Dec 13


  (The Ghanaian Times 10 December 2013)

Just picture Jan Smuts Airport, Johanneburg, now named after Oliver Tambo. It is the main departure lounge, and people are teeming everywhere.

Then Nelson Mandela walks in,  unnoticed, and comes  to a man I am talking to. The man is Thomas Nkobi, treasurer-general of the ANC. He introduces me to  Mr Mandela, and we begin to chat. Soon,  Thabo Mbeki, smoking a pipe, also shows up. It is pleasantries all round — as if you and I were travelling abroad and were being seen off by our friends. No fuss, and no security whatsoever  — unless you can call Mr Mandela’s two grand-daughters, who are holding hands with him,  his “security guards”.
That was Mandela — no fuss, no special treatment demanded or wanted; straightforward; always smiling, but equipped with a mind of steel and a resolve which few humans can lay claim to.

The reason why the world loves the man – even more now that he has joined the immortals – is that he was one of the few people who “rose to the occasion”. People expected greatness of him. And he exuded that greatness; delivered it for those who had eyes,  to see.

Look at the way he managed to maintain cordial relations between himself and President F W De Klerk. Obviously, De Klerk had a “plan” for Mandela. He wanted to release Mandela, defuse the explosive situation in South Africa, get the world and the UN to lift sanctions against South Africa, and restore the country to prosperity.
Yet, at the same time, whether with De Klerk’s connivance or not, the South African armed forces were corruptly  infiltrating and inciting the Inkatha Freedom Movement of Chief Mangosothu Buthelezi to kill innocent black South Africans on trains and in the township hostels where black workers were housed. Although Mandela was supposed to be provided with information by the South African security services, this aspect of the clandestine operations of the armed forces was kept from him.
But he knew exactly what was going on, and it angered him profusely that these brutal  killings were being portrayed to the outside world as “black-on-black” violence, whereas it was a deliberate ploy to undermine the confidence of the ANC and get it to agree the terms dictated by the De Klerk Government. Knowing this, ANC hotheads wanted Mandela to break off the talks he was holding with the “murderous” Government. But instead of doing that and plunging South Africa back into disaster, Mnadela just exploded in public one day  and attacked De Klerk bitterly. Having made his followers aware that he knew the score, he then went back to the negotiating table. Mandela made De Klerk blink.
Suddenly, the “black-on-black” violence tapered off. And that was how South Africa’s freedom was born.
I was privileged to be at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on the day, 10 May 1994, that Nelson Mandela, having won the first-ever democratic “all-race” elections, was sworn in as President. I have recalled that moment in a broadcast I recorded for the BBC (details supplied below) :
The gist of what I said in my broadcast was this:

My involvement with South Africa is of a long-standing nature..
It began in 1960, when I, as a young editor at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, was at the teleprinter desk, looking for news about a census that Ghana was holding. Suddenly, the teleprinter stopped clacking and after a few seconds, Reuters sent the words, “news flash”.
The news that came through was that 69 Africans had been killed at Sharpeville, in South Africa. This sad story had a profound effect on me. Because, as the news came through, you could see that the people had been shot mainly in the back, as they were fleeing from the police. It was pure pre-meditated murder! And there I stood — an African editor in the national broadcasting station, with no whiteman supervising me. And I could imagine that if I was in South Africa, the “job reservation” laws would never allow me into the newsroom in the first place.
I was immensely angry at this thought and I became very interested in the South African struggle. And I was all the time hoping and praying that the situation would change.
Then, in 1990, we got the news that Nelson Mandela was going to be released. Was it really going to happen? Was South Africa going to be governed by the black majority, not through the war we had been fearing but through peaceful negotiations? And it was announced that, on 10th May 1994, Nelson Mandela, after having won the first all-race elections in South Africa, would be “crowned” President of South Africa!
People think wrongly that apartheid, or racial discrimination, only started in South Africa in 1948, after the National Party came to power. But in fact the earlier English-speaking (British-controlled) administration was also racist. So it was over ninety solid years and more of formal oppression of the blacks by the whites that were coming to an end.
And I was invited to come to the installation of President Mandela. When I got there. I couldn’t believe it. I saw these South African Defence Force people in full uniform – including the feared police murderers!

