Philip Ate Kgosana was born in 1936 in Makapanstad in the northern Transvaal (current day Limpopo), the son of a minister. He graduated from the Lady Selborne High School in Pretoria in 1958 and was awarded a bursary to study commerce for a Commerce degree at the University of Cape Town. In January 1960, when he became regional secretary of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) for the Western Cape, he dropped his studies to do full-time political work. When the regional chairman was arrested on the eve of the Anti-Pass Campaign in1960, 23-year-old Kgosana inherited local leadership of the organisation. His fame skyrocketed nine days after the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, when he emerged as the spokesman for 30,000 African demonstrators who marched into the centre of Cape Town on 30 March. Police were temporarily paralysed with indecision about how to engage with the protest, and the event has subsequenty been seen by some as a critical turning point in South African history.
In return for a promise that leaders would be given an interview with the minister of justice, FC Erasmus, Kgosana persuaded the crowd to disperse. However, instead of honouring their promise, police arrested him later the same day. Tried for incitement with other PAC leaders, he fled South Africa while on bail in late 1960 and later resumed his university studies in Ethiopia. On 30 March 2016, at the age of 79, Kgosana retraced the steps the historic march he led in 1960. H walked the 12 km from Langa to Cape Town at the head of a small procession, which criticized the ANC government for not doing enough to take care of South Africa's poorest members.
Kgosana died on 20 April 2017 at the age of 80. President Jacob Zuma had the following to say upon hearing of his death: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of this former freedom fighter who dedicated his life to the liberation of the people of South Africa. We wish to convey our deepest condolences to the Kgosana family and his political home, the Pan Africanist Congress. May his soul rest in peace."
Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977). From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882 ”“ 1964. Hoover Institution Pres: Stanford University.
Philip Kgosana: The meaning of his courage today, Tony Heard