I would accompany her to work in District Six and hide under the counter or among the laundry bags. Sometimes I would get to ride in the laundry van or hide by one of the other shopkeepers when company shop inspectors came around. My mother would always get tipped off about their movements.
After the Children’s Home the Welfare Department and Catholic St Vincent de Paul Society looked after my upkeep at a Trades Training School until the end of my fifteenth year, when I started working.
My father, Pieter Francois Mellet (junior) was a shoemaker in a factory in Woodstock. He had three wives and briefly cohabited with my mother. He abandoned us under dodgy circumstances before I turned two years old and had no role in my upbringing. It was around the time I came out of hospital. I was in an accident at home where I pulled the primus stove and hot milk contents from the table and all over my neck, chest and arms suffering third degree burns. I had to have skin-grafting and remained in hospital for almost three months.
My paternal grandfather (Pieter Francois Mellet senior) was from a small village called Lemoenshoek near Barrydale in the Kannaland of the Western Cape. His father was Petrus Francois Mellet. My grandfather came to the City in 1918 and married my grandmother Elsie Petronella le Cordier who was from District Six, where they lived at 6 Sterling Street. My father, born in 1922 and three of his siblings were born in that house in District Six. The family remained in District Six until the early 1930s after which they moved to Doornhoogte (today Rylands) and then to Bokmakierrie in Athlone, where my grandmother Elsie Petronella le Cordier Mellet, a traditional healer, passed away at an early age. My grandfather and four children then moved to Crawford where he remarried and had three more sons.
My maternal great grandparents were from Cala in Xalanga district of Tembuland in the Eastern Cape. My maternal great grandfather was an Englishman, William Hadden, who lived from 1808 to 1908 and my maternal great grandmother, Francina Hadden, was a free woman of colour who had been born to a free slave woman in 1830 from the Kat River valley in the Eastern Cape. They went to live in pre-colonised Thembuland and had six children, my grandmother being Mary-Anne Hadden who was a nurse at Mthatha hospital. There she met my grandfather William Huntley who was an English soldier brought to the hospital for treatment during the Anglo-Boer war.
After my great grandfather died, my grandmother who had been nursing him left Cala and she and my grandfather moved to the poor area of Onderdorp Wynberg. This is where my mother and some of her siblings were born in a house on Kent Street. My grandfather abandoned his family so my mother’s eldest sister Aunty Doll, and her brother Bill went out to work and assisted the old lady to run the home.
My mother and aunty Doll had very strong bond despite an age difference. Doll was born around 1904 whilst my mother was born in 1917. Both married early in life. Aunty Doll married an Indian man by the name of Christian van Rooy. Their first child Joanne was killed when my mum was 12 and had taken young Joanne with her to buy bread at the shop. A drunk driver while messing about with a women in the car lost control and the car mounted the pavement and ripped little Joanne from my mother’s grasp and she was killed. This guy paid off the police and blamed the children for playing in the road.
It left a huge mark on her life. Aunty Doll was to have five more children and these were all quite grown when uncle Christian died just as Apartheid laws started being ushered in. The van Rooys were a great back up for my mother when she got divorced from Alan de Goede and had three surviving children to bring up on her own. Her firstborn died in a diptheria epidemic. Some few years after I was born aunty Doll and her children fled abroad because of the impact of Apartheid on her family and the belief that they stood a chance for a better life in England. It did not work out for all of them and aunty Doll, Louisa and her boys came back a decade later. My mother, now with a toddler to raise on her own as a 40 year old working woman had no support. My mother continued working in District Six and when aunty Doll came back from abroad she managed to get a job as the public toilet keeper at Castle Bridge in District Six. The official title of the job was Chalet Keeper but my aunty was more popularly known as the Spook Lady because she was a clairvoyant.
The poverty and conditions of my childhood and early working life could easily have pulled me down as had happened to many of my peers who landed up in gang activity and in prison or experienced early deaths. When with my mother we lived in one room, cooked on paraffin stoves, had iron basin baths, had bucket toilets, shared beds and lived pretty rough.
When I started asking questions about my father my mother made up a story that he had an accident in his car at Salt River circle by the Locomotive Hotel and was killed instantly. She fully described the accident, but much later in life it all came out that it was not true. To deal with our poverty when my mother had any time on her hands after work she produced things to sell. My mother often made ends meet by knitting and crocheting which could be sold door to door. I did the selling door to door as a kid.
