Sometime between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, a young Barbara Hogan walked into a local post office and rented a PO box.
Secured under a pseudonym and nestled between hundreds – if not thousands – like it, the innocuous mailbox would have drawn little attention.
No one would have suspected that there in the heart of the illustrious, then exclusively white, suburb of Illovo was a drop-off point for covert correspondence with the banned ANC.
“I used my dead letter box to send coded reports,” Hogan said in an affidavit handed up in the High Court in Johannesburg yesterday, when the struggle icon took the stand in the reopened inquest into unionist and doctor Neil Aggett’s 1982 death in apartheid police custody.
“A courier would pick up the correspondence from the box using a duplicate key and take them by hand to Botswana. The letters would only be fetched during a specified time period and date,” she added.
Hogan’s evidence – both on the stand and in her affidavit – laid bare the inner workings of the ANC’s underground during the party’s years in exile as well as her own role in the organisation.
Hogan was recruited as an ANC member in 1977 in the wake of the Soweto uprising and following the banning of the Black Consciousness Movement, described by her as “the pre-eminent black political movement of that era”.
She told the court yesterday of the different networks that fell under the ANC.
Hogan had specifically requested not to join the Umkhonto we Sizwe network.
“Because I had no experience in underground military work and I felt my skills and abilities were more focused on political mobilisation,” she explained.
As a result, she was instead mandated to work within the white left to promote the strategies and principles of the ANC.
“Especially those pertaining to the principle of nonracialism,” she said. “Among the white left at the time, there was a certain apprehension about the ANC because there was a lot of false propaganda going on.”
Hogan was tasked with persuading the white left that the principles and values of the ANC, as laid out in the Freedom Charter, were “the blueprint for taking the country forward”.
“That affiliating themselves to the values and principles of the ANC was the logical step that we needed to take to go forward,” she said. “And that the ANC needed that support.”
Hogan said some ANC recruits were said to be “working under discipline”.
“I was one of those. I was not receiving instructions from the ANC but I worked within the broad mandates of the organisation. I would provide feedback on the work I was doing and attend debriefings.
“The bulk of my political work was done with activists within the country, not as a consequence of ANC instructions.”
Hogan yesterday also spoke of a strict code of silence amongst ANC underground members. She even recalled how one Umkhonto we Sizwe operative – Rob Adam – had tried to recruit her without realising she was already a party member.
“I had declined his offer without letting him know I was already a member of the ANC,” she said.