Crossing the barrier – return to South Africa in 1994

I crossed the barrier for the first time in twenty-two years.  At last, I saw what I had missed all those years on the other side.  It was just ordinary airport scenes; carousels, customs, foreign exchange, etc.  But I was almost in tears as a flood of emotion overcame me.  My fellow travellers asked me how I felt.  I could not answer.

On January 2, 1972, I was stopped at the passport control in the old terminal building of Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg.  It looked as though the Security officials were waiting for me.  All I had in my mind at the time was picking up my car and driving the 360 miles home to Lesotho, where Evelyn, who was seven, was waiting for me to prepared supper.  Her mother had gone that morning to a conference in Botswana.

A security man came to the passport control office, and asked me to follow him.  He already had my passport in his hand.  He took me to a room on the second floor, told me to wait, and went away.  Three days of hell began.

No, nobody did anything to me.  That was the worst part.  Nobody showed up, except a frightened black man in a blue coverall who delivered stale food from greasy spoons.  I had no idea why I was held.  I still don”t.

The thought of Evelyn alone in that house in Lesotho, not knowing where her dad was and wondering when she could eat supper and go to bed, drove me crazy.  There was nothing to read, listen to, or write with.  The door of course was locked.  The only window, which could not open, was facing another brick wall.  The ingredients of hell are the conditions in which you have absolutely no control over or knowledge of you own future. I would have said anything to anybody just to get out.  I was an easy torture victim.  Of course, I could not sleep during those 3 days, until the same security man came to give me a piece of paper ordering me to get out of the Republic of South Africa in 6 hours.  After that, I was not allowed to enter South Africa until 1994.

Since the 72 hours alone at Jan Smuts Airport, a few of the friends I met in the University Christian Movement of South Africa have died under mysterious circumstances or have been murdered – Abram Tiro, Mapetla Mohapi, Steve Biko, Rick Turner, and others.  Two Anglican friends lost body parts by letter bombs.  One man, I thought was a trusted friend, Craig Williamson, turned out to be a spy for the Security Police.

Many South African friends asked me, who didn’t known anything about my 3 days in detention asked me when I would come to visit them. I answered, "When freedom comes to your country."  Now I am here again.  It is a miracle.


Tad Mitsui
April 9, 1994

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