It is with this background that some simple twists of fate put me on the resistance road and from that chosen path I realized a liberated life.
From an early age in the mid-1960s I started a life-long interest in slavery heritage when introduced to the story of the 14th century Peruvian of the slaves and Mulattos – San Martino de Porres, son of an African slave and Spanish soldier. The Holy Cross nun, Sister Mary Martin introduced me to Marty who kinda became my muse for life. I also began to understand just enough about Apartheid and how it was affecting our lives negatively.
My own family tree includes 26 slave ancestors from Africa, India and South East Asia as well as locally born Creole slaves. The slaves in my family tree were from Angola, Madagascar, India, Myanmar, the Celebes, Sulawezi and Makassar as well as a number who were locally born at the Cape. I am also a descendant of Krotoa Goringhaicona, Caatje Hottentotten Voortman of Tulbagh and her two daughters who married two French brothers, the le Cordiers. My ancestry further includes French, Dutch, British and other Europeans. Over 400 years at the southern tip of Africa this complex tapestry genealogy played itself out in what I call the Camissa legacy.
I have a strong and proud sense of my African Camissa sub-identity as a South African and I am very involved in the promotion of understanding of Cape slavery and indigene heritage. Today the younger generation of my family, as their ancestors did in the past, still cross the bloodlines of Camissa, European, Indian, amaXhosa, Griqua and Nama and I have a strong pride in this heritage.
Driven by the effects of Apartheid on my family and community, and my awareness of slavery in my heritage, I got involved in politics in my first year at high school aged 13. One of my first overt political actions was to organise a protest fast in solidarity with Fr Bernard Wrankmore at high school, in protest over the killing of anti-Apartheid cleric, Imam Abdullah Haron, in detention. This was also the first step in my journey of faith which came to embrace a mixture of Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and Afro-Asian Shamanist animist beliefs all held together by the tread of ancestors and saints.
I then went on to organise solidarity activities at school in protest against group areas legislation, population registration legislation, prohibition of mixed marriages legislation, the immorality act and separate amenities act, pass laws, migrant labour conditions and denial of trades union rights to those labelled Bantu.
In 1972 I was forced to leave school early (after Junior Certificate) because of economic conditions at home (my mother was now a pensioner on a meager state pension). As an apprentice, I joined the J&GWU a former affiliate of the banned SA Congress of Trades Union. My first job was in a jewellery manufacturing sweat shop factory at ten rands for a sixty hour, 6 day week. Later I joined the PSA while working for the Hospital Service and organised protests at the Regional Hospital Stores. I was also an active member of the Catholic Young Christian Worker Movement and formed an underground ANC cell in the mid 1970s.
Among other organisations which I joined or formed, I was an active member of the left orientated Christian Institute which was banned in 1977 and I started the Peninsula Workers Forum in the same year. From this base I produced and edited an underground anti-Apartheid newspaper, which was banned, called ‘Young Voice’. It was re-published as ‘New Voice’ but it was also banned.
I had grown up in a community of people of colour with a smattering of ‘poor white’ people who were inter-married to such an extent that it was anyone’s guess where the dividing lines were. My family after the introduction of Apartheid were divided into some being classified ‘Coloured’, some ‘Indian’ and some ‘White’. I now faced a dilemma as I saw myself as part of a community labelled ‘Coloured’ but I had very Euro features and pale pigmentation. Among my grandmother’s siblings and my mother’s siblings there was extensive marriage across these three ‘race’-silo lines. The younger cousins generation were the ones to feel the axe of race classification very hard. Some would never communicate with others again. I was the youngest of this first-cousin generation.
My mother, because she was not married to my father, neither had given me my father’s surname nor had given me her maiden name. Instead she changed my name to that of a former husband and the father of her other children – de Goede, and kept me in a kinda no-mans-land.
I now was faced with serious difficulties as a young 16 year old. This was when South Africans had to apply for identity documents and race-classification was a central component of the Population Registration Act. I rejected ‘race’ classification and the terms ‘White’ and ‘Coloured’ but under protest registered as ‘Coloured’ and thus started a war of words with Home Affairs officials who said that I should be ‘White’. I refused to change what I had written down and in the margin the official wrote ‘Other’. She then wrote something on a piece of paper and clipped it to the form and her manager intervened to say that they can only give me a response later and I should await a letter. The letter never came. Instead I received military conscription papers for the Apartheid military. This thrust me into a headlong conflict with the state as a teenager at a time when there were no political or human rights support structures and the church refused to help me.
