MBOMBELA – One such an event in the Lowveld was the arrest of the later premier of Gauteng and a member of cabinet, Mosima Gabriel “Tokyo” Sexwale, once branded as a terrorist for blowing up a South African Police vehicle with a hand grenade.
Sexwale and some others illegally entered South Africa from Swaziland, equipped with firearms and weapons. The incident happened near the border post at Mananga.
On this fateful day in December 1976, young Const Rapie Brits and his colleague, Sgt Joseph Nkoza, were in a police Land Rover travelling from Mananga, where they were stationed, to the bank in Komatipoort to have their salary cheques cashed.
Halfway there they came across four men walking with luggage. The two policemen suspected them of crossing the border illegally. They apprehended them and locked them in the back of the vehicle.The policemen decided to go back to their post at Mananga to process the arrests.
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Just as the vehicle was picking up speed, a hand grenade was flung from the back and detonated between the two policemen.
The vehicle come to an abrupt halt and the four suspects scrambled free, leaving behind a folding Russian assault rifle and a cache of grenades.
A seriously wounded Brits was flung from the burning vehicle. Lying in the road, he drew his service revolver only to see the four disappearing into the thicket.
One passer-by stopped and transported the two men to the hospital at Komatipoort, from where they were taken to Rob Ferreira Hospital. Another passer-by rushed to Mananga to inform the authorities.
A massive manhunt was launched with helicopters later arriving from Pretoria. Referred to in the newspapers of that time as a terrorist, Sexwale was sometime later apprehended near Machadodorp, while making his way to Johannesburg.
Sexwale was born in 1953 in the township of Orlando West in Soweto. His father was a clerk at Johannesburg General Hospital. During World War II his father joined the South African Defence Force and served in Egypt and Europe.
The young Sexwale grew up amid the turmoil of the black township’s upheaval and graduated from Orlando West High School in 1973. As a student, he became a member of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement and later a local leader of the radical South African Students’ Movement.
While the organisation was still forbidden in South Africa, he joined the underground ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. After school, he left for Swaziland, today eSwatini, where he completed a certificate in business studies at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Sexwale then went into exile, undergoing military officer’s training in the Soviet Union, where he specialised in military engineering.
This encounter with the police and the manhunt to follow was on his return to South Africa. A colleague of mine over many years, De Wet Potgieter, was a court reporter when Sexwale, together with 11 other alleged “terrorists”, appeared in court in 1977.
They were charged with conspiring to disrupt the law and order of the Republic of South Africa. They appeared before Judge AD Davidson. For the state, Advocate Nico Gey van Pittius prosecuted and the defence was led by Advocate C Kinghorn.
Kinghorn’s team included Advocate Arthur Chaskalson, who served as president of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from 1994 to 2001. Following that, he was Chief Justice from 2001 to 2005. Chaskalson was also a member of the defence team in the Rivonia Trial.
Sexwale was sent to the Robben Island maximum-security prison, to serve an 18-year sentence. He served 13 years before being released after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990.
After the first democratic election in South Africa, Sexwale became the premier of Gauteng. In this role, he was credited with bringing peace to several politically volatile townships.
He served as minister of human settlements from 2009 to 2013. Upon leaving the public sector, Sexwale founded Mvelaphanda Holdings, a company of which he is still executive chairperson.
Mvelaphanda is primarily focused on the mining, energy and related sectors. Some of Sexwale’s main interests are oil and diamond mining, for which he has been granted concessions across Africa and Russia.
My connection with Tokyo
Upon researching this piece I realised another encounter I personally, but unknowingly, had with Sexwale in the past.
While studying some old newspaper clippings, I realised that I, at one stage during the lengthy trial, had acted as a constable in Court C of the Supreme Court in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria. It was during my national service years in 1977, which I completed as a member of the South African Police.
At the end of each court session, after seeing the judge safely to his chambers, I often went down to the holding cells below the court to assist my colleagues in removing the foot cuffs which the accused had to wear in court before they were transported back to the jail in Potgieter Street.
Some years later, during the early 90s, I was working as an executive producer on the SABC 1 morning show, Good Morning South Africa. Sexwale then acted as a media liaison officer for the ANC.
I often invited him into the studio as spokesperson and we became well acquainted. I could phone him at any time and also got to know his wife, Judy (née van Vuuren) quite well because she often answered my calls at the ungodly hours of the morning.
Neither of us ever recognised the other from those previous times of he, the prisoner, and I, his keeper.
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