Nkutu Moalosi (aka David Kgabang)
ANC office, Stockholm, from the late 1980s
David Kgabang today known by his proper name, Nkutu Moalosi, became involved in the liberation struggle through protest theatre/poetry in the black townships. After exile in Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania he was sent to Moscow for military training in 1976. In early 1977 he returned to Angola where he served as a treasurer and PRO liaison officer at the ANC office in Luanda to 1985. Then he was transferred to the ANC's headquarters in Lusaka. He married the Swedish journalist Kerstin Bjurman in 1986 and arrived in Stockholm 1987 where he began to work with the Chief Representative, Billy Modise, as treasurer and Deputy Chief Representative. Moalosi went to England to study Management Accounting in 1992 and in 1995 he began working in the South African Foreign Ministry in Pretoria. In 2002 he moved into Research and Analysis for Special Events and is now also involved in research for the African Union.
Madi Gray: We are doing this interview in Pretoria on 25th November 2005 at Nkutu’s home. Nkutu, how did you become involved in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa?
Nkutu Moalosi : I became involved through my work in protest theatre and protest poetry in the black townships and at the University of Botswana and Lesotho. Then there was the Mihloti Black Theatre in the township of Alexandria. During the course of performances people involved in the black consciousness movement were the target of police harassment. The police harassed us at almost all of our performances. On one occasion the director, Phineas Molefe Pheto was picked up by the Special Branch (SB) on his way home and held for some hours. The actors waited in the charge office.
In 1974 he was again arrested, this time for allegedly helping someone to skip the country, a former member of the acting group. I took over the directorship. There were difficulties because I had no car and had to rely on public transport. Even at home, during the day, I was harassed.
Madi Gray: How did you cope?
Nkutu Moalosi: I switched direction and began studying administration and took a typing course. The SB came to look for me; they harassed me, and tried to recruit me. Finally, to discredit me, they came early one morning and offered to transport me to school. I refused, as this was an attempt to punish me in the eyes of the people.
In 1975 Zinjiva Nkondo (aka Victor Matlou in exile) tried to recruit me to the ANC. I told him that I wanted to leave the country. Then he was arrested in early October, and I had no option but to leave with Ben Arnold, a sculptor. We went to Botswana to look for a way out. The situation was pathetic as there was no organisation there.
So I came back to South Africa and used Swaziland. I left on a Travel Document, officially, and went to Slovo Ncube, an old friend who’d married a Swazi woman, whom I’d visited previously.
Madi Gray: Why did you join the ANC?
Nkutu Moalosi: I informed my friend that I wanted contact with the liberation movement. At the time I wasn’t aware of the differences between the ANC and the PAC. I’d seen a photo of Oliver Reginald Tambo and Samora Machel on Mozambican Independence Day a few months earlier, and I wanted to join that old man. It was tough, as I was followed every time I went to that place and every time I returned to South Africa the Swazi police would check on my friends. The South African Special Branch was behind it.
Slovo Ncube introduced me to the Mozambican authorities, because he was unaware of an ANC presence in Swaziland. They grilled me, but after some days introduced me to Thabo Mbeki and Albert Dlhomo. After the interviews I was told that I couldn’t remain there any longer. I was taken to a safe house in Mbabane and later to Manzini, to the house of a South African teacher, within the school premises. Thabo gave me documents to type about ANC history. It was both an introduction to the ANC and a political education in some way.
Three of us left to cross the Mozambican border. We were collected by Lennox Lagu, the ANC Chief Rep in Mozambique, and put on a plane to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania the same day. I stayed in Dar for about a month and then flew to Moscow for military training. It was a commanders’ course. I saw the 1976 uprisings on TV at the military base outside Moscow. The announcer was not even South African.
Madi Gray: Did you finish your training?
Nkutu Moalosi: No, but I remained in MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, The Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the ANC) until I took demobilisation in 1998.
In June 1976 I caught a cold. My lung had been pierced when I was stabbed with a knife at home in 1970. The rusty knife had gone through the lung. The wound was treated at a black hospital but didn’t heal properly. Because of this I was hospitalised in the Soviet Union from July 1976 to February 1977. Then I was taken to Angola.