I immediately wrote to the military and to Home Affairs stating that I was ‘Coloured’ and not ‘White’ and I was not prepared to take up arms against my people by serving in the Apartheid armed forces and declared myself as an objector prepare to engage in civil disobedience. I asked for Home Affairs to classify me according to the same classification as other family members as – ‘Coloured’. I pointed out that the official had written ‘Other’ next to where I had written ‘Coloured’ on the form. I also mentioned that they had said – “so you are a halfnaatjie then”. I was given a curt reply that I will report for duty and I could then put my case before the military authorities. What followed was that I was forcibly taken into military custody and experienced six occasions of arrest and interrogation by military police and then by the Security Police as I was moved around the country from camp to camp over more than two years in all. In Pretoria the Security Police took me to the notorious Compol Building interrogation centre. I did not know what it was then and only much later learned the full magnitude of being taken there.
Right in the beginning I was first arrested in Cape Town in terms of my act of rebellion to fulfill the requirement to report for service. I clearly stated my opposition to race classification, to Apartheid, what it had done to our family and my opposition to call-up and being regarded as ‘white’. I was taken under arrest to board a train to Upington to the 8th SA Infantry. There without any support I made my lonely stand. He refused to co-operate, refused to salute, and when they tried to issue me with a weapon for training as they thrust it at me I let it fall onto the ground and refused to pick it up. Soldiers crowded around me barking orders and I just kept repeating, I am a conscientious objector and I am not one of you – I have made my position known in writing, I will not serve under arms nor accept your classification. At one stage PW Botha visited the camp (it was a tent camp). He kept a distance away and addressed to the troops with some patriotic speech. He then moved across and I was pointed out and they were talking but he never spoke to me.
Over a few weeks the SADF tried to beat me into line and break me using all sorts of methods from physical abuse to psychological abuse and peer mob pressure. Only after being admitted into the military clinic coughing blood and having collapsed and losing my voice was I again arrested and sent under escort to Pretoria. This was not before a military chaplain was called in to tell me that I was being influenced by Satan and should stop this foolishness and they were prepared to give me another chance. Once in Pretoria the military authorities played as though they knew nothing about my protestations and declaration of identity and objection to military service.
After trying the whole pressure-procedure again in Pretoria with me still maintaining my stand, I was once again arrested by the Military Police and this time interrogated about political beliefs and affiliations and whether I intended to leave the country. I was released into the confines of the military camp under constant supervision, but a few days later arrested again but this time taken to the Security Police Headquarters in the Compol Building in Pretoria. At that time I did not know what this building was. Only after describing the building and the police museum and the interrogation was I enlightened that this was the infamous Compol Building.
Here the Security Police took over my interrogation to try and find out what I knew about the ANC and SACP and about communism. At this time I was only 18 and did not know much about the complexities of their questions. But they were convinced that somebody or some organisation put me up to this. What had occurred was that from the moment of my first arrest in Cape Town and throughout the experience in Upington and later Pretoria I was called Kommunis, or Rooi Rus, or Bont Hotnot, and subjected to humiliations and violence of young armed and violent white Afrikaners who were set on me like a pack of dogs. So here in these interrogations I was also being addressed as Kommunis. Questioning was sharp, intense and with three people often asking questions at the same time, each pulling and pushing and demanding answers at the same time, then left standing for long periods and being ignored. After the long ordeal of questioning and being roughed up, I was taken into a lecture room and made to watch an anti-communist propaganda film and shown various exhibits of equipment and photos of terrorist handiwork. Then a certain black Sergeant X – a former ANC operative who had seen the light was brought in to question me and tell me his story.
All along they wanted to know who had put me up to these actions or alternatively why was I so mad to want to be ‘Coloured’ and to think that I could single-handed take on the army and the government. The questioning then took the route of trying to link my behaviour to Satanism and that Satan was trying to influence me. Then they would talk nicely and try to show that they were reasonable and just trying to help me. Try as they may they did not break my resolve. Perhaps the only thing that saved me was that I came from a poor background and was uneducated and they could at that time find no links to influences of other people or organisations.
