Analysis

The ‘Silverton 3’ were ‘Freedom Fighters’ not ‘Terrorists or Rebels’

By Dr Tshepo Mvulane Moloi

The common saying that those who sacrificed for our freedom must fittingly be called freedom fighters instead of terrorists or rebels becomes much more profound when they also happen to be family. This was brought home to me on 25th January when my maternal cousin Thandeka Beyers sent us an SMS: “Good day family. May I share this special day with you. On 25 January 1980, my father along with his 2 cadres/comrades/childhood friends were killed. They were later to be known as the ‘Silverton 3’ (Silverton Siege). There are many unsung heroes whose legacy should never die”. 

Despite being born in exile – in Morogoro, Tanzania –  I was completely unaware of the Silverton 3, not to mention that one of them was a relative. Thandeka’s message also brought home the number of unsung heroes of our liberation struggle. Until her message the only family Freedom Fighter was my paternal uncle, Montgomery Michael Lenepa Moloi (1959-1986). His nom de guerre was Kopano Leabua, part of the Alldays 6, also known as the Eendvogeplan killings, of 10 July 1986. He was executed by Apartheid’s security branch in Limpopo.

As a result of Thandeka’s message, I then decided to seek more details about the ‘Silverton Siege’, for personal (family) and professional (social science) reasons. This is what happened on that day according to several sources including articles, books, ANC papers and the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) reports. This ordeal began shortly before 1pm and lasted until 7pm. Apparently three ‘terrorists/rebels’ tried to rob Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria. They apprehended 25 white people as hostages until their demands were met. 

The seems to be much controversy about facts related to the demands in question. Mindful of the latter skepticism, I opt to rely upon Professor Thula Simpson’s thoroughly researched text, entitled Umkhonto We Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle (2016). From the latter text, it is leant that from the three alleged bank robbers, it was guerilla Fanie Mafoko, who acted as the spokesperson of the trio and the person who dictated their demands to hostage Phoebe Chatwind.

The guerilla ” tells her to write that they are from  the ANC. Then he tells her to say that they want (James Daniel) Mange, that they want to be allowed to depart to Angola with Mange. Chatwind writes ‘Mange’. She then writes ‘Pietermaritzburg 12’ after the man ( Mafoko) tells her to add this. Then ‘Remember Solomon Mahlangu’…The guerilla then tells Chatwind to write down the Freedom Charter’s demands” …Chatwind is sent out …hands the note containing the demands to Captain (Christiaan) de Swardt…The guerilla …asks (de Swardt) for cigarettes for the hostages…At 6.30pm (Mafoko) issues a demand to be given the brown bag containing hand grenades and magazines that was left outside the bank when he and his colleagues stormed the building” (Simpson, 2016: 259).  Shortly thereafter de Swardt,  led the fatal charge by the police. The five lives lost, comprised of all the three ‘terrorists/rebels’ and two hostages, Cindy Anderson and Annetjie de Klerk.

Firstly it is important to note that the above said narrative is rare, when compared to the bulk of distorted reports about what exactly transpired on that fateful day. The misleading reference of bank robbers alongside ‘terrorists/rebels’, was nothing but a derogatory way of pigeonholing three young black men (all aged 26 years old), who were childhood friends from Diepkloof, Soweto. They were Thandeka’s father, commander of the trio Wilfred Nzamela Madela (Nzo), Humphrey Thamsanqa Makhubo (Mateu) and Fanie Mafoko (named Zindile Ramakoa in ANC’s Sechaba Journal, of December 1982:7).
 
They were trained in Angola and were part of the ‘Transvaal Urban Machinery’ which fell under 28 year old commander Moses Ikanyeng Molebatsi (George). The trio infiltrated South Africa from Swaziland together, with other MK cadres who later went on trial (from 14th April 1980 to 26 November 1980), for having  attacked Soekmekaar Police Station, in Limpopo, on 4th of January 1980.
 
Secondly as regards to the MK trio’s overly political demands, the above account by Professor Thula Simpson, distinctly dismisses any other versions, as no more than based, on speculation. Amongst these rumoured versions  include the demand for cash, allegedly which amounted to R100,000 and even a helicopter for reasons of a speedy get-away. To date in all the sources at my disposal, there has been no evidence that can support the latter two claims. If however these demands were made, care should be taken that they are read, in context of an utopian escape.  
 
Thirdly, hostages were never part of MK policy, so their fate in this saga was sadly ill-fated. Evidence supporting the latter view, can be found in the Manifesto of Umkhonto weSizwe, which was issued on the 16 December 1961. Heretofore are the telling lines from the latter Manifesto ” we in Umkhonto weSizwe have always sought…to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash” (MK, 1961).
 
Furthermore as a result of hostages having been taken by the three deceased MK cadres, at the Silverton Siege saga, fellow MK cadres at a meeting hosted on the 22nd of May 1980 entitled ‘Our Military Perspectives and Some Special Problems’, intensely debated the issue of hostage-taking as part of MK’s armed-struggle tactic. This reaction supports the view that the the Silverton Siege was the first case in which hostage taking was used by MK cadres as part of its tactics. 
 
Presently these Freedom Fighters are buried at Doornkop cemetery in Jabulani, Soweto. The ANC secured local sculptor Professor Pitika Ka Ntuli, to lead a memorial project in their honour. This was successfully completed. NotablyYEMYEM Holdings (a black owned company operating in the energy solutions sector) complemented Ntuli’s efforts, by chipping in to ensure the success of the commemorative launch.  The sculpture and an engraved giant black square shaped stone engraved with the names of the MK trio was unveiled on 26 January 2013. The memorial site under discussion, is situated at the corner of Eben Cuyler Drive and Jack Klipin Road in Zone 1, Diepkloof, Soweto.
 
A film about the ‘Silverton Siege’ is underway as part of cinematographer Mandlakayise Walter Dube Jnr.’s ‘legacy series’, dubbed ‘Legends of Freedom’. Dube’s is the co-writer of theatre production, The Rivonia Trial (2010) and the movie Kalushi (2016).
 
In closure let’s ominously muse upon Judge Jaap De Villiers’s remarks, as he concluded the ‘Silverton and Soekmekaar trial’ on 27th November 1980, “the rebels of today, are the leaders of tomorrow”.
 
Aluta Continua!
 
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