»In South Africa you don't decide to join politics;
politics decides to join you.«
It would be impossible to include in this section all the major anti-apartheid organizations or movements in South Africa. Before the United Democratic Front was banned in February 1988, it was an umbrella organization for over eight hundred different anti-apartheid groups with a combined membership of over two million people. Of the many other anti-apartheid organizations that did not choose to unite under the UDF rubric, one of the most important is the Azanian People's Organization. In addition, there are banned organizations that have to operate underground. Although part II is thus necessarily incomplete, the accounts of the six women included here, as well as those of other women in this volume, demonstrate some of the diversity in the anti-apartheid organizations, past and present, that make up the South African liberation struggle.
The African National Congress is by far the most powerful and the most popular of the many anti-apartheid organizations. Founded in 1912, the ANC was banned in 1960 along with the Pan-Africanist Congress, which had split off from it in 1959 because of the ANC's willingness to work with whites and communists. The ban is still in effect today. Consequently, no one in South Africa can openly admit to membership in these organizations.
Although I interviewed some women in South Africa who talked about their participation in the ANC before it was banned, I spoke to no one who admitted current involvement in the ANC underground. Indeed, I did not ask women whether they were thus engaged, or seek out such women, lest I endanger them. In order to get an up-to-date view of the ANC, I interviewed women at the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.
I was ushered into the ANC Women's Section office, where I sat in a circle with eight of the women who worked there. They asked me to explain my project, its goals, who I am, and who I had seen in South Africa. Although I was aware that I had to win their approval, they were friendly and intensely interested in news from their homeland. I was struck by the modesty of their office facilities and the ANC headquarters in general. Clearly, the funds donated to them are not spent on fancy desks and wall-to-wall carpets.
After about an hour of questions, the women made it clear that they wanted to assist my project; now the problem became how to keep the number of interviews manageable. I was pleased with their choices, but space permits the inclusion here of only three of the five women I interviewed: Ruth Mompati, the most senior woman in the ANC power structure; Mavivi Manzini, secretary for publicity, information, and research for the Women's Section; and Connie Mofokeng, who in chapter 2 describes her escape from a South African prison after being severely tortured. All five women came to my hotel room to be interviewed at prearranged times over a two-day period. While this arrangement was convenient, it deprived me of the opportunity to see the women in their usual work or home settings.
Chapters 9, 10, and 11 are presented in order of historical occurrence. First, Ela Ramgobin describes the famous Defiance Campaign, launched by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress in 1952, in which thousands of people participated in civil disobedience. She also gives an account of the revival of the Natal Indian Congress in the early 1970s, and the important role it played in bringing to life again the longdormant anti-apartheid movement.
Although Albertina Sisulu's political work predates by many years the formation of the United Democratic Front in 1983, I have included her here in her role as co-president of UDF. As already mentioned, this organization has undoubtedly been the most significant legal anti-apartheid organization in South Africa in recent years. Although most UDF members and leaders have been black, a few whites have also been active participants. Because the UDF chose for its patrons all the long-term ANC prisoners, many people have seen it as a child of the ANC. What will happen now that it, too, has been banned, I cannot say.
In chapter 11, Paula Hathorn, chairperson of the End Conscription Campaign in Cape Town, describes the philosophy and actions of this important white anti-apartheid organization since it was launched in 1983. Despite ECC's commitment to work within the limitations of the increasingly repressive South African laws, this organization was also banned in August 1988.
This part begins with Winnie Mandela, one of the most famous people in South Africa, and without a doubt, the best-known woman there.
A Leader in Her Own Right
»The years of imprisonment hardened me... Perhaps if you
have been given a moment to hold back and wait for the
next blow, your emotions wouldn't be blunted as they have
been in my case. When it happens every day of your life,
when that pain becomes a way of life,
I no longer have the emotion of fear.«
Although her fame used to be due in large part to her marriage to Nelson Mandela, the most revered and popular leader of the South African liberation movement, Winnie Mandela is a powerful personality and leader in her own right, with an extraordinarily strong and regal presence. It was all the more painful, then, to read the news, which made world headlines in late December 1988 and the first months of 1989, alleging that she had participated in the beating of four young and-apartheid activists. (One of these victims, fourteen-year-old Stompie Moeketsi, was later found dead, allegedly killed by members of the Mandela United Football Club, who served as her bodyguards.) If there is any truth in these ugly accusations against Winnie Mandela, made by Stompie's three companions and some of the leaders of the United Democratic Front, it is important to remember what we have learned from the literature on torture and concentration camps—including the torture of battered women: that every human being has a breaking point. It is clear from Winnie's interview here that she has been subjected to decades of intense persecution by the government and its agents—the security police —and has suffered long years of separation from her husband and children. Her present situation may well be a tragic consequence of this persecution and of the great isolation that, as a black woman and famous anti-apartheid leader in an extremely racist and sexist society, she has had to endure. The possible role of infiltrators and provocateurs among her football players-cum-bodyguards (a common weapon of the South African government against the anti-apartheid movement) may also turn out to have played a pivotal role.
While we may never know the full story, nothing can take away from the tremendous courage and spirit that Winnie Mandela has shown in the face of painful and often devastating experiences that would have broken ordinary people years ago.
Born Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela in 1934, Winnie Mandela (as she is usually called) is an African and mother of two daughters, Zeni and Zindzi. Mandela, passionately committed to the struggle, has been in and out of prison so many times that she cannot keep track of the dates.
In the following interview, Mandela gives a poignant description of her childhood years in a rural area of Pondoland, now part of the Transkei. One of the poorest parts of the country today, the Transkei became the first of the so-called homelands for Africans—specifically for Xhosas—in 1976. Despite the opposition of many Xhosa people, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, the traditional leader of the Transkei, accepted the white government's offer of a kind of nominal independence. But this manifestation of apartheid occurred after the sixteen-year-old Mandela had left the area for Johannesburg, where she still lives in the large black township of Soweto.
We learn about the infamous treason trial in which 156 leaders of the congress movement, the major coalition of anti-apartheid organizations during the period when it occurred (1956-61), were charged with high treason. Among them was her future husband, Nelson Mandela, whom she first met when he called her up to ask her to raise funds for this trial. Sixteen years her senior, Nelson was—in 1956— already one of the most outstanding of an impressive group of African National Congress leaders. After a grueling five years, all 156 of those charged with treason were acquitted, much to the chagrin of the South African government.
Three months after Winnie Mandela married Nelson in 1958, she was arrested for participating in the historic anti-pass campaign organized by women in an effort to prevent the hated passes—an identity document men had been forced to carry for decades—from being extended to women. (The African women's militant and effective campaign against passes, as early as 1913, was one reason they did not have to carry passes sooner.) This arrest was just the first of many for Mandela, who remained under banning orders continuously from 1961 to 1975.
In 1969, Mandela was detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act, without having been found guilty in a court of law. She was held in solitary confinement for seventeen months, an experience she describes in the following pages. She was finally released in 1970 after having been acquitted twice. Her relief was short-lived, since she was immediately banned and house-arrested on leaving prison. She was subsequently charged many times for breaking her banning orders.
One of these contraventions resulted in another six-month jail sentence in 1974.
Since nothing seemed to stop Mandela from continuing with her political work (for example, helping to found the Black Women's Federation in 1975 and the Black Parents' Association in Soweto in 1976), the government finally banished her in 1977 to Brandfort, a small, conservative, Afrikaner dorp [town] in the Orange Free State. Mandela explains in her interview why she found living in Brandfort for eight years one of the most painful times in her life. After her home there was fire-bombed in 1985, she defied her banishment order and returned to her Soweto home amidst a great national and international furor. Her determination and courage paid off, and she was finally allowed to stay in Soweto.
In earlier years, Mandela had been active with the Women's League of the African National Congress and with the Federation of South African Women (described by Helen Joseph in some detail in chapter 15). Despite her leadership role in the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela explained to me: »I have really been more engaged in the struggle at the grassroots level. Partly because of my training as a social worker, I have always considered myself as belonging there. I prefer to work with ordinary people and to be part of them. If I had had a choice, I would never have wanted to be in the limelight«.
Despite the extremity of the persecution to which Mandela has been subjected, she does not hesitate to say that she is willing to suffer more. The depth of the religious feeling and commitment evident in her interview is in sharp contrast to the South African government's portrayal of the African National Congress (with which she is identified) as a godless, communist organization.
Of the sixty interviews I conducted, the one with Mandela was by far the most difficult to arrange. It involved a visit to Mandela's lawyer, Ismail Ayob; a visit to Soweto to hand-deliver a lengthy handwritten plea to Mandela to consent to an interview, more than fifteen phone calls; one inexplicable failure to connect with each other at a prearranged meeting place; a postponement of my flight out of the country; and a mysterious tape-recorder failure when I finally started the long-awaited interview at Mandela's home in Soweto. Her response to the last of these calamities was one of total equanimity. »I'm used to sabotage«, she commented, as she went out of the room, leaving me in a state of suppressed hysteria and shock. Fortunately my frantic random fiddling somehow got the treacherous machine to work again, and I was able to proceed with the interview.
Growing Up African
I come from a remote country village in the Transkei, one of nine children. I grew up in the countryside looking after cattle and sheep. It was a wonderful childhood in a way, although I felt the pains of apartheid from an early time. But the environment was very healthy. We were not in an urban situation where you are confronted with apartheid every day of your life. As a child I used to wake up at three in the morning to go to the fields to hoe and look after the crops. I would come home with the other girls who lived in the area, wash up, and then go to school. At times we used to alternate between going to school and working in the fields. We knew that if there was no harvest from the mealie [maize] fields we were going to have worse times. Our livelihood depended on it.
We learned from the white local traders and their families that there were people of another color and standard of living. We knew from a very early age that our parents were peasants and that, in order to maintain us, they were dependent on a white man who looked down on us. We found ourselves in a derogatory kind of environment with supercilious white children, our counterparts, who wore better-quality clothes than we did.
I wore shoes for the first time when I passed my standard six [eighth grade] and went to boarding school. I was just beginning puberty, which was a difficult age for a deprived child. I wanted to look like other little girls. I was beginning to be conscious of who I was, and wanted to have so much, but there wasn't any money. I came from a very large family. There were eleven of us, and I came right in the middle, so my birth was of no particular consequence. I was a very difficult child—extremely naughty—and, because there were fewer boys in the family, I tended to regard myself as a boy. I was a terrible tomboy, the truth of which is borne out by the fact that my body is full of horrible scars. I used to fall from trees and that sort of thing, but I wouldn't report these mishaps to my mother. According to the adults, I gave my mother a lot of trouble.
My parents were on the fanatical side. My mother was an extremely devoted Christian who taught me to respect adults, and part and parcel of that was to respect the missionaries who were invariably white. We literally had to revere the white missionary because he commanded so much authority, and in a rural setup, he was one whose advice everybody sought. These were Methodist missionaries, and we attended Methodist missionary schools. So we grew up becoming subservient to men of another color, whether they were missionaries or local traders. But then one day, when I was in standard three or four, I suddenly asked »But why? This is my country«
My father was our teacher, and he taught us the history of our country. »This is what you are going to find in the text«, he would say. »This is how the white man wrote your history. But I am telling you that, contrary to what this white man says, it is so and so. These books were written to condition you into believing that the whites are your masters« I learned this for the first time from my own father.
And my grandmother, his mother, was an extraordinary woman who exercised a great deal of influence on all of us. She was a tough, robust woman with the physique of a fighter. She was the woman who taught me the power and strength of a woman, and that the real head of the family is a woman. My grandfather was a chief (my father refused to take up chiefdomship) and my grandmother was one of twenty-nine wives and was widowed very early in her life. She was the first woman in that part of our country to have owned a small trading post, by virtue of being a senior wife to the chief. My grandfather is reported to have worked hand in hand with the local traders. Because he had given them a large piece of land, they thanked him by giving him a little trading post, which was run by my grandmother. She must have resented whites very deeply because when the particular whites she had dealt with left, the subsequent local traders took this small trading post from her. She was extremely bitter about this. She taught us that these people of the other color are thieves. All they are here for is to steal our land and our cattle. With what my grandmother instilled in us at home and my father taught us in school, I realized I was growing up in a blistering inferno of racial hatred which was, of course, emphasized by the Afrikaner when he took over the government in 1948.
Some of my uncles worked in the gold mines, so I learned about migratory labor in my childhood. I was very fond of these uncles who would disappear for months. I saw their young wives toiling. They would come to my mother who was a senior wife, and I would listen to them crying and telling her tales about their hardships: how difficult it was for them to bring up children; how they were no longer hearing from their husbands. I began questioning why the children would be deprived of their parents for so many months when the local traders and the local priest never left their children. We witnessed this agony and learned of the horrors of migratory labor in a physical sort of way, so when I talk about these things on the platform, my heart bleeds from many generations of pain.
I first heard of the names of Mandela and Tambo in 1953 when I was doing my matric. There was a Defiance Campaign in Johannesburg at that time, and I heard that these leaders had told the country to defy unjust laws. The level of consciousness at our country high school was already far advanced at that time, and our interpretation of that instruction was that we must defy school authority. We didn't even write exams that year because we went on strike because of insufficient food and complaints about the general administration of the school. As long ago as that, the name of the African National Congress was instilled in our minds. Immediately after I graduated, I lived in a girls' hostel in Johannesburg. There were political discussions at the hostel almost daily, and it was there that I came across the names of Mandela and Tambo.
I was the first black medical social worker in the country. I worked at the Baragwanath Hospital, specializing in pediatric social work. It was one of the most painful fields to work in because I came into physical contact with the infant mortality rate and the gross malnutrition my people were suffering. I witnessed the pains of bringing up children without any means. I was aware of the desperation of my people trying to make ends meet in a society which was entirely capable of looking after all of its inhabitants. I began to question the role of social workers and felt that we were not being effective at all. I saw us as nothing more than civil servants. All I did was to refer cases to white institutions because there were no facilities for black people. We had no orphanages, we had no homes for disabled children, we had no homes for cerebral palsy cases. It was then that I really became conscious of the fact that if one was to be counted as a human being of fiber, one has to play a role in changing society. So I only worked as a medical social worker for three years.