I was released and first put into the custody of a soldier by the name of Basson who stuck to me like glue even when undergoing ablutions. Then suddenly they sent me back with an escort to military custody in Cape Town at Wynberg 11 Supply and Transport. Once again seemingly I would not be in custody if I cooperated and I was given the “opportunity” to change my mind. When I kept up my resolve I was goaded into a fight where I assaulted a Corporal whose uncle was a Regimental Sergeant Major by the name of Louw. Again I was arrested and now the interrogation went along the lines that I was prepared to be violent and assault and NCO but not prepared to fight the enemy. I again asserted my simple positions that I was not part of the ‘White’ community nor was I prepared to serve in, take up arms or show respect towards the Apartheid State or SADF Military.
Throughout this ordeal which carried on with the same pattern of pressure, arrest and release over and over again for over 2 years, including on the Namibian border at Rundu, I never once relented. In Namibia I was made a servant (batman) of one Sergeant Major who was to ensure I remained under custody at all times. I was humiliated at every turn and had to hand-wash his clothes and clean his kit. “Jy wil mos ‘n Bont Hotnot wees. Nou werk soes ‘n Hotnot Komunis – fokken Rooi Rus” He continuously bragged about how many terrorists he had killed in Recce Operations and suggested that I would be one of his stories in the near future.
I was told that the only way that I would ever be released or go home again was as a sensational story in the newspapers. They said that they will tell the public I was killed by a terrorist (jou Kommunis maatjies). Though constantly under military custody, I was also arrested again and this time accused of radio transmitting information to the SWAPO enemy. They wanted to know how I got transmitting equipment while under custody and where was it and what was my relationship to SWAPO, the ANC and MPLA. It was a ludicrous charge as I was under strict custodial observation day and night, even to ablutions. Every day it was the same. I was never addressed by my name. I was always addressed as Kommunis, Kommunissie, Terroris or Bont Hotnot or Rooi Rus. (Communist, Little Communist, Terrorist, Pale Hottentot or Red Russian) It was a litany of psychological pressure.
I was regarded as a peculiarity as I wore a green jacket that distinguished me from the others and stood out as I carried no arms and because I was always trailed by a minder and was continuous humiliated and abused in front of others. I also refused to march or salute or take orders. Complete non-cooperative resistance. Once I was asked by some of the liberal English speaking soldiers to explain my situation and they thought I was mad and cautioned me that these guys are going to kill you.
A sergeant by the name of Rabie, a thickset Boer, overheard what I said to these guys, which was essentially my standard statement of my anti-Apartheid stand, anti-classification stand and anti military service stand.Rabie came over and grabbed me by the neck, lifting me off my feet up against a stack of maize-meal sacks, at the same time taking out his side arm. He put the gun to my temple and then into my mouth. He was red and shouting so that his spit was hitting my face. “Jy gaan hell toe vandag Kommunis. Ons het vir jou gevaarsku en jy wil nie luister jou kont.” Another Staff Sergeant by the name of Wiese came running and yanked Rabie away and disarmed him and pinned him down. This was just one of an almost daily gauntlet that I endured. For all of this time they believed that they could break me. They did not succeed.
I was part of a statistic read into the parliamentary record as a small group of people refusing to serve under arms as conscripts in 1974 – 1976. This was long before a white anti-conscription movement was to develop in the 1980s. In a final interrogation they shouted “okay, okay if you want to be a Hotnot or Kaffir so bad, then go and be one – fokken Bont Hotnot. Do you intend leaving the Republic? We think its best that you do. Wherever you go in the future you will have to look over your shoulder. We will be following you, watching you and listening to all that you say. Passop Kommunis jou dag sal kom.”
Thus I belatedly landed up with that old Home Affairs categorisation of “Other Coloured” (ID – o7). Every identification number denote in the last two digits what your classification was. By the time we returned from exile the system was changed so that everyone had the digits “08”. But at the height of Apartheid in my time of struggle the “White” classification was “00” and Cape Coloured was “01”. I had to fight to be me and to claim my heritage and maintain my belief system and opposition to Apartheid. I had been through so much all by the time I was 20 years old. After being released by the military, the security police started visiting my workplace, speaking to my workmates and tapping my calls and following me around. My life would not be the same again.