I didn’t stay in the camps because of my health, but at an ANC residence in Luanda. There I was given various tasks because of some of the skills I’d gained in South Africa. After about a month I became treasurer and PRO liaison officer at the ANC office in Angola. Cassius Make was the Chief Rep, Max Moabi was his Deputy and I was the third. Max taught me the ropes of the ANC and delegated work to me, to free himself of non-work-related activities. I worked at the ANC office in Luanda from 1977 to 1985, when I was transferred to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka. I never regretted that I’d joined the ANC, but praised myself later for making the right choice.
Madi Gray: What kind of work were you doing?
Nkutu Moalosi: I was in the ANC’s Treasury at HQ in Lusaka, working with crisis management of our finances in Mozambique. This was after the Nkomati Accord with South Africa. The Frelimo government chased away all ANC members, except for ten officials, from Mozambique. No one was doing the financial returns and the office was $129, 000 in the red. I had to dig up what had happened. I was in Maputo when Machel was killed in that plane crash.
I found out that NORAD had given the ANC in Mozambique $34 000, but the bank had recorded the account as ten times as much, by adding another zero. As there was no treasurer, this was not picked up at the time. So when the bank corrected the error, the office was in the red. So I stopped all transactions and reported to HQ. I was recalled to Lusaka after resolving the problem.
Madi Gray: What is your connection with Sweden?
Nkutu Moalosi: The following year I was given permission to marry Kerstin Bjurman. We met when she was in Angola for the first time, with a Swedish film crew. She was noticed by President Agostinho Neto, and asked to return to teach film editing in Luanda. I met Kerstin through Swedish friends at the embassy. I also met other Swedes through the solidarity movement, including nurses who had come to assist SWAPO.
After our marriage I returned to Lusaka and in 1987 the ANC Treasurer, T T Nkobi, decided to station me in Stockholm. I went there via Amsterdam and the manifestation called CASA, Culture in Another South Africa. I arrived in Sweden in November 1987, and began to work with the Chief Rep, Billy Modise, as treasurer and Deputy Chief Rep.
In 1992 I went to England to study Management Accounting and in 1995 I began working in the South African Foreign Ministry in Pretoria. In 2002 I moved into Research and Analysis for Special Events, the first being the World Summit on Sustainable Social Development, held in Johannesburg. I’m involved in research for the African Union, which is an ongoing process. High Profile Visits are also Special Events.
The last event was the inauguration in October 2005 of the long-distance SALT Telescope (Southern African Large Telescope) near Sutherland in the Karoo. The newest is a UN World Heritage Conference at Maropeng, part of the Cradle of Humankind. This is very interesting, because you’re dealing with political, economic and social issues.
Madi Gray: If we go back two or three decades, please tell me more about your connections with Sweden.
Nkutu Moalosi: In Angola, when I was in the ANC treasury department, I started working with Sida from 1977 onwards. I had to account to Sida for the humanitarian assistance given to the ANC. Karin Norberg at the Swedish embassy was Sida’s representative for financial matters. Through this I began to meet Swedes socially. I spent ten years in the Treasury, and worked closely with Sweden in Angola, and with Sweden (Sida) and Norway (Norad) in Zambia and Mozambique.
Madi Gray: Can you recall any Swedish contributions while you were still in Southern Africa?
Nkutu Moalosi: Yes. In exile Swedish support on a humanitarian basis provided us with food, clothing and transportation. The fact is that the rent at most ANC offices, especially in Africa, was paid by Sweden.
Sweden provided many scholarships for students, all the courses that were necessary, like economics and administration. Some students wanted to study in Europe, which was three times more expensive. So they studied in Africa, to enable us to educate as many as possible, e.g. at African universities.
