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Comrade “fish” keitseng

Publishing Date : 31 July, 2018

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA



Born in Kanye, Ntwaesele Thatayaone “Fish” Keitseng (1919- 2005) was both a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC) and pioneer local nationalist. As migrant labourer in Gauteng from 1940 he became politicised through his active membership African Mineworkers’ Union, which was then led by J.B. Marks who was also a leading member of both the ANC and South African Communist Party.


Keitseng took part in the 1946 Mineworkers strike, which was brutally suppressed. He left the mines in 1947, joining the ANC in the same year. Having never attended formal education, Keitseng taught himself to read as well as speak English while working in a carpet store, while becoming an increasingly important political organizer in Newclare Township during the 1952 Defiance Campaign.


In 1956 he helped a large ANC group escape from police custody. The subsequent police crackdown resulted in severe riots. Having already spent time in jail for his politics, Keitseng then approached his lawyer, Nelson Mandela, to turn himself (photo). Both along with a 154 other leading members of the ANC and associated organisations were then collectively charged with treason.  Other Batswana prosecuted in the Treason Trial included Motsamai Mpho, Theo Mmusi, Z.K. Matthews and Joe Matthews.


In 1959 the Apartheid authorities dropped the charges against Keitseng, deported him back to the Bechuanaland Protectorate as a prohibited immigrant. Keitseng lived in Lobatse, where he became a key ANC leader in Botswana until the 1980s, working mostly as an escort for fleeing exiles moving north including Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
 

In 1962 his Peleng safe house also hosted the first ANC Congress in exile. Keitseng was also involved in the formation of the People’s Party (BPP) and its labour union, the Bechuanaland Trade Union Council. After the BPP split in 1962, he stayed in the Independence Party for a short time, before helping to found the National Front (BNF) in 1965. He never stood for office, however, until 1990, when he was elected a councillor in Gaborone.
 

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