Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dingake’s death comes as his Robben Island star pupil turns SA politics upside down

On account of where he spent his entire youth and early adulthood (Robben Island), the late Michael Dingake followed South Africa politics very closely. He relied not just on public reporting but also got his information straight from the horses’ mouth. That was because on Robben Island he had breathed the same air with two future South African presidents as well as many more African National Congress leaders who became (and are still) part of the government. When Nelson Mandela made his first official visit to Botswana, Dingake was on hand to welcome his former cellmate. The other president, also a former cellmate, has an even more personal and layered history with the founding president of the Botswana Congress Party.

As Dingake recalled in a 2016 interview with Sunday Standard, his very first encounter with Jacob Zuma happened on a Friday in 1963, at his house in Johannesburg. Then Zuma was about “19 or 20” years. Dingake had just acquired that house through Anderson Tshephe, a fellow Bechuanaland Protectorate Motswana who had returned home to Francistown. At this point, Dingake was knee-deep in the liberation struggle. To stay off the radar of the hawk-eyed apartheid security forces, he kept the house in Tshephe’s name while using it for clandestine umkhonto weSizwe (MK) activity. MK was the armed wing of the African National Congress and the decision to form it was taken at a meeting that was held in Peleng, Lobatse. Dingake worked with a group of MK cadres who spirited recruits abroad for military training.

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