I was doing social work at Baragwanath when I was telephoned by Nelson Mandela who wanted me to assist him with raising funds for the 1957 treason trial. Although Mandela  was a patron of the Ann Hofmeyr School of Social Work where I had trained, I had never met him before. But I used to read about him like all the other girls. When he called me up and asked me to help raise funds, I agreed because I wanted to be more involved in the liberation of my people. From that moment on, I attended the treason trial regularly and came into direct contact with the leaders of the people for the first time. Then in 1958 we married.
Attending the treason trial was for me the greatest thing to happen in my life. I was able to meet for the first time great Christians and great leaders like Chief Albert Luthuli [a former president of the ANC and Nobel Peace Prize winner]. I met Oliver Tambo, Duma Nokwe, Moses Kotane, and Walter Sisulu [well-known ANC leaders]. And my greatest experience was meeting a woman who was my hero at that time, Lillian Ngoyi [a former president of the Federation of South African Women]. We all worshiped her. Her name was a legend in every household, and we all aspired to be a Lillian Ngoyi when we grew up. When I actually met her, I found out how down to earth this great woman was. I subsequently attended meetings because I wanted to hear her and experience the power she had to grip the country. She was one of the greatest orators I have ever heard, one of the greatest women I have lived to know. And you could feel she was self-taught. I felt some kind of physical identity with her because she belonged to the working class. She spoke the language of the worker, and she was herself an ordinary factory worker. When she said what she stood for, she evoked emotions no other person could evoke. She was a tremendous source of inspiration. She spoke on behalf of the Women's League of the African National Congress and the Federation of South African Women, of which she was the president at that time. She worked closely with Mama  Helen Joseph [a leader in the now-defunct Federation of South African Women; see chapter 15] and various other great women like the late Florence Matomela and Frances Baard [former leaders of the ANC Women's League and the Federation of South African Women], whom we also worshiped very dearly.
And then there were my immediate seniors like Albertina Sisulu [see chapter 10], a woman who was a tremendous source of inspiration and who gave me a lot of courage when Mandela went underground. I went to her when times were very hard and it was very difficult to pull through. I had been jailed with her in 1958, which was my very first experience in prison.
[Before the Soweto uprising,] I was very involved in organizing the people and conscientizing [a South African word for »consciousness raising"] them about the extremely dangerous situation that was developing. Walking in the streets of Soweto in 1976, you could feel that we were heading toward a climax between the security forces and the oppressed people of this country. I met with a few leaders here and suggested that we form the Black Parents' Association to encompass the entire country, because it was obvious then that the outbreak of anger against the state wasn't necessarily going to be confined to Soweto. The government regarded me as having played a major role in the formation of these organizations and in generally encouraging the students' militancy toward the state. Although it would be wonderful to imagine that I have such organizational powers, it was madness to think I was responsible for these things. This was a spontaneous reaction to the racial situation in the country—an explosion against apartheid.
I don't think I will ever erase the memory of those days from my subconscious mind. It was the most painful thing to witness—the killing of our children, the flow of blood, the anger of the people against the government, and the force that was used by the government on defenseless and unarmed children. I was present when it started. The children were congregated at the school just two blocks away from here. I saw it all. There wasn't a single policeman in sight at that time, but they were called to the scene. When they fired live ammunition on the schoolchildren, when Hector Petersen, a twelve-year-old child, was ripped to pieces, his bowels dangling in the air, with his little thirteen-year-old sister screaming and trying to gather the remains of her brother's body, not a single child had picked up even a piece of soil to fling at the police. The police shot indiscriminately, killing well over a thousand children.
Prison, Banning, Banishment
I was one of over six hundred women arrested in the anti-pass campaign of 1958. We were trying to stop the extension of the pass laws to women. These laws had already caused tremendous damage to black people by causing the disintegration of black family life. Black men had been carrying the hated pass for years—a document that was calculated not only to prevent the influx of blacks into the urban areas, but also to dehumanize those of a darker skin and to make them feel nonpersons and sojourners in urban, white, racist South Africa. We had completely lost the concept of the family as the nucleus of our community. Men were imprisoned endlessly. The laws declared them automatic criminals by virtue of their color.
Because of the physical brutality of prison life, I nearly lost my eldest child, who I was three months pregnant with at the time. I was fortunate to be there with Albertina [Sisulu], who is a nurse. Most of us were in prison for six weeks on this occasion, but the movement decided that Albertina and all the nursing sisters were needed during the crisis, so they had to leave prison. Although she only stayed there for a few days, she helped me a great deal.
I have spent most of my life in and out of prison. I can't remember how many times I have been inside, and it isn't possible to give dates. At first I was bewildered like every woman who has had to leave her little children clinging to her skirt and pleading with her not to leave them. I cannot, to this day, describe that constricting pain in my throat as I turned my back on my little ghetto home, leaving the sounds of those screaming children as I was taken off to prison. As the years went on, that pain was transformed into a kind of bitterness that I cannot put into words.
Solitary confinement was frightening at first because my thoughts were with my children all the time. Their father, whom they had never known, was in prison. They had never known the pleasure of having a family, of having a father figure, and there I was in prison without having had the opportunity to make arrangements for them. I didn't even know where they were, nor what had happened to them that night. That was the only thing that frightened me. What was going to happen to my children? What would become of them? What if I was held for ten years? What if whatever they would cook up as evidence against me, stuck, and I was sentenced to many years of imprisonment? How was I going to bring up my young children from prison? Those were my only fears. The police made me believe that I would be in prison forever — that I had reached the road to the end of eternity. Even experienced politicians come to believe this kind of threat because of the psychological warfare that is conducted.
It was my nine years in exile in Brandfort that was the worst experience of my life. They banished me there because they believed I was in the forefront of the 1976 Soweto uprising. The government imagines it can solve the country's problems by uprooting human beings and exiling them to deserts. Those years have brutalized me more than all the times I was in prison. My experience there was calculated to leave my soul in shreds: to so dehumanize me that nothing would be left in me to fight with; to tear apart my spirit so that life wouldn't be worth living.
I was flung into a crude, dirty, three-roomed building in Brandfort, which was without water or electricity and which was full of soil. They brought prisoners to scoop up the soil, and they threw water on the floor and walls to settle the dust. Zindzi [her youngest daughter] and I spent the first night sitting on bundles of our clothes because there was nowhere to sleep. They had taken everything I had possessed with pride, Mandela's last possessions, little things that make one what one is. They threw them onto bedspreads and sheets—whether it was cutlery or breakable plates or my house ornaments—and tied them into bundles. That is how everything was conveyed to Brandfort, and most of the things were broken in the process.
Zeni was sixteen and a half and living in Swaziland when I was banished. Zindzi was fifteen and on vacation from school. Banishing me meant banishing her as well. To do that to a little girl that age in her developing years is unforgivable. That kind of scar never heals. One of the most painful things for me was seeing that child in exile with me.
I refused to stay in Brandfort. I wanted to set a precedent that unjust laws are meant to be defied, and that I could no longer continue obeying an immoral government. Half of my life I have spent complying with their regulations to satisfy their sadism. It has become a personal vendetta by the state against me. I came back to Johannesburg not only because I was imprisoned in that ghetto home in Brandfort for nine years, but because they finally destroyed the very ghetto home they had exiled me to by firebombing everything I possessed. Everything I had went up in flames forcing me to start from scratch again.
The government has kept harassing me and treating me like a common criminal. I asked myself what it meant for them to be so scared— despite the fact that I hadn't any power to do anything in retaliation for what they were doing to me. Does it mean that what I stand for is so true that it is like the story of Jesus Christ? Is that story of the Bible the real story of life? That for one to attain one's aspirations, one has to pass through this road of crucifixion?
The years of imprisonment hardened me. I no longer felt their powers of harassment. Later I was transformed from that bitterness into the realization that those who are fighting like me, and the cause we are fighting for, must be worth a great deal; and that if this is the path through which I have to tread in order to reach that goal, then God has designed it that way. It is God's wish that those He handpicks to tread on this path must reach that Golgotha, because that is then the end of that journey to liberation. Perhaps I am one of the chosen ones, and therefore God gives me the strength and the energy to carry on, no matter how bitter the struggle. And if He wishes that my blood, as in the case of Jesus Christ, be spilt for this purpose—then, God, let it be. Because He made us, He alone determines our path, He knows whom He has chosen for which task.
Marriage and Children
I've never had the opportunity to live with Mandela. When we got married in 1958, he was being tried for treason, and he lived in Pretoria where the trial took place. And when the treason trial came to an end, he went to address a convention in Pietermaritzburg. We were together when he had time to come home for weekends, but those times wouldn't add up to even six months. So I have never really known what married life is. I have always known him as a prisoner. I feel deeply wounded about this and very angry that human beings can be kept apart for a lifetime, not because they committed any capital offense, but because they simply disagree with another man's ideas. But I'm convinced that Mandela will be released because of the pressure of the international community, the internal pressure from the oppressed people themselves, and the deterioration in the political situation in this country.
The historical period in which our children, Zindzi and Zeni, live has made their experiences no different from the ordinary black child in the street. It is a life of deprivation, a life in a sick society that deprives families of what belongs to them; that even deprives families of the duty of parenting their own children. My daughter Zindzi was detained for three weeks about three years ago. Zeni hasn't been detained only because she is a Swazi national and carries a Swazi diplomatic passport because she is married to a young prince in Swaziland.
I have had to live with a permanent threat to my life, a permanent threat to my family, and a permanent threat to almost my entire extended family. This includes my brothers and sisters who are not political at all. One of my sisters died in exile in Botswana, not because she was political herself, but because I was closest to her. She had to leave this country and live as an expatriate in Botswana.
I can no longer say what many of my colleagues find themselves having to say at one stage or another: »Off the record, I can tell you this is so and so, but I can't say it publicly because I have a family to feed. If I am known to expound such views, I'll be jailed« In my case there is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn't any pain I haven't known.
The Most Powerful Woman
in the African National Congress
»As a woman, not only do you have to be good, but you've got
to be better than the men. This is the load that women
have to carry.
You can't afford to make the slightest mistake«
...has the powerful presence and style of someone accustomed to leadership. Such was this sixty-three-year-old African woman's intelligence, experience, and charisma that, after spending only two hours with her, I thought she might well one day become president of South Africa. No doubt my assessment was also influenced by the fact that she is currently the most highly placed woman in the exiled African National Congress, being one of only three women on its thirty-five-member National Executive Committee.
A teacher by training and many years of experience, Mompati gave up her profession in 1953, just one year after she had married and moved to Johannesburg to be with her husband. She felt she could no longer teach after legislation was passed in 1953 requiring that educators train their black pupils to fit into the subservient roles they were expected to play in South Africa. Mompati soon became a member of the ANC, and spent the next ten years working as Nelson Mandela's secretary in his and Oliver Tambo's Johannesburg law firm.
In addition, Mompati was active in the Women's League of the ANC before it was banned in I960, and was among those who founded the Federation of South African Women in 1954. Six years later, when the ANC was banned, she was asked by this organization to work underground, which she did for five months. When the ANC asked her to leave South Africa in order to learn certain skills they needed, she also agreed to do so since she believed it would only be for a year. She reluctantly left her two-and-a-half-year-old baby and her six-year-old son with her mother, her sister, and her sister's husband, and went abroad in September 1962. »With my children so young, I had no intention of staying away for more than a year«, she said emphatically. On the eve of Mompati's return twelve months later, because of events in South Africa which she describes in the interview, she was forced to realize that returning meant certain imprisonment. Her description of how she felt as a mother to be forced to live apart from her children for the next ten years are among the most moving passages in this book.
Mompati first became a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee in the 1960s, and then again in 1985. She is currently the administrative secretary of the National Executive, which means, she said, »that I have the very great responsibility of more or less administering the whole organization« Mompati's work for the ANC has made her into a widely traveled and very cosmopolitan figure. She lived in Lusaka, Zambia, working at the ANC-in-exile's international headquarters until 1976, after which she was sent to the Women's International Democratic Federation in the German Democratic Republic to represent the Federation of South African Women. She spent three years in the GDR at this time, and another three years (from 1981 to 1984) as the chief representative of the ANC in Britain and Ireland. Since then, Lusaka has been her main base.
Because of Mompati's role in the ANC, which many regard as the South African government-in-exile, what she has to say about her organization's position on violence and communism, two of the major preoccupations of international opinion, is of particular interest. Mompati also provides a vivid picture of the acute dilemma felt by many women in the anti-apartheid movement. On the one hand, she (and many others) recognize the seriousness of the problem of sexism women are faced with; while on the other, she believes that the national struggle, as she refers to it, is the priority. However, she also maintains that the women's struggle cannot be divorced from the national struggle and that national liberation is a prerequisite for women's liberation. Nevertheless, Mompati is an extremely articulate spokeswoman for one of the most common perspectives on black and women's liberation in South Africa.
Growing Up African
I come from a family of peasants and was born in a small village, Ganyesa, in the northwestern Cape between Mafeking and Kimberley. My father worked on the land in this village as well as in the diamond diggings. His work in the mines was periodical, so most of the time he was in the village. There were six of us in the family, three girls and three boys. One of the boys died as a child from a common children's ailment which doesn't necessarily kill children in other countries.
My mother only went as far as standard three [fifth grade]. My father, who comes from a family of thirteen, taught himself to read and write when he was working in the diamond diggings. I don't know what put the idea into his head that we should get an education, because no one in his village or in his family was educated, but he said that he wanted his children to live a better life than he had led, and he felt that education would make this possible. So he moved to a small town in Vryburg to be closer to the school we attended. Interestingly, we never considered this little town our home. The village was always home to us because our grandparents lived there. They lived to quite a great age— my grandmother until she was over a hundred. She was such a wonderful, strong person, and she had a wonderful memory. She would relate a lot of things to us like how they suffered during the Anglo-Boer War [1899-1902]; how they were treated by the soldiers; and how she had to carry her many children from one place to another with my grandfather.
My father died when I was fourteen, and it became impossible for me to continue at school. I had to work for a white family looking after their young daughter. The child was very close to me—you are really the mother of the white child in South Africa; and I think that she loved me because I was the closest person to her. I was with her all the time. I took her everywhere, played with her, and put her to bed. She had a sister who was about two years older than her, and these children were around me all the time. I hadn't had anything to do with white families before, but I became aware that the parents of these children treated me as something completely different from themselves. When I told them that I would like to go back to school, it didn't interest them. They sent me on errands, so I also had to deal with whites in shops. This placed me in the presence of older African people — whom I looked upon as parents because we Africans are taught that anyone older than you is a parent—who were sometimes humiliated in front of me. They stood there mutely not saying anything, and as a child I couldn't say anything if they didn't say anything. I couldn't stand another year of this, so I told my mother, »I don't mind what you do, but do something! Find money! I must go back to school!« I don't know how she got the money, but the following year she sent me to school.
