A song in the morning

Gerald Seymour


They were four.

They walked abreast, dodging the lunchtime crowd. They were unremarkable to the point of anonymity. When their line broke it was to let a White through because even for these four that was ingrained instinct. They all wore jogging shoes and loose shapeless trousers and long overcoats and their woollen caps were tight down on their skulls. The Whites passing between them, ignoring them, were still clothed for the rem-nants of the drought summer, girls in light frocks and cotton skirts and blouses and the men in shirt sleeves. But these four had started out on their journey to the city long before the Whites had stirred in their suburban beds. They had moved out of the township before the sun had glimmered onto the electricity pylons and over the horizon of galvanised tin roofs.

When they had caught their first bus the frost was still on the ground, crystal lights on the dry dun veld.

They didn't speak.

A security policeman or an interrogator might have noticed the tightness at their mouths, or the brightness in their eyes, or a certain stiffness in their walk, but the secretaries and the salesmen and the shop girls and the clerks saw nothing.

For each of them it was the first time that they had been given a mission into the very centre of the city.

A security policeman or an interrogator, any man who was accustomed to the scent of fear, might have noticed the way that one of the four held in two hands the strings of a duffel bag that was heavy and bulky. He might have seen that two others each had a hand thrust deep into the side pocket of the overcoat as if to guard or hide something of importance.

But the city was at peace and at its lunch hour, and the four young men aroused no attention as they made their way along Pritchard, going west.

For the Whites who shared the pavement with these four young Blacks the sun was high, and the violence of the townships was beyond sight, out of mind. A relaxed and safe and comfortable warmth shimmered on the fast traffic flow and the rough pavement on Pritchard. There were queues at the sandwich bars. There were men with their heads in the afternoon newspapers, not searching for the statistics of the previous night's unrest but for the selections of the local rugby teams. There were women eyeing the big plate glass windows of the department stores and the clothes that came by sea from London and Paris and Rome.

Together, at the same moment, the young Blacks saw the cream and grey Combi van that was parked against the kerb on the junction of Pritchard and Delvers. And they looked at each other and saw that they had all found the van.

A White man lounged behind the Combi's wheel.

The White couldn't have missed the four Blacks as they hesitated on the pavement, their faces split with nervous smiles, and stared at him. He couldn't have missed them but he gave no sign of having noticed them. He looked ahead and sucked the wet filter of a cigarette. The engine of the van was idling. The four Blacks went on, and one turned and saw that the rear doors were marginally open. It was all as they had been told it would be.

They waited for the green pedestrian light and crossed Van Wielligh.

Each of the four would have wanted to run now, to charge on the target, but the discipline held and so they waited for the light and then walked across the wide street and past four rows of cars. Past the Methodist Church offices and the bookshop. The one with the duffel bag stole a glance at the books in the window because he had been educated to Grade 3 at a church school, and the books in the window were something familiar to him where nothing else was familiar.

The ones with their hands in their pockets and the one with nothing to carry in his tight, clenched fists were of the townships round the city. The one with the duffel bag was a country boy and a member of this cadre only because of his special training.

The pavement narrowed, its width cut by high wooden boards, filled with advertising, that masked a building site.

They were jostled by Whites and Blacks alike hurrying against their flow.

The one with his hands clenched went first, a ram against the tide. He was followed by the one who held in his overcoat pocket a Makharov automatic pistol. Next was the one whose fingers were coiled round the smooth metal of an R.G.-42 fragmentation grenade. Last was the one with the duffel bag. They were past the building site, and the pavement opened out and in front of them were the tended lawns and the mock Gothic mass of the Rand Supreme Court.

They had all stopped. One thing to walk past the court when they were clean, carried nothing. Different now because three of them were the escort and the fourth carried a duffel bag that held a 5-litre can of petrol that was strapped with adhesive tape to nine sticks of explosive each weighing 250 grammes, and taped to the can and wired to the explosive was a battery for the electrical timing device manufactured to provide a 30 second fuse. They all waited on one of the others to take a step forward.

The courthouse was an attractive building, wide steps and a dominating portico, entered through double doors. The front part of the building housed the court rooms. Behind and towering was the eight storey administration block, the work place for the clerks and their records. Two years earlier comrades of these four young Blacks had smuggled a limpet mine into the administration. It had been defused before it exploded, but it remained something of a symbol. Not enough of a symbol for the men who had sent this cadre back for a second attack. Inside the courthouse the sentences were handed down on the comrades, on the captured cadres, in the broken cells. One year's imprisonment for playing a audio tape distributed by the African National Congress.

One year and six months for engraving a tea break mug with the words MANDELA – t h e people's leader. Six years for singing in gaol S university a song in praise of Mandela who was in gaol and Aggett and Biko who had died in police custody. Eight years for membership of the banned underground African National Congress and being found in possession of T-shirts with the logo viva mandela. Ten years for collecting political information for the African National Congress. Fifteen years for possession of firearms and explosives. Twenty years for sabotage. The sentence of death for the man who in the name of the African National Congress executed a policeman. On their way to the gaols the comrades had come in their tens and in their hundreds to the Rand Supreme Court on Pritchard Street.

It was a good target.

They were beside the sweeping entrance road that went down the side of the court building and then turned sharply into the tunnel that burrowed under the tower. It was the way the prisoners went, and the informers who gave evidence against them, the most secret of the state's witnesses. A White stood at the mouth of the entrance road, blocking it, short cut hair, pressed slacks, a club tie neatly knotted, and his arms crossed and cradling a personal radio. They had seen this policeman each time that they had come to look at the court, they would have to run back past him after the bomb. They had been told that everyone would be dazed after the bomb, that the Boer too would be confused, and they had the Makharov and the R.G.-42 fragmentation grenade.

The bustle and swim of the city eddied around them. The sun shone down on them. The noises of the city drifted between them. The one who carried the duffel bag closed his eyes, seemed to look upwards and his lips moved in silence as if he repeated a single word again and again. He was the country boy who was fearful of everything that was beyond the farm where he had been raised. He was the country boy who had stifled that fear and travelled by aircraft two years before from Tanzania to the great city of Moscow, who had gone to the camp outside Kiev and who had flown back with his knowledge of explosives and his expertise in detonators and fuses. The others huddled close to the country boy and they heard the whispered hiss on his lips, the one word.

The word was Amandla, meaning Freedom.

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