Member of the ANC, SACP and MK, author and columnist
Michael Kitso Dingake was born on 11 February 1928 in Bobonong Village, Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana). He attended the Bobonong Primary School between 1936 and 1941.He then came to South Africa where he did his secondary schooling at St Ansgars Institution, Roodepoort, in the then Union of South Africa from 1942 to 1943, and Pax College, in Pietersburg (Polokwane), in 1946. He obtained his senior certificate through private studies from Damelin College in Johannesburg.
Dingake joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952 during the Defiance Campaign and went on to serve in various capacities in different structures of the ANC. In 1957, he was elected secretary of Alexandra Branch Six; in 1959, he was elected chairperson of Johannesburg Northern Region; and in 1960, he was appointed member of the State of Emergency Committee, Johannesburg Region (at the declaration of the State of Emergency).
At the end of 1960, he was co-opted into the underground ANC Transvaal Regional Committee; in 1962, he served on the ANC National Secretariat as publicity secretary and was responsible for the production of propaganda material for the liberation movement; and later he assumed the chair, after the Rivonia arrests when the National Secretariat virtually served as the underground National Executive of the ANC.
In 1960, he was recruited into the South African Communist Party (SACP) during the State of Emergency and in 1961 he was also co-opted into the SACP District Committee. He served on the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Johannesburg Regional Structure, handling the recruitment of trainees abroad. After Wilton Mkwayi’s arrest, Dingake assumed all responsibility for MK operations, including the infiltration of trained MK cadres.
As a member of the ANC Volunteer Corps, Dingake participated in all the campaigns of the period – Against Bantu Education, Congress of the People, We Stand by Our Leaders, the Alexandra Bus Boycott of 1957, Potato Boycott, Sophiatown removals, One Pound-a-Day, the Women Anti-Pass Campaign of 1959, the Pass Burning after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Anti-White Republic Protests.
In 1962 he narrowly avoided being arrested by the then Security Police when he went to a hideout thinking that Mac Maharaj would be there. Dingake went to warn him to escape from that place because people they knew were being arrested. He disguised himself as a municipal policeman. Just as he got to the entrance of the house, the security guard who was at the gate saw him and signalled that he should go back, as the police were inside. The guard whispered that the police had arrested Maharaj. In this way Dingake was able to escape.
After Maharaj was arrested Dingake had to leave the country. He was sent on a mission to Dar es Salaam. When he came back to Johannesburg he found more of the people who were working with him had also been arrested. They were able to smuggle notes from prison to say that the police were looking for him and that he had to leave the country. Dingake left, in February 1965, for Botswana.
Dingake skipped the border back to Botswana where, from February 1965 to December 1965, he was the external contact with the ANC underground machinery in Johannesburg while he organised infiltration routes for MK guerrillas from Zambia through Botswana. The route had been opened and the first trainees had come through when he was kidnapped on his way to Lusaka, through Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) which was under Ian Smith’s. He was arrested on 8 December 1965.
Dingake was illegally transferred to Pretoria, where, after torture, he was indicted for membership and activities of banned organisations – the ANC and the SACP – and for statutory sabotage. He was sentenced to a total of 15 years on 6 May 1966 to Robben Island.
In an interview with Padraig O’Malley, Dingake says that Tennyson Makiwane lured him into taking a train to Lusaka. Makiwane, whom Dingake suspected of working with the police, suggested that Moses Kotane, Oliver Tambo and others were going to have an important meeting there and they needed him as the main contact in Botswana. En route, through Zimbabwe, he was detained under the state of emergency regulations that had been declared with then Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and after one month in Rhodesia he was illegally deported to South Africa. They pretended they were sending him back to Botswana but the police took him to Beitbridge where he was handed over to the South African Police.
He was severely tortured prior to his trial. Then they caught somebody, or the Botswana authorities sent someone who had been operating there, back to South Africa. Under torture, this person told the authorities what Dingake had been doing in Botswana. Dingake was handcuffed and hung upside down and deprived of sleep for sixty hours.
Yearning for more knowledge and education, Dingake later obtained his BA (Political Science and Economics), B. Admin (Public Administration and Local Government Accounting) and B. Com (Business Economics and Accounting) while serving his jail term on Robben Island. On Robben Island, Dingake and Maharaj were together in the Communications Committee which was responsible for communicating with the communal cell section and also for devising ways of communicating with the outside.
Dingake was released on 5 May 1981 and repatriated to Botswana, although the apartheid regime had, ostensibly for trial purposes, claimed that he was a South African citizen. Once he was back in Botswana, Dingake became active in politics. In 1998 he helped to found the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and became its president from that year until 2001. He retired from politics in 2004.
Dingake is also a writer who published the following works: My Fight Against Apartheid (1987), Apartheid, Questions and Answers (1989) and Politics of Confusion – The BNF Saga 1984-1998 (2004) and an autobiography Better to Die on One’s Feet. Dingake has continued to write as a columnist on Mmegi, a newspaper in Botswana.
Dingake saw himself first and foremost as an African duty-bound to fight for the liberation of Africans on their continent. The fact that he was a Botswana national never prevented him from engaging in sacrificial struggles to realise the dream of a free, non-racist, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
In April 2007, the South African Government conferred Dingake with the Grand Companion of The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Gold in recognition of his services to South Africa.
• O’Malley P, (2003) 16 Apr 2003: Dingake, Michael from [online]. Available at www.nelsonmandela.org [accessed on 23 March 2011]
• Europa Publications, (2004), Regional Surveys of the World: Africa South of the Sahara 2004, (London), pp.92