Teaching was the cheapest profession for Africans to train for, so that's what I and my two sisters did. I started teaching when I was eighteen in a village fifteen miles away from my home. The children had to walk to school, some of them six miles each way every day. It was extremely cold in winter and extremely hot in summer, so these children had to walk these twelve miles in extreme circumstances. When you teach in that type of situation, you have to be a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, and an advisor. The nearest real doctor was fifteen miles away. You are the center of wisdom. Everybody comes to you for help, so you get to know the difficulties of these people.
On a cold winter's morning, I'd see the children come to school with only one garment covering their little bodies. It may have been the elder sister's dress or a shirt three sizes too big, and they'd sit there shivering. I was expected to teach them in these circumstances, and they were expected to learn. It used to break my heart. I was born into apartheid, and I grew up with it, and I knew these children were in this situation because of the racial discrimination in our country. Their parents worked very hard from dawn to dusk, but they couldn't buy more than what these children had. They couldn't feed them more than they fed them. And some children in my class died at an early age, six years, seven years, eight years. By the time I'd taught for a year, I'd seen many little lives ending. And I knew from my reading that children in other countries don't die from diseases like measles. They don't die from malnutrition. There was no need for these children to die.
As I mentioned, another distressing experience was going into a shop. The first thing the white woman or man would say to me was, »Annie, what do you want?" They didn't say, »What can I do for you?" They didn't ask what my name was. Because I'm black, any name would do for me. All this generated such anger in me, I wanted to shake them. My response was, »Yes, John, can you give me a loaf of bread?" That used to incense them! I started fighting back at a very early age. I think I was a rebel by nature. I didn't necessarily plan to say something like that, but the anger would well up in me, particularly when there was an old man in front of me who'd be asked by a young person, »Yes, John, what can I do for you?" »This is my grandfather«, I'd think, and this young person is calling him »John"! I wasn't only fighting my own battle but the battles of everybody else.
It's very difficult to say in what ways apartheid hurt me most. There were so many arrows striking into me all the time. If ten people are all shooting at you at the same time, one shot is not less painful than the other. To me, that's how apartheid attacks you as a child. The constant brutality of seeing whites push my people around when I knew this shouldn't happen, hardened me, made me grow up before my time, learn to defend myself so I wouldn't get destroyed inside, and forced me to live for the future when I could change these things.
Political Activity: The African National Congress
When I was a student, I became a member of the students' union, which fought for the rights of students. And later I became a member of the teachers' union. I started thinking that things could be changed when I became a teacher, but I wasn't yet thinking of political change. At that time I still believed there was a place for my people somewhere in the South African setup. I thought that we could fight for better working conditions for teachers. But the longer I taught (I taught for eight years in all), the more I realized that under apartheid there is no place for me or my people.
In 1950, a teacher who was a member of the African National Congress came from Mafeking to teach with us. He introduced us to this organization. It hadn't occurred to us that we could work for the ANC. Teachers weren't allowed to be members of political organizations because we were supposed to be civil servants. But it was possible to work as an associate without taking the official membership. There were a number of us in our early twenties, and we did just that. We started by raising money for the ANC.
But as for how I became politically conscious, I think that politics just caught up with me. The racial discrimination, the brutalization of the African people around me, the contempt and the arrogance of white South Africans, made me defiant and eager to fight back.
My marriage in 1952 meant moving from a fairly small, quiet town to a big city where people like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu and many others had been arrested for their participation in the Defiance Campaign. I joined the ANC properly in 1953, and I also became a member of the Women's League of the ANC. I couldn't go back to teaching because the Bantu Education Act [which imposed a highly inferior education on Africans in 1953] had been passed, and I refused to teach according to this law. Since there were no secretarial schools for Africans, I had to attend a private school to learn to be a shorthand typist.
I got a job [in 1953] in the law firm of Mandela and Tambo—the first African attorneys' partnership in South Africa. I was a typist in their office and a secretary to Nelson Mandela. It was a very wonderful experience to work with them because they were the attorneys who dealt with political cases, so everybody went there: people who had money to pay for their cases and people who didn't. They were very popular and very good lawyers. We always said that if they had been interested in money, they would have been among the rich in South Africa. But they chose their mission in life as leaders in the struggle because they felt that a rich slave was no better off than a poor slave. Working with those two leaders was one of the best times of my life. It meant a lot to me to come into contact with ordinary African people and their political problems, and to come into contact with people from all walks of life. These two men were not just leaders of the black people and of low-income people. They were leaders of everybody. People of Asian origin and white people came there, too. That's where I met most of my friends from other racial groups.
I worked in that law firm for ten years until our president, comrade Oliver Tambo, left the country to open an ANC mission outside. Then, under the instructions of comrade Nelson Mandela, I and the accountant closed the firm. We took the files to other attorneys and asked them to deal with them. I then went to work for the Defence and Aid Fund [which contributed funds for the legal defense of political activists] before it was banned.
Motherhood and Exile
I was expecting my first child during our campaign against Bantu education in 1954. I was so busy running around, I always remember my colleague, Tambo, saying to me, »One day you will drop that baby and jump over it whilst you are still running« But I was very healthy, so it didn't worry me. And after the baby was born, I was just as involved with my work. We women always used to carry our babies to whatever work we were doing.
In September 1963, after I had been abroad for a year at the request of the ANC to work in their mission, I was all set to return to South Africa, hoping that I would be able to slip into the country without the police knowing that I had come back, but knowing that maybe I would spend a few months in prison because I had left without a passport. Then I learned of the Rivonia arrests. Every week they were picking up more people, until most of the leaders were arrested. Then the man with whom I had worked underground for those five months became a state witness, so the ANC told me not to come back. I said I had to return to my children, but they said there was no point because I would just go to prison. So the next time I saw my children was ten years later. The baby was twelve and the older boy was sixteen.
I used to get ill thinking about my children. After ten years of separation, I wrote them a letter and gave it to somebody to hand-deliver to them. In it I said to them, »If you want to join me, I'm in Botswana. You know what to do. Just cross the border and come over« So the children packed and came to join me. It would have been very difficult for them to join me sooner because before then, Botswana and Zambia were not independent. Only Tanzania was. When I had left South Africa to go to Tanzania, it was very difficult to get there. Many of our people were arrested in Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia] or Southern Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] and sent back home. If you arrived in Dar-es-Salaam [in Tanzania, East Africa] you always considered yourself lucky. I had been one of those lucky ones.
I had left a baby of two-and-a-half years and a child of six years. I discovered that there's no way that you can see the growth of your children in absentia. You always think of them as being the age when you left. It doesn't matter how many years pass. When I met the twelve-year-old after ten years it wasn't too bad; I could still cuddle him. He hadn't shot up as one would have expected. But my other boy was a tall sixteen-year-old. I didn't know him. I didn't know how to behave toward this boy. It broke my heart. And neither of them knew how to behave toward me. I was watching their reaction, and they were watching mine. I can never explain the emotional suffering of this meeting. It is extremely painful for a mother to miss her children's childhood years. I died so many deaths. I felt, »Good God, the South African regime owes me something, and that is the childhood of my children!" But I'm not unique. Indeed, I'm lucky. I met my children after ten years. There are those mothers who never meet their children again, who just hear that their children are dead. In contrast, we were able to sit down and discuss what happened, and they were able to begin to understand why I had stayed away from them for ten years. We could build a relationship again. They came to live with me here in Zambia in 1972. There are many parents who never get that chance.
The Federation of South African Women
We founded the Federation [of South African Women] because we felt we needed an organization for all women of South Africa. But because the African people are the majority in South Africa, the ANC Women's League was its biggest affiliate. However, we also had very strong membership from the Indian women's organization, the Coloured women's organization, white women from the Congress of Democrats [an organization for white radicals], and women from the trade union movement. And we had a working relationship with women from the Liberal Party of South Africa who used to come as observers when we had conferences, and women from the Black Sash.
Working with all women in the federation enabled us to realize that there were no differences between us as mothers. We were all women. We all had the same anxieties, the same worries. We all wanted to bring up our children to be happy and to protect them from the brutalities of life. This gave us more commitment to fight for unity in our country. It showed us that people of different races could work together well.
When it comes to the work of liberation or any work in any society, men are always in the leadership positions. There are very obvious reasons for this — not only amongst Africans but amongst whites, too. Usually it is men who get a better education than women, so they know more and become more articulate and are more easily able to get jobs. And there's the historical tradition of women's place being in the kitchen whilst men's place is in leadership. So we felt that, even in an organization like the African National Congress where there is no discrimination based on sex, we needed to have an organization which would tackle problems that are specific to women. We women have always been on the bottom rung. We felt that we needed to educate our women that this is not our place. Women have occupied that place by accident of history, but we can participate and we can lead. But the oppression of African people has always been the key problem in South Africa. We are not on the same level as the white, Indian, and Coloured women who were also members of the federation.
Fighting the Pass Laws for Women
Because the pass laws formed the cornerstone of our oppression as Africans in South Africa, the Federation of South African Women took up this issue. Apartheid has to have a reservoir of cheap black labor, and the pass laws helped to provide this by controlling the movement of African people. Africans were completely controlled by the pass laws, including where they could stay and where they could work. So when we realized in the early 1950s that the pass laws were going to be extended to women, we knew we had to fight this.
In taking up this struggle, we were taking up a powerful tradition. Already in 1913—one year after the founding of the African National Congress—[African] women had been put into jails in Bloemfontein in the winter of that year. Their men wanted to bail them out, but the women refused, saying, »We will serve the sentence. We have burned the passes because we don't want to be controlled the way our men are controlled« That's why women didn't have to carry passes like the men for all those years. And in 1929 and 1953, the women fought against passes again. They were successful until, I think, 1962. It was only after the government had amended the laws in such a way that anything one did could be seen as sabotage, that they were finally able to extend passes to women. So the pass was a very important issue to the Federation of South African Women as well.
Fighting Bantu Education
Bantu education was another issue the federation addressed. [Hen-drik] Verwoerd, who was the minister of so-called Bantu affairs at that time, said, »There is no place for the African in the European community, save as certain forms of labor« His idea was that when black people are educated, they see the green pastures on which the whites are grazing and become envious, then rebellious. So Bantu education was instituted to make it very clear that black children had to be educated to know their place in South Africa. They must only be given enough education to be useful to whites, which meant being manual laborers and being able to carry messages intelligently for the white population. The African National Congress itself had taken up the question of Bantu education even before the Federation of South African Women was founded. Indeed, the program of action of the federation could not be different from the program of action of the African National Congress and of its Women's League, because removing racial discrimination was the first priority.
The Role of Women in the Struggle
Even in an organization that supports the liberation of women, we have had to work hard to build the confidence of our women, because we are victims of history, victims of our traditions, victims of our role in
society. Despite this, African women have always been part of the lives of their communities. Actually, they have been the strength of the communities, but they've always been a silent strength. But in the past years, our women have come forward and taken the lead more. They are not just supporting the men and pushing the men in front.
The National Executive is outside the country. One of the reasons there are only three women [out of thirty-five] on it is that very few senior women have left the country. But also there are a lot of women leaders inside the country who, if we had a free South Africa, would be on the National Executive. So we can't really judge the representation of women in leadership positions by looking at the National Executive of the ANC. Secondly, we have to continue to fight to put our women into leadership positions and to make them more able so that they can lead and articulate their problems. We still suffer from the old traditions.
Inside South Africa, we have Albertina Sisulu, [see chapter 10], Frances Baard [a trade-union leader who was jailed and banished in the 1960s], and Helen Joseph [see chapter 15]. But also, the very reason for forming women's organizations is to try to change the tendency for men to always be the leaders. Even in the most developed countries of the world, men are in the leadership positions. How many women are in the British government today? That's why Margaret Thatcher makes world history. It's a pity that she's not a very good example of women's leadership. And how many women leaders are there in the United States? So this is a historical phenomenon which we have to attend to.
About two years ago, we were discussing with the leadership of the movement what liberation for the people of South Africa really means. Will women find themselves in the same position as they have always been? Or do we see liberation as solving the conditions of women in our society? We have brought these questions up with our own leadership because we want them discussed now. If we continue to shy away from this problem, we will not be able to solve it after independence. But if we say that our first priority is the emancipation of women, we will become free as members of an oppressed community. We feel that in order to get our independence as women, the prerequisite is for us to be part of the war for national liberation. When we are free as a nation, we will have created the foundation for the emancipation of women. As we fight side by side with our men in the struggle, men become dependent on us working with them. They begin to lose sight of the fact that we are women. And there's no way that after independence these men can turn around and say, »But now you are a woman«
If you look at the role of women in South Africa, you find that they are the breadwinners because the men are not there. They also bring up their families because the men are either in prison or they are working away from home. And they are in the fight for national liberation. They are the supporters of those who are fighting in South Africa, and they themselves are fighters. They are in Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. They are in the community organizations, the health-improvement organizations, the organizations that look after prisoners, and those that look after the parents of prisoners, encouraging the parents to come together and attend to prisoners. They are in the churches, they are in every organization in the country that you can think of. For us, this is one of the first victories as a people. We've got our women feeling that the liberation struggle is their responsibility, and also that they've got a responsibility to their nation to bring up children into a happy world; and since there is no happy world for us, to bring about that happy world. We have seen that, because of this increase in women's participation, our movement has become stronger. The community organizations inside the country have organized alternative structures. For example, in places where the usual services are no longer being rendered because the people have refused to pay rents, the people themselves have made it possible for those services to continue. An infrastructure has been created by the people, and our women are the strength in these structures.
In Angola, for example, the majority of women were illiterate. Although the women who participated in the struggle were not educated, they had confidence. It wasn't a confidence brought about by being able to read or write, but a confidence from being part of a movement that did away with the oppression by the Portuguese fascist regime. They drew up their own programs of what they wanted to do, and they actually won a medal from UNESCO for the way they tackled illiteracy. They could only do these things because they were free as women to move forward with their own programs. And they were respected. A number of the women who had participated in the struggle were given positions in the ministries and the central committees, even those who didn't have a high-level education. So, what happens to women after liberation depends on how much women are part of the liberation struggle itself. But the national question is our central task.