I was however left with uncertainty as to what the next step with the military or the Security Police would be, so I frequently changed abode determined that they would never get hold of me again. I also altered my life, left my job as a storeman, and trained as a maintenance fitter in a printing establishment in Epping Industria. In no time the Security Police recruited a person there to watch me. But by now I was much more highly conscious and learned a lot of tricks. I started listening to Radio Freedom and decided to join the ANC and to work underground and to take up arms against Apartheid. My long periods of military custody, arrest, interrogations and abuse had hardened me and made me even more resolute.
One of the peculiarities of the “Other Coloured” classification is that the regime functionaries did not know what it was supposed to mean either. After skipping the country, it was later reported that on the wanted ANC terrorist lists distributed to all police stations I was listed on the “Coloured List”, “Bantu List” and “White List” because officialdom did not know what this terrorist was in terms of race classification. One of my cousins who was a serving in the police confirmed this to me after I returned from exile.
I started listening to the external broadcasts of the ANC radio Freedom and decided to answer the call made by President Oliver Tambo calling young people join Umkhonto we Sizwe and use every means at their disposal to get training and fight the Apartheid regime. I consciously decided to join MK and made this known to the tight network that I had become involved with after seeking out comrades during the 1976 national youth uprisings. These were youth who had now loosely formed the Comrades Movement of small learning cells which also creatively engaged in resistance action. During the 1976 and 1977 youth uprisings I was deeply involved in planning and carrying out activities of political education and of practical actions that built confidence and involved shutting down some of the institutions which we protested against.
Through this I made contact with the older generation of the ANC inside South Africa through contact with Matthews Huna when attending mass at the Catholic Church in Gugulethu. I had earlier been influenced in the Young Christian Worker movement where Lumko Huna also was influential. At that time things were just coming together again in Cape Town after many years of the ANC being fairly dormant. Everything was still a case of taking one cautious step at a time.
In 1977 I trained as a mechanical engineering artisan working for a large printing factory in Epping Industria and had no choice but to join the SA Typographical Union (SATU) which had a closed-shop agreement in the industry. But the union was unfortunately a conservative union which had segregated membership practices. (A-B and C – race-based branches for white, coloured and black). I joined the B branch. In the 1980s when in exile I led a protest against SATU’s racist policies and succeeded in getting SATU suspended from the International Graphical Federation (IGF).
Around this time I developed a plan for a single day coordinated bombing attack on road and rail bridges on the main arteries into and out of Cape Town at Mowbray settlers Way rail-bridge, Salt River road-rail bridge on Voortrekker Road, de Waal Drive and on the N1, together with a small hit on Wynberg Military base 11 Supply & Transport of which I had intimate knowledge. The plan was never implemented because the ANC could not guarantee, (even although planned to be executed in the early hours when trains were not operating and there was little traffic on the roads), that no civilian lives would be lost. The aim was to avoid any civilian casualties as the ANC intended to be the first non-statutory military to sign a Geneva Protocol.
During the 1970s I also worked with comrades in the Churches Urban Planning Commission in running political education classes for youth at the Dora Valke centre and promoting an understanding of the ANC and why armed-struggle was the only way forward. This was all part of active underground resistance at this time. It is too long a story to relate here but it was imminent that the security police had caught up with me and were ready to make good on their threats of couple of years previously. The Dora Valke sessions had been infiltrated and this led to a security police swoop, and I went on the run, going into exile with my family to Botswana.
In 1978 I was received in exile with my family by the African National Congress mission in Botswana, and the frontline SACTU committee and SACP. I was immediately sent to the rural area of Botswana for political training with underground structures. Pete Richer, Lauren Vlotman, Marius Schoon, Jeanette Schoon, Henry ‘Squire’ Magothi, Bernard Molewa, Isaac Makopo and Dan Thloome were all part of my mentoring and training experience. Twelve MK cadres were brought down to Botswana from East Africa to join myself and my former wife Maria, on a special training programme at the Serowe Brigades in Botswana, while on a parallel level I continued to receive political training under Pete Richer. Zanu’s military wing Zanla also sent five cadres to train with us and two of these joined the Printing Brigade with us. We lived under rough rural conditions, walking to collect water, using candle light at night, cooking with paraffin and only having sparse rations of food.
