Mohammed Tikly

Coordinator of the Somafco Collection, Batlagae Trust

Tikly belonged to the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress during his high school years and that is where his political involvement began. He went to England for his university studies and joined the ANC. During a hunger strike in 1963 during the Rivonia Trial Case the South African Embassy refused to renew his passport and he ended up for 22 years in Exile in England. As a graduate in teaching he was appointed Director of Somafco (Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College) in Tanzania between 1982-1987, the ANC education centre where a number of volunteers from the Africa Groups of Sweden worked. He then spent two more years in Lusaka until the ANC was unbanned in 1990.

Mohammed Tikly

Mohammed Tikly

Bertil Högberg: It’s 25 July 2005 and I’m sitting here in Pretoria with Mr Mohammed Tikly and I would like to ask when did you become involved in the struggle in South Africa?

Mohammed Tikly: When I was in secondary school, in the 1950s. At that time the Freedom Charter was being adopted in 1965, the Treason Trial was in progress. I lived in Pietersburg, which is now called Polokwane, in the north. I came to high school in Johannesburg in 1953. That is when I became conscious about politics.

I belonged to the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress which consisted of many students from my school and others. That’s where my activism started. I then left, after matriculation for England. I went with a regular passport, but once I got to England I became very active with the ANC and in 1963 when the Rivonia Trial was on, I joined three others to participate in a 7-day hunger strike right beside Trafalgar Square in London, in a tent. We attracted a lot of attention, worldwide attention, from the media in particular. The idea was the ANC wanted to maximise information about the trial to highlight the possibility of the death sentence on Mandela and the other Rivonia trialists. However, after that the South African Embassy wouldn’t renew my Passport so I was forced to be in exile for the rest of my 22 years in England.
I qualified as a teacher but in my spare time worked for the ANC. We used to campaign at universities, explaining to students about apartheid and later on we had to travel to countries on the Continent, including Sweden, to campaign against apartheid because by that time, by the late ’60s, there was a sizeable number of ANC students based in England, particularly in London.
After the 1976 Soweto Uprising, we formed an ANC education committee in London. That committee campaigned against Bantu Education. With the outflow of hundreds of students into exile, the ANC decided to establish the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Tanzania. I was Appointed Director of SOMAFCO and served there from 1982 to 1987 and spent two more years in Lusaka until the ANC was unbanned in 1990. In brief that is my history in exile.

Bertil Högberg: Okay. And what was your first contact with the Nordic countries, or Swedish solidarity work?

Mohammed Tikly: The first contact was while I was at SOMAFCO. Diplomats from the Swedish Embassy in Dar es Salaam visited SOMAFCO from time to time. In fact, the then Swedish ambassador, whose name slips me just now, was among the first to visit. He was a good tennis player although he had only one arm.

Bertil Högberg: Oh, yes, David Wirmark.

Mohammed Tikly: David Wirmark, yes. He was among the first diplomats who invited me to his residence in Dar es Salaam.

Bertil Högberg: He was an old anti-apartheid campaigner from the ‘50s and beginning of the ‘60s in the Liberal Party.

Mohammed Tikly: Yes, that’s right. He was very supportive. He and his wife would come over to Mazimbu where SOMAFCO was established, or to Dakawa, the other settlement. Subsequent ambassadors were likewise very supportive. The same applied to other Nordic embassies.
Later on, NGO representatives used to come from Sweden, Save the Children, for example, Bread and Fishes and Africa Groups to visit projects that they supported at SOMAFCO. We had a lot of support from Save the Children, for example. Our nursery school was largely funded by them, the buildings, running expenses and so on.

Bertil Högberg: Wasn’t that also money from Operations Day’s Work from the students that was channelled through Save the Children?

