South African President Jacob Zuma
Photo by: Duane
Premier of the North West Province, Mr Supra Mahumapelo
Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa
Ministers, Deputy Ministers
MEC and Members of the Provincial Legislature
Mayors and Councillors
Our Esteemed Traditional Leaders
Leaders of our Faith-Based Organisations
Batho Ba Bokone-Bophirima
It is an honour for me to address an important occasion that celebrates our heritage, particularly our liberation struggle heritage.
We have declared the year 2017 the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo, and it is the year in which we celebrate our liberation heritage and all that is positive about our country and our transition to freedom and democracy.
Today we have gathered to recall a part of our history, the launch of the Jacob Zuma Arrest Site, forming part of the Groot Marico Liberation Heritage Site.
The provincial government intends to make this site, the wall of remembrance to be built, the Batswana cultural village and everything related to the project, to become an important tourism site in this part of the province.
In this regard, the building and maintenance of the Heritage Site has a greater potential to stimulate economic activity and create much needed jobs in the communities of Groot Marico, Bahurutshe villages, Zeerust as well as surrounding areas in this province. It will also contribute towards cultural tourism both domestically and internationally.
That is what the democratic government seeks to achieve with the liberation heritage sites. We want to raise awareness of this rich legacy of our people’s struggle while also ensuring income generating projects for our people.
This particular site refers to a moment in our history in June 1963, when about 52 new recruits of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who were recruited by the Umkhonto Wesizwe structures were arrested in this area by the apartheid police. They were on their way via Botswana to undertake military training abroad.
These recruits were prepared to take up arms for the freedom of this country at a young age.
They were detained in Pretoria for 90 days, interrogated and severely assaulted, despite the fact that there was already what was regarded as enough evidence then to secure a conviction.
These young freedom fighters had their youth abruptly disturbed by long prison terms.
I am humbled and immensely honoured to have been part of such a courageous legion of then young freedom fighters.
Today’s event takes me back many years, to that fateful arrest with my comrades and patriots, leading to 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island.
This was during the highly repressive period in the country, after the banning of the liberation organisations in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.
Liberation organisations were forced to operate underground or secretly, with the ANC establishing a military wing, the MK, which recruited young people for military training outside the country.
Realising that it can only arrest people who skipped the country for just having no valid documentation, which carried maximum two years’ sentence, the apartheid state came up with a new law which applied retrospectively.
This law made the penalties for undergoing military training to be the same as treason, and people who were sentenced earlier were retried and given heavy sentences.
We were among the first victims of the General Law Amendment Act of May 1963, commonly termed the 90 day law.
According to this law, people could be detained for a period of 90 days, as it happened in our case, and this period could be extended indefinitely. In 1964 this law included recruitment and incitement to political activism as well as undergoing military training in the country. These carried the sentence of between 10 and 12 years.
As if this was not enough, the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act doubled the 90 day detention to 180 days renewable on completion of that period.
The Terrorism Act of 1967, which also applied retrospectively from 1962, barred the courts from pronouncing on the validity of any action taken under this law and the courts could also not order the release of the detainees. They were placed at the mercy of the security police.
Such were the laws in the times of our arrest, which is why apartheid was regarded as crime against humanity.
It is for this reason that we value our victory and which is why we have to immortalise this past, so that we never forget what we went through.
Despite bearing the statue of one person, Jacob Zuma, this heritage site is a symbolic monument of the bravery of those courageous youth and others who passed successfully through this route before and after June 1963. They were prepared to die, not only for their own country, but for all the oppressed people of the Southern Africa.
We also believe that the significance of this launch is far bigger and broader than this site.
In the first place, it tells the story of our country’s liberation, mainly the immense contribution of this particular part of our country to our liberation.
It is a story of this important route in our struggle, its people and its character, without which our history could have perhaps turned out differently, or our freedom struggle becoming more complex than it was.
Just before and particularly since the anti-pass riots in Dinokana and Gopane in 1957, the Zeerust and Lehurutshe area became very much politicised, thanks also to the many migrants from the Witwatersrand, and local ANC activists who created greater political awareness here.
But it was the women’s refusal to take passes, starting at Dinokana, Gopane and other villages that ignited the protests and made this area one of the main hotbeds of rural anti-apartheid political activism in the country.
We commend Kgosi Abram Ramotshere Moiloa, who in March 1957 refused the orders of the Native Commissioner in Zeerust, Carl Richter, to instruct the women in Dinokana to take passes.
