Women of the liberation, tell us your brave stories
Two books by characters on either side of the apartheid line recount their versions of history in ways that dismiss and uplift the place of fighters – in particular women – in the struggle for liberation.
Former apartheid-era National Intelligence Service boss Niël Barnard’s book, Secret Revolution: Memoirs Of A Spy Boss, is fascinating. This is chiefly because it shows how traitors in the struggle for liberation reinscribed history with their own truth, emboldening them to pour scorn on our courageous struggles.
Barnard celebrates the late Nelson Mandela’s “admission” that the “ANC did not have the military might to overthrow the South African government” and that Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) was at the time not “doing so well” militarily. Barnard declares that a “myth that the ANC tried to keep intact is that, thanks to the actions of its military wing ... it defeated the South African government militarily”. Dismissive as ever, Barnard states that this is “pure nonsense”.
“Planting bombs in a Wimpy or land mines on a deserted farm road, or opening fire, as [Azanian People’s Liberation Army] members did, with AK-47s on a church congregation and then running away, cannot be seen as military conquests.”
This is big talk coming from a civil servant whose government killed the sleeping twins of the Pan Africanist Congress’ Sigqibo Mpendulo, whose police force shot at a pregnant woman in Sharpeville in 1960, and whose regime gunned down 13-year-old Hector Pieterson in 1976.
But the cadres of the liberation movement are beginning to tell their side of the story – and setting the record straight. This is crucial to upholding the legacy of our brave fighters.
Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener’s My Second Initiation: The Memoir Of Vusi Pikoli does just this. It includes the captivating story of Sizwe Kondile’s mother, Charity. Here is a woman – whose son gave up his life for the liberation struggle – hearing how the remains of her son were burnt for nine hours by the Security Branch. Kondile’s death was a victory for his mother because he died with his integrity intact. The security police, with the aid of their spies in the ANC, spread the rumour that Kondile had turned spy. But the truth finally came out, and Kondile’s mother had the last say before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The Kondile family would be the last people to turn traitors, because even the state president himself, President Nelson Mandela, and the late Mr Oliver Tambo were once sheltered under her roof in Port Elizabeth.”
Then there is the case of another shero (not heroine) MK cadre, Nokuthula Simelane, who was abducted by apartheid agents. For five weeks, on a daily basis, it is said that she was brutally tortured, until she valiantly embraced death. Just as in the case of Kondile, the abductors also claimed that she sold out to become their spy. But Simelane’s spirit apparently haunted one of those present, which compelled him to confess that, until her last breath, she had continued to hold high the flag of the liberation struggle.
Another MK cadre, Phila Ndwandwe, met the same fate when she was shot dead by apartheid agents – in a kneeling position after she was kept naked for 10 days by her torturers. Even in a state of pain and humiliation, she remained resolute. So when we hear the likes of Barnard speaking carelessly about the cadres of the liberation movement, we cannot stand by when they feign bravery.
African mothers gave birth to daughters and sons who – armed to the minimum – confronted the military might of apartheid, which was armed to the maximum. We salute them. Sesanti is associate professor at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan
University’s department of journalism, media and philosophy