Mohammed Tikly: Yes, that’s right. The two large Operation Days Work donations we received during the 1980’s made a major boost to the development of Mazimbu and Dakawa. The first Operation Day’s Work money was used for classrooms and laboratories and the second sum was used for VTC and various other projects at Dakawa. We were very fortunate that from the Nordic states we received an enormous amount of solidarity and financial and material aid. We used to, for example, even get second-hand clothing which was very useful because the Mazimbu and Dakawa population consisted not just of students, but consisted also of community members, adults and families that were in exile, so we had a large community that needed all kinds of things, apart from food and accommodation.
The ANC tried to be as self-sufficient as possible by establishing small industries. For example, we had a furniture factory which produced all the furniture we used in classrooms, in offices, in residences. The Finns, in particular, were very involved in supporting that project. Norway made a major contribution towards infrastructural development, electrification, sewerage, water reticulation and roads. All told, the Nordic states were very important in the development of both Mazimbu and Dakawa. SIDA helped towards the development of the Mazimbu farm. We were able to provide about one third of our needs. We were able to provide milk for the children. By the mid-1980s, we had a large number of nursery children, perhaps about 120 to 150. There were between 600 to 700 primary pupils and between 600 to 700 secondary students. As regards students we had a shifting population, graduates would leave for scholarships and new ones enter SOMAFCO. After the Nkomati Accord ANC exiles were forced to leave Mocambiaque, most came to Mazimbu and Dakawa. By the mid-1980’s the population grew to over 5000.

Bertil Högberg: What was the role of volunteers from the NGOs side?

Mohammed Tikly: Volunteers were from many different countries and came to provide their skills and expertise; the main motivation being solidarity with the ANC and the oppressed people of South Africa.The volunteers played a crucial role in our development. The first volunteer, an architect, was from Denmark.He was able to help us with the planning of our first classrooms and dormitories. That was way back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. Subsequently we had volunteers from other Nordic states, Holland, several African countries, Cuba, etc.
Apart from agricultural experts, Sweden was also important in terms of providing teachers. Our first primary school volunteers were a couple; Margereta and Knut Bergknut They came with their 3 children. They were very important because the primary school was in a state of collapse because we just didn’t have teachers. So their coming and later on other Swedish teachers and those from other countries made it possible for us to improve the schooling system at SOMAFCO, ensuring that the children from nursery to secondary level, and adult learners and vocational trainees received better training and education. Without the help of volunteers we would not have succeeded.

Bertil Högberg: So there were quite a lot of relationships that you had with many different organisations and so on. Were there any frustrations in maintaining these relationships or -?

Mohammed Tikly: I think the frustration was mainly on the part of the NGO’s in Sweden and other countries. Due to SOMAFCO’S isolation and the fact that the communication system (telephone, telex) did not always function our communications were at times delayed and this no doubt caused frustration among NGO’s, because they had to meet reporting deadlines.
Because of SOMAFCO’s relative isolation, the students welcomed the visits made by solidarity workers, who would spend time in political discussion and giving information about solidarity work in their respective countries. This boosted the morale of our students and the community at large.
I want to go back. I said earlier that we had volunteers, teachers and others, who came, some from Sweden. We also had a SIDA-sponsored teacher development programme with Linköping University and a nursing development programme with the Norrköping Nursing College. These training programmes helped us to create capacity in our staffing within SOMAFCO and in our 20-bed ANC-Holland Solidarity Hospital.

Bertil Högberg: Was there any frustration in the relationship when you had all these volunteers on the site? Were there any problems between the school and the volunteers or in the community there?

Mohammed Tikly: On the whole there was a very good relationship between the volunteers and the management/administration, the students, the community in general, and many of the volunteers formed lifelong relationships with ANC cadres. .

Bertil Högberg: What was the main difference between the relationship you had with SIDA, for example, and the Swedish NGOs?

Mohammed Tikly: The one with the NGO was more organic because there was a genuine relationship, based on solidarity. With SIDA it was more formal where there was a government programme. .

Bertil Högberg: Were all the Nordic countries involved in support, like Finland and Denmark?

Mohammed Tikly: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: All from government’s side? Was it also from the NGOs’ side that you had contacts?

Mohammed Tikly: With all of them. There was a very strong solidarity involvement in all four Nordic countries and there was also strong state support through DANIDA, SIDA, FINNIDA and NORAD. They were also heavily involved. So it was a combination of civil society and state.

Bertil Högberg: But volunteers, were there volunteers from any other Nordic country then Sweden? You mentioned Denmark?

Mohammed Tikly: I mentioned Denmark. As I said, the first volunteer was from Denmark and subsequently we had Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish volunteers.

Bertil Högberg: Okay. And what did this contact mean to you personally; contact you had with the Nordic countries?

Mohammed Tikly: Well I think, as with the rest of the community at Mazimbu and Dakawa, it boosted my morale as a worker at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College. It made exile easier. During those difficult struggle years the support from the Nordic states and other countries was important in making it possible for all of us, from students to those in management to those in administration, to keep hope alive that things would change with their support. As you know, international solidarity was one of the four pillars of struggle that the ANC had adopted. The others were mass political mobilisation, the underground struggle, and the military struggle. Compared to ANC exiles in the diaspora, in Tanzania we were relatively isolated, although we were in a happy situation in the sense that Tanzanians were very welcoming and friendly towards us and we built a good relationship with the Government and people in general. However, contact with the Nordic countries was important.

