Not many men or women have the dedication and charisma to lead tens of thousands of people through the city streets, exposing both themselves and their followers to the potential might of the police. Yet, this is what Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leader, Philip Kgosana, did on the 30th March 1960, just days after dozens of protestors were shot dead by the South African police in what has come to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre. Kgosana, who passed away today at the age of 80, was just 23 years old when he took over local leadership of the PAC on the eve of the 1960 Anti-Pass Campaign, after the regional chairman was arrested.
The protest that Kgosana was due to lead was part of a national campaign led by the PAC that would see men and women across the country surrendering themselves at police stations for failing to carry their pass books. But en route to the police station on the 21st March the protestors were stopped by 10 police vans full of policemen. The police captain informed Kgosana that should they continue to the station he would regard it as an attack on the police and take action accordingly. Things did not end there though. That night an illegal meeting was held at the Langa bus terminus to discuss the coming days. There was a government ban that said no more than 10 people could assemble for public gatherings, and the police arrived, killing three protestors, and injuring at least 26 others. A driver transporting journalists into the township was also killed.
The PAC responded with a mass protest on the 30th March 1960, with Kgosana leading upwards of 30 000 people on a 15 kilometre march from Langa to the Grand Parade, near Cape Town’s city centre. On arrival Kgosana was promised a meeting with the Minister of Justice, Frans Erasmus, in exchange for dispersing the protestors. Kgosana complied, but instead of getting his meeting, he was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for 21 days. Decades on Kgosana still remembers the time he spent in solitary:
You sit on the floor of that small little room the size of a lavatory, and sing songs and start dancing and try to recall all the things that you were doing up to the time you got arrested. It was almost damaging. Those walls in front of you, they are almost smashing on your head
Following the Cape Town march, Kgosana was charged with incitement to public violence, violating the pass laws and marching without a permit. He fled the country to Dar es Salaam, only returning to South Africa in 1996 after 37 years in exile.