Here I engaged in a technical training course in printing and communications at the Serowe Brigades, Mmegi wa Dikgang as part of the larger ANC unit mainly comprising Wankie campaign veterans. My trainers were from Denmark and Dutch Surinam. From Serowe I was deployed to Lusaka to work in the DIP under the office of President OR Tambo, to establish an ANC Printing Press at Makeni. In Makeni I served on the production board of Mayibuye and VOW, and also worked on Radio Freedom.
At Makeni, I underwent some basic Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) training, in the use of small arms and munitions and took the MK oath. I was issued with an AK LMG, defensive grenades and integrated into the defence duty roster for the Makeni complex along with my printing press duties. I worked with a small team of amazing comrades headed by Sizakele Sixgashe and including Peter Mayibuye (Joel Netshitenze) and Victor Moshe.
The period in Zambia was a very difficult time. The ANC was riddled with Apartheid agents causing havoc and we were also constantly under threat. Clearly the Apartheid regime also had very senior people in the ANC as agents. The signs were obvious. Good people were being targeted for attack and elimination by rogue elements with the ANC. There was also just a lot of Tsotsi types who were only in the liberation movement for what they could get out of it. Politics attracts idealists and opportunists and the signs of opportunism could be seen operating among us. Zambia too was under great threat as were all the frontline states.
At one stage every night we had to vacate where we were staying at a moment’s notice often in the middle of the night due to alerts of attacks. Machine gun shots and explosions often pierced the air at night. One day fleeing into the night I almost lost my life when I was grabbed by the neck from behind when someone jumped out of the bush along the road. Maria carry our son was two metres away from me. She shouted and I was carrying a knife, shouted and slashed at the man. Dogs started barking and I managed to get away and we ran through an open gate where we got assistance from strangers. My time in Lusaka is a long story and my SACP cell headed by Captain Lerhule and Jack Simons gave me support as did OR Tambo’s most wonderful gift to me of mentorship in the form of Wolfie Kodesh. Ray Alexander and my neighbour Reg September and my commanding officer at Makeni, Sizakele Sixgashe were all pillars of strength.
Thus after 5 years of serving in the ANC and MK in various ways at home, in Botswana and in Zambia in 1981 I was sent to the UK, to undergo studies at the London College of Printing while working part time for the SACTU and ANC. This then later changed again when I began a nother period of full time work in the ANC press post 1985.
Having previously been active in the union movement, Ray Alexander Simons sent instructions ahead to London that I should also be integrated into the work of SACTU and here I also worked under the leadership of John Gaetsewe, Archie Sibeko and John Nkadimeng in making a contribution.
On graduating from the London College of Printing, I went into in-service training at a commercial printing press (Spiderweb Press), printing for the Labour Party and Solidarity movements dealing with Nicaragua, El Salvador, East Timor, Western Sahara, Namibia, Palestine, Kurdistan and South Africa. During that time I worked closely with liberation movements in all of those countries.
In 1983 I was seconded by the ANC, to work at the International Defence & Aid Fund for Southern Africa (established by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston and Canon Collins), in supporting political prisoner’s families and others under banning orders. I worked for 2 years at IDAF.
From 1985 to 1990 I went back into full-time service in the ANC DIP Printing Press in London with Gill Marcus and others, while also working for SACTU in Western Europe. Here I served on editorial boards of Sechaba, Phakamani, Rixaka, Newsbriefings, Umsebenzi and other publications. I also represented the movement on working trips to Spain, Greece, Cyprus, France, Netherlands, Russia, Zambia and Tanzania.
I played a leading part in the design team that created the ANC logo and all underground literature, as well as literature for the diplomatic and solidarity thrust. At the same time I carried out training & development programmes for ANC Youth cadres coming to study printing at the London College of Printing, mentored and guided by Cde Mzala Jabulani Nxumalo. This offered cadres political training and, training in the technical disciplines of communications, printing and publishing. A few other operatives destined for the Home Front were also sent to the press to train under my tutorship.
