Mandela and an Ethiopian captain: A Remarkable Story of Fates Intertwined

By IndepthAfrica
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Jul 25th, 2014
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By Bekafa Adela

Silver Spring-MD. Though it doesn’t happen often, it’s not so rare that the action of one individual changes the course of history. One example would involve an Ethiopian soldier of great character, Captain Guta Dinka, and Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s freedom fighter and most important leader.

The story of these two individuals involves diplomatic intrigue, the support of Emperor Haile Selassie, secret operations, and the strength of an Ethiopian soldier choosing the high love of liberty rather than the low hatefulness of bribes and assassination.

In early 1962, Nelson Mandela had left South Africa and journeyed to Ethiopia. Though Mandela wasn’t widely known to the world at the time, the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie sensed the importance of the young man in the growing cause to throw off the yoke of European colonialism and asserting the right of African nations to govern themselves.

Having slipped silently from South Africa, the young Mandela had no traveling or citizenship documents, so the Emperor Selassie gave him an Ethiopian passport and made it so his credentials indicated that he was a journalist. The passport credentials that the Emperor gave to Mandela offered another degree of safety: the man pictured in the passport was given the name David Motsamayi, an old friend of Mandela. He now had an alias.

Mandela used his Ethiopian passport to journey to other African countries in an effort to drum up money and moral support for African National Congress (ANC), the opposition political party formed to demand equal rights from the white apartheid government in South Africa. That government had also put a bounty on Mandela’s head.

Mr. Mandela did not go to Ethiopia just to gain travel papers from a supportive emperor; he also wanted to learn the skills of being a soldier, especially one honed in the arts of guerrilla warfare. The political situation was growing more tense in his native land and Mandela was considering the thought that the majority people of South Africa would possibly have to physically fight for their freedom and self-governance.

The emperor dispatched Mandela to one of the Ethiopian army’s training units. At the time, Ethiopia had the largest and most skilled army on the African continent. The Ethiopian officer at his training unit did not know the true identity of the new person under their command, but they did know that he was someone special.

In fact, some of the officer had been ordered by the emperor to watch over him, so that no harm would come to him. One member of that officer was Captain Guta Dinka. Captain Dinka was told not to approach Mandela or try to discover his true identity – just to watch him from afar and keep him safe.

During his eight weeks of training, many of those with whom he trained, even his instructors, could not help but recognize Mandela’s strength and charming nature. One of those instructors was Colonel Fekade Wakene. “He was extremely tough, extremely vigilant, intelligent and lovable. So lovable,” said Colonel Wakene as he was being interviewed after the recent death of Mandela.

While Mandela was in Ethiopia for military training, somehow two spies, one white and one black, from the white apartheid government in South Africa, had learned of his location. His cover was blown. The spies had been watching the training camp for some time and learned the schedule, the comings and goings, and the mealtimes of the personnel at the camp. They also noted that one of the soldiers had easy access to Mandela, that being Captain Dinka.

The two spies approached the captain. They offered him 2,000 British pounds, a great deal of money for those times, to use a garrote and strangle the young Mandela. He neither agreed nor disagreed to accept their offer, telling them to come back later. The following day, Captain Dinka reported to his commanding officer and told of the two spies and the offer of the bounty money to kill Mandela.

Soon thereafter the two spies were rounded up and arrested. Then they were hauled before an Ethiopian judge and ultimately thrown out of the country. International law at the time would not allow harsher treatment since no murder had occurred.

Considering the amount of money he had been offered, and because of his access to Mr. Mandela, Captain Dinka probably would have been able to get away with the strangulation and would have made himself a rich man as well. A man of lesser character than Captain Dinka would probably have accepted the money and done the job.

Captain Dinka was at a pivot point in history. The fate of South Africa, Ethiopia, perhaps even the world, were in Captain Dinka’s hands, not to mention the life of Mandela himself. The ripple effect of Mandela’s death at that time would be hard to imagine. Captain Dinka’s act may seem simple, but that is one of the reasons it is so great. His fealty to duty, honor, and integrity changed the course of history.

Though Mandela was supposed to train with the Ethiopian army for six months, after eight weeks he was called back to South Africa by his ANC party. The situation between the apartheid government and the ANC had become explosive and they needed Mandela’s leadership. Mandela was imprisoned soon after his return to South Africa and the rest is history.

Sometimes people can learn history by listening to someone who was actually present during a pivotal time in the past. Captain Guta Dinka, a tall and fit man of good character, will be coming to the Washington D.C. area to share his stories about Mandela and that crucial time in the African past.

Captain Dinka will be one of the featured speakers at the fourth annual Ethiopian Heritage Festival opening Friday July 25th 2014 at 06:00PM at Veterans Plaza in the Silver Spring Civic Building in Maryland. The event is open for public

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