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08 Nov 2003 08:33
The year is 1961. Tanzania is free and the British nurses are leaving the country in dozens.
The ANC, despite its recent banning and massive security clamp down, agree to help by recruiting nurses in South Africa.
It is to be a harrowing journey these young volunteers embark upon. Five nurses from Port Elizabeth leave by train from the PE station and arrive at Johannesburg’s Park Station in the afternoon the following day. There they are met by the young Thabo Mbeki and walk from the station to the Macosa House. From there, they proceed in Duma Nokwe’s car to Ahmed Kathrada’s house to wait for the Durban and Johannesburg groups. The group from Johannesburg arrives at 21h30 (but the Durban group only joins them once they are across the border in Botswana).
The Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth volunteers finally leave by bus in the company of Tom Nkobi and a young white man posing as a Pastor. The strategy is that if stopped, they will act as delegates to a church congress in Bechuanaland (now Botswana). Despite a scare in Zeerust, they get to the border at dawn. But their ‘pick up’, a Mr Fish, does not appear. The driver panics and tries to hide the huge bus behind a bush. Ntate Chomme comes to the rescue, allowing them to hide at his house.
At the Botswana border, they stop in Lobatse, enduring harassment from a colonial policeman, until the word comes for them to move in a chartered plane to Dar-es-Salaam, via Francis Town, Salisbury and Mbeya.
In the plane are the Tanganyika Chief Nursing Officer and JJ Radebe, the Chief ANC Rep. The reception at the Airport was spectacular. Present to meet them were O.R. Tambo, the then Minister of Health Crower Radebe, and many of the South African
community already in Dar-es-Salam.
The twenty nurses had made history, arriving young and ready for service. By mid-January 1962, they were all employed at various hospitals in Tanzania: Arusha, Moshi, Tanga, Mwanza, Bukoba, Kibingoto and Dar-es-Salaam. - Sapa
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