Villain to some, hero to many

Three years ago political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe wrote that two singular operations catapulted Robert McBride to media prominence.

He said: "One is the bombing of the Magoo and Why Not Bars frequented by members of the then South African Police and South African Defence Force. A number of civilians were killed and many injured. McBride was to receive three death sentences as a result.

"The other involved Gordon Webster. In what ranks as one of the most daring rescue missions, Robert and his father, Derrick, were able to free Webster from the clutches of the security forces, even though a severely injured Webster lay at the Edendale Hospital under heavy police guard."

Interestingly, Seepe observed that McBride remained a villain to some, and a hero to many.

"He cohabits a racially polarised world in which the words 'fame' and 'notoriety', 'champion', 'desperado', 'icon' and 'criminal', sit uncomfortably alongside each other to describe the same subject."

Seepe wrote this in his review of the book, Robert McBride: A Coloured Life by Gomolemo Mokae.

It was perhaps the attack on civilians that angered many white South Africans in particular.

But McBride became a heroic figure among blacks.

Together with this notion, Mokae felt McBride to be a worthy subject for a biography.

But Seepe evinced that in Mokae's book, the author noted that McBride refused to be pigeon-holed by descriptions.

In the book, Mokae provides a portrait of a commander, a leader, a disciplined cadre, a political activist and an organiser.

"In terms of courage, meticulous planning, discipline and loyalty, Robert stands on his own as a military institution. He was a commander par excellence. He breathed life into the moribund armed struggle in the 1980s."

The book, wrote Seepe, explored "the so-called coloured versus a dominant African question, which was niggling - would the so-called coloured ever find accommodation in South Africa?"

He concludes by saying Robert McBride: A Coloured Life is "indeed a tragic story of a life destroyed so early. It exposes us today to the vicious form of discrimination that has driven many young people to the edge of the precipice in which the instinct to protect life becomes peripheral to the struggle against injustice ."

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