Heed­ing the call to fight for the fa­ther­land

This se­ries fea­tures Dr Tlou Se­tumu’s works on our history, her­itage and cul­ture. This week the ex­cerpt is from the bi­og­ra­phy of SACTU/ ANC/MK vet­eran, Tlou Theophilus (TT) Cholo

African Times - - International/africa -

IN THE early 1930’s, when T.T. was about six years old, his fam­ily and rel­a­tives had to re­lo­cate from Ga Mat­lala area. The main rea­son for Rase­naka (T.T.’s fa­ther) to re­lo­cate with his peo­ple from Ga Mat­lala was be­cause of the search for bet­ter graz­ing for their live­stock.

The suc­ces­sive whites-only gov­ern­ments had de­prived black com­mu­ni­ties of their land and peo­ple and live­stock were lumped in ru­ral re­serves where over­crowd­ing of peo­ple and live­stock re­sulted in se­ri­ous dam­ages such as over­graz­ing and ero­sion.

As a re­sult, land in vil­lages such as those at Ga Mat­lala was no longer able to cater for peo­ple and live­stock. Peo­ple had to find ways of sav­ing their live­stock. That was how the idea of mer­ak­eng was born.

Ac­cord­ing to the mer­ak­eng con­cept, live­stock own­ers took their an­i­mals to far­away places in search of graz­ing where they would camp for ex­ten­sive pe­ri­ods of time.

Boys and young men would set­tle in those out­posts in tem­po­rary makeshift homes while look­ing after the graz­ing live­stock.

That sys­tem was tem­po­rary be­cause at some point, the live­stock and its ten­ders would re­turn home. As with the case of Rase­naka, he used to pe­ri­od­i­cally send his live­stock with his elder son, T.T., to mer­ak­eng.

The tra­di­tional rulers – magoši – held land in trust of their sub­jects, and that prin­ci­ple was even recog­nised by the whites-only gov­ern­ments, although the land of the black ma­jor­ity was greatly re­duced.

Again, dur­ing those times land was still mainly open in ac­cor­dance with the African phi­los­o­phy of com­mu­nal landown­er­ship in which land was shared among peo­ple.

That was in di­rect con­trast with the Euro­pean-orig­i­nated idea of treat­ing land as pri­vate prop­erty owned by in­di­vid­u­als. It was dur­ing the reign of Kgoši Sekg­wari Mat­lala (Mokoko) at Ga Mat­lala when Rase­naka Cholo and oth­ers were grap­pling with the chal­lenge of sav­ing their live­stock through the mer­ak­eng sys­tem.

Rase­naka and his fel­lows would send their live­stock to camp and graze as far as the banks of the Mo­galak­wena River in the vicin­ity of Mmakala. That area was the ju­ris­dic­tion of Kgoši Mat­lala, that was why his sub­jects were al­lowed to camp and es­tab­lish graz­ing posts there.

As time went on, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that mer­ak­eng were grad­u­ally be­com­ing per­ma­nent homes, rather than tem­po­rary graz­ing posts.

Peo­ple grad­u­ally moved their earthly pos­ses­sions one by one to the cat­tle posts, un­til most of them re­alised that they had noth­ing left be­hind to go back to.

They be­came in­creas­ingly con­vinced that mer­ak­eng rep­re­sented their new homes as that was where their main sources of sur­vival – live­stock – was be­ing saved from ex­tinc­tion. The fact that land was still freely avail­able and open, made set­tle­ment at mer­ak­eng fairly easy.

Rase­naka Cholo and his brother, Tlou (who shared the same fam­ily name with T.T.), re­lo­cated to mer­ak­eng per­ma­nently in the early 1930’s. They set­tled in the Mmakala area with their fam­i­lies, as well as the fam­i­lies of Selolo and Mushi. Their new place came to be known as Mat­lo­jwane. Although the area where they had set­tled had abun­dant graz­ing, wa­ter was a very scarce re­source. They had to travel as far as the Seep­a­bana River (a trib­u­tary of Mo­galak­wena River) at Mahlwareng to get wa­ter for live­stock and peo­ple.

