Pan Africanist Congress stalwart Philip Kgosana (80) lived his last moments the same way he lived his life – with courage, according to his son Mohlabani.
Fighting colon cancer in hospital, Kgosana passed away peacefully in a Pretoria hospital about 5pm on Wednesday. He is best remembered for the anti-pass march that he led, as a 23-year-old student, from Langa in Cape Town 57 years ago.
“Even during his short battle against cancer, he remained positive and courageous. And if I remember him for one thing, it would be his courage,” said Mohlabani, one of five children born to Kgosana. “He always taught us that we should stand by our beliefs at all costs.”
Kgosana was too weak to travel to Cape Town for his annual pilgrimage to Langa on the anniversary of the historic march on March 30 this year.
Forced into exile after the march in 1960, Kgosana spent his working life at the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), with postings in various countries around the world.
While in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s, the full picture of events of March 60 became apparent, said his son. It emerged that the policeman in charge had been given orders to shoot at the crowd of about 30 000 that had marched to Caledon Square police headquarters. Armed police had gathered in anticipation.
Determined to avoid a bloodbath, Colonel Ignatius Terblanche had defied the order and negotiated with Kgosana to retreat with the crowd and return later for a meeting with the minister of justice. In an act of betrayal taken over Terblanche’s head, Kgosana was arrested later that day and Terblanche denied promotion.
Terblanche died in 1987, never having met Kgosana again. But his son Naas met Kgosana in an emotional union in Cape Town last year, on the 56th anniversary of the march when Kgosana had re-enacted the 12km route, mostly on foot.
In a letter of condolence to Kgosana’s family Terblanche said he was grateful to have had the honour.
“He was a brave, honest and kind man,” he said, adding that his father had always had great respect for the leadership skills displayed by Kgosana that fateful day.
After retiring from Unicef, Kgosana returned to South Africa in 1996. An unassuming hero, he never sought the limelight, but was dedicated to uplifting the poor, said his son. He injected energy in the Winterveld area in which he settled, assisting communities to get electricity, roads and basic infrastructure.
Although saddened at the decay in the PAC, Kgosana remained loyal to the party that he helped to build in the 1960s. As an elder, he was involved in efforts to reconcile the factions within the withering party.
Tributes poured in from President Jacob Zuma and political parties on Thursday.
The Democratic Alliance described him as an “unsung hero”, the Economic Freedom Fighters as a “struggle icon”, and the Congress of the People said he was a “selfless servant”.
A good friend and former executive member of the PAC, Vukile Sompeta, said that Kgosana had come from the same generation as founding member Robert Sobukwe.
“I have lost a great soul, the son of Africa who defied hatred, prejudice and racism,” he said.
A proposal to rename De Waal Drive – which was the route the marchers took – in honour of Kgosana has been on the table for some time.
In a statement City of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, a former leader of the PAC, paid tribute to Kgosana’s role in the struggle against apartheid and confirmed that the city was “processing” the proposal.
Kgosana is survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters. Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.