The African National Congress and Communism
The South African regime has always been paranoid about communism. My first understanding of communism was that communists are the people who fight for their rights and who support the struggle of people who want freedom. For example, in the past if there was a strike for better pay, there would be a witchhunt, and people would be arrested and fired because they were communist. It didn't matter what you did, you would always be called a communist.
The Communist Party of South Africa has been banned for many years now. Some of their members are also members of the African National Congress. As far as we're concerned, this has never been a problem. Some of them have been among the finest people I know. For example, a person like Moses Kotane was a communist and also a leader of the African National Congress, but he never used his position in the ANC to organize people into the Communist Party. What was primary for him was the liberation of the people of South Africa.
The African National Congress is a movement which brings together people from all walks of life, people of different races and religious beliefs who are against apartheid. When we have liberated our country, when we are free, maybe we will begin to look at what we think of communism. The issue of communism has never interfered with our work. But we know that every time anyone is active, they are considered a communist. When we do anything intelligent, it is seen as influenced by Moscow. If we organize a campaign that is successful, then so-called troublemakers and communists are held responsible, not the movement.
I have been described as a moderate with strong nationalist leanings, and I have also been described as a communist. Other members of the ANC have been called communist because they were trained in the Soviet Union—as if that made them communist. Meanwhile, for us, the question of who is a communist is irrelevant. The relevant question is who is actively involved in the struggle for a new South Africa.
The Issue of Violence
It is important to know why the African National Congress is involved in an armed struggle. For a very long time, we thought we could fight for our liberty peacefully. We thought we could discuss, plead, petition, and demonstrate for it. The last thing that Nelson Mandela did before he was imprisoned [in 1962] was to call for a convention where all South Africans could come together to discuss what should be done. The South African regime rejected his proposal. All the time that the African National Congress was using peaceful means to try to bring change in South Africa, the reaction from the regime was violent. People were shot at peaceful meetings. I can't count the number of meetings of the Women's League of the ANC which were surrounded by armed police peering through the windows with their guns pointed at us. Since I wasn't used to guns, I didn't see the danger of this at the time. Nor can I count the number of meetings of the Federation of South African Women when we were given five minutes warning at gunpoint to close our meetings. We knew that if we didn't do so, we would be shot. This violence also occurred when our people were arrested. Thousands upon thousands of South Africans have died violently at the hands of the police. We've got hundreds of children in prison today. What crime can be committed by an eleven-year-old that he should be in prison? Teenagers have been imprisoned in Robben Island's maximum security prison. What crime can be committed by a teenager to justify this? When our people carry to the graveyard the coffins of their loved ones killed by the police, they are shot on the way or at the grave site itself. As they are burying one, others are falling dead.
But it's not only direct violence that we are concerned about. There's also the violence of the conditions of living in South Africa. The deaths of our children from malnutrition, the short life span of our women and our people, the violence of the education where our children are condemned to a life of ignorance. The violence of the working conditions of our mine workers who bring gold from the bowels of the earth, but whose safety is not even thought about. How many of them have died from miners' phthisis or because the mines have fallen in on them because the necessary precautions were not taken? The whole life of an African person is a life of violence! The African National Congress looked at all this, including the fact that we have done everything to try to speak to the white people of South Africa. But they have even closed our mouths. Our people are banned and banished. Our organizations are outlawed. Even the nonviolent methods which we had were made illegal. We had to look at our children suffering and being shot by the police, but what could we do as a people to change the situation? We decided that, if the gun is what the South African regime has used to rule us, it will have to be the gun that breaks that rule.
On the issue of necklacing [murder by placing a burning tire around someone's neck], sometimes people take actions which they would not have taken under normal conditions. A few people are using methods that they would not have used had they not been faced with so much violence. For example, a young man put a limpet mine in a supermarket, and five whites died. And the whole world went berserk. We pointed out that forty-one black people had been killed in Lesotho in cold blood by the South African regime. And this boy who put a mine in the supermarket had played with many of those people who were killed in Lesotho when they were children. They had all grown up together. If they had been shot fighting the police with arms, that would have been different, but they were sleeping! And this young man said in court that he couldn't take what had happened to his friends, so his mind became closed to any reason. It's very easy for the world to look at what the African National Congress or what the black people in South Africa are doing, but not at the scale of the violence against us. The South African townships are occupied by the police and the army. There's violence every day. The South African regime pays young black people to kill those who are struggling for better conditions. It's a hungry society, so it's not surprising that some accept this money so that they can eat.
And some of the violence which is often blamed on the African National Congress is really perpetrated by the police. They necklace people, and then they say it's the ANC. They kill people, and then say it's the comrades [young radical opponents of apartheid]. This has been proved a number of times where they have been caught redhanded. But the press is not even allowed to report this, and this censorship is even worse now under the state of emergency. The ANC has a very clear policy that we only attack apartheid's instruments of repression and its supporting structures—the police, the military, and the economy of the country. We believe that if we destroy the economy of the country, we are destroying apartheid. If innocent people are hit, it will not be because our policy has changed, but because there is a war going on in South Africa. And the world must recognize that where there is a war, a lot of civilians suffer, as they did in Europe in World War II.
Women and the African National Congress
»We women students actually accused the men of being
cowards because time and again it was us who had to be
in the front of the demonstration facing the guns
and the bullets«
...has been working full-time for the Women's Section of the African National Congress since 1979. She is a thirty-one-year-old African who escaped from South Africa in 1976 (as she describes here) when she was twenty. She obtained a B.A. degree in political science and sociology from a Zambian university in 1979. A year later in 1980, Manzini married a man who is now working for the ANC Youth Section. Their only child was born in 1984. Although Manzini's three siblings were, like her, involved in the student movement in South Africa, she is the only one who now lives outside the country.
Manzini speaks of her work in the ANC underground and is particularly informative about how the ANC's Women's Section (to be distinguished from the earlier Women's League) is organized, and what its current thinking is about the status of women and women's issues. I was impressed by her willingness to talk about the fact that sexism is a serious problem within the ANC-in-exile (for example, ANC women often feel they cannot attend meetings because of their domestic responsibilities), but even more serious inside South Africa. Manzini's thinking on this question suggests the heartening possibility that the ANC-in-exile may be significantly more progressive in understanding the importance of women's liberation than its sister organizations inside the country.
In this connection, Manzini reports that the Women's Section is currently engaged in drawing up a bill of rights for women. They have been both gathering information about family codes and laws on women in different countries in order to try to arrive at the best possible bill of rights for women, and also seeking input into this document from women in South Africa. Manzini said that it would include policy statements about lobola (paying to obtain a bride) and polygamy, both controversial issues in South Africa. White South Africans have typically responded to African traditions in such a heavy-handed and racist manner, that many African people are defensive about them. Africans have the task of deciding which traditional practices are positive and to be preserved, and which are negative (even if they were once positive) and in need of change. Manzini was definite that the traditional practices of lobola and polygamy are oppressive to women. »If we want equality«, she declared, »lobola has to be scrapped«
With regard to the ANC-in-exile in general, Manzini reported that it has been growing »because lots of people are leaving the country« The ANC community is even larger in Mazimbi, Tanzania, than in Lusaka, because this is the location of their school. It is, however, too dangerous for ANC people to live in countries close to South Africa, and thus relatively few are living in Zimbabwe. My own experience in Zimbabwe helped me to understand this in a personal way. The ANC member Phyllis Naidoo invited me to stay with her, but warned me that it was at my own risk, because the ANC offices had just been bombed the previous day. When I went to visit her at her home, two soldiers were on guard. Even in faraway Zambia, ANC members are not safe. »According to the Boers«, Manzini explained, »they have the capability to strike up to the equator. So at times we have to live in hiding, and we live scattered throughout Lusaka«
Even those in exile, then, have to fear the power and military might of the South African police state.
Growing Up African
I was born in 1956 in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, then moved to Soweto when it was established. I am one of eight children, of whom only four are still alive. I suffered from polio when I was about two years old, and spent most of the next four years in hospital. But from the age of six, I was well and started at school.
Apartheid affects people from childhood. We lived in a terrible part of Soweto, and although my father and mother were both teachers, they had a very hard time making ends meet. Sometimes there'd be no food. Later I became aware that our situation was connected with the political system, but I understood it only as poverty when I was young.
My school was quite a distance from my home so I had to wake up very early in the morning to get there. There were only about four school buses to collect people all over Soweto and drop us off at different places. By the time the bus got to my place, it was often full. On the way to school, I'd see white school buses that were empty, so I started to question this difference. As I grew up, I began to notice that it was our people who were working so hard but who continued to suffer, and I realized that my parents were getting a raw deal. The ANC was banned when I grew up, but I learnt about it from my parents who were very active members in the 1950s. They would tell us about detention, the Mandelas, and how difficult it was to do anything against the regime.
In 1973, when I was seventeen and at high school, I got involved in the South African Student Movement. I continued with this involvement when I went to Turfloop University in the northern Transvaal. The South African Students Organization, SASO, had been banned on campus by the university administration in 1974 following a rally. The students had demonstrated in solidarity with the people of Mozambique when they won their independence from Portugal. Most of the students who participated in this demonstration were expelled. After that the Student Representative Council, which had been the mouthpiece for student grievances, no longer existed because most of its members were among those expelled. Many of them went into exile, but some were tried and sentenced to five years in prison.
It was a very difficult time to be politically active on campus, but some of us decided that we wouldn't be silenced. We organized SASO meetings in a church off the campus to discuss the state of student rights, and this kept at least some political life going at the university. I was in my second year at university when the Soweto uprising started in 1976 and spread throughout the country. When the high school students started demonstrating against the Afrikaans language being made the medium for their education, we at the university wanted to show our solidarity with them, so we organized a demonstration on 18 June —two days after the shootings in Soweto. The police came on campus and arrested and detained many students. Although I was involved in the planning of this demonstration and participated in it, I wasn't detained on this occasion.
I became involved in the ANC underground earlier in 1975. I was in a unit with four other campus activists. We carried out tasks to assist the ANC, especially Umkhonto we Sizwe, by reconnoitering and giving them information about the whereabouts of the police, especially in the northern Transvaal area where there are military bases. I lived around that area at that time and knew it very well.
We got most of our political education from the ANC, who supplied us with literature that was otherwise unavailable in the country. After reading it, we'd pass it on to others in the student movement. We also used to listen to Radio Freedom  which helped us with our political development.
We'd talk to other students about the ANC because we were convinced that the time had come for our methods of protest to go beyond demonstrations. Most demonstrators end up being detained or shot without having really contributed to the struggle. Of course we had to be very careful who we approached. Because the ANC was a banned organization, it meant five years in prison if we were found to be involved in it.
Then one of our unit members was detained in May 1976 before the Soweto uprising. The police had trailed him when he went to meet with the ANC outside the country. They detained him at the border on his way from Swaziland. We informed the ANC of his detention, but decided to remain in the country because it is so difficult to leave. We hoped that they wouldn't come after us, but if they did, we thought there wouldn't be a very heavy charge because we didn't actually carry out any operations, we had only reconnoitered.
I think they tortured our comrade. He resisted talking to them for a long time, but he broke down after two months, resulting in detention for the rest of us and a ten-year sentence for him. I was detained on the third of July. It was the day I was supposed to have left for a SASO conference. The police had been watching my movements and knew when I would leave, so they picked me up from my home that morning. After the university was closed down, it became difficult to maintain contact with the other comrades in my unit so I didn't know that they had been detained before me. So by the time they took me in, the police already had a whole file on me filled with information that had been sucked from my comrades.
I was transferred to another police station out of my home town where I was held in solitary confinement. After leaving me in my cell for about three days without questioning me, the police repeated the same questions about the other people in my unit that they had asked me the first day. When I denied something, they'd open my file and read out the information they had been given. I felt very helpless, even though they didn't actually have a lot of the most significant information.
But they knew that I was in touch with the ANC and had propounded its aims and objectives amongst the students. I was afraid that if I continued to deny everything, they'd torture me. To be held in solitary confinement, to be given food only once a day, to be taken out of the cell time and again for questioning, is itself torture. But I think they didn't hit or torture me further because they thought there was no more information to extract from me.
They kept me in detention for two months. One day in September 1976, I was told, »We are releasing you, but you must report to the police station every day to tell us where you are going and what you are doing. And we might call you in later« They wanted to monitor my movements, and I think they planned to charge me later. I was released with the three other people from my unit including Joyce Masamba, the only other woman member. One month later, they detained Joyce and the other two comrades again. Immediately after I learned this, I left the country.
Two of my comrades were charged with terrorism for aiding the ANC and were sentenced to five years in prison. The other two, both of them men, were used as state witnesses. Joyce is presently in detention again under the 1986 emergency regulations, together with her sixteen-year-old son.
Other people connected with the ANC were supposed to help me escape, but they were all in detention. So I didn't know how to leave or whom to contact. I was left in the lurch. But I finally managed to contact people who assisted me in working out an escape route to Botswana. Botswana is quite a distance away from where I was in the northern Transvaal, but I had a few pennies, and these people gave me a few more pennies, and I took a train which stopped at a place about an hour's drive away from the border.
I took a bus to a village near the border, but I couldn't simply go to the border post and show them my passport because I was afraid that a message may already have reached them that I had not reported to the police station back home. And if they were looking for me, I'm easily identifiable [because of being partially disabled by polio]. There had been lots of peasant revolts in this border area, so most of the people there were quite politicized and gave assistance to those who needed it. But still, I had to be very careful. My story was that I was very sick, that I had to see some traditional healers who stayed next to a river, and that only the water from that river could cure me.
The borders were heavily patrolled, especially after the uprising in 1976, because the government knew large numbers of people were leaving the country. The woman villager whose help I sought told me, »We hear these days there are a lot of people who are leaving. Where do you come from?" I mentioned an area where there wasn't any political activity, and said, »Yes, I hear this too, but I'm not involved in all those things. I am sick and on my way to see a traditional healer« Because it was quite a wild area with wild animals roaming about, I needed an escort to show me the exact route over the border. This woman asked a young man to help me. I think he was quite aware that my story might not be true because he kept telling me that the Boers [police] usually patrol in that area and I must be careful. He took me some of the way, but then I had to continue alone. I was scared because people had told me how wild the area was. I had about ten kilometers further to walk. I saw the claw marks of wild animals on the way. Although I became more and more scared, I had no choice but to continue. I'm able to walk without any problem [despite a partially disabled leg], except that I can't walk very fast and it's tiring if it's a very long distance. But on that day I was more concerned not to be detained and have to serve five or ten years in jail. It was with great relief that I finally made it into Botswana.