While boys and young men drove live­stock to Seep­a­bana, girls and women car­ried clay pots on their heads to fetch wa­ter for house­hold needs.

Later the res­i­dents of Mat­lo­jwane dug a pit full of wa­ter which they aptly re­ferred to as pet­seng. In ad­di­tion to live­stock, peo­ple at Mat­lo­jwane cut plots where they cul­ti­vated their dif­fer­ent crops.

In the 1940s the clans of Phooko, Boshomane, Mat­setela, Kgomo and Chokwe joined the ear­lier fam­i­lies of Cholo, Selolo and Mushi.

Those later fam­i­lies had been ex­posed to western form of ed­u­ca­tion and Chris­tian­ity. Those later groups – the Phooko and Boshomane fam­i­lies in par­tic­u­lar - brought the idea of build­ing a school in Mat­lo­jwane. The idea of a school was based on the teach­ings of the Lutheran mis­sion­ar­ies which the Phooko and Boshomane were ex­posed to be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Mat­lo­jwane.

The school which they es­tab­lished was named Mul­hem School, a German name, some­thing that demon­strated the im­pact of the teach­ings of Ber­lin Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety on Africans dur­ing those days.

The school, with its Chris­tian bias, rep­re­sented the emer­gence and spread of a new kind of re­li­gion among the Mat­lo­jwane res­i­dents who had by then fol­lowed their African ways of life, in­clud­ing their own African re­li­gious be­liefs.

The ad­vent of Chris­tian­ity in Mat­lo­jwane – as in other ar­eas – di­vided com­mu­ni­ties into Chris­tians and the rest of the com­mu­nity.

Con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity also led to the early Chris­tian fam­i­lies to live far from the other com­mu­nity mem­bers. The Chris­tians sep­a­rately set­tled next to the school which also served as a church on Sun­days and their sep­a­rate set­tle­ment soon came to be known as Se­taseng. The Chris­tians, with their Euro­cen­tric in­doc­tri­na­tion, be­gan to dis­crim­i­nate and look down upon other com­mu­nity mem­bers whom they gave deroga­tory la­bels such as “hea­thens” or “ba­ditšhaba”.

Mul­hem School of­fered for­mal western ed­u­ca­tion up to Stan­dard 3, and later Stan­dard 4 was added. Rase­naka Cholo who had learnt a bit of writ­ing while he was a mi­grant labourer in the Jo­han­nes­burg area, came to re­alise and ap­pre­ci­ate the value of ed­u­ca­tion. He was also greatly in­flu­enced by Cle­ments Kadalie – charis­matic In­dus­trial Com­mer­cial Union (ICU) leader at that time.

As a re­sult, he sent his young son, T.T., to the school at the age of about 12. It was dur­ing that pe­riod when girls were not sent to school. It was be­lieved that girls would soon get mar­ried and send­ing them to school was point­less.

T.T. started with Sub­stan­dard

A in about 1936. He then did Sub­stan­dards A, B, Stan­dards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 be­tween 1936 and 1944. He only re­peated stan­dard 4 which he did in 1941 and 1942.

Be­cause Mul­hen School was having Std 4 as its last class, T.T. had to move to Carl­sruhe School to fur­ther his ed­u­ca­tion.

That was in 1943 when he en­rolled for his Stan­dard 5 at Carl­sruhe School in the Khala vil­lage.

Khala was quite a long dis­tance from Mat­lo­jwane and the young T.T. was walk­ing about 30 kilo­me­ters ev­ery day to and from school. He was wak­ing up very early and he was leav­ing home long be­fore sun­rise.

T.T. was the only learner from Mat­lo­jwane to travel to Khala and as a re­sult, he walked alone to school. How­ever, he was later joined by Sa­muel Komape and the two boys walked to­gether to and from school.

