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The way we lived. 37. (Part 3) Seven+ square kilometres of heroes.

Updated: Mar 21


f. Natural deaths

1. Doris Ramona Street is tucked away in the top NW corner as part of Steve Biko crescent. This political stalwart led the way in establishing free creches for children – first in Retreat, then in Gugulethu following her enforced removal under the Group Areas Act. Her political work led to her banishment under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. Two years before her death at the age of 80, she launched the United Women’s Organisation with her poem We have opened the way for you.

2. At its eastern end, Steve Biko Crescent joins Helen Joseph Crescent, named after the opposition

stalwart anti-apartheid activist who, in her time, was banned four times, jailed four times, and spent much of her life under house arrest for daring to protest for greater rights for Black South Africans, especially in relation to health care, freedom of speech, racial equality, and women’s rights.


3. Steve Biko Crescent ends in Oliver Tambo Drive. Tambo rose from the son of subsistence farmers in

the Transkei to be the stand-in head of the African National Congress (ANC) after Mandela’s imprisonment – from 1967 to 1991. Tambo built up the ANC and held it together during his many years in exile before returning home to help Mandela prepare the country for the first democratic elections in 1994.


4. Zephania Mothopeng was a PAC founding member along with Robert Sobukwe. He helped set up APLA, the PAC military wing. Following his arrest under the terrorism act after the June Soweto Uprisings, his trial was the only secret political trial ever held in apartheid South Africa. Sentenced to two 15-year terms of imprisonment on Robben Island, Mothopeng was among those who reported police torture when four other detainees died in detention. He died of cancer in 1988.


5. Thomas Nkobi was a senior member of the ANC who underwent banning, house arrest, and exile; eventually, he became a Cabinet Minister in the Mandela government before his death.

5. Ida Mntwana – prominent ANC leader. Died 1960. She led women’s anti-pass campaigns in the mid-50s.

6. Clements Kadalie – SA’s first Black trade union leader. Died 1951.


7. Robert Sobukwe, renowned PAC founder, died from cancer in 1977. He spent three years in solitary confinement in 1960 after the Sharpeville pass law protest he organised. A special law, the “Sobukwe clause”, allowed the State to keep him on Robben Island in solitary confinement for six years. Until his death from cancer, he spent his last days under house arrest. I met him twice and he had the gentlest eyes and broadest smile of any man I ever came across. The pan-Africanist was one of Africa’s liberation giants.


8. Lillian Ngoyi, banned for 16 years was the Mother of Black resistance as President of the ANC’s Women’s League in the 1950s. She also spent time in prison under the infamous 90-day detention act [ later 180 days and then indefinite detention].

9. Jakes Gerwel, the son of sheep labourers, rose to become a top academic and

Mandela’s chief of staff. He was a student of the initially maligned UWC, “Bush College”, but later, as professor and rector of UWC, under the banner of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, UWC achieved prominence in the 1970s as a leading force in the struggle against apartheid. His credits are too many to be listed! He died in 2012. The M7 motorway named after him bisects the Cape Flats for most of the highway’s north-to-south length.


10. Feroza Adam was a youth member of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Azanian Student’s Organisation; coordinator of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Mass Democratic Movement until 1990. She became an MP in 1994 shortly before her death in an accident. She was regarded as a living embodiment of the struggle that brought democracy to the country.

11. Harry Gwala was a veteran activist member of the Communist Party and ANC who spent 8 years in detention on Robben Island for sabotage and as a member of MK. After the 1994 elections, he was the chief whip in the Kwazulu-Natal Legislature. His firebrand style earned him the nickname of the Lion of the Midlands.

12. As President of the ANC’s Women’s League, Annie Silinga led the 1956 anti-pass women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Multiple arrests for her activism include the period after the Sharpeville massacre when a draconian State of Emergency resulted in the detention of tens of thousands of people. Despite her travails, she refused to carry a dompas – her battle cry was “I’ll never carry a pass”.

13. Sabatha Dalindyebo, anti-apartheid paramount chief of the Aba Thembu people, opposed the repressive Kaiser Matanzima regime in the Transkei when it became one of the artificially created Bantustans. He died in exile in Zambia in 1986.

14. Dorothy Zihlang, a seasoned defiance campaigner, was a member of the ANC Women’s league. She spent six months in detention under the 1960 State of Emergency, and again spent time in prison in the 1980s for her underground work for the ANC. She passed away in 1991 before the collapse of apartheid three years later.