In Botswana, I had to report to the police station and ask for political asylum. After explaining why I had to escape from South Africa, the police granted it. When I told them that I wanted to get in touch with the ANC, they contacted them for me, and the ANC came and picked me up at the police station.
I stayed in Botswana for about three months while the ANC looked for a scholarship for me. Then I went to Zambia to continue my studies at the university there. Because there was a lot of sympathy for students from South Africa, the university authorities accepted me and other comrades despite our lack of certificates.
The Women's Section of the ANC
On completing my degree in 1979, I joined the ANC Women's Section secretariat full-time and worked as an assistant editor for Voice of Women [an ANC publication]. I've been working here full-time now for eight years. The Women's Section was set up when the ANC went into exile, and it operates differently from the way the Women's League used to operate in South Africa. The Women's League was an independent body with its own constitution and laws, and it could make its own decisions. But the ANC felt that there should only be one organization in exile, and that we should carry out our work collectively. Our decisions are also made in consultation with the people in South Africa. So the constitution of the ANC has been suspended in exile, and new structures like the Women's Section have been developed.
The ANC Women's Section is charged with the task of mobilizing women inside and outside the country to enter and continue the struggle. Outside of Lusaka, the Women's Section is organized on the basis of regions. If there are five or more women anywhere who want to join the ANC, they can form a unit of the ANC Women's Section and elect a secretary and a chairman and follow the Women's Section's program. Within the Women's Section, the highest body is the conference which meets every five years. The first conference was held in 1981. This is the body which elects the National Women's secretariat and discusses all matters relating to women. And the highest body within the conference is the council, which consists of members of the National Women's secretariat and women from different regions. These council members are appointed by the National Women's secretariat according to how active and how big their units are.
The secretariat of the Women's Section consists of nine people each in charge of a »desk": for example, there are desks for logistics, international relations, politics, education, projects and finance, and internal mobilization—meaning mobilization within South Africa. There are also subcommittees, which people in charge of the different desks work with. Women here in Zambia who may not be working full-time in the Women's Section can serve on these subcommittees.
All women who belong to the ANC-in-exile automatically belong to the Women's Section. Once a woman is accepted as a member in the ANC, her name is sent by the mother body to the Women's Section. If a member is under thirty-five years of age, he or she automatically becomes a member of the Youth Section. But not all women actually work in the Women's Section; they work as well in other departments of the ANC.
Our view is that women's emancipation in our country cannot be separated from the struggle for national liberation. That's why we have sought to participate actively in the struggle. But we have realized from observing the experiences of other struggles, even those of our neighbors in Zimbabwe and Angola, that the question of women's liberation has to be addressed now, and not left to later when national liberation has been won. And we think the best way of addressing it is to repeatedly raise the problems of women sharply, because they are usually dealt with only in passing. If we don't raise women's issues, nobody will. That's our experience in all the forums, be it youth, trade unions, or wherever we are.
We think that this is a struggle which has to be fought by both men and women. It should be the whole movement, not only women who take an interest in it, because by liberating women the whole nation will be liberated. By educating a man you are only educating one individual because he doesn't usually pass it on. But by educating women the whole nation is being educated because it's usually women who teach the future generation. Our president, Comrade Oliver Tambo, expressed the same view at the Luanda Conference. We consider his speech there a major ANC policy statement on the question of the emancipation of women.
Major Issues for Women
We have recommended to the ANC that there has to be a concerted effort by the movement to uplift women politically because it's very clear that, with only three women on the [thirty-five member] executive committee, there's still a problem. In our recommendations, which have been approved by our National Executive, we proposed discrimination in favor of women. Of course, a person must be appointed on the basis of merit, but when a man and a woman have equal merit, the woman should be chosen. For a long time there was only one woman on the ANC Executive, Florence Mophosho, who was on the National Executive from 1975 onwards. After the last consultative conference in Luanda in 1986 when Gertrude Shope [head of ANC Women's Section] became a member of the executive, there were three women [Ruth Mompati being the third] until Florence passed away recently. Lillian Ngoi was on the national executive at home [in South Africa] before the banning of the ANC, and Charlotte Mqxeke was on the executive right from the founding of the ANC. So even three women is quite an improvement over the past.
We must raise our political awareness through education. Most women cannot participate in the struggle, cannot actively articulate their needs, their grievances, their wishes, because of a lack in confidence, which in turn comes from a lack of education. So the Women's Section has a political program to train women in formal and informal education. Many women cannot go to school because they are too old, so we are addressing the importance of adult education.
Other important women's issues are rent, the high cost of living, children in detention, education of women and children, participating as equals, and not being discriminated against because we are women. The women at home [in South Africa] are also pushing for a fairer reflection of the role they play within the UDF because they think that they do most of the work at the grassroots level, but when it comes to leadership there is Mama Sisulu [see chapter 10] and Cheryl Carolus [formerly on the National Executive of UDF] and that's all.
Even in the Women's Section, we find that women cannot come to our meetings because they say, »I have to cook first«, or »There's nobody to remain with the child«, and yet their husband is there in the house. Our men must take part in looking after the children. If I'm going to a meeting and there's no cooked food in the house and he's there, then he has to cook, not wait until I come back or expect that I shouldn't go to the meeting. We have recently received reports from one ANC unit that the women are too busy to meet because after work they still have to attend to their family's needs. But we don't accept this. It's a question of attitude. Our men think that our place is in the kitchen. Even when our president, Oliver Tambo, says women's place is in the battlefield, the men don't readily accept this in practice. But I think it will happen, and it's better outside here than at home in South Africa — maybe because of the various tasks we do here. Sometimes we travel, and our husbands have to remain at home, and in some places we live communally and we all have to cook, wash, and clean the house. We women also go to the office in the morning and come back tired, so most of the men here are accepting more equality.
Violence against women is an important issue, but I believe that the major violence we have to address is state violence. Violence starts with the state, then goes down to others. Women, being on the bottom, receive the most. South Africa is a very violent society, not only because of the use of armed force against us, but in the working and living conditions of black people. When men go home, they let the violence out on women. After their bosses have called them »boys" at work and kicked them around, they have to find some way to let off steam. So when you analyze the problem of violence against women politically, you find that it emanates from the system itself.
But the Women's Section is addressing the issues of wife beating and child bashing. We are trying to educate our people about them and trying to put them in a political context. The attitudes toward women and children are wrong and must be corrected. We have taken these issues very seriously within the movement. The External Coordinating Committee has issued circulars about wife beating and child bashing because of pressure from the Women's Section.
In Lusaka and at home [in South Africa], we are also taking up the issue of rape and other violence against women very seriously, especially on campuses. The young women in the student movement are addressing the problem of sexual harassment in the schools by the teachers and the male students. When I was in SASO, most of the women in it didn't seem to know their rights. They just followed their boyfriends. And the treatment they got was quite awful. But some of us insisted that we had rights and were not at the mercy of the men.
Lobola is one of the issues that the Women's Section will be addressing in the upcoming conference in September  along with the question of polygamy, because these practices serve men and oppress women. We feel that we cannot be liberated and still accept lobola to be paid for us when we get married, because it creates a lot of marriage problems. A man who has given lobola to his wife's parents regards her as his property with whom he can do anything because he has bought her.
Of course, there are other views of lobola. Some people think there is nothing wrong with it or that there used to be nothing wrong with it. According to this view, it was only with the coming of capitalism with its money economy that it [lobola] became a problem. But we live in a different era now, and if we have to fight a system we have to fight it in its entirety. And I don't think it is possible to go back to the traditional way of life where lobola used to be respected, and where the men used to respect their wives. If we want equality, lobola has to be scrapped.
We are telling our movement here that we have to send more women cadres into the country. Most of us women end up being in the offices. We feel that our revolution would advance faster if more of the women were sent to work in South Africa because that's where the struggle is. Umkhonto we Sizwe cadres also do political work, and it's advantageous for women to be trained militarily. If there is a struggle around rent and people see the rent office being demolished, it boosts their morale and they continue to fight. But if there is a demonstration and people are shot and there is no retaliation, then people get demoralized.
I think the movement realizes that the women are the best cadres because they do lots of work. That was also the case when I was a student. We women students actually accused the men of being cowards because time and again it was us who had to be in the front of the demonstration facing the guns and the bullets. The men stayed behind saying, »It's better for the women to be in front because the Boers [police] still have some respect for women« But when the police start shooting, they don't look to see if you're a man or a woman. The bullet will hit the first one on the line.
An Indian Woman Confronts Apartheid
»Once you are involved in politics,
the most difficult thing is to go for hang
[be sentenced to death]. That is how we look at it...
So until you are killed, you can't say that you have really suffered«
After agreeing on the telephone to be interviewed, Ela Ramgobin told me to meet her in my car at a particular intersection in downtown Durban, the major coastal city of Natal Province. »1 know my telephone is tapped«, she explained later, »and we just don't say exactly where we'll meet a person on the phone« This precaution in no way indicated that Ramgobin was unwilling to take risks. She was one of only two black women willing to criticize Chief Gatsha Buthe-lezi, the much-feared chief of the Zulu people, without requesting a pseudonym for protection. (The reason he is so feared will become clearer in chapter 20.) »When you are quoted anonymously«, Ramgobin said, »people don't pay as much attention to what you say. As long as it helps the movement, I don't mind if I'm quoted«
Ramgobin's grandfather was Mahatma Gandhi, who started the passive resistance movement in South Africa and then continued it in India. Indeed, three generations of her family—her grandfather, father, and eldest uncle's son—were involved, in the early 1940s, in the Salt March in India to protest British rule. Ramgobin's father was beaten up by the police there and spent a year or so in prison.
Ramgobin speaks here of the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and of the revival of the Natal Indian Congress, the major Indian anti-apartheid organization in Natal. She was also a founder of the Natal Organization of Women and the Women's Congress of the United Democratic Front, and has been active in organizing women at all levels, including in the community and as workers.
Ramgobin, forty-six years old in 1987, is married to the politically active Mawalal Ramgobin, to whom four pages are devoted in Who's Who in South Africa (2985). They have known each other since their childhood years in Inanda, Natal, where they grew up, and were married in India in 1961. They have five children, ranging in age from twenty-three to sixteen-year-old twins. Two of the children were injured in 1973 when a parcel bomb exploded in their father's office.
Ramgobin got her B.A. degree at Natal University; then at the University of South Africa (UNISA), a correspondence school, she obtained another social science degree and an honors degree in social work. She has been a social worker since 1973. After her 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. stint at work, Ramgobin is studying for a law degree, also through UNISA, »because I have no time to attend classes« When she has completed this degree, she will decide what to specialize in—whether constitutional law, as she thinks right now, or something else.
Growing Up Indian
My family has always been very politically involved. My father was in prison on and off here and in India for a number of years. My mother and my brother and sister and I remember attending meetings in Red Square in Durban, South Africa, from the very early days. My mother was very active in India, but after she came out to South Africa she didn't engage in any of the passive resistance struggles. She is well educated but not in English, so she's had a bit of a problem communicating with people here.
My grandfather started Indian Opinion [a newspaper] and a community known as the Phoenix settlement in Inanda, where I was born. The settlement was governed by a board of trustees, and when my grandfather left South Africa he left my father with the responsibility of managing the whole settlement together with the newspaper. My father would visit India for six months or so and then come back here.
I have one sister and one brother, both of whom were politically involved in their early years. But now my sister is involved in her own family life and hasn't been politically active for a long time. And my brother got married in India and settled there, so he hasn't been politically active either.
Ever since I can remember, I was aware of living in the apartheid system. I traveled to school by train, and I always had to use the nonwhite compartments. Often I would see that the white compartments were empty while ours were full, sometimes necessitating my standing all the way from Phoenix to Durban, which is about a forty-five-minute journey. The amusement parks were only open to whites, the beaches were separate, and so on. These things made me bitter and aware that the whole system is inhuman. And the Africans suffered more than the Indians. The system is about ten or fifteen times worse for them. We have a better system of education, more facilities, and better welfare services. I was aware of all this from an early age because I was born and brought up in the Inanda area where members of all races lived together—Indians, Africans, whites; and we always had members of all races coming to our house.
The Defiance Campaign of 1952
My father and my sister participated in the passive resistance campaign in South Africa in the 1950s. Since I was only twelve years old, I couldn't actively participate in it. A law was passed declaring the African areas as places into which other racial groups could not go. Thousands of people participated in civil disobedience against this law in 1952 in what has come to be known as the Defiance Campaign. Together with others, my father defied this law by entering African townships. The organizers addressed a meeting there, after which they were immediately arrested. They could have paid a fine and come out of prison, but my father chose to remain there. This, his last imprisonment, lasted three months.
My father's imprisonment was a bitter experience for us because the prison conditions were absolutely inhuman at that time. I have a very vivid memory of the day we went to fetch him from prison. His whole body was covered with little black spots caused by body lice that he'd been exposed to there. It was very painful to see him like that. My father was always very strong, so his state of mind was all right. But I think that the prison diet and the conditions had a physical effect on him from which he never recovered. He died from a stroke four years later. We think that it all started in prison because it was soon after his release that he started getting pains in his fingertips and other signs like that. He must have been about fifty-four at that time. He wrote a series of articles about prison conditions after he came out.
After the Defiance Campaign, the government passed a new law equating defiance of a law with committing treason. Now you could be sentenced to death or to life in prison for defiance, so the whole question of defiance as a political strategy had to be rethought.
Marriage and Political Activity
My husband has been banned for a total of fifteen years. In the early days he was involved in student activities. At that time there was a black section of the University of Natal, and my husband was the president of the Student Representative Council there. He was called by the judge and told that he must resign or action would be taken against him. He said, »I am not going to resign. Only the students can force me to resign, not you« He was banned for five years after that. It was 1963, and we had only been married for three years. Of course, this affected my children and myself because we generally stuck together as a family. If he couldn't go out, none of us went out. As near as possible, we stayed together.
The banning order prevented him from going out of Durban, but it didn't prevent him from working as such. He is an insurance broker, but he was working as an agent for a company at that time, not as a broker. For the first five-year banning order, it wasn't so bad; but after the second banning and house arrest order, he was demoted in his firm. We think it was as a result of pressure from the state. So he gave up his job in protest, after which he had to start out on his own. He had to be at home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day so he couldn't go out and see any clients at night. And people couldn't visit us during those hours either.