Another contribution was to open our eyes to human rights, prisoners’ situation, social democracy, etc. There is evidence of the Swedish influence on the ANC in the requirement that 30% of the leaders must be women. Our current Minister of Justice, Bridgette Mabandla, put gender studies on the table at the first ANC Women’s Conference held in Kimberley in April 1991. A third of our cabinet ministers and deputies are women and there’s a high percentage of women parliamentarians.
Madi Gray: You say you came to live in Sweden in 1987. I remember meeting you at ANC branch meetings and at events and tours organised by the Swedish solidarity movement.
Nkutu Moalosi: I was called to make presentations on the struggle against apartheid at schools, and trade unions in different parts of Sweden. The Social Democrats also invited an ANC representative to talk on different occasions. I remember Sunnanö and other venues. I took part in demonstrations in Sweden and travelled all over the country.
In Finland I represented the ANC at the Communist Party conference.
Madi Gray: In 1998 or 1999 I took part in a tour with Roger Field of COSAWR, the Congress of South African War Resisters, involving many different organisations in the Swedish peace movement. You joined us for some of the public meetings.
Nkutu Moalosi: I remember the tour hazily. We met Pax and other anti-military organisations. Over the years I’ve toured almost the whole of Sweden and have visited places as far afield as Kramfors, Uppsala and Gothenburg.
Because of my experience of theatre in South Africa, I was involved when cultural groups came to Sweden, for instance, Vusi Mahlasela and the Mahotella Queens. I was asked to introduce the performance. The ANC office was involved when Serafina came to Sweden, twice, and I was the contact between Serafina and the office.
I met groups from home, e.g. the national gay rights organisation that wanted acceptance by the ANC and the UDF (United Democratic Front) mass movement in South Africa. It was a controversial issue, with Ruth Mompati and others claiming that homosexuality did not exist at home. Eventually Thabo Mbeki intervened and pointed out that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes is their business. The UDF did not accept homosexual organisations as a group, but decided they could join as individuals, like everyone else.
This eventually had an effect in 1996 on the drawing up of the South African Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which stipulates that people cannot be discriminated against because of race, gender or sexual orientation.
Madi Gray: While you were at the ANC office in Sweden did you take part in meetings of the solidarity movement, the Isolate South Africa Campaign (ISAK) and the Africa Groups, when they were working out their policies or their campaigns?
Nkutu Moalosi: We had many informal discussions. I sometimes stayed in their homes and we were discussing all the time I was there. I think it had an influence on the way they worked, also in the smaller offices, like with Ann-Marie Kihlberg in Gothenburg or Monica Lundh in Falun. We tried to be as open as possible.
In official discussions with Sida and the Foreign Ministry, only the Chief Representative was involved, Billy Modise and later Joyce Diseko.
Madi Gray: Did you experience any problems?
Nkutu Moalosi: Only after the unbanning of the ANC. There was a major problem because the South African Embassy was left as it was, while the solidarity movement expected change and was not happy when it did not materialise.
Another problem was that when the ANC asked for a raise in the allocation, we received an amicable NO, because we couldn’t explain why the ANC needed the money. Later they agreed to help us. The issue was that Sweden no longer saw the ANC as a liberation movement, but as a political party, and the state couldn’t assist individual political parties. After considerable debate, the ANC was granted liberation movement status up to the elections, and then Sida started giving bilateral support to the government.
Madi Gray: I remember that at the same time Swedish support was withdrawn from most non-governmental organisations that were receiving assistance in South Africa and many folded. Tell me Nkutu, how did you find living among the Swedish people?
Nkutu Moalosi: They’re often too cold, like the country, in the sense that they close themselves up. For instance I had a friend in Luanda whom I could see any time, socially, at the beach, you name it. In Sweden I haven’t met her, not even for a cup of coffee or tea. ‘Wake me up! Give me a slap!’ Maybe the sun opens people up in Angola. In Sweden people go to work and then they go home. They never have time to see people outside work.
Even Swedish families see very little of each other except at birthdays and Christmas. Kerstin’s parents really appreciate the “thank you” phone call I make after visiting their home, as though such thoughtfulness is not customary.
Madi Gray: How does your life in Sweden compare to your life in South Africa?