When he lost chieftainship as a result, he continued to be a valuable anti-apartheid activist, linking up with the ANC even during his exile years in Botswana and assisting young people to go to exile.
On this occasion, we also remember many activists, Kenneth Mosenyi, Nimrod Moagi, Joanna Pule, Pualina Keebine, Ruth Mompati, William and Simon Senna, the Bahurutshe Association and many committed activists we cannot name here, who made the Lehurutshe/Zeerust area the political hotbed it was from the late 1950s, and who mobilised women against passes.
With their staunch resistance against passes, women led the way, the Zeerust and Lehurutshe area was never to be the same.
The courage of these women and these activists is the fountain that inspired the famous student activist, Onkgopotse Tiro, who is also from Dinokana, to take the baton when he arrived in Turfloop and mobilise the students against racial oppression.
Comrade Tiro was later assassinated through a letter bomb in Botswana. We salute him for his courage and vision.
Being a huge stretch of land alongside and close to Botswana, this highly politicised area became an important route for our liberation because people were politically aware and could not easily sell us out to apartheid authorities.
One of the legacies of the Zeerust revolt is that many of the MK, intelligence and political recruits of the ANC came from this region, including some who became members of the Luthuli Detachment.
We therefore salute ordinary men and women on the two sides of the border, who took it upon themselves to face all risks to make this route passable, indeed a very important route in our struggle.
Traditional leaders, the government of Botswana and various other officials, international operatives and ordinary people collaborated on this delicate mission to help the liberation fighters use this route, also regarded and the liberation pipelines, from Lobatse via Gaborone, Palapye, Francistown and Kasane into Zambia.
This is the route that ferried many of our activists, such as our former leaders Presidents Mandela, Mbeki, Tambo, and many activists over many years during the struggle for freedom, on their way to Zambia and Tanzania.
One of the challenges of the struggle everywhere in the continent was finding politicised masses in the rural areas who could be allies in advancing the revolution. Here, the ground was already prepared. Our people were ready to do anything to support the struggle for their freedom.
This site also tells the important story of the role of Botswana in the freedom struggle not only of ours, but of Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, in essence, our sub-region.
Many Batswana in Botswana spared nothing to give us comfortable passage, refuge and exile in their country, to the point of paying the ultimate price of death, and we pay tribute to these selfless heroes.
They defined their total freedom by ours, and paid a huge price for that.
Liberation fighters from Namibia and Zimbabwe for example, also considered Botswana a very safe passage, due to its solidarity with the freedom fighters.
Botswana citizens such as Fish Keitseng in Lobatse, Klaas Motshidisi in Palapye, Anderson Tshepe in Francistown in the liberation pipeline route, Michael Dingake and many others have indeed been South Africa’s dearest friends and comrades indeed. Comrade Dingake served 15 years on Robben Island for his activities in pursuit of the South African struggle for liberation.
We sincerely thank the government of Botswana under successive late Presidents Sirs Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire for their unofficial policy of turning a blind eye and allowing us to use Botswana as a transit point for political activists.
In this sense, when we create and launch sites such as this, we are reminding the people about the important and painful history of our country, the roots and importance of our regional alliances and preserving it for future generations.
We are reminding them of the many heroes and heroines in our country and in the neighbouring countries, who made a critical contribution to our struggle.
Far beyond paying tribute to individuals, monuments such as these elevate the bigger story of our struggle and the terrible apartheid past, and the lesson of unity that we have to embrace at all times in this country.
Today we are a democracy and our people are free.
We have a deeply entrenched culture of respect for human rights in this country, unlike in the past, particularly in the 1960s, the time when we were arrested in this area. We want to ensure that no South African every goes through the pain, humiliation and suffering that we went through when we are arrested in this area.
We call upon our people to support government’s efforts to rebuild our country and to promote unity equality and prosperity.
In memory of those who suffered for our freedom, let us work together to advance the next struggle, that of economic emancipation.
Together let us work to change the patterns of ownership, control and management of the economy so that the majority of the population can benefit from the wealth of the country.
Unless we gain economic freedom and make progress in the fight against inequality, unemployment and poverty, our freedom will remain incomplete.
Fellow South Africans,
It is my singular honour and privilege to officially open this Jacob Zuma Arrest Site, in memory of the role of the 52 who were arrested here, and many other brave and selfless men and women who enriched our country’s rich Liberation Heritage through their sacrifices.
I thank you.