A Brief Overview
Most South Africans only know Secunda as an industrial and commercial centre, but the town has a liberation history that includes some of the country’s bravest freedom fighters, who died for democracy and racial equality.
Vincent Sekete (aka Sydney Sebephu) and Victor Khayiyane (aka Bongane Mthetwa) were members of the elite Umkhonto weSizwe Special Operations Unit led by the highly trained Richard Barney Molokoane (aka Mmutle Ramanase) and under the command of Joe Slovo. In 1982, they carried out an elaborate bombing of Sasol 1 and Sasol 2 petrochemical plants, which were important political and strategic targets to the apartheid government and NATO. The petrochemical plants burned for five days, which led the three to become known as The Sasol Three.
They worked as a unit and were killed by the South African Defence Force on 28 November 1985 during an ambush in Houtkop, outside Mkhondo (formerly Piet Retief), as they attempted to cross into Swaziland. They were buried in Thandakukhanya Township and exhumed between 10-12 December 1997 to be reburied. That year, Molokoane was posthumously honoured with the Gold Order of the Mendi, by then president, Thabo Mbeki for his bravery and heroic military offences.
He is believed to have told his mother: "You have three other sons. I belong to the nation, and the place where I will die will not be known by you, but I will not die running away from the police. I will not die from being shot in the back. I will die in battle, and until they shoot me in my forehead the battle will continue. The area where such a battle will occur will be razed by the burnt bushes and grass."
Another story of heroism is that of Patrick Chamusso, who was falsely arrested in 1980 by the South African Special Branch under the suspicion of conspiring with the ANC to bomb the Secunda oil refinery. Despite his innocence, he was detained for two months and severely tortured. Upon his release he fled to Mozambique, where he joined Umkhonto weSizwe, the military arm of the ANC. Joe Slovo – head of Umkhonto weSizwe and leader of the South African Communist Party – sent Chamusso to Angola for explosives training on how to destroy infrastructure without fatalities. After his return to South Africa, Chamusso single-handedly bombed the Sasol plant. The attack was carried out on Republic Day, a public holiday, so as to claim as few lives as possible – the ANC did not want to lose support by killing people. Chamusso planned for the reactor land mine to explode 15 minutes after the water treatment plant explosion, which was intended to empty the main plant so as to avoid casualties. The police guessed that there was another land mine and dismantled it before it exploded. If it had exploded, the fire would have been unstoppable. Over the next three days Chamusso bombed two electrical sub-stations near Witbank, plunging the entire town into darkness. After having been shot in the leg and arrested, Chamusso was sentenced to 24 years on Robben Island on accounts of terrorism, high treason and the possession of false passports. In 1991, after serving 10 years, he was released, alongside other political prisoners, as part of the new government’s amnesty policy. He refused a position in the current government and instead turned his energies to establish the Two Sisters Orphanage, which cares for AIDS orphans. In 2008, Chamusso received the National Heritage Council Ubuntu award for his humanitarian work. Hint: Catch A Fire is a biographical film that illustrates Chamusso’s fight for a free South Africa.