Pinise Saul, Dudu Phukwana and Peter Segona… three top SA musicians who died in exile. My wife, Khayo and I were fortunate to have hosted Pinise at our place for about a week, at 60 rue des Cascades, in Paris. Peter was also a regular guest at our home, over the years, when he lived in the suburbs of Paris. He played with Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian musician during those years. I never met Dudu but we were visited by other musicians, including Johnny Dyani… for an afternoon. He offered us his previous night’s earnings after a concert at La Villette. I was unemployed then. And we never forgot his generosity.
Our life in exile was both fortunate and difficult and it taught us life-long lessons. And we made valuable friendships. Many people from the Motherland also gave us the opportunity to host them in our humble home, when they passed by on missions. One visit we always cherished was when Sam Moodley came and stayed a few days with us, accompanied by her son, Nyameko. I was banned with her former husband, Strini in 1973, as part of the SASO Eight, along with Saths Cooper, Barney Pityana, Steve Biko and others. Sam and Nyameko were present when I went to be tested for a taxi-driver’s licence… and I got it and was then able to work and feed my family. She never forgot that visit.
Nor did Cedric Nunn, the Afrapix photographer, forget his visit to Rue des Cascades, where he took a photograph of yours truly that appears in Google when people search for this native’s name. I was writing on an old Remington typewriter on that day about SA and apartheid, something I relished to do. I got published in serious magazines like Le Monde Diplomatique. But that was long after my stint as a taxi driver in Paris. No bed of roses there during that period in France. This was after a certain Craig Williamson had infiltrated the IUEF a Scandinavian NGO based in Geneva, assisting refugees and students from Southern Africa, and he became the Deputy Director. He cancelled our scholarships – both my wife’s and mine – and we didn’t even know anything about him. No reasons were advanced. Only the Special Branch knew about him as he was a major in their ranks, but had been working as an undercover agent, and managed to hoodwink the unsuspecting ANC – which he was spying on. And we became just collateral damage. His story needs to be fully told, as many people met their demise from his activities.
One such person was Jeanette Eva Schoon (née Curtis) who was born in 1949 in Cape Town. She was the wife of Marius Schoon an ANC operative. Jeannette and her daughter, were assassinated with a letter bomb in Angola. According to SAHO – South Africa History Online – on 28 June 1984, a letter bomb was delivered to the Schoon home by Craig Williamson. Williamson posed as a family friend. The bomb was meant for Marius, however he was not home at the time, so it was opened by Jeanette. The bomb killed Jeanette and her daughter Katryn, who was six years old, but Fritz, who was also in the kitchen escaped unharmed.
I knew Jeannette before we all got banned in SA. I was working at the RDM when I first met her in Parkview, at the house of a mutual friend, the late Fr. Cosmas Desmond, – the rebel priest who wrote about Dimbaza – and who was also a friend of Peter Wellman, the man who taught me how to write at the Rand Daily Mail. I last met him in Harare when he too was in exile. Before he came back as well, disillusioned with the ANC. He used to be a fiery militant in his earlier life in Johannesburg, when he was very close to Mrs Winnie Mandela. I was too… as well as to Joyce Sikhakane, who preceded me at the RDM and who was detained with Mandela and others including my own father-in-law, Douglas Mvemve. He was 70 years old when he was detained under Section Six of the Terrorism Act in 1968.
Later my wife too got detained for 14 months under the same law. She was kept in solitary confinement for 12 of those months. Another chapter in Our Own Story that one was. A story of silent courage, torture and resilience. Nothing touched me as deeply as Jenny’s death with her daughter in 1984 in Angola; except my own brother-in-law’s death in Lusaka, Boy Mvemve, known as JD in MK circles and that of Onkgopotse Tiro in Kgale, near Gaborone. They both died from letter bombs exploding in their faces, a week from each other in 1974. Ten years before Jeanette and Katryn. I attended both the funerals of Tiro and Mvemve. Thabo Mbeki was also present at both those funerals. He bought my ticket to be able to catch a plane for Lusaka. He was travelling with Mendi Msimang then treasurer of the ANC. Tiro was my friend and fellow underground operative in the BCM; Mvemve was my family and a commander in MK. He was also the Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC in Zambia.
Nobody has ever been arrested, charged or pursued for their deaths. Like the deaths of Jenny and Katryn. They were all perhaps just collateral damage or statistics in the war for our freedom. Unknown and forgotten. One never knows the answers; yet the Craig Williamsons are walking freely today anonymously on the streets of a run-down Johannesburg and a ruined Luanda where he is known to be exporting potatoes from SA farms.
In 1972, Curtis served as the Vice-President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and President of its the social welfare arm, NUSWEL. She was the daughter of Jack Curtis and the sister of Neville Curtis, also an anti-Apartheid activist and banned person… and her brother, Neville, was a close friend of Steve Biko. People I know and still remember. People who suffered tremendously for their beliefs – which we shared together! People who died for this country. Alone!