Book Review: Escape from Modderbee – Unfinished Trial - 1990

One can only wonder how many manuscripts are written by former liberation cadres and never get published by the mainstream publishers. One such book is Escape from Modderbee, written by Comrade Rodney “Baduza” Toka.

Baduza opens the narrative with the surprise confession, “I was a late talker, forming words only at the age of six. This is really of no significance but a point of interest.” It is of interest. The next point of interest is a lesson he learnt on what messages to pass on and what to keep to himself. Before starting school his mother sent him to ask for salt from their next door neighbour. The old lady gave him the salt and a message to his mother that she was tired of people who asked for cheap things like salt. Dutifully Baduza told his mom. Next thing he found himself on the ground wailing and begging for mercy. His mom beat him good and solid. When she was done she ordered him to wipe his tears and gave him a lesson: “never repeat such messages for they spoilt good relationships between neighbours. Elderly people, she said, joked with one another. She reminded me to be respectful to older people and close my ears to whatever bad things they said about each other.”

For a while at school he was derailed due to the upheavals of the political climate of the late 70s. He joined a group of pickpockets who plied their trade on Fridays in town. Finally he found his name billeted on the notice board as one of the participants in the forthcoming school debate. “... It was a form of discipline, especially designed to keep erring pupils on track. Students were reluctant to speak. Many were shy and many had language problems. The debates were conducted in English. Those who absconded faced corporal punishment or hard labour, weeding the grass on the school ground.”

His pickpocket friends advised him to stay home for the week and pretend to be sick. He prepared for the debate and took part. Halfway in his presentation the audience rose in a standing ovation and shouted his name, “Fatso, Fatso, Fatso!” Thenceforth Baduza acquired a sense of his hidden talents and withdrew from wasting time on criminal activities. He devoted his time to studying. After matriculating he became a trade unionist and in a work stoppage brought the entire Louis Pasteur building, where he worked as a microbiology laboratory assistant, to a halt. He was fired. With colleagues they founded the Garankuwa Youth Organisation in 1984.

A major contribution this book makes in the history of MK is to provide instances of the coordination between the ANC, MK and people on the ground. In Chapter Five, The ANC and Umkhonto, Baduza write that in his January speech OR Tambo declared 1985 ‘Year of the Cadre’ and made the call that the country should be made ungovernable. The people were to from rudimentary organs of People’s Power. “...this was done. There were street committees and people’s courts and instant justice in the form of corporal punishment. All the parks in the townships were closed to the police. Policemen living in the townships were forced to seek accommodation elsewhere. We formed small underground units known only to their commanders. There was the graffiti squad ... I was part of the unit, together with Jonas Rakau and Josias Mahlatsi. We spray-painted all the schools and railway stations with messages such as, ‘Viva Mandela’, ‘Viva Tambo’ and ‘Long Live the Freedom Charter’.”

In March of the same year he was recruited by an underground operator to join a local Ramagodu Unit.  He was then tasked “to recruit two other members so as to form a cell of three people (the standard size of a MK unit).” When in October 1985 a five-litre petrol can concealed at this place was discovered, and he was given a stern dressing down by the family he came to terms with his unit member’s suggestion to leave the country. “We spent almost three weeks in Charleston and were then flown to Angola. Most of us had never ever dreamt that we would fly and so the experience was quite thrilling. That experience alone, incredible as it was, doubled our commitment to the ANC and the people of South Africa.”

Such an incident to fuel his motivation happens again when a girlfriend cried uncontrollably at their parting. In chapter nine, Becoming an MK Cadre, he writes, “After breakfast, we attended classes in political studies. I became interested in the dictatorship of the proletariat, which I found quite interesting. I became engrossed in the concept of a classless society and the idea of workers owning the means of production. I became transformed from a capitalist-orientated person to a socialist-orientated one.” Few cadres never fell in love with socialism.

After training he was selected to form a unit with the task to “Recruit, Train, Arm and Lead our people into battle.” He infiltrated together with Meshack Maponya (aka Mainstay Chibuku) in 1987 and slept in the bush some 200 metres from his home. “My heart raced as I stepped into my hometown... I longed to see my mother and talk to my father. I had to suppress these feelings... I could see my young sisters playing on the road. It filled my heart with delight, which was not without its pain, since I couldn’t reveal myself to them and touch them.” That required tonnes of discipline. Two year before at Dukwe Settlement he wrote, “I missed my mother at Dukwe; I missed her tongue-lashing and I realised how much I loved her.”

By the Commands of their unit, they carried out the tasks, “...we began distributing the arms to the comrades we had recruited... We were now in control of seven units” The units were Dabulamanzi, Maqedindaba, Macingwana, Sigcwelegcwele, Hintsa and two units based in Kagiso. After distributing the arms they, “began the training of the units. Mainstay decided to divide the units into three: the AK47 squad, the grenade squad, the limpet mine squad... The training involved the use of firearms, physical training, tactics and politics. In politics, we concentrated mainly on the strategy and tactics of the ANC, The Freedom Charter and the MK Manifesto... In March 1988, sporadic attacks were reported in the areas of Pretoria. Kagiso joined later and our MK voice was heard in Pretoria and Krugersdorp... We were all in all responsible for nineteen successful military operations and the escape from Modderbee prison was the twentieth operation.”

The book provides details of a number of these operations that hit headlines in the country’s newspapers, Attridgeville Municipal Offices, Railway Station, Lion Bridge, bomb blasts at Vermeulen and Proes Streets, Wimpy Bar and South African Airways, Pretoria Central, etc.

For a “late talker” Baduza has, or should have, no regrets. His experience as a guerrilla was complete. To top it all, at Bronkhorstspruit Prison, before his transfer to Modderbee Prison, a warder, “Sergeant Olivier was stopped from bringing me food after he brought his wife and son to visit me. My contact with him had changed his views about ‘terrorists.’ It also dented his faith in the National Party. To avoid such indoctrination of warders by prisoners, the authorities changed my attendants every second day and no one was allowed to serve me for three consecutive days.” To round it all up Baduza takes a poke at ‘unshaken love.’ His lover was a woman arrested for housebreaking who he communicated with through toilet water pipe system. He writes, “We promised to marry on our release... She was my faceless lover who consoled me when there was no one there to do so. It was that kind of love that Shakespeare would say was unshaken.”

In practice the love we once shared for socialist ideals has died; shaken and replaced by the everyday love of the here and now – Capitalism you are King, o Tau, Nkanyamba!

The book was published by Bheki Zungu Publishing. It is available by order: contact author, Rodney “Baduza” Toka, at 082 455 0218.