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The New Wind of Change: A reflection on 60 years since the Langa March


Mohlabani (Bani) Kgosana is the eldest son of the late PAC veteran, Philip Kgosana. He was born in Ethiopia ten years after his father went into political exile in 1960. He lived in Uganda, Sri Lanka and Tanzania with his parents and three siblings until they returned to South Africa in 1992. Bani did his undergraduate studies in the United States and currently works as an executive in the IT industry in Johannesburg.

Sixty years ago today, a young leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Philip Kgosana, led an historic anti-apartheid march from Langa to the Cape Town city centre. Today, the streets of Cape Town are as silent as a graveyard amid a 21-day lockdown to fight the coronavirus. South Africa, like it was then, is at a critical juncture of its history.  

Today is 30 March, 2020. I grew up knowing that the 30th of March was the closest thing to a sacred day for my late father Philip Kgosana. On this day, regardless of where he was in the world, during his 30 years in exile, he never went to work. He would, instead, go off on his own and reflect on what happened on the 30th of March 1960 – a day that changed his life forever.

Sixty years ago, on that day in 1960, as a young UCT student and PAC regional secretary, Philip Kgosana led a march of 30,000 people from Langa, headed for the national Parliament in Cape Town city. That morning, police had raided the township and brutalised the workers in the hostels, in an attempt to break the strike that had brought much of Cape Town’s industries and dockyards to a standstill.

The Parliament they were marching to was the same one in which, just over a month earlier, on 3 February 1960, the late British prime minister Harold Macmillan, in his landmark speech to the apartheid South African Parliament, had said:

The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

Today, on 30 March 2020, I can’t help but reflect on just how that wind of change that Macmillan spoke of did in fact blow across this continent and change it completely.

The PAC in its heyday: The young regional secretary of the PAC, Philip Kgosana, is lifted up at a march of 30,000 people on Parliament in protest against the pass laws, 30 March 1960.

Ironically, I do so from my home in Pretoria where I am confined because of a lockdown that was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, 23 March 2020. Little did the seven-year-old boy that he was in 1960 know that 60 years later, Cape Town and the rest of the country would be shut down as a different wind of change blew across this continent and world.

As I read through my father’s autobiography, Lest We Forget, to get a sense of how he experienced the actual day, the following lines jumped out at me:

“Sunday Times reporter, Stanley Uys, showed me a copy of the day’s midday Cape Argus newspaper. The paper carried two major stories: One on the march I led, and the other, announcing that a state of emergency had been declared in a hundred and ten districts of the Western Cape. A brigade of the defence force of some three thousand men based outside Pretoria was being transported to Cape Town to contain the situation. Public meetings were banned and a state of emergency declared.”

Tony Heard, who was a reporter for the Cape Times, who witnessed the march on that day in 1960, always tell me, whenever I get the chance to meet him, that before he spoke to the crowd of 30,000 people on what was then De Waal drive (now renamed Philip Kgosana Drive), my father asked the people to “be as quiet as a graveyard” – and the crowd went silent before he addressed them.

Today, the streets of Cape Town are as silent as a graveyard. South Africa, like it was then, is at a critical juncture of her history. Our economy, like it was then, is on a knife-edge. I hope to goodness that the lockdown that South Africa went into for the next 30 years does not become the fate of this beloved country like it did then.

I can only hope that the same courage and character shown by the brave men and women who marched from Langa on that day – and the sober-mindedness shown by a police colonel “who showed pragmatic common sense”  – will guide our nation and leadership today, as we batten down our hatches in anticipation of the new wind of change that is sweeping across our land and our world. DM

De Waal Drive was recently renamed in honour of Philip Kgosana, who died aged 80 in 2017.




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