Tlou Theophilus Cholo was born in 1926 at Kgakana Village, Polokwane. A son to a trade unionist, his father worked in Johannesburg where he was an active member of the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU). Cholo attended Lennes Primary School in Limpopo. At the age of 19, he left his hometown 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 (ANC).
Like his father he fought for justice through unions and his courageous actions revealed the character of a man who believed in the cause of a just and equal society. While making a living through piece-jobs, he was determined not to settle for anything less than what was needed in South Africa. Cholo was one of the founding members 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. In 1958, he was elected deputy secretary of the ANC Central Branch in Johannesburg and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) chairperson of the same branch.
Cholo was among the first volunteer cadres of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) to leave the country for military training and trade unionism in the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and China. He left through Botswana and took the Freedom Ferry to cross into Zambia. 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 part of the advanced units that in 1966 attempted to infiltrate South Africa through the then Rhodesia and Botswana to clear the way for the Luthuli Wankie battle. Cholo and his unit were arrested and sentenced in Botswana to three years and nine months. He was released and deported back to Zambia after the latter applied pressure on the Botswana government. In 1969 he attended the Mogorogoro Conference as one of the representatives of MK.
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. The following year, his unit managed to infiltrate the country, but within five months all members of his unit were captured and charged under the 1967 Terrorism Act in a trail that became as the “Great Pretoria Six”. His co accused were Sandi Gardiner Sijake, Justice Mpanza, Aaron Mthembu, John William Hosey and Alexander Moumbaris. Cholo was subsequently sentenced to 16 years which he served on Robben Island prison.
Cholo was released from Robben Island in 1988. The same year, he became one of the founders of the Association of Ex-Political Prisoners of South Africa. 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.
In 2009 the South African government awarded Cholo the Order of Luthuli in Silver, for his self- sacrifice in the struggle against apartheid and outstanding leadership in the trade union movement.
• Prinsloo, R, (2009), ‘SA To Award Castro Top Honour’, from Praag, 28 March, [online] Available at www.praag.co.uk[Accessed: 31 October 2011]
• Link2media, (2009), ‘PR-MOTLANTHE-STATEMENT SAPA PR--STATEMENT ON THE UNVEILING OF NAMES OF RECIPIENTS OF THE NATIONAL ORDERS’, from Link2media, 25 March, [online] Available at www.link2media.co.za[Accessed: 31October 2011]
• ANC, Alfred Nzo, Secretary-General, ANC: Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations concerning treatment of political prisoners in South Africa, from the African National Congress, [online] Available at www.anc.org.za [Accessed: 31 October 2011