15. Oscar Mpetha, S African trade union leader, underwent the gamut of banning and 1960 detention to his 1983 imprisonment for terrorism after inciting a riot at a squatter camp. He was only released a year later. An ill man when sentenced to five years, he spent most of his time under armed guard in hospital where he had both legs amputated. He survived to vote in the 1994 elections before dying at his Gugulethu home a few months later.


g. Judicial executions/hangings

1. The trade unionist Vuyisile Mini, was one of the first ANC activists to be executed by hanging for trumped-up treason charges. I previously wrote about him as one of our liberation musicologists as he was the father of the toyi-toyi, virtually Black South African’s war dance. A number of his compositions topped the popularity of his songs rendered into toyi-toyi, His most popular was Pasopa nantsi ‘ndondemnyama we Verwoerd, (Look out, Verwoerd, here are the Black people), which was apparently the song he sang on his way to the gallows.

The police, as was often their custom with political prisoners, secretly buried his body in a pauper’s grave in 1964.

After 1994, the democratic government’s Gallows Exhumation Project recovered many of the remains of the 80+ executed political prisoners buried in unmarked graves in the cemeteries, especially around Pretoria where most of the hangings took place. Mini's body was finally exhumed in 1998 followed by a hero’s funeral in his home township in Port Elizabeth.

Mini was one of around 134 political prisoners executed by the racist regime between 1960 and 1990. For many years South Africa had the dubious distinction of executing more people by hanging than any other country in the world; most of the victims were Black. The death penalty was revoked shortly after the first democratic elections in 1994.

Tragically, his daughter, Nomkhosi Mini, a member of MK (Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the ANC) was shot and killed in Lesotho by the notorious Vlakplaas death squad in 1985.


h. Mysterious deaths

1. Leonard Radu, died in a traffic accident in 1997 when he was the new police assistant commissioner after the first democratic elections.

2. Letsatsi Mosala was a founder member of AZAPO (Azanian People’s organisation) which effectively took over from the late Steve Biko’s Black Conscious Movement after its banning following the Soweto student deaths in 1976. Mosala’s details are not well documented, including his death.

3. Mzonke Jack. In 1991, The African National Congress (ANC) activist, Mziwonke ‘Pro’ Jack, was gunned down next to his home in Cape Town. Jack was a taxi conflict mediator and there was a suspicion that a third force was fanning violence in the community. At the time the shadowy Balaclava Gang, the security police death squad offshoot of Vlakplaas, was active in the townships with assassinations and drive-by shootings of dozens of people. It was later established that a member of an ANC self-defence unit had shot him in his car. The TRC denied the shooter amnesty for the event.


i. Staged attacks and deaths


While the Gugulethu 7 are somewhat beyond the ambit of the Weltevreden valley North’s Heroes’ Block, it’s well worth remembering this infamous episode here too. It is suspected the 1985 events acted out in Gugulethu were executions in which Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Zanisile Zenith Mjobo, Zola Alfred Swelani, Godfrey Jabulani Miya, Christopher Piet, Themba Mlifi, and Zabonke John Konile, all died after the police set them up to ambush a van load of policemen. The seven youths had weapons provided to the group by askaris (turned ANC freedom fighters who often worked in police death squads like Koevoet in then South West Africa and Vlakplaas). The askaris spent weeks training the seven young men and planning the attack during which all seven died. It later emerged the two askaris received seven thousand rand each – that’s a thousand rand for each victim, apparently the going rate paid to death squad turncoats for a kill. The other beneficiary was the former Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok, who used the video of the incident to get Cabinet to increase the Vlakplaas death squad budget.

Gugulethu has a monument to the seven in Gugulethu’s NY1, the main road close to where they died.

(By the way, “Gugs” had about 150 streets designated NY1 to NY 150. NY stood for “Native Yard” – apparently a base attempt to dehumanise black people. These street names are changing – NY1 became Steve Biko Street in 2012 – other street names have apparently changed following community discussion, though Google maps still use most of the old NY designations.)

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Around the country, street renaming aims at expunging some of the tragic aspects of South Africa’s colonial and more recent apartheid past. Weltevreden Valley North and Brown’s Farm’s road names are part of the process in which gallant men and women involved in the setting up of a democratic country have at least a small token of remembrance for the roles they played through the years of struggle.

Zimbabwe has a Heroes Acre. Cape Town needs one. The CBD area has its Slave Route; why not Heroes Block or Heroes Route out there on the Cape Flats in Weltevreden Valley North township? It should be a place where we can better appreciate and honour those who struggled or died for liberation from the horrors of apartheid. Try reading the TRC records to know what I mean and see if you don’t cry as I did while reading the TRC submissions.

There is a concern that the ANC has forgotten these brave people, dignified them only with a street tucked away in townships around the country. This is a place to be celebrated on a regular basis with an annual day, maybe one of reflection and peace in a remembrance garden close by where people can relax and picnic after walking the streets. At the very least they can visit the roads named after the liberation warriors they knew; at most, visit and walk every street in a silent tribute to the others. Maybe even utilise the services of guides to point out the fallen and to put flesh onto the name plates of the township’s streets of freedom warriors way out there on the Cape Flats – let them not just be another part of apartheid’s dumping ground. Our martyred heroes deserve more.

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