There was a time in the 1980s when Trevor Manuel became a type of Cape Flats Pimpernel, not quite scarlet, but just as elusive.
With the Security Police trying their hardest to track him down to detain him – he managed to stay just one or two steps ahead of them.
But, in the 1980s, his ability to capture the headlines resulted in the whole Sunday staff complement – four of us – of the small Cape Town weekly newspaper, the Cape Herald, being subpoenaed by the Security Police.
For us, it was, as they say on the Cape Flats, fynpoepietyd.
The drama unfolded when a Bo-Kaap activist, Naseegh Jaffer, phoned me to offer me a scoop.
I was snowed under preparing copy for the next edition of the paper, so I asked Michael Doman to check out what Jaffer was offering (which he promised would be ‘dynamite’)
So, off went Doman, to be picked up at the back of the building in Burg Street.
He returned after a while, and, with typical dry Michael Doman humour, announced that his scoop had been an interview with a tableegh named Manuel.
Manuel had a long beard apparently and was dressed in the apparel of a Muslim holy man.
Well, yes, it was a scoop.
At that time Manuel was one of the most ‘wanted’ political activists in Cape Town.
The Cape Herald ran the interview as a front-page (and poster) story in its Monday evening edition.
Shortly after the start of business on the Tuesday morning, a duo of Security Police, with a cold-eyed lieutenant named Frans Mostert in charge, marched into the offices of the Cape Herald on the 4th Floor of the then Newspaper House in St George’s Street, holding copies of the newspaper and the attendance register of staff members who had been in the building the previous Sunday.
He demanded to know from Doman where the interview had been conducted.
In a car, Doman replied.
Who else was in the car? Mostert barked. ‘I didn’t know him,’ Doman responded.
Mostert’s attempts to question the rest of us proved equally frustrating for him.
He and his colleague eventually left, with a menacing warning that a subpoena would be on its way and that ‘Julle … gaan julle gate sien1’ [‘You … are going to see your arses!’]
It was not a lekker thing to hear.
The subpoena was delivered as promised.
By then, our lawyers had been briefed, and we were told that any refusal to answer questions satisfactorily could lead to two weeks imprisonment at a time.
Our lawyers took statements from us, and we – Doman, Tyrone Seale, Gary van Dyk and yours truly – prepared ourselves for our first two week stint in prison. But then, after days of to-ing and fro-ing, and a morning at the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court, the matter was suddenly dropped….
* In memory of Michael Doman, a quiet hero of the Cape Herald news team.