My Life as a Freedom Fighter

4 April 2003

Letlapa Mphahlele’s “Child of This Soil” (Kwela) is a window on events during the turbulent years of the apartheid struggle. All the hardships and suffering, the nomadic lifestyle and the unpredictable lives the freedoms fighters lived are wrapped in this moving book.

Mphahlele, a cadre of the Pan Africanist Congress’s Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) – having gone into exile unsure of which political organisation to join – tells in this carefully crafted book his own story during this volatile period.

In exile in his quest to get military training to allow him to fight for his land, Mphahlele makes it pellucid how precariously freedom fighters lived – moving from crevice to crevice across Africa in their quest to wrench their land from the lethal jaws of apartheid.

Mphahlele found it saddening how people working towards a common goal could turn on one another, showing how power struggles and lack of co-ordination took their toll on organisations fighting colonialism.

Mphahlele, after brief spells in Botswana and Lesotho jails, rose through the ranks within Apla, and with his colleagues lived like hunted animals for retaliating against the massacres perpetrated on blacks by the apartheid regime.

When PAC leaders called for an end to armed struggle as apartheid neared its demise, Mphahlele was incensed. He defied the call and went underground after a spate of attacks on white targets.

Mphahlele concedes in his book that the struggle for liberation has been won, but wonders if people got what they fought for – especially land. And he reminds his readers that “whites can even allow an African government to run the country so long as it doesn’t interfere with their grip on land. Do you think whites can give up without a fight?”

Mphahlele rebuffs the claim that he was an enemy of the state, writing that “the deadliest beasts, miles from ubuntu [humaneness], are not in the shantytowns – they are in the boardrooms of multinational companies and on the stolen farmlands”.

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