Next my husband had to close his office in Durban because he was banished to the Inanda district, which meant that he couldn't move out of Inanda. He had to find offices and clients in that area. So his work was affected quite a bit, including his income. But the community has been very supportive. Generally business people have to go looking for business, but in our case people came to him. So in that respect, it wasn't so bad. He had to stop his overtly political work at that time, but he did a lot of work on community issues during that period.
I didn't get involved in student politics because I was living some way away from Durban and so, being female and having to travel at night, it was impossible for me to attend meetings.
I worked as a social worker for a child and family welfare agency, and I also did a lot of community work. The community's suffering is related to political issues, because the community doesn't have a vote, it doesn't have a say. I work in areas where communities don't even have a basic necessity like water. So I tried to get them to get together to demand these kinds of facilities, and in the process I also tried to educate them to understand why they were in the position they were in.
In the early 1970s, my husband was unbanned for a short while, and the first thing we did was to form a national committee and call for the release of all political prisoners—Braam Fischer [an Afrikaner, communist, lawyer, and well-known leader who died in prison], Nelson Mandela, and all the others. We started this campaign during an Anti-Republic Campaign at the time of the tenth anniversary of South Africa becoming a republic . This was the first call for the release of political detainees and it was the beginning of the community becoming politically involved again. We got a lot of activists involved in this campaign, and lots of prisoners were given clemency.
The Revival of the Natal Indian Congress
NIC had never been banned as an organization, but its leadership had been imprisoned and then banned in the 1960s. As a result, it became dormant for a number of years. After the success of our campaign to release political prisoners, we felt we needed to get all the energy that was generated into some kind of an organization. So we decided to revive NIC. We had a big public meeting in the early 1970s, at which a mandate was given for its revival. I wasn't on the steering committee that actually revived NIC because my children were quite small at that time and I didn't have time to go to the meetings.
Soon after we revived NIC, my husband was banned and house-arrested for the second time. His banning occurred on the eve of the conference which we had organized, so he couldn't participate in it. We had organized branches in various areas, and I went to the conference as the delegate from one of them. There I was elected onto the executive of NIC, the only woman on it.
The revival of NIC has played a significant role in the history of the Indian people. We have never wanted to work only within our ethnic group, but because we live in ethnically segregated areas, we have been forced to do this. We go to ethnic schools, and there are differences in the kind of oppression we are subjected to and the way we perceive our oppression. So if we want to organize the Indian people, then we have to work within the Indian community. But our actions have always been nonracial, and we have always worked toward nonracial ends. For example, the first thing we did after NIC's revival was to rededicate ourselves to the Freedom Charter.
NIC was the first political organization to start remobilizing after the heavy repression of the 1960s. There were student organizations which were fairly active, and they were very supportive of our revival. The trade unions were started after NIC was revived, and there were massive strikes in the 1972 period. A lot of community action around issues of rent followed. All the different groups worked together, and that laid the foundation for the United Democratic Front. NIC has not been banned, but once again, they have banned many of the leaders.
Banning and House Arrest
I continued to be involved in the organization until I was banned and house-arrested about six months after my husband's banning. I was amongst the first NIC executive members to be banned. The NIC president was also banned, as were quite a few other people. I was banned again for another three years after this five-year period. But I am still active in NIC today.
I expected something to happen to me, but at the same time I was quite surprised when I was actually served with a twelve-page document about my house-arrest restrictions. Everybody expects to be detained nowadays, but when it actually happens to them they are surprised. It was my son's birthday on the day the security branch came to house-arrest me. We wanted to give him a little party, and I was busy cooking for it. Of course, we had to put off the party. As long as my husband was under house arrest and I was free, I could have visitors at home. But when both of us were house-arrested, we couldn't have visitors any more.
For five years I was confined to Inanda. I had to report to the police station every Saturday. I had to be in my home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and I had to be inside the house the whole weekend. I wasn't allowed to attend any social gatherings, to enter educational institutions, to enter factories, to be quoted, to speak in public, to communicate with any other banned person, and so on. My husband and I had to have special permission to communicate with each other.
Living under house arrest was really difficult. It was very difficult for my children because throughout their childhoods we couldn't go out, so they didn't know what it was like to go for holidays and to participate in social activities. They had to be with us all the time. My second son became such a racialist for a time. He began to hate whites so much. We didn't realize this was happening until it hit us one day when we wanted to get a little pet for him and he said, »Mummy, whatever happens, don't get me a white dog. You must buy a black dog« He was quite small then, and his seeing anything white as bad turned out to be just a phase.
I was working in Durban at the time. I couldn't keep my job because I couldn't go to Durban any more. So I applied for a job where I was living, but for a long time I couldn't get one because I was restricted from visiting most places and from entering a court. This made it difficult to do my job as a social worker. I had to get special permission to be present at a children's court inquiry. This meant that each time I went there either the commissioner had to subpoena me or refuse to allow me to be present. My clients suffered because they had to be there without a social worker's support.
My son was detained for the first time for just under three months about six months ago. It was totally unexpected and a really trying experience because my son is very claustrophobic. But he was fairly strong and came through it. But it is very hard to be a parent when your children are in detention and there is nothing you can do about it.
The Natal Organization of Women
Some women felt the need to come together and observe South African National Women's Day on the eighth of August . Although they continued to meet after that, they didn't consolidate into a group at that time. When I was unbanned, I joined the group and we developed it into an organization called NOW. This was before UDF formed. It was tremendous because when UDF started, we could participate in it as women. We made a resolution about not forgetting the women's struggle and to remind people that our struggle is very much part of the rest of the struggle.
The Women's Congress of the United Democratic Front
I was one of the 250 to 300 women to launch the United Democratic Front Women's Congress in Cape Town in 1987. Women came from all over the country, and the spirit there was tremendous. This new organization is comprised only of the women within UDF, but the foundation was laid when it was launched for the formation of a new [all-inclusive] national women's organization. We started making connections with the different women's political organizations all over the country. Student organizations and trade unions that are within UDF were there, too. Our idea is that by consolidating ourselves into this national organization, we will strengthen our presence within the UDF as well as our activities outside UDF within other women's organizations. Because until we women are powerful and confident enough, we can't expect to participate fully in the struggle.
We didn't want to have a formal constitution, just an informal organization. There will be a twenty-person committee and council with four convenors, one from each province. We adopted the Freedom Charter [a document drawn up in 1955 by a coalition of anti-apartheid groups, known as the Congress of the People, outlining principles for a nonra-cial democracy for South Africa] and the Women's Charter, and we resolved to play a role in all the campaigns like the Free Our Children Campaign and the Living Wage Campaign. The demand for living wages affects us most of all because women workers are the lowest paid. Now we can develop national policies and have uniform methods of participating in the struggle.
The launching of our congress would have been prevented had the authorities known about it. It was really something for all those women to manage to get together for a day in secrecy during a state of emergency.
Once you are involved in politics, the most difficult thing is to go for hang [be sentenced to death]. That is how we look at it. We can't cry over what has happened to us because other people suffer lots more than we suffer: for instance, people in the townships are being much more persecuted. If it's not the police persecuting them, then it's Inkatha [a Zulu movement headed by Chief Gatsha Buthelezi]. So until you are killed, you can't say that you have really suffered.
Inkatha is being portrayed as a liberation movement, but the basic question is, What has it done for the liberation of the black people? As I see it, it spends most of its time criticizing other people and destroying organizations that are involved in the struggle and, in so doing, it is supporting the state. The least they could do is to leave us alone and do whatever they want to do. Lots of countries have had different liberation movements. We've got PAC and ANC in this country, but they have never killed each other.
What Inkatha has done to a lot of our people is gruesome: the murders and the burning of houses, for instance. And they get away with it. They are not even charged. Buthelezi can say that UDF also perpetuates the violence or that these people are defending themselves, but he can't prove a single case in court. The fact is that all the people who have been convicted of murder have been Inkatha people.
The UDF does not go out and mass-kill or destroy grassroots community organizations that are fighting for their rights. I know of Inkatha's responsibility in such incidents, like in Hambanati [an African township in the Durban area], for example, where people who formed themselves into a residents' organization to fight for decent housing, education, and transport in a peaceful manner were destroyed by Inkatha. They drove the people out of Hambanati.
In all these years that Inkatha has been in existence, when has it ever fought for any rights for the people? When has it made wage agreements for its workers? When has it fought for better transport or better housing for the community? The answer is never. I see Buthelezi as a dictator.
Co-President of the United Democratic Front
»Women are the people who are going to relieve us
from all this oppression and depression. The rent
boycott that is happening in Soweto now is alive
because of the women. It is the women who are on
the street committees educating the people to
stand up and protect each other«
NONTSIKELELO ALBERTINA SISULU
On arriving in Johannesburg with only ten days at hand, my first priority was to try to make appointments with Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu (known by her middle and last name; also often referred to as Mama Sisulu) and Winnie Mandela. Although I had no wish in this book to focus solely on the leaders in the anti-apartheid movement, I wanted to include these two women, if at all possible. While Mandela is more widely known outside South Africa, many people regard Sisulu as the most important woman leader in the country because of her role in the organized anti-apartheid movement. Her most significant leadership role at present is as co-president of the United Democratic Front, the largest and most important anti-apartheid organization within the country. In addition, Sisulu's entire life over the last forty years has been enmeshed in the liberation struggle, as she recounts in her interview.
Like Winnie Mandela, Sisulu's fame, persecution by the state, and opportunities for leadership have all been greatly affected by the status of her husband, Walter Sisulu, who, after Nelson Mandela, is the best-known ANC leader in South Africa. Walter Sisulu became the secretary-general of the ANC in 1949 and was imprisoned eight times between 1953 and 1964. In 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason with his friend and colleague Nelson Mandela. Now, still serving his time in prison, he has become a heroic legend second only to Nelson Mandela himself.
I interviewed Albertina Sisulu, an African mother and grandmother, in the office of her lawyer, Priscilla Jana, a well-known defender of anti-apartheid activists. Despite having a cold, the sixty-nine-year-old Sisulu had come all the way from her Soweto home for the interview. Unfortunately my time with her was limited to just over an hour, far too brief to interview this woman whose political life spans over four decades. One of Sisulu's many experiences that we did not cover was her indictment in 1985 for high treason, along with fifteen others, all members of five organizations: UDF, the Release Mandela Committee, the Transvaal Indian Congress, the Natal Indian Congress, and the South African Allied Workers' Union. The state attempted to prove that they »were part of a revolutionary plot and that treason had taken place without violence« (Gastrow 1987).
Later that year, the charges against twelve of the sixteen accused were dropped.
Frequently, when I asked people who didn't want to admit that sexism is a problem in the anti-apartheid movement why it has so few recognized women leaders, they cited the names of Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu. When I asked Sisulu whether she thought that sexism holds women back, she replied emphatically, »No! In fact, that is what has made women stand up and play their role« When I mentioned that there aren't many women leaders in UDF, she countered that there are many women leaders in UDF-affiliated groups like the new Women's Congress that had just been launched (about which Ramgobin spoke in the last chapter). »And«, she added, »we have classes that are preparing women leaders, so a lot of them will emerge in the future«
In 1988, a year after my interview, I learned from the newspapers that the government had banned the UDF and restricted Sisulu once again. I found her a surprisingly low-key, modest, warm, and gracious woman, and was very touched when she thanked me at the end of the interview for the work I was doing.
Growing Up African
I was born in the district of Tsomo in the Transkei. I was the second eldest in a large family, but never had a normal family life. I think that is why I've been able to stand the strain I've had to live with all these years. My mother died when I was fifteen, so I grew up as an orphan. I had to leave school to nurse my young six-month-old sister because my grandparents were too old to do this, so for this reason I missed at least two years of school. My hope when I got married was that this time I'd have a normal family life with my children and my husband around me, but unfortunately history has repeated itself.
I was lucky that my grandparents on my mother's side were able to see me through with my education. When I was in standard six [eighth grade], the top students who did the examination that year in the district of Tsomo were given an aptitude test, and I came second. But I was older than many of the other students at school because of missing those two years after my mother died, so I was already sixteen when I passed my standard six. Some jealous people said that I only came second because of my age, so my bursary was taken away and given to the person who came third.
A Roman Catholic priest read about what happened in the local paper and went to my grandparents to ask them if they would pay to educate me. He told them that when I was through with my education I could refund them. Although they were old and helpless, they agreed to do this. That is how I managed to go to a boarding school. After that, they decided that I should take up nursing to help support my brothers and sisters. I managed to pay my grandparents back the money for my school fees within a year, and after that I helped take care of my four younger brothers and sisters. I had to do this because my grandparents were very old. Although they had sheep and earned money from the wool, it wasn't much for their whole family as well as our family.
I had wanted to be a teacher, but unfortunately it would have meant more years at school than was needed for nursing. I wanted to build a home for my brothers and sisters because we never had a home of our own. I wanted them to be comfortable and to get an education. I had also wanted to be a Roman Catholic nun. At that time I thought I wouldn't get married and have children. Once I was through with taking care of my brothers and sisters, I'd look after other people who needed help. But I wasn't accepted by the church. They said, »Look, if you are a nun you must be entirely for the church. You can't have anything to do with your family« So I had to take up nursing, but still I vowed that I would never get married until I had seen my brothers and sisters through.
Because I grew up in a rural area where I rarely saw a white face and I had nothing whatever to do with the government, I thought we were independent. Our grandfathers had cattle and sheep and fields to plow, so I wasn't disturbed about the political situation when I was growing up. I only started seeing the unfairness when I trained for nursing at the Johannesburg General Hospital. There was a white hospital and a black hospital. Ours was called the Non-European Hospital and the white hospital was called the Johannesburg Hospital. Even when I was the most senior in my ward, when the sister in charge left, she would fetch a junior nurse from the European section to be in charge although she didn't know how it was run.
Because of apartheid I have never had a normal family life. My husband has always been in and out of jail. Also, I have been in jail, and my children have been in jail and in exile. For a mother, this is very painful. Sometimes I couldn't even nurse my children when they were ill. At other times I didn't know where they were. Bringing up my children alone because of my husband's life imprisonment has been very difficult. There are six in my family who couldn't even bury me if I should die today. Aside from my husband's life imprisonment, two of my children are in exile—the first-born, Max, and the fourth-born, Lindiwe. The youngest, Zwelakhe, is in jail. My seventeen-year-old grandson who was born of my first son, Max, was arrested in November 1986, and he is also still in jail. And my adopted son, Jogomsi, is serving five years on Robben Island.