It was while at the ANC Press in Mckenzie Street, that a small team comprising of Gill Marcus, Patti McDonald, Sello Moeti (Michael Lubisi) and myself Tariq Mellet (Pat de Goede) poured through submissions from the MK camps on what the new ANC logo should look like. We chose the best of these as well as the former logo developed by Thami Myele and Patti McDonald merged the best elements of these and thus was born the ANC logo still in use today (with a simple adjustment removing the four spoke wheel representing the different congresses of the Congress of the People and replacing it with a Mine-Shaft Wheel). The DIP press produced around 5 million sheet runs of underground literature per year for distribution in the underground across South Africa and into the international support arena. It was one of the key strategic centres of the liberation struggle.
I returned to South Africa from exile in September 1990 and went to work in the NGO sector at Grassroots Educare & Adult Education and Training Trust in Cape Town. I was also active in the National Education Health & Allied Workers Union and served on the founding executive of the SA NGO Coalition. My community development focus was on the Early Childhood Development Sector, Children’s Rights, and Adult Education.
In 1996 I joined the staff of Parliament of South Africa as Head of Public Relations (and protocol) managing all heads of state visits to Parliament as well as all ceremonials, public relations and public education activities. My approach to PR was firmly based in the concept of “acknowledgement and corrective action” being better than “spin” when dealing with arising negative scenarios. In 1999 Parliament sent me on a 5 state travel programme to the USA as a guest of the State Department’s USIS programme to look at USA public participation in political processes and to look at political participation issues of minority communities – Native American, African-American and Hispanic. The entire period a Parliament handling all visits of Heads of State from Castro to Clinton was a highlight and it was a great priviledge to work so closely with Nelson Mandela and Dr Frene Ginwala and to learn so much along the way.
In 1999 I completed a Master’s degree (MSC) in tourism management and development, with distinction for my dissertation looking at the challenges faced by black entrepreneurs in tourism in the Western Cape and the niche product of heritage tourism focusing on slave and indigene heritage.
In 2001 I took up a public relations, research, fundraising and development position (Director) at University of Cape Town Development and Alumni Office for 2 years carrying out a global study on prominent UCT alumni. This published research was carried out through traveling and interviewing over 100 high profile UCT personalities in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and UK.
In 2002 a colleague and I co-established the Inyathelo – SA Institute for Advancement to support Higher Education, Museums and Medical Institutions in Africa. I served as Co-founder, Trustee and Managing Director. I also carried out working tours of Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Botswana, USA, Ireland, the UK Australia, New Zealand and Canada over the course of the next five years.
Among the highlights of this work, in 2003 I was commissioned by Prof Jatti Bredekamp (CEO) to complete a Business Plan for the transformation of the old Cultural History Museum into the IZIKO Slave Lodge Museum. During this time I visited the lodges and castles used in the slave trade by the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Norwegians and English, dotted along the coastline of West and East Africa. Many were of similar construct to that of Cape Town’s Castle of Good Hope. In fact one even carries the same name in Ghana.
I am well known as a heritage activist, storyteller and educator specializing in Cape Slavery studies and have run a number of popular online initiatives in this regard as well as youth heritage education programmes with a range of age-groups. In 2005 I designed and ran an 18 month long development programme for Black Entrepreneurs in Tourism supported by the Swiss South Africa Cooperation Initiative leading to the production of videos and publications promoting black tourism heritage products based on local slavery and indigene heritage.
In 2007 I undertook a year-long contract with the British Charity – Absolute Return for Kids, as Managing Director of a multi-million rand programme of assistance aid to the Health sector in South Africa around HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral roll-out and development of child services. Over the next two years I continued to work with various community development projects as an independent consultant, branded as Dibanisa Interactive – connecting People, Passion and Praxis. Since leaving the parliamentary service I also continued to enjoy a good relationship with the Presiding Officers and was invited to join two advisory boards at Parliament from 2001 – 2008.
I later went on to work first as Director of Immigration and then as Director Port and Border Control – Maritime and Aviation Projects in the Western Cape in the Immigration Branch of the Department of Home Affairs. Here a big part of my job involved the combating of human trafficking and people smuggling, a growing challenge in South Africa, as well as taking forward the counter-corruption drive of the department. I went into Home Affairs to contribute to the turn-around strategy of the Minister with particular emphasis on counter-corruption, law-enforcement and legislation compliance.
