Slice of life: The Wilds’ Purple Pimpernel

The Wilds in Killarney, Johannesburg, has been a constant throughout Faarooq Mangera’s life.

In the 1960s, his parents used to take him walking in there — one of the few public spaces that was open to people of all races at the time. “My dad and mom actually gave me this introduction to green spaces and stuff, because we were living in the city; we had no garden,” he says.

Five decades later, we’re sitting on a bench in The Wilds as Mangera tells his story. In fact, the bench itself is the story — or at least an important prop.

Mangera spent part of the 1970s in London. When he returned to South Africa in the 1980s, he had made connections in the United Kingdom, and was able to travel between the two countries. He was then tasked with delivering packages and messages on behalf of the International Defence and Aid Fund, which raised funds to defend political prisoners.

How did Mangera deliver these messages? He would leave them underneath the very bench in The Wilds on which we are now sitting. This gave rise to his nickname: “The Purple Pimpernel”.

“I was also a dancer for a while in London and I danced at a club called Purple Pussycat,” he says. “I always liked purple, and the idea of the Scarlet Pimpernel really appealed to me. So I became known as ‘The Purple Pimpernel’.”

Mangera sometimes reflects on the fate of the messages he delivered. “The one thing that has always intrigued me is: Were there any messages that did not get to the person for whom they were intended? But, given that various lawyers did the work they were supposed to, I’m assuming the packages got to where they needed to.” — Faarooq Gardee-Minty Mangera, 64, as told to Theresa Mallinson

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