In memory of Philip Kgosana

25 April 2017
Philip Kgosana marching to Cape Town CBD, remembering 30 March 1960. Photo Henk Kruger / Cape Argus.
Philip Kgosana marching to Cape Town CBD, remembering 30 March 1960. Photo Henk Kruger / Cape Argus.

Philip Kgosana, freedom fighter, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) stalwart, and a former councillor in Tshwane, died last week at the age of 80 after a short illness.

Kgosana devoted his life to the liberation struggle and served in various leadership roles in the PAC while completing his studies at the University of Cape Town, but he is perhaps best remembered for leading a march of more than 30 000 anti-pass laws protesters to Parliament.

Kgosana was born in 1936 in Makapanstad in what was then the northern Transvaal. Graduating from Lady Selborne High School in Pretoria in 1958, he earned a bursary to study commerce at the University of Cape Town.

In January 1960, when he became regional secretary of the PAC for the Western Cape, he left his studies to pursue full-time political work.

On 30 March 1960, soon after the police shootings at Sharpeville and Langa, Kgosana led a march of approximately 30 000 people from Langa and other segregated areas in Cape Town to protest against the pass laws. Instead of settling at parliament, Kgosana led the crowd to the Caledon Square police headquarters.

Police were temporarily paralysed with indecision about how to engage with the protesting crowd, and the event has subsequently been seen by some as a critical turning point in South African history.

In return for a promise that the leaders of the march would be given an interview with the minister of justice, FC Erasmus, Kgosana persuaded the amassed crowd to disperse. But instead of honouring their promise, police arrested him later the same day.

Tried for incitement along with other PAC leaders, Kgosana later fled South Africa while on bail in late 1960.

While living in exile in Ethiopia, he continued his PAC activities, completed his university studies and later worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). He worked with refugees, among others, and earned international commendation over his two decades of dedicated work. When he returned to South Africa, he continued doing political and community work.

On 30 March 2016, at the age of 79, Kgosana retraced the steps of the historic 1960 march. He walked the 12 km from Langa to Cape Town at the head of a small procession, which criticized the government for not taking care of South Africa’s poorest citizens.

The PAC will hold a memorial service for its fallen hero on Wednesday, 26 April.

The UCT Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) will be hosting a memorial service in Jameson Hall on Wednesday, 26 April, at 18:00.

Read Tony Heard’s account of the 1960 march...

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