I accompanied my fiance, Walter [Sisulu], to meetings and listened to the young men discussing the conditions under which we were living. I was the only lady there, but I was very impressed because what they said reminded me exactly of what was happening in the hospital where I worked. The meetings were only open to men at the beginning. At that time the ANC was an organization of old people who discussed the situation but didn't do anything, so the youth decided to put new blood into it by starting the Youth League. They eventually allowed women to join.
So when I married Walter in 1944,1 was already in politics. After my marriage I joined the ANC's Women's League. Lillian Ngoyi was instrumental in forming this league to discuss women's problems. Men really don't know much about the home and things like that. We tried to understand the conditions that directly affect women, such as children and salaries, because in most cases women are the hardest hit. For example, they don't get maternity grants. It doesn't matter how many years they have been working in a factory, when they become pregnant they have to resign their jobs in most cases, and when they return to work they have to start at the bottom again. We were worried about the education of our children, and the cost of living was skyrocketing. This affected women in particular because we're the ones who have to feed the family.
Unfortunately, although I wanted to participate in the Defiance Campaign in 1952,1 couldn't because my husband was involved. We had small children at the time, and the ruling of the ANC was that only one parent could participate. Walter led the first batch [of passive resisters], and they were arrested in Boksburg for breaking the permit laws. By law, they were not supposed to enter the township without a permit and without being accompanied by a policeman. Lillian Ngoyi defied the law at post offices where we had our own entrance and whites had theirs. She went into the white section where black women were not allowed. Because I wasn't able to participate directly in the campaign, I helped feed the families of the people in jail.
I missed my husband as part of the family and a father for the children. Time and again they would ask me, »Where is Daddy? When is he coming back?" Although I was allowed to go and see him in jail, they were not. That really affected them. But for myself, I understood why he was in jail and wasn't worried because, as I said, I also wanted to protest.
But the years that followed the Defiance Campaign were hard, I must say. Financially, my salary was very low—seventy-two rand [$36] a month to support a family of seven children. I had five children of my own, and I had two of my deceased sister-in-law's children. I had to borrow money to manage, which I found very difficult.
Then in 1954 we formed the Federation of South African Women. Not every woman was interested in joining the ANC—in fact, some women were afraid of it—so we wanted an organization that would involve all women—churchwomen, trade-union women, and so on. I was one of the founders of this organization. Ida Mdwana was our first president, followed by Lillian Ngoyi in the Transvaal; then I became president when Lillian Ngoyi died.
My first arrest was in 1958 when the Federation of Women protested against the introduction of passes for women. We went to the pass office with duplicate passes, which we'd tear up; then we'd drive the women out of the pass office. I led the second batch of women there. We were arrested and awaited trial in jail for three weeks. Fortunately my mother-in-law was still alive, so I left my little ten-month-old girl with her. But I had been breast-feeding her, and I became sick in jail because my breasts were so engorged. Winnie [Mandela] nearly lost her first baby in jail. She would have lost her had we nurses not been there to demand that she be treated in the hospital. Nelson Mandela was our lawyer, and we were fortunately discharged in the fourth week.
Jail conditions were terrible for the nonpolitical prisoners who were already there. They were made to kneel and scrub a very long passage in the prison while an old white lady with a cane whipped them. I don't know whether she thought they were loafing or what. Also, immediately when they were through with the food on their plates, each and every one of them would be sjamboked. I remember the noise of the whip. It made us angry and nervous, so we protested saying, »Look, these people are punished enough. They shouldn't be assaulted as well« So the sjamboking was stopped after that.
The next time I was in jail was in 1963, when I was detained for three months in solitary confinement under the Suppression of Communism Act. That was one of the worst experiences I ever had. I would sit there on a thin mat on the cement floor. It was cold, the blankets were dirty with lice, and the food was only half cooked. Oh, it was terrible! A Special Branch policeman came to question me. In those days we were told by the movement not to answer any questions. They asked a lot of questions about my husband and the activities of others who had been members of the ANC and about the organization itself. I didn't answer them, so this policeman said to me, »We know you are told not to answer questions, but if you don't, you will die in this cell or you'll sit here for the rest of your life« To torture me to try to get me to talk they told me, »Your children have been removed from your house by the government« After ninety days [the legal limit for detention without trial at that time], they released me.
I was banned in 1964. The first five years of my banning order restricted me from meeting with more than five people at a time in my house. I couldn't leave the district of Johannesburg without informing the chief magistrate of Johannesburg, and so on. When that banning order expired, I was put under ten years of continuous house arrest. This was the worst experience. I had to be in my home from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day without leaving the house. I had to report to the police station once a week. I could not receive any visitors, and I could not be seen near any courts or in any educational centers. That hit me hard because my children were in school. I couldn't consult with the teachers when something was wrong with one of them. If a child was late with school fees, I had to ask friends to go and explain and ask for an extension from the teachers for me.
Another very frustrating thing about house arrest was the isolation. I think the government thought they would succeed in forcing me out of work by house-arresting me. I was told by the city department that because my case was still in question, I must stay away from work until they called me back. When they tried that, I applied to my nursing association for help. They sent a hot letter saying, »Look, no court of law has convicted her of anything. Detention is not her fault, and according to our records we have no case against her. If the city health department of Johannesburg and the government feels that she must stay away from work, then you must continue to pay her salary monthly until she is finished with house arrest« So the following week I was called back to work. I had been away for two weeks in all, but I never had to leave my job after that. The nursing association and lawyers did not permit it.
In 1981, Rose Mbele died and I was one of the speakers at her funeral. I was asked by the women to give her life story because she had been my patient. A green, black, and yellow flag [the colors of the ANC flag] was flying at the funeral. The authorities said that I was responsible for it being there. So I was arrested for furthering the aims of a banned organization, the ANC. In my speech I didn't say anything against the government, and I didn't have anything to do with an ANC flag. What the judge said when he summed up his case against me was so amazing. He said, »You allowed yourself to be used by the ANC by allowing yourself to be introduced to the public as Mrs. Walter Sisulu, the people's secretary« You see, my husband had been the general secretary of the ANC before it was banned in 1960. »That was another way of introducing the ANC to the people«, he [the judge] said, »and showing that the ANC is still alive« He also said that »we want to scare others and stop them from doing these things« Can you imagine a magistrate saying this when he sums up his case? I got four years in prison for this, and spent seven months in solitary confinement before any charges had even been made. I came out in February 1984.
I was detained again in 1985, and held in solitary, this time for nine months. I was one of several UDF people to be put on trial. In the end, we were all acquitted [in 1986].
To visit my husband, I had to first get permission from Robben Island. Then I had to take this permission to the chief magistrate of Johannesburg for approval. This took time. Sometimes I would receive my permit just two days before the date given me by Robben Island for my visit. But my train journey alone took two and a half days, so I'd have to cancel my visit. When I managed to get permission in time, I had to report to the local police station with a permit telling them when I was leaving Johannesburg and arriving in Cape Town. Then at every stop on the way to Cape Town, a policeman came looking for me, and there was also a policeman in the next-door compartment.
When I got to Cape Town, I had to report to Caledon Square Police Station that I had arrived and where I would stay and the time I would be visiting Robben Island. The strain of being watched and constantly having to report to the police stations was terrible. Sometimes I missed my train coming back home because the police at Caledon Square would take their time to attend to me. This is how it was fQr ten years whenever I visited my husband. Because I was also working full-time, I would only be able to see him twice or three times a year.
The United Democratic Front
In 1983, I became the Transvaal president of the UDF. I was elected in absentia while I was in jail. Although I was in solitary confinement, I was allowed newspapers, and I read about it in the paper. Before UDF, everybody was standing on their own. It was formed to unite the people and give them a direction, and it worked wonderfully. Now when we have boycotts, we speak with one voice. Even more than unity, people needed to understand who the enemy is. For example, the government says the ANC is a terrorist organization. We explain to people that the real terrorist is the government. Take the case of Sharpeville in 1960, when the government bulldozed the people down with bullets. Women were lying dead in that open square with their babies on their backs. And when the government decided in 1985 to send soldiers into our townships, they killed the children mercilessly. Children would be playing in the playgrounds, and the soldiers would tell them to disperse. When the children were running in all directions, they were shot in their backs like wild animals.
Women in the Struggle
A woman is a mother, and women are the people who are suffering most. Look at the forced removals. People are put in the open veld [countryside] where there is no water, where there is no transport to get to the nearest town. Who is suffering? The mother. Because she looks at her children who are thirsty and crying, »Mama, we want water« If the government continues killing children, the women will become even more angry, and these are the people who will take up the struggle. The government has killed our children mercilessly since 1976 [in Soweto], which has left an unhealing sore in our hearts.
I have been talking to people in the white suburbs. Some of them don't know what is happening in our townships. Some white women shake their heads and whisper to each other, »Is she telling the truth?" My approach to the white sisters is, »Our children are dying in the townships, killed by your children. You are mothers. Why do you allow your children to go to train for the army? There is no country that has declared war on South Africa. Do you want your children to come and kill our children?" Because that is what is happening. We want to know from our white sisters why there is not a word from them about this. Our children are being killed mercilessly, but what do they say? How can they, as mothers, tolerate this? Why don't they support us?
The End Conscription Campaign
»Conscription is one area where whites actually
do pay a price for apartheid and where they are
prepared to organize around it. We, as well as a lot
of other white anti-apartheid organizations, often get
saluted by black organizations for the work we are doing«
...a white woman, graduated from the University of Cape Town with an honors degree in linguistics in 1986. Twenty-five years old when I interviewed her, she is single and works full-time in the Lodgings Bureau at UCT, a bureaucratic job in the administration. Hathorn worked in a conscientious objectors' support group in 1983, and was also elected to the Student Representative Council at the university, where she became the representative for the End Conscription Campaign. Then in November 1986 she became the chairperson of ECC in Cape Town. Hathorn had been moved to work on the conscription issue when her brother, Peter, became a conscientious objector.
Peter was the first man to refuse army service on political grounds alone, without any religious reason. He spent a year in prison as a result. He now works for ECC in Port Elizabeth. I met him and his woman friend, Barbara, quite by chance at a small dinner party when I visited that city. They told me that one night when Peter was out of town, Barbara was attacked and beaten with sjamboks by four men wearing balaclavas [hoods that conceal all but the eyes] in an attempt to intimidate Peter.
Every white South African male has to register at the age of sixteen for the South African Defense Force and, soon afterward, do two years of army service. In her interview, Hathorn describes conscription and army life, and told me that the membership of ECC is all white because only white men are conscripted. But the fact that only men are conscripted does not mean that ECC is an all-male movement; indeed, Hathorn mentioned that there are probably more women than men involved in it.
Although ECC was launched in 1983, and is therefore only a few years old, it has had a significant impact on the white community; consequently, its members are severely persecuted. In 1988, approximately a year after my interview with Hathorn, ECC was banned by the government.
Here Hathorn describes her involvement in student politics at UCT and her experiences of arrest and detention for demonstrating with other students and for her ECC work. 1 interviewed her at my mother's house in Cape Town. Hathorn is a very soft-spoken, modest young woman whose style belies her strength, determination, and commitment to the anti-apartheid movement.
Growing Up White
I was brought up in a middle-class Natal family, the youngest of five children and the most spoiled, they say. When I look back, I'm really quite shocked at the isolation of my childhood. I was terribly protected. I went to private boarding school, and I remember learning about the Nazis and Hitler and thinking it must be a very good feeling if you are able to be involved in opposing something as bad as that. I felt that I wouldn't have my chance to do something as worthwhile as that because Nazi Germany was over. I had no idea then that the situation here was very bad. It was coming to university when I was seventeen that first started to open my eyes. It gave me access to alternative literature, hearing black speakers and meeting black students.
I confronted a lot of feminist issues before I got actively involved politically. I was living in residence at UCT where sexist stereotypes are very prevalent. I spent a lot of time talking about this with a small group of friends. I think South Africa is a very sexist society, and it was quite a revolutionary personal experience to work through some of the effects this has had on me, on the level of shaving legs and things like that. It was really important for me. I needed some understanding of who I was and where I came from. It gave me a lot more confidence and made me feel a lot better about myself. It gave me the courage to get involved. I haven't been involved in any feminist groups since I left the campus, which is a lack, but I have a full-time job and I'm chair of ECC in the Cape so I don't have time to belong to any other groups.
Brother's Trial and Imprisonment
Perhaps for me the most pivotal event—not in my becoming politically conscious, but in making me politically active—was when my brother spent a year in jail because he refused to go into the army for political reasons. The rest of our family in Natal didn't understand what he was doing. I was the only family member with him here in Cape Town, and I completely supported his stand. When he went to jail, I did a lot of support work for him. This made me realize that I had to really do something about the situation here.
Peter's statement at his trial focused on the fact that we are fighting a civil war in this country. At that time troops hadn't yet gone to the townships, so the sense of it being a civil conflict was quite difficult for people to realize. But Peter pointed out that the purpose of the South African Defense Force was to defend a minority government, and that some of the people they were fighting on our borders—like in Namibia —were young black South Africans who had left the country in 1976 after the Soweto uprising. He spoke about destabilization and how the South Africa Defense Force has gone into neighboring states quite regularly, without provocation, and killed civilians supposedly to root out ANC people in those countries. This has happened in Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
Peter faced a maximum of two years in prison for his stand, but only served one year beginning in early 1983.
The Formation of the End Conscription Campaign
Nineteen eighty-three was the year in which the sentence for conscientious objectors changed. Alternative service was introduced for religious pacifists, while the sentence for people who objected to serving in the army on moral or political grounds was increased to six years. This, in conjunction with the fact that in March 1983 the Black Sash called for an end to conscription at their annual conference, led to the formation of ECC. Previously, anti-militarization work had focused on individual conscientious objectors, but with such a severe sentence, we didn't know whether people would continue to object. In July of that year, the conscientious objectors' support groups in Johannesburg, Durban, and other parts of Natal got together for an annual conference. They decided to try to set up End Conscription Committees in each of those centers; and by the end of 1983 or early 1984, these committees were set up.
ECC focuses its efforts on the white community because white men are the ones who are conscripted into the South African Defense Force. Our issue defines our constituency. In Cape Town there are fourteen organizations that come together to form ECC and to call for an end to conscription. While those organizations all have their own programs, they also take up our issues. But ECC also has its own subcommittees made up of ECC people.