Nkutu Moalosi: In South Africa three or four generations often live in the same house because of lack of space. Yet my friends don’t drop in on me any more without informing me. I don’t like it. I attribute the change to lack of amenities. People think we’re much warmer than Europeans. No, it’s a question of poverty that leads to people going around to each other to give each other support. People are still closer in the countryside than in urban areas.
We had to start something in Pretoria and Johannesburg to bring people closer, so we began organising plays and sent out invitations asking comrades from exile to join us. They bring their own drinks and pay R50 for a plate of food. This keeps those of us with an exile background together. The annual reunion of exiles especially from Somafco, the ANC school in Tanzania, will be tomorrow in Hillbrow. We play games, soccer, etc, and check out who’s important, and ask about people who are far away. Joe Ntlhantha’s wife has invited the society to support comrade Joe who suffered a stroke about four years ago. I think he’s now in Mmabatho, near Mafeking in the North West Province.
I try to visit Stockholm at least once a year. My sons, Karl Champ Moalosi-Bjurman and Teboho William Moalosi-Bjurman are growing up in Fisksätra. I still have personal friends there. I also have friends from Angola and the solidarity movement like Hillevi and Lasse Nilsson, and see Bernt Nordenbrandt, the horse owner. He wanted to donate all the winnings to the ANC, but his horse didn’t win many races.
Madi Gray: Can you recall any highlights from your time in Sweden?
Nkutu Moalosi: Yes. Since the 1960s Sweden gave us humanitarian assistance and did its best to influence other Nordic countries to do the same. What touched me most was Swedish young people’s enthusiasm in addressing people’s plight under apartheid. They moved into the streets, demonstrating and collecting money. Sometimes I joined them collecting money on the street.
The KPMLr (Communist Party Marxist-Leninist revolutionary) used to hold an annual peace race in Gothenburg. One year all the money went to the ANC. We chartered a bus to take members from Stockholm and ANC people came from Denmark and even London and Germany. One participant was an old man in his seventies, Arnold Selby.
At the funeral of a Swedish comrade, about 69 000 kronor was given to the ANC, instead of putting flowers on the grave.
I also contacted people who contributed monthly to the ANC’s 90 postal giro account. One was the writer Lis Asklund, who was very pleased when I visited her in her home on Södermalm in Stockholm. I adopted her as my mother in Sweden, as she was born in 1913, the same year as my own mother in South Africa. She mentions Nelson Mandela in her biography so later I made it possible for her to meet Nelson Mandela himself on one of his visits.
One highlight was when the Swedes offered to bring Oliver Reginald Tambo to Sweden to nurse him after his stroke in 1989. They sent a plane and a doctor and brought him back to recover at Erstagårdskliniken in Nacka, where they gave him rehabilitation therapy. The only thing missing was language therapy. There was no English-speaking person to work on his speech.
On 27th January 1990 a delegation of former political prisoners, who’d been released from Robben Island only a few months earlier, came to Sweden. They were in Stockholm on Friday February 2nd when the pronouncement was made unbanning the ANC and 23 other organisations in South Africa. In the afternoon there was a public debate at Sida, and a dinner party for ANC members from all over Europe on Saturday 3rd, in the Konsum dining room.
Another highlight was the State Visit and reception of Nelson Mandela in March 1990. I never saw so much security round any person! He was received by diplomats at the airport and resided at Haga Slott, the Haga Palace.
ANC members from all over the northern hemisphere came to attend a meeting at Medborgarhuset and Sweden helped to pay for them. The ANC office requested warm clothes for all of them from Sida as it was March and still cold when they arrived. The Olof Palme Memorial Fund, led by Jan Hodaan, paid for the radios we requested for the older members of the delegation. Swedes were involved in the purchase of tickets, members’ welfare when there, and in the reception organised by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sten Andersson.
There was a fantastic gala evening that filled Globen in Sweden, organised by the anti-apartheid movement. People came specially from all over, even from the far north of Sweden, and filled it to capacity.
Madi Gray: Thank you very much for sharing all this with us.