Umkhonto we Sizwe freedom fighter and special operations commander Barney Molokoane, famous for the Sasol plant bombing in 1985.
Umkhonto we Sizwe freedom fighter and special operations commander Barney Molokoane, famous for the Sasol plant bombing in 1985.

Barney's dream was to achieve better material and economic conditions for blacks

By Pheko Ophniel Molokoane Time of article published Jun 14, 2020

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Pheko Ophniel Molokoane talks about the pain of not seeing his brother Richard Barney Molokoane live long enough to enjoy the liberation he sacrificed so much for.

Barney was a soccer guy. He confided in me a lot, but never mentioned anything about politics. He also loved bricklaying and he and his friends had a piece job extending houses in Soweto. Barney was one hell of a comedian. People, young and old, would gather around him to listen and laugh at his jokes.

He would always be singing. He joined the choir at the Lutheran Church in Tladi, Soweto, and was the best singer. As a footballer he was nicknamed “JC” after one of the great players in Soweto, Bhelo Wamabalani from Moletsane Real Tigers, one of the best teams in Soweto in the late 60s to 70s.

I was about three years older than Barney, but I knew he sympathised deeply with the poor. He once came with a picture of a poor black boy featured in a newspaper and made a whole speech about how he wanted to end poverty in black communities.

Barney did not say much and showed no sign of political involvement, even a short while before he skipped the country.

The night he left, he said he wanted to buy a bag of cornmeal for our mother from the money he earned from his piece jobs. He bought the bag and then went to the training session with his soccer team, or so we thought. But, that night, we waited for Barney, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm. Barney did not return. We asked around. Someone said he overheard Barney and his two friends say they would skip the country. We knew he had skipped when we started to have John Vorster Special Branch officers coming to our house, they took Barney’s ID, and said we should inform them should he show up again.


Barney’s dream was to achieve better material and economic conditions for blacks and he worried much about the issue of racial inequality. But, he loved war and action movies with lots of gunfights, he really enjoyed them. I think these movies inspired him.

Barney was about 19 when he left. He was born August 27, 1957 at Baragwanath Hospital. He was an upright character, very respectful, a thorough disciplinarian. He was also a ladies’ man, from what I heard.

A book by Stanley Manong (If We Must Die: An Autobiography of a Former Commander of uMkhonto we Sizwe) brings everything that has been hidden into the light. It shows that Barney was very disciplined, an early riser and en expert on bush guerilla survival skills.

In 1982, my cousin came to tell us: “Barney is here, in Phefeni (Soweto), with another guy.” We went to see them. Barney said to us: “We just escaped from prison.”

They looked dishevelled. Thereafter, when Barney and his friend had left, we heard Moroka Police Station in Soweto as well as Booysens Police Station in Johannesburg had been bombed and we knew.

Barney, with others like David “Speech” Moise, did a lot of missions for the ANC. They say Barney was one of the best guys who hit many targets and came back to base.

But, I have never heard Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe or Jacob Zuma say anything about Barney, but they talk only of Solomon Mahlangu. For instance, Barney was the one who bombed Voortrekkerhoogte. To add insult to injury, the death of members of his unit raises a lot of questions.

Two died with Barney, and three escaped. A Sowetan article published on October 27, 1997, indicated that apparently Barney might have been sold out from within. It has never been refuted. Those who did the work will not reap the benefits.

Barney made such a huge sacrifice. He is a forgotten hero. Who killed him? I am convinced that Barney was beheaded, when we exhumed him in 1997, most of his body parts were not in the pauper’s grave where he had been buried. He had no head, no arms, no legs, only a collection of few bones in a black plastic bag the same size as a refuse bag. A pair of boots I had once bought for him was in the plastic bag, and that is how I could recognise him.

Barney’s corpse was likely strapped with explosives which were detonated and that’s how he might have been decapitated or blown to pieces several times. The truth has been hidden from us. We can’t have closure. Because, we never got his complete corpse.

I have read about Barney in many books. I believe he was a commander of special operations for specific big targets: Voortrekkerhoogte, Koeberg, and Sasol, where they worked as labourers which is how they gained access to the plant. He bombed many places. But the leadership of the ANC is mum on the praise. It hurts me.

One day I was driving from Bethal, Trichard, I saw Barney Molokoane Street, but it was the first time I had laid eyes on it. In Orange Farm (Johannesburg), in 2017, Barney Molokoane Clinic was opened. The family was never told. I don’t attend commemorations any longer.

Barney would have been an SANDF general by now, had he lived. I doubt he would be happy with this kleptocracy: corruption and state capture. He wanted everything to be done by the book. I am sure he must be turning in his grave. He would not consider us liberated while blacks are mired in poverty, especially water shortages and lack of access to proper services in rural areas. And, children still dying in pit toilets. I rest my case.

I really believe Barney was betrayed. We understand the device they were to use to bomb the Sasol plant had to have a part which would have caused a ripple explosion which would have completely engulfed the entire plant in an inferno of destruction.

But we suspect one of his comrades or someone on the inside made sure that the essential device was missing, and so the operation was not as effective as had been planned. While they retreated from the Sasol plant, we don’t know what happened. What makes us suspicious is that Barney always said he carried out his missions in winter, in the morning, when it was coldest, because “boere do not like to freeze”.

But the Sasol mission was in November, against Barney’s rule modus operandi. When I heard from the news bulletin in November 27/28, 1985 that “three terrorists have been shot dead” I just knew my brother had died. Before it was even confirmed, I just had that feeling that he was dead.

In January 1986, we received a telegram from the ANC, written by Alfred Nzo that Barney had died. We went to Middelburg to identify the bodies. The security officers interrogated my mother for half the day.

We discovered that Barney’s body was not complete.

We exhumed his body in Piet Retief, in Thandakhaya, where they were buried as paupers in graves marked 1070, 1071, and 1072.

The Sunday Independent

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