As part of this I played a leading role in assisting Home Affairs in transforming maritime borderline security. I was the primary figure in ensuring the establishment of an Inter-agency Command Centre for Port Control in Cape Town Harbour – a first, and the re-establishment of E-Berth as an international cruise liner berth in the Port of Cape Town after over 40 years since it was demolished. After Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma moved on to take up the position heading the AU, I was asked to join the new Minister, Naledi Pandor as her Special Advisor in the Ministry. I served as such for 18 months.
Thereafter for the last year before retiring on pension, I was asked to implement a turn-around strategy for the immigration service as Commanding Officer at OR Tambo International Airport where there was many PR problems and much corruption. I was able to make a huge difference both in identifying the problems and in beginning a process of resolution and building strong relationships with the airlines, ACSA and all other stakeholders. In June 2015 I retired and went on pension to devote more time to my heritage education and research passions. I had come up against much corruption running from the highest levels in the department right through to the public interface level and with strong linkages into political patronage systems. Without cleaning up at the top, corruption lower down was an impossible task.
In the political arena I am an outspoken critic on corruption in government and of the ANC and what can be called the betrayal of the traditions and ethos of the liberation movement. I have warned of a “talk left – walk right” culture that has gripped the ANC who are out of touch with people on the ground. I speak of the kleptocracy that dominates in the halls of power where a “political estate” which has drifted into delusions of being a ruling aristocracy holds tightly onto power by using an increasingly powerful securocrat machinery. It would also seem that some of those who were high up in the ANC during its underground and exile years but working for the Aparatheid regime have surfaced as a self-serving right leaning usurpers of our struggle gains. These have emerged using left rhetoric but are clearly a neo-colonial bedrock for external influences.
I have always spent much of my free time working in the heritage field and youth development field. This is my primary passion. Among other things I have worked closely with Dali Tambo and the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation on a major history and heritage project set to revolutionise the heritage landscape in South Africa by bringing to life the stories of many great men and women of South Africa who have been obscured by the colonial tributary narrative. I style myself as a heritage activist and avid history and heritage educator emphasising that I am not an academic and have no wish to engage in the narrow and highly self-protective world of local academia still dominated by a white colonial paradigm and their sense of history as a product being owned by themselves.
There has been much great research that comes out of this world but it is stifled by attitudes that lead to the concealing of history rather than ensuring public access and open source information. At another extreme there is also much too much of a constricting subjective fundamentalism rooted in a destructive ethno-nationalism straightjacket that attempts to pass itself off as anti-colonial or post-colonial but is quite the opposite.
Users of this storytelling style has done much to popularize historical understanding and emphasise the stories of the underside of history. The work of a heritage activist and community teacher is no different to that of teachers in classrooms. Their task is that of conveyers of information and promoters of learning. I most particularly focus on the history and heritage of Cape Slavery and the Indigene People of the Cape. I call this my magnificent obsession.
I am also the co-founder (with my spirit-daughter Samantha Castle) and Chairman of Step-Up 4 Life – an avante guard voluntary non-profit organisation working with building social cohesion and understanding of heritage lessons for building active citizenship. My life continues on the same trajectory that I started out on so many years ago now as I continue as a liberation struggle veteran to be politically active. I consider myself to be an African Democratic Socialist, and an anti-colonial liberationist in the left tradition. I am a frequent commentator in the public media on heritage and social justice issues.
In 2010 I was recognised for my educational work in the heritage arena when I received Provincial Honours for the promotion of cultural heritage in the Western Cape. I have written extensively on Slave and Indigene heritage issues and has published LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA. I have also written 20 mini biographies of prominent historical characters for the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation – National Heritage project. Besides an number of educational film projects that I am involved in I am further presently writing a comprehensive set of historical research papers to be published as a book – The Camissa Footprint.
Presently myself and my Thai wife Asirawan Leena Mellet live in West Beach, Bloubergstrand in Cape Town where we run a small guesthouse facility our home, together with a Traditional Medicine Thai Spa and a slavery heritage reflection centre. It is called Asirawan Siam Healing House & SA-Thai Slave Heritage Reflection Centre. I have 3 sons – Dylan Mtshali, Manuel Bram, Vuyo Beyers Joao and 5 grandchildren – Caleb, Tyler, Arian, Celeo and Ella. I also have a stepson and stepdaughter – Cheytta and Watsana and step-grandaughter Naam. I further have a very special relationship with my spirit-daughter Samantha Castle.