Bertil Högberg: Can you remember which organisations in Finland and Norway and Denmark were involved in support?

Mohammed Tikly: In all Nordic countries there were organisations specifically set up to campaign against Apartheid, aiming to isolate the Apartheid regime. Beyond that there were trade unions, trade union federations, professional organisations, church bodies, student and children’s organisations, etc. As I said earlier, students were a powerful collective through Operation Days Work, etc. Organisations that come to mind now, other than those I have already mentioned, are Emmaus, Ibis, which had another name.

Bertil Högberg: It was called WUS Denmark.

Mohammed Tikly: That’s correct. There were various others.

Bertil Högberg: Fellesrådet för det sörlige Afrika, SAIH.

Mohammed Tikly: SAIH and Fellesradet were important supporters. Sorry, I need some time to think of all the solidarity NGO’s.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, what happened then when things started to change in South Africa? What became of the school?

Mohammed Tikly: We had some indication by 1989 that there was going to be change in SA, and indeed that happened. By 1990 we knew we were going home. We then got into consultation with the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry about the future of Mazimbu and Dakawa because we wanted to leave SOMAFCO in good hands so that it they would serve the people of Tanzania to maximum benefit. The first idea was that we should continue, the ANC together with the Tanzanian government, should continue running SOMAFCO jointly for 2 or 3 years after 1991/1992. But that didn’t materialise, although the Nordic countries were in principle quite willing to give continued support for 2 or 3 years to a joint ANC/Tanzania committee or organisation that would run the two settlements after the ANC people had left.
The ANC also considered keeping SOMAFCO running on its own for another year or two. Both proposals did not work out so it was then decided to hand both settlements over to the government of Tanzania and that we did in July 1992. Oliver Tambo, the then president of the ANC formally handed over both settlements to President Mwinyi of Tanzania.

Bertil Högberg: That must have been one of Oliver Tambo’s very last really big functions.

Mohammed Tikly: Yes, he took a personal interest in SOMAFCO. He used to come there every 6 months or so, spend time with the students for 1 or 2 days. So when the handover was arranged he insisted on going, although he wasn’t very well, so you’re right that was among his last major official duties that he performed.
Following the handover, different Tanzanian ministries took responsibility for the SOMAFCO’s premises: boarding section, classrooms, labs, library, etc. These were by the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), which is based in Morogoro. Mazimbu is now a campus of SUA and called the Solomon Mahlangu Campus.
The small industries and Vocational Training Centre are run by the Tanzanian Ministry of Labour. The school in Dakawa, what used to be the Ruth First Orientation Centre is now under the Ministry of Education in Tanzania. I was there about 2years ago and I was pleasantly surprised, by how well the facilities are used.
There was in the early years after we handed over, for the first year or so there was a lack of control and management so some things were stolen from the houses. But the Tanzanian Government was able to restore control.

Bertil Högberg: I’m glad to hear that because you heard those rumours that there were problems right after the handover.

Mohammed Tikly: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: So what happened to the students?

Mohammed Tikly: As soon as we heard that we were going to come home the UNHCR and the ANC formed a Repatriation Committee. The UNHCR then brought people back in charter planes. By April 1992 Mazimbu and Dakawa were almost empty.
We had the problem of integrating the students into the education system at all levels in South Africa. I was asked to head the Batlagae Trust (Batlagae is a Setswana word meaning those who have come home) that assisted with the reintegration of students in South Africa. The UNHCR was responsible for the return and providing welfare for a limited period for returnees. The Batlagae Trust funded returnee students to go to university, school, and nursery, pre-primary, adult learners. The Nordic countries again were very important as most of the funding for the bursary programme was provided by the Nordic states, in particular Sweden and Norway. That was one part of the work of the Trust. Including providing advice and negotiating with institutions about foreign qualifications.
The second objective of the Batlagae Trust was the establishment of the Yeoville Community School in Johannesburg for primary pupils from SOMAFCO.
The third objective of the Batlagae Trust was the establishment of the Yeoville Education Polyclinic, which provided trauma counselling, remedial education, etc for returnee children.
The fourth objective of the Batlagae Trust was the SOMAFCO Archives Project, i.e., to transfer important documentation and artefacts from SOMAFCO to the University of Fort Hare, where the ANC’s archives are lodged. The SOMAFCO Collection consists of records from Mazimbu and Dakawa, records of the school, small industries, hospital, farm, volunteers, solidarity organisations, etc. The SOMAFCO Archives Project is the only remaining activity of the Trust.

