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Tlou Theophilus Cholo (1926 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Tlou Theophilus Cholo (1926 - ) Awarded for:
His selfless sacrifice in the struggle against apartheid and exceptional leadership in the trade union movement.

Profile of Tlou Theophilus Cholo

Tlou Theophilus Cholo was born in 1926 at Kgakana Village in Ga-Matlala, Thaba, Polokwane West. His father worked in Johan-nesburg where he was an active member of the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU).

Young Cholo followed in the footsteps of his father, fighting for justice through unions. His courageous actions revealed the character of a man who believed in the cause of a just and equal society.

He attended Lennes Primary School. In 1945, he left for Johannesburg to look for a job, where he got acquainted with the struggles of the working class and other sectors of the population on the Reef. In 1948, Cholo became active in trade unions and the African National Congress.

Cholo demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities. While making a living through piece-jobs, he was determined not to settle for anything less than what was needed in South Africa. Cholo mobilised workers and was one of the founders of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) in the early 1950s. In 1952, he became a card-carrying member of the South African Communist Party. Six years later, he was elected deputy secretary of the ANC Central Branch in Johannesburg and the ANC Youth League chairperson of the same branch.

The deeper he got involved in the struggle, the more he believed in the cause. It was this belief that led Cholo to be among the first volunteer cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) to leave the country for military training and trade unionism in the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and China. In 1962, he was involved in founding the first military camps, the Luthuli and Mandela and Morogoro and Kongwa camps in Tanzania, further testimony to his astute organisational and leadership skills. He belonged to the Luthuli detachment. He was one of the commissars of MK and a deputy commander. The detachment trained as a naval force in the then USSR at the Asbenjan Republic Naval Base. In 1971, he attempted to enter South Africa through the Indian Ocean.

His fierce nature and a strong desire to have a free and democratic South Africa pushed Cholo to work hard and to seek to reach goals that would benefit the whole nation. He was part of one of the advanced units that in 1966 attempted to enter South Africa through the then Rhodesia and Botswana to clear the way for the Luthuli Wankie battle. He and his unit were arrested and sentenced in Botswana to three years and nine months. He attended the 1969 Mogorogoro Conference as one of the rep-resentatives of MK.

In 1972, his unit managed to infiltrate the country, but within five months all members of his unit were captured. They were charged under the 1967 Terrorism Act and sentenced to Robben Island prison for 16 years. The case was called “The Great Pretoria Six”. He was released from Robben Island in 1988. The same year, he became one of the founders of the now defunct Association of Ex-Political Prisoners of South Africa. He went underground and began promoting the work of MK.

In 1990, after the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations, he was elected as the first Soshanguve Branch chairperson of the ANC. In 1993, he was deployed by the ANC to the Northern Transvaal, now Limpopo, where he became the Provincial Secretary of the MK Military Veterans’ Association –a stalwart and one of the veterans of the movement.

Tlou Theophilus Cholo could have chosen to live the safe life. Instead, he constantly put his life at risk for the love of his country and its people.