The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Gold
Awarded to Benson Tsele (1932 - 1968 ) for
HIS BRAVERY IN ENGAGING THE RHODESIAN ARMY IN MILITARY BATTLE FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM.
Profile of Benson Tsele
Benson Tsele died on 21 March 1968 in combat against the
then white supremacist Rhodesian army.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) guerrilla was part of the Luthuli
Detachment, an elite group that had undergone years of
military, political and physical training to return to South Africa,
train recruits and help revive the underground structures of the
African National Congress (ANC).
This was no mean feat at a time when any political activism was
interpreted by the apartheid government as treasonous and
spelled either a lifelong sentence in apartheid jails or a death
Tsele deliberately entered military activities of the banned ANC
with a clear knowledge that there were no shades of grey; he
would either die at the hands of apartheid forces or conquer, for
a society free of racial injustices.
Tsele and his comrades had to go through Rhodesia first – a
strenuous journey littered with dangers from the ever alert
patrolling Rhodesian army – to reach South Africa. Oliver
Tambo, the exiled ANC acting president and supreme
commander-in-chief at the time, personally saw the group off as they crossed the Zambezi for the first time. About 50 or so MK
cadres mingled with roughly 30 guerrillas from the Zimbabwe
African People's Union (Zapu).
Zapu commander John Dube was in charge, with MK's Chris
Hani as commissar. Hani was to take up the command of ANC
guerrillas once the joint force split up later, with Zapu guerrillas
going further into Rhodesia and most of the ANC cadres going
south heading for a route through Botswana to South Africa.
The joint plan involved crossing the Zambezi River at three
different points, near Livingstone in the west, near Lake Kariba in
the centre, and near Feira in the east. The forces had established
bases near the Zambezi valley as part of the guerrilla assaults
they were planning to launch against Rhodesian and South
African forces, who were also working together. However, as soon
as the liberation forces entered the area, South African Buccaneer
fighter planes wasted no time in starting reconnaissance.
Tsele died on the night when he was standing in for his unit's
commander, Archie Sibeko. Writing in his memoirs, Sibeko
says he had to go to the Zambian capital of Lusaka 'to deal with
some logistical problems', when he appointed Tsele to take
over the command of the unit.
According to Sibeko, Tsele led the guerrillas into Rhodesia that
evening where they were caught up in a bitter exchange of
gunfire with the Rhodesian forces. The liberation unit suffered
serious casualties, and Tsele was killed in the ensuing battle. Yet,
Tsele died heroically, withstanding the might of the Rhodesian
army, drafted in the forefront and facing the line of fire with grit.
As the senior commissar and a stand-in for his commander at the
time, he had the option of backing off until their forces could
reach safety deep into Zambia but Tsele appreciated the reason
for his military involvement and continued.
The bullets of the Rhodesian army killed a man who had
dedicated his life to freedom from apartheid rule. However, in the
eyes of Tsele, this was a cause worth paying the supreme price
for, because there was no other way of uprooting the horrors of
racial oppression in South Africa, which saw racial segregation as
'a natural order of things', except through the barrel of a gun. To
eradicate apartheid, Tsele realised the only effective means
available, since the Government was not prepared to come to the
negotiating table, was to either succumb to the status quo or take
on the military machinery of the regime.
Born in 1932, Tsele received his secondary schooling at St.
Peter's in Rosettenvile, Johannesburg, where one of his teachers was the man who later became his supreme
commander in chief, Oliver Tambo.
Tsele went on to receive his university education at Fort Hare,
where he was active in the ANC Youth League. Upon his permanent
return to Johannesburg, he taught at Alexandra High School.
This was followed by a decade of activism, during which Tsele
joined protests and campaigns against a slew of apartheid
legislation such as the Bantu Education Act in 1954. He also
participated in the 1955 campaign for the adoption of the Freedom
Charter, the 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott, the 1959 Potato Boycott
as well as the subsequent campaign against pass laws. The
campaigns catapulted key activists such as Tsele to the political
helm, exposing them to the system, the attendant harassment
and the possibility of death inherent in such risky political activism.
Benson Tsele was involved with the ANC's political education
unit when the liberation movement was banned. He skipped the
country in 1961, and went on to receive military training in the
former Soviet Union.
On his return he joined MK, becoming the commissar that he
was when he met his death in that notorious field.
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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04/26 - 05/03
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