Bertil Högberg: And then these activities ceased to exist?

Mohammed Tikly: Except for the Archives Project, the others were phased out by the late 1990’s. population.

Bertil Högberg: There was something called the Youth Education Trust? Was that linked to this Trust?

Mohammed Tikly: Yes, the Batlagae Trust, as part of its support to students, gave funds to the Youth Education Trust (YET), which was trying to introduce the concept of Education with Production, with the help of the pioneering educationalist, Patrick van Rensburg.
Among YET’s trustees were Gertrude Shope and Albertina Sisulu and the Project was based in Mpumalanga, in the former Kangwane Homeland.

Bertil Högberg: I visited there.

Mohammed Tikly: You visited the Project?

Bertil Högberg: Yes, in ’93.

Mohammed Tikly: There too we got support from Nordic countries, channelled through the Bathlegai Trust. The Education with Production Project ran from about 1992 to about 1997/’98 and then was handed over to the Provincial Government of Mpumalanga. Now it’s a government project.

Bertil Högberg: But it’s maintained? They are doing it?

Mohammed Tikly: Not on the same principle of education with production. It is now a conventional technical college.

Bertil Högberg: And you were involved with running this trust for quite a number of years?

Mohammed Tikly: I was involved with the Batlagae Trust from ’92, after coordinating the SOMAFCO Handover Ceremony at Mazimbu, and am still a trustee

Bertil Högberg: I was invited there but I couldn’t make it. I was working in Namibia then, couldn’t get flights to make it there.

Mohammed Tikly: You were at the ANC Donors’ Conference in Arusha in 1991?

Bertil Högberg: No.

Mohammed Tikly: The proposal the ANC explored was to continue running SOMAFCO for at least 2 years, even though the ANC was unbanned. This was due to the fact that there was Third Force violence in SA and it was uncertain how the Talks with the regime would go. There was agreement in principle from the Nordic countries to support the continuation, but in the end it transpired that the students themselves and the community members at Mazimbu and Dakawa were not willing to remain beyond the Handover.

Bertil Högberg: You worked with this trust until ‘97 and what was your role after that?

Mohammed Tikly: In 1995 I joined the National Department of Education in Pretoria. I worked there for 5 years, first in the International Relations Division and then later on in the Gender Equality Division and retired 4 years ago, in 2000.

Bertil Högberg: But you are still involved with a number of ANC activities?

Mohammed Tikly: Yes. I serve on the ANC’s Archives’ Committee and am still involved with the Archives at Fort Hare University .I am active at ANC Branch level in my part of Pretoria. Furthermore, I am a trustee of the Desmond Tutu Diversity Trust, which aims to highlight the importance of diversity as a fundamental feature of South African society.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, are there any other aspects about the relationship with solidarity or with Sweden which we have forgotten?

Mohammed Tikly: Let me reiterate the point I made about the fact that the solidarity generated during the struggle against Apartheid yielded tremendous dividends. It helped the liberation of South Africa. I’m convinced that had it not been for international solidarity our struggle would have taken longer. The Nordic countries in particular were strong on the isolation of Apartheid South Africa.But at a lower level the fact that individuals, ordinary people, school and university students, trade unionists, etc, were able to mobilise support and campaign on our behalf and give us support as they did at Mazimbu and Dakawa was instrumental in not only strengthening the struggle at the time but in ensuring that there would be victory in the end. And what has happened, as I said earlier, is that the solidarity has generated inter-relationships between people, ordinary people in Sweden and ordinary people in South Africa. That’s a big bonus for us.
People like yourself, for example, who belonged to the Africa Groups, sacrificed a lot for our struggle and that’s something that we who were involved in the struggle in South Africa feel is not given enough recognition. Many individuals and families in your country were deeply involved and committed towards the liberation of South Africa. The role of the individual was extremely important. We, South Africans feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the support and solidarity given to the oppressed people of South Africa by ordinary Swedes.

The Nordic Africa Institute, P O Box 1703, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
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Updated 9 February 2010, 14:15

The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 25 July 2005.

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