Although Rase­naka was a union­ist who had seen the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion, and also en­sured that his son should re­ceive good ed­u­ca­tion, how­ever, he did not want his son to be a teacher – he just wanted him to be ed­u­cated.

Rase­naka some­how did not have high re­gard for teach­ers, whom he main­tained, feared the whites. With his trade union back­ground, he did not fear the whites him­self. He con­sid­ered him­self braver that the teach­ers who had never been ex­posed to the rough con­di­tions of work­ing class strug­gles.

After com­plet­ing Stan­dard 6 in 1944, T.T. de­cided no longer to con­tinue school. At the back of his mind he in­tended to start work­ing.

His fa­ther wanted him to con­tinue with ed­u­ca­tion, and was dis­ap­pointed when T.T. de­cided to quit school­ing. T.T. was sup­ported by his mother in his de­ci­sion of go­ing to look for em­ploy­ment.

T.T.’s de­ci­sion to opt for em­ploy­ment was mainly in­flu­enced by his peers who had started work­ing ear­lier than him while he was still at school.

Some of them worked on the Boer farm­ers and when they re­turned home, to him they looked very nice in nice trousers, shirts and mas­an­tase (takkies).

When see­ing his peers look­ing fancy like that, T.T. also wanted to work as well. T.T. was also a big boy among the vil­lage boys and he felt that he was old enough to go and work like his peers. He then made up his mind and geared him­self for the job of look­ing for a job.

At the be­gin­ning of 1945 T.T. ar­ranged with his friend, Shadrack Phooko who was work­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg, to go with him to the cities with bright lights.

After de­part­ing from home T.T. and Shadrack stopped in Pre­to­ria at an­other peer, Mar­cus Phooko, who was work­ing in a dairy.

The pur­pose of the Pre­to­ria stop was to ask Mar­cus to help T.T. in look­ing for a job.

T.T. was then dropped at Prim­rose Hill in Ger­mis­ton with God­frey Boshomane who was a do­mes­tic worker.

T.T. was sup­posed not to be seen by the white em­ploy­ers of God­frey as that would have se­ri­ously of­fended those em­ploy­ers. There­fore, T.T. had to come in at spec­i­fied times to avoid the own­ers of the premises, and had to wake up early in the morn­ing be­fore the own­ers no­ticed any­thing about the pres­ence of a fugi­tive in their home.

T.T. played that hid­ing game at God­frey Boshomane’s work­ing place for about six months. He was look­ing for a de­cent job in the mean­time – a cler­i­cal post – be­cause he be­lieved he was well-ed­u­cated (Std 6) and could speak English. That was pre­cisely why he took such a long pe­riod with­out em­ploy­ment as he was se­lec­tive.

Later T.T. got sev­eral me­nial jobs around Jo­han­nes­burg. To­wards the end of 1940s and early 1950s, T.T. in­creas­ingly be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially after join­ing the South African Coun­cil of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the African Na­tional Congress (ANC).

The in­creas­ing mil­i­tant and rad­i­cal na­ture of re­sis­tance move­ment against apartheid height­ened the stakes which led to sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments such as De­fi­ance Cam­paign; Sharpeville mas­sacres; ban­ning of lib­er­a­tion move­ments; ar­rests; tri­als; and so on.

It was un­der such sub­se­quent cir­cum­stances that T.T. Cholo, like many oth­ers, left the coun­try in 1961, heed­ing the call to fight for the fa­ther­land. T.T. would join the ANC’s mil­i­tary wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), go­ing on to be trained mil­i­tar­ily in the Soviet Union and China.

Dr. Tlou Se­tumu is Au­thor and Re­searcher of History, Her­itage and Cul­ture. His books in­clude: Biogra­phies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mo­japelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Foot­steps of Our An­ces­tors; etc. Books are avail­able on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polok­wane Aca­demic Book­shop (op­po­site CNA Check­ers Cen­tre); and Bud­get Book­shop (c/o Ris­sik and Lan­dros Mare Streets).

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