In the days before cellphones … in the days when security police listened in to telephone conversations of journalists, there was a knock on the door of my flat in Wynberg.
‘Salaam alaikum,’ said the young man at the door.
I didn’t know him at all, so I greeted him warily.
‘Mr Oakes,’ he said, ‘I got your address from Sheikh Nazim Mohamad in Lower Bath Road (about 200m from where I lived).
‘Yes,’ I replied, still uncertain.
‘How can I help you.
‘Do you know Imam Hassan Solomons?
‘Yes,’ I said.
The Imam, a well-known anti-apartheid activist, was on the run from the security police. He had been spirited away by UDF supporters and, try as they might, the functionaries of apartheid could not track him down.
We need you interview him – and run the story in the Cape Herald.
I had no proof that he was who he said he was, I was also well aware that under normal circumstances I would not have agreed to such an interview.
But these were abnormal times.
We were fighting for freedom.
So, I agreed immediately.
I went downstairs to a Golf in which two other men were waiting.
‘Mr Oakes,’ said the man who had come up to my flat, ‘I’m so sorry, ‘but we’re going to have to blindfold you.’
I nodded, now more nervous than ever. I got into the back of the car, and the man next to me blindfolded me. He asked me to bend low and look down, and then we set off to God knows where.
It was a scary trip. We did not travel fast, but I could not work out where we were headed. After all, they could have done any number of detours to make sure we weren’t being followed.
But my guess is that the council house we eventually walked into was in Hanover Park.
Inside, Imam Solomons greeted me warmly.
His chat was essentially a pep talk for those in The Struggle. We didn’t realise it then, but the struggle against apartheid had reached a crucial stage.
My interview – something of a coup – was turned it into a front page main story by the Cape Herald.