After serving six years of his nine-year sentence on Robben Island for belonging to a banned organisation, Douglas Tyutyu and eight of his co-accused were released from prison on November 9 1970.
They were taken on a long journey by train, to be dumped in pre-selected places in the Eastern Cape, a practice common at the time.
This distribution of political activists and/or released prisoners paid no regard to whether a person had relatives, a place to stay or work opportunities in the chosen area.
Luckily for Tyutyu, the magistrate for Ilinge was a junior official and flatly refused to carry out this instruction on the grounds that he did not have administrative powers to do so.
He wanted the police to produce proof of the banishment order. When they could not do so, he instructed the police to take the prisoners back to Port Elizabeth.
The letters from their relatives showing that they would be welcomed back home was sufficient. This legal administrative bungle victory for the prisoners was short-lived.
Four weeks later, the other three men were rounded up by the police and sent back to Ilinge. Tyutyu escaped because he was attending a family gathering in his rural home.
However, even that respite did not last long, and he was picked up and locked up in police cells to be transferred to Ilinge. He found himself a lawyer who contested his removal.
Fortunately for him, even the Port Elizabeth magistrate decided in his favour.
He was free to stay in the city.
As Tyutyu was crossing one hurdle, new ones were cropping up.
He could not be considered for work as his work permit had expired in the first six months of his incarceration.
He had to battle to obtain a work seeker’s permit, something that was as scarce as gold.
Finding this permit was the most frustrating thing for any black person in those days.
It took him more than six months of being sent from pillar to post before he was granted a temporary permit. On top of all this, he had to report once a week at the Kwazakhele Police Station.
His first job was at Pyott’s biscuit factory in North End. Tyutyu still has a vivid memory of the low salary he was given, and the appalling working conditions he and other workers were subjected to. It was as if his life was starting all over again. The police started gradually to lose interest in him, as he was by now reporting once a month, until the reporting process was totally relaxed.
The relaxation of the restrictions allowed him to look for better paying jobs and his life was fast returning to normality.
Tyutyu’s best break was being employed at Ford in 1980, starting at the engine plant’s paint shop.
Although Tyutyu was pleased with his slow life transformation, his mind was always thinking about his comrades he had left behind.
He was particularly aggrieved by the burial of his friends on Robben Island and at other prisons, far from their ancestral homes.
At Ford, he was also not pleased with the racial discrimination that was so rampant and apparent.
What he was experiencing in the work place was the same as what he had been learning about in labour theories in prison.
His mind toyed again with his old sentiments, of wanting to bring justice for all.
While in prison he had diligently studied Lenin’s and Marx’s theories, and Mao Tse-Tung’s and General Vo Nguyen Giap’s guerilla warfare tactics. ( Now at the age of 82, Tyutyu, remains an encyclopedia of South African, African and world history).
According to Mike Xego, “Tyutyu found out early what was to be the ideological basis for the new social system that was to replace the injustices of the apartheid and the exploitative capitalist system. Mao’s military tactics was the means by which he intended to bring into existence an equal society.”
Tyutyu designed new methods of degrading the apartheid power.
He revived his contact with the exiled ANC’s military activities.
He was not prepared to retreat ignominiously from his aim of fighting for freedom.
His main purpose was first to prepare logistics for the safe infiltration and deployment of specialist guerilla units to conduct military training internally. This was done by infiltrating grassroots organisations.
The mobilised and militant urban youth was fertile ground for his mission.
Nceba Faku, Shuta Mkonki, Thuli Bobo and Xego were some of the young men who, due to their excellent discipline, were recruited from the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress for Tyutyu’s mission. Faku, then a recently released prisoner, also joined the small but widely scattered unit.
He recalls the suitability of Tyutyu as a commander: “He was pleasant, highly intelligent and very articulate when he chose to speak”. Faku says Tyutyu has an amazing ability to stay out of the limelight.
He is most effective in meetings of three to four people.
“His personal adherence to strict African social ethics, respect of people, young or old, poor and rich, educated and uneducated made him a natural leader in the dangerous and well-oiled apartheid state machinery.”
While employed, Tyutyu was commander of the most elite underground ANC cell in the Eastern Cape.
While Tyutyu was working overtime at Ford, he was arrested on the paint line.
The huge contingent of police waited patiently at reception for him to finish his shift. Little did Tyutyu know that Ford was surrounded by police and his house was under siege by police.
The arrest was followed by spates of military engagements, mostly in the Port Elizabeth area.
He and 10 co-accused were sentenced to long prison terms, ranging from five to 25 years.
Faku says it is a miracle that Tyutyu was not sent to the gallows. He attributes this to the wisdom of Pius Langa, then an advocate instructed by Thole Majodina.
Tyutyu’s life of discipline is carried within him to this day. He believes that deviation from discipline in all facets of life can be fatal.