I sat right  in front of the dais amongst the VIPs!

And there, before my very eyes, was this black man who had been in prison for 27 years, swearing the oath to be the President of South Africa.
I mean — I was already crying like a baby!
And after Mandela had been sworn in, they played the ANC’s national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’Africa”, and everybody in uniform — white and black — stood to attention and saluted! Ah?
But it had still not sunk in. I was crying buckets still, but it hadn’t really sunk in.

Then I saw Thulami Tambo, the daughter of Oliver Tambo, actually standing on that dais, with a clenched fist: the African National Congress salute!

In front of all those people, including the former ‘basses’ – In front of all those uniformed people who, only five years or so earlier, would not have hesitated to shoot Thulami if she had dared to brandish a clenched fist at them. I mean — the Bureau of State Security, (BOSS) had its armed agents all over the place! But Oliver Tambo had involved his children, as young kids, in the struggle, and the moment Nkosi Sikelel’Africa was played, up came the clenched fist — automatically — from Thulami!.
And that was when it sank in.
Yes! We had won!
Amazing! And after that, South African military jets flew over our heads, saluting us. There were all these African leaders: Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and others – people who had been fighting against the South Africans for this moment to happen. And the jets just flew over our heads – those self-same military jets that had been trained to come and bomb us, “the enemy to the north”. They were now saluting us: us who sat in front of the dais in the Union Buildings on Pretoria that day.

It was quite simply — incredible.

Beyond belief.

Never, ever, to be forgotten.

And I just thanked God I was blessed to be there”.
Of course, those who know the history of the media in Ghana will recall that when I was editor of the Daily Graphic, I had  strongly opposed, in the paper, the attempt by the Busia Government of 1969-72, to start a “dialogue” with the apartheid regime of South Africa, The “dialogue” move was a charade which the apartheid regime tried to use to weaken the struggle of the ANC. If the black South African populace was told that Black Africa was now talking to the apartheid practitioners, they would feel deserted. Ghana, in particular, should not lend its name to the opening of contacts with the apartheid regime, because many black South Africans had lived – and been trained – in Ghana during the regime of President Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana turning its back on them would be a psychological blow that would demoralise them and possibly weaken their determination to fight apartheid.
Besides, I reasoned, if the South African regime wanted “dialogue”, why not start it with its own black population?
Nelson Mandela had by then been in prison for over a decade, with no end in sight to his life sentence. Thabo Mbeki was an exile in London. Oliver Tambo was also in exile. And you pass over their heads and go to talk to Busia in Ghana and Houphouet-Boigny in the Ivory Coast? In what way were these African leaders better than the black South African leaders?
I was dismissed as editor of the Graphic because of these strong arguments I published in the paper against “dialogue” .
But to me, the dismissal meant nothing. I told someone who mocked me in the Spokesman newspaper that “before the Daily Graphic, I was!” It, of course,  made me an instant  hero in the eyes of those who understood the South African struggle, though my only objective had been to save Ghana from a disastrous foreign policy mistake that would be a stain on her proud history as a champion of African liberation..

Of course, as I had envisaged, eventually, the apartheid regime became so weak, by the time F W De Klerk assumed the leadership, , that it was FORCED to have “dialogue” with its own black population. Secret talks were held, first in Lusaka, Zambia, and then in London. Finally, Nelson Mandela himself was released from prison on 11 February 1990, and formal negotiations soon opened – OFFICIALLY – between the ANC and the apartheid regime. The first-ever democratic elections were held in April 1994, and on 10 May 1994, the events I have described above, marking the installation of President Mandela, took place.
As I “wept buckets” of tears whist watching the events, I had the quiet satisfaction of knowing that – by my dismissal as editor of the Daily Graphic, I had secured a small part for myself in the history of the struggle against the monstrosity known as apartheid. That was a good 43 years ago, but even today, whenever journalists meet me – such as the students of the University of Ghana School of Communications whom  I addressed in November 2013 – they ask me to tell them about it.
And then my heart with pleasure fills, and tells me it  pays to have principles, when one is an opinion leader — such as the editor of a national newspaper.

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