JOHANNESBURG – Sixty years after Nelson Mandela was trained in guerilla warfare in Ethiopia, a former military officer who acted as his security guard said there had been an attempt to kill the South African anti-apartheid icon during the training.
On the eve of International Nelson Mandela Day, which is being observed on Monday, Capt. Guta Dinka, 89, one of four paratroopers who were security guards for Mandela, narrated to Anadolu Agency the plot of the assassination and how he thwarted it.
“An old army friend who goes by the name of Abraham introduced me to a white man and an African guy, and they wanted me to kill Mandela by rope. They gave me £2,000 ($2,371) and a camera to take photos of Mandela. I would kill and they promised me a comfortable life in England,” he said.
The soldier informed Gen. Tadesse Birru about the plot and gave the money and camera to him. Birru was in charge of the camp.
“The plot was foiled with the arrest of Abraham. The white man and African were immediately deported to Kenya,” he said.
Ethiopia, a rugged, landlocked country in the Horn of African, continues to build on that legacy of hosting and helping Mandela during his struggle to highlight its contributions to the African anti-colonialism struggle, according to experts.
Recalling his days with Mandela, Dinka said the purpose of the training and identity of the trainee was shrouded in secrecy.
“Due to this training, we were happy with the trainee whom they often referred to as the high-profile guest of Emperor Haile Selassie,” he said.
Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero hailed globally as an icon of reconciliation and forgiveness, served as South Africa’s first Black president from 1994-1999. He died in December 2013 after a long illness.
In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared July 18 as a day to commemorate Nelson Mandela and his struggle against apartheid and colonialism to coincide with his birthday.
Mandela’s life as a liberation soldier and leader began in Ethiopia in 1962.
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The young South African who was identified as David Motsamayi on his Ethiopian passport, started secret guerrilla warfare training at the Kolfe Police training camp in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa.
Dinka said the government had assigned Gen. Birru to lead the training with three experienced high-ranking officers who were experts in guerrilla warfare and battle management.
“Mandela was imparted training seven days a week and, at times in the evenings, the tactics and leadership of guerrilla warfare,” he said, adding that he was also trained in using explosives, mines, and rifles.
Inspector Tilahun Bizuwork, the head of external relations of the Ethiopian Police University College which was Mandela’s training institute, told Anadolu Agency that the short training was intensive and professional.
“We take pride in hosting, training, and turning Mandela into a full-fledged soldier and leader of a guerrilla army,” he said.
The planned six-month training was cut short on the third month following a decision by the leaders of the African National Congress, which was formed to lead the struggle against apartheid.
“A farewell dinner was hosted by Birru. At the end of the dinner, the general awarded Mandela a handgun,” he recalled.
While giving Mandela the gun, Birru told him that this liberation handgun has been sent by Emperor Selassie, who ruled the country from 1930-1974.
Dinka said it was a depressing night and all found it hard to say goodbye.
“We were close to tears and I also saw tears in the eyes of Mandela and finally we escorted him to Bole International Airport.”
He was smuggled into South Africa and started the long journey.
Mandela’s training site is a valuable historical asset that demonstrates Ethiopia’s contribution to the liberation of South Africa, said Bezawork.
“Accordingly, earlier in January, the Ethiopian Federal Police College and the Addis Ababa City Art, Culture and Museum Bureau signed an agreement to jointly build the Mandela Museum at the college and work is underway,” he said.
In addition, a private college, the main meeting halls of Addis Ababa University, and the African Union are named after Mandela. The third floor of the Ras Hotel where he stayed is named “Mandela’s Floor.”
Speaking to Anadolu Agency Dechasa Abebe, an African studies lecturer at Addis Ababa University said that since training Mandela, Ethiopia, which was not colonialized and defeated the Italian colonial arm on its soil, has continued to build on the legacy to reinforce its anti-colonial stature.
“Over the last six decades, Ethiopian leaders had been telling local and international audiences that the training was a praiseworthy contribution of Ethiopia to the liberation of South Africa and Africa,” said Abebe.
“African leaders and Pan Africanists who praise Ethiopia for training Mandela and who also knew Ethiopia’s military support to Zimbabwe and other Southern Africa nations during the liberation struggle had always stood by Ethiopia during its difficult times.”
But he said even though Mandela is an African icon, several unappreciated pan-Africanist leaders have significantly contributed to the liberation of Africa.
“Africa shall bring to light and respect its forgotten exemplary leaders and multiply its icons,” he said.
The time Mandela spent in Ethiopia created a lasting impression. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote: “Ethiopia has always held a special place in my imagination. I felt I would be visiting my genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”
Mandela visited Ethiopia in July 1990, five months after he was released from prison.