Although there are probably more women than men involved in ECC, it's not a huge imbalance. It's a bit more dangerous for men to get involved because they need to lie low if they're wanting to get out of their call-ups. I've spoken to a lot of men who've said, »I really appreciate the work you're doing in ECC, but it's too risky for me« White women are a bit more secure. The majority of our members are English-speaking South Africans, though we now have branches in the Afrikaner communities of Stellenbosch and Pretoria. Our Stellenbosch University branch has really struggled. The university administration banned them before they were even launched, so they've had a really difficult time. We're hoping to be able to make more inroads into the Afrikaner communities.
Conscription and Army Life in South Africa
Young white men spend the first few months of their two years of army service at basic training. Training involves a lot of political lectures about who the enemy is, the left, the ECC, the ANC. It's a lot of propaganda. Then these young men are sent to Namibia or into the [black] townships or used in whatever way the army wants. After those two years, they are due to do another two years, but this time it is split up into 90-, 60-, or 30-day stretches. They have to leave their jobs or whatever they are doing and go off to army camps. Some of them get called up to do these camps every single year.
After completing these camps, men can be called up for ten to twelve days of active duty every year until the age of fifty-five. After that, a man can no longer be called up. Camps for men in their middle-age years are referred to as Dad's Army. In the eastern Cape, the Dad's Army has been used to man roadblocks and to look after the searchlights that scan the townships. It involves playing a support role for regular army work.
Being in the army for two years has an incredible effect on men. It destroys a lot of them. It destroys their relationships, and it destroys their families. I've seen this happen and know people who have known men it's happened to. A lot of men go into the army feeling that they have no choice, and they spend two years in conflict about having to be prepared to kill and die for a system that they don't believe in.
But much more often I see men who have decided they're not going to go into the army and who realize they're either going to have to leave their country or they're going to have to live underground. These men often become very insecure. Most of the men I know don't know what their future holds. They're living from year to year. For example, if they've reached the fourth year of doing a master's degree—because academic work can get deferment from the army up to a point—they wonder if they will get a deferment. There are weeks of crisis while men wait to find out if they've been lucky or not. If they don't get deferment, they'll have crucial decisions and arrangements to make in a very short period of time. I see how freaked out they get and how unstable their lives are.
The effect of conscription on me is knowing that I'm not going to have most of my close male friends around very much longer. They'll have to disappear. Quite a lot of these men leave the country, but this, too, isn't easy. People often wind up going to places that they don't want to go to.
In 1986, [Minister of Defence General Magnus] Malan said in Parliament that eight thousand five hundred people had failed to report that year for the basic two-year military training. That is eight thousand five hundred out of the thirty thousand who are generally called up in one year. That's a hell of a lot of people. There is some confusion as to whether that figure includes people who were at university and who were deferred on that basis. The government wouldn't release comparable figures in Parliament at the beginning of this year, because they said they had been misused by certain organizations. Statistics are getting very difficult to obtain because the government refuses to release any that might be damaging to it. The conclusion we draw from this is that a lot of men aren't reporting for service.
The resistance to conscription has become much bigger than the numbers involved in ECC itself. I think there are vast numbers of young men drifting around the country keeping their addresses quiet. These include men who aren't politically involved in any organizations but who don't want to go into the townships where the South African Defense Forces have been since 1984. The wool can't be pulled over people's eyes any more. If they go into the townships, they know who their guns will be aimed at. No one can pretend that there's no civil conflict in this country any more, contrary to the propaganda we used to get fed that the South African Defense Force was fighting the war on our borders against the Russian onslaught.
Student Political Activity
I was at UCT at a time when the campus was very militant. There were a lot of marches and demonstrations. In February 1985,1 woke up at 2 A.M. to my housemate turning on the light of my room and saying, »Paula, the police are here. They've come to detain us« The next minute a burly policeman shoved him out of the way and said, »We are here to detain you under blah blah blah«, and read out some law. I was terrified out of my wits. He said I was to put my clothes on and come into the passage. I did so only to find, to my delight, that the rest of my housemates were also being arrested. The police had identified us from the photographs that they had taken from the bushes opposite our demonstration.
We were dragged off to the police station where the police spent a couple of hours recording information about us, then shoved us into a cell. There were only six of us at that stage, until the police drove around and picked up eight more. We were charged with participating in an illegal gathering. It's illegal under the Internal Security Act for more than three people to gather out of doors with a common purpose, unless it's a bona-fide sports or religious gathering. We were kept in the cell overnight, then appeared in court the next morning and were released on bail. The charges against us were dropped after quite a long time.
Although political demonstrations are illegal, people defy this law all the time, but they pay the price. After the Pollsmoor march at the end of 1985, the goal of which was to call for the release of Nelson Mandela, half of Cape Town was on trial for participating in an illegal gathering. There was a whole spate of marches and demonstrations at that time. Nuns and priests and academics and everybody else who had participated in the march was picked up and charged.
A week or so before the Pollsmoor march, we at UCT decided to march to the state president's home in Cape Town. About two thousand to three thousand students came to the bottom of a small road in a residential area and found a casspir parked across the road. We took another route but soon found ourselves facing a line of policemen in riot gear, which was terrifying to me. One person told us to disperse on a walkie-talkie, but nobody heard. The next minute, our march leaders told us to sit down.
The policemen then came and belted people with sjamboks, which was also absolutely terrifying. Unlike black South Africans living in townships, I'd never been exposed to such aggression before. I was part of a group of mostly women who were trapped, which is why we were eventually arrested. There were people running in all directions and screaming in fear. A friend of mine was lying next to me on the pavement, and she looked up at a policeman and said, »Please don't hit me. Please don't hit me« I could see the look of hate and aggression in this guy's eyes as he sjamboked her on the head.
The whole experience was very scary. I told black students on campus afterwards that I had been so absolutely terrified that I almost felt ashamed. They said that the police had been gentle with us compared to what they're like in the townships where they normally trample all over people. Nevertheless one person who had been sjamboked had to have an operation on his eye. Somebody else who was arrested with us was bruised all over. These two people sued the police, and I think it was settled out of court. They were paid quite a lot of money. The rest of us had to spend hours in court, and we won the case on a technicality.
This experience was a turning point for me in many ways. It didn't change my thinking; it was more an experiential change. It gave me a very important, day-to-day sense of what being a South African anti-apartheid activist entails. It was the start of all sorts of demonstrations and confrontations on campus. A couple of weeks later, there were casspirs on campus for the first time. By the end of 1985, the whole western Cape was alive with these kinds of confrontations happening daily. It made the struggle real. It made the fear real. And it made the hate real. It made me understand why people are violent.
What the police did was disgusting and unforgivable. We were so vulnerable, and they just tramped over us. It almost seems arrogant to say that I understood so much after one experience, which is so little compared to what somebody in the townships goes through, but it gave me that additional inch of insight, which was very important to me. Our lawyers found it interesting that most of the arrested students were women. At one stage they even wondered if the police intentionally picked out innocent-looking white women to drag off, but I think it was probably just chance. Our lawyers warned us to be cautious about getting arrested again. At that time I was on trial for the first time and I had been arrested for the second time, so I avoided other demonstrations after that. This experience has made me very scared, but the fear won't stop me from being part of demonstrations in the future. I'll just be far more nervous about it.
The ECC's Response to Repressive Legislation
The emergency regulations of 12 June 1986 made it subversive to incite anybody to undermine or discredit the system of compulsory military conscription. This obviously curtails ECC's work. We immediately stopped all public work for a month or so to consult with all the other ECC branches in the country and to get proper legal advice on the implications of this regulation for us, because ECC considers it important to work within the law. Our lawyers said that there was a lot of related work that ECC could still do. For example, we could oppose militarization in general or cadets in the schools, so we cautiously started doing some public work again.
We had a Give-ECC-the-Right-to-Speak Campaign in about August of 1986, which went fine. Next we decided we needed an offensive campaign, so we organized a War-Is-No-Solution Campaign. It was a campaign that focused on apartheid but which was directed at the white community. Noting the kind of war the South African Defense Force is involved in, we argued that war is no solution. We had a lovely picnic, and we planned to walk from Rondebosch [a white suburb] to Guguletu [an African township]. We distributed a lot of pamphlets and had a meeting in the city hall.
We've done quite a few actions that involve the public. For example, we organized a fast in connection with our call for the troops to come out of the townships and for a just peace in our land. One of our members, a man called Ivan Toms, fasted in a crypt at a cathedral for three weeks. A lot of people went to see him, and we called on everybody to fast for one day, which gave them an opportunity to get involved.
Last year we ran a national campaign called Working-for-a-Just-Peace: Construction-Not-Conscription. We distributed pamphlets inviting people to be a part of a whole range of projects that we felt would provide examples of a type of national service that would benefit the nation, rather than being conscripted into the South African Defense Force. For example, we built a concrete cycle track at a school on the Cape Flats [a black area near Cape Town], and we cleared the ground at a home for underprivileged children. Also on the Cape Flats, we cleared the garden and painted a mural at Cowley House, where people stay when they visit family members on Robben Island or at Pollsmoor Prison. About five hundred Capetonians participated in different projects, and it was great to give people an opportunity to feel they were able to do something constructive, because a lot of people get frustrated not knowing what they can do. In Port Elizabeth, the ECC and the public helped to build a creche in one township.
We do other kinds of activities that are symbolic and fun and that hit the press. On ECC's birthday last year, we decided to make a big castle on the beach out of sand. We built it in the shape of a castle that represented the defense force headquarters in Cape Town. The police ordered us to destroy it, and there was a public outcry at their actions.
And we've done fun runs where we all put on our ECC shirts and jog along the beach front. These creative actions are very good for us as an organization. They're very bonding, and they also interest people on the beach, and they have a publicity value as well. We've also brought out a record called »Force's Favorites«, which is the name of a radio program played by the South African Broadcasting Corporation to South African soldiers on the border. We've often used concerts and drama and all sorts of other means to get our message across.
On 3 December 1986, they detained nine of us for two weeks, then charged and released us. Again, our charges have been dropped. But thinking for two weeks that we might be there for a few months is very different from being in jail for a night. We had to try to prepare ourselves for whatever happened.
We're not sure how they picked us. We had all been actively involved in ECC at some time, though some weren't actually involved in the War-Is-No-Solution Campaign. The security police get to know you when you put up posters. Even if you have permission to do this, they take down your name and address which, by law, you have to give them. We know that the security police also keep tabs on us by listening to our telephone conversations and coming to ECC meetings. All of those detained were white, and three of us were women.
From the time that we were in Pollsmoor Prison, we were aware that we were treated very differently from black detainees. We never felt under any threat of torture or physical violence against us. We all had beds with blankets and sheets. We were able to spend twenty rand [$10] each week for food the prison wardens bought for us from a local supermarket. We got a lot of the things we asked for. It was a comfortable detention in many ways. At times we felt guilty about this. Although we didn't deserve to be in prison in the first place, it was terrible that black people are treated so much worse than us—even in prison— because of their skin color.
The biggest thing about detention is the isolation and boredom. There were three of us in a very small space without much to do. The hours passed very slowly. We were exhausted because we had been working on the campaign at absolute fever pitch, so we slept a lot. We gave ourselves seminars. We did quite a bit of exercise. But it was boring to be isolated from the rest of the world for two weeks. Unlike us, the men who were detained when we were had some contact with other prisoners. The radio was played into our cells so we heard the news, but there's never very much news on the radio. Very important things could be happening in the world, and we wouldn't know about it. We got hungry for real news and frustrated to be totally cut off from it.
Because I assume I will be detained for much longer than two weeks at some time in the future, I felt my detention was a useful learning experience. I didn't have to make decisions in detention. I could use all my resources to cope with being there because I didn't have to cope with much else. The day after I came out, I found myself baffled by the number of things I was expected to do in a day. For example, I had to buy food at the supermarket for thirty people, and I thought, »I don't know how to do this! I don't know how anybody does it!« I imagine those who've been in for a long time come out feeling very ill-equipped to cope with such a demanding world, and relating to people again must be difficult.
The thought of being detained for a longer time in the future scares me at times. We prepare ourselves for this by attending security workshops, where we hear about other people's experiences of detention. We study the laws and find out what you must ask for in detention. I think all anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa go through a similar process. Confining ourselves to activity that is legal doesn't mean that we won't have to pay for it. All of us who are involved politically take it for granted that we're going to have to go through a much harder and longer detention than my two-week experience.
The ECC as a White Organization
Civil disobedience is something we're discussing at the moment, but although ECC might engage in it, we try to do work that is legal. Our work is aimed at a white constituency, and the white community finds it difficult to accept illegal, underground-type work. With underground work we'd risk cutting ourselves off from the people that we are targeting for our political work. We also think it is very important that people see who we are and what we are doing, and that people who are interested in our work can join us. I'm not saying that illegal organizations don't have a role, but I think it's very important that ECC remains a legal organization at this stage.
There is a danger, particularly if you're a white activist, of committing suicide politically by cutting yourself off from your own community. Even though our campaign is directed at the white community, if there were only about fifty individuals in ECC it would be easy to go off on a tangent. But since a whole range of organizations are involved, our campaigns are appropriate and directed to reach our community.
We can't hope to convince every white South African to agree with our point of view, but we try to draw a substantial number of them behind us and to pull them into working for change in some way. For whites it's such a big jump to support organizations like UDF. They have to give up and change so much, and many of them aren't going to be able to make that big a leap. But ECC is an issue that affects all white South Africans, and we work in a style that is suitable for them. We try to use symbols that potentially liberal white South Africans can relate to.
Black men aren't conscripted so there's not much point in blacks being part of ECC, but we receive a lot of support from the black community. At one stage we had a strong call for »Troops Out of the Townships«, a call which was also taken up by the black community. It served as a very good bridge between the work that our two communities do and showed how our struggles fit together. We are not a member organization of the UDF, but we have regular discussions with them about what we are doing, and we try and keep in contact with some of the black organizations.
Women in the Struggle
White women in South Africa have pretty much been relegated to the role of looking after men and providing a home for them. The situation of black women is much worse. They live with extreme sexism, and on top of that, suffer other forms of oppression. But I have a fair amount of faith that women won't sit back and allow South Africa to become a totally male-dominated new society. The women in South Africa have shown that they are strong, and I think they will make their voices heard.