Aunty Hilda was a hero, and should be hon­oured

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

THE name Hilda Paulsen is not as well-known as many as that of many oth­ers who con­trib­uted to the Struggle for democ­racy. But to many peo­ple who lived in Mitchells Plain, and par­tic­u­larly Eastridge, in the 1980s, she was a hero who ded­i­cated her life to im­prov­ing the lives of peo­ple around her.

Mrs Paulsen, the name by which we knew her, lived in Eastridge and was my main con­tact per­son in the area when I was sent to or­gan­ise the com­mu­nity in the early-1980s. Her small house be­came our head­quar­ters where pam­phlets and grass­roots com­mu­nity news­pa­per copies were de­liv­ered be­fore we dis­trib­uted them door to door.

She rep­re­sented the area on com­mit­tees, such as the Cape Ar­eas Hous­ing Ac­tion Com­mit­tee and the struc­tures of the United Demo­cratic Front.

She was one of the many work­ing-class peo­ple who spent time and en­ergy helping us over­come apartheid by en­gag­ing in com­mu­nity cam­paigns for lower rent and elec­tric­ity pay­ments and for a hospi­tal in Mitchells Plain, and sup­port­ing worker and stu­dent strug­gles.

Her daugh­ter, Mar­lene, was equally in­volved while her son, who later con­verted to Is­lam and be­came known as Moga­mad Nazier, was at high school and an in­ter­ested ob­server of what we were do­ing. I would like to be­lieve he drew some in­spi­ra­tion from the ac­tiv­i­ties of his mother and sis­ter and from this grew his later in­volve­ment in com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions and re­cently the EFF, which he now rep­re­sents in Par­lia­ment.

I moved out of Mitchells Plain in the early 1990s – to Dur­ban and Joburg – and lost touch with many of the peo­ple. Mrs Paulsen had also moved – to Craw­ford.

I can’t re­call the last time I saw Mrs Paulsen, but I bumped into Mar­lene a few times, most re­cently at the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val, when she asked me when I was go­ing to visit her mother.

She told me her mother had be­come blind but would def­i­nitely recog­nise my voice. I promised I would visit soon, but kept on de­lay­ing this, mainly be­cause of my work and travel schedule.

On Wed­nes­day, I heard that Mrs Paulsen had passed away. She was 82. I had not kept my prom­ise to visit her and I could not go and see the fam­ily im­me­di­ately be­cause I was in Gaut­eng for the week.

On Monday, I re­ceived a call from an­other woman who lives in Eastridge. She told me about how the crèche in Lead­wood Road, where we’d of­ten held com­mu­nity meet­ings, had fallen into dis­re­pair.

She asked me to see whether there was any­one in my cor­po­rate network who would be pre­pared to as­sist with funding be­cause oth­er­wise the crèche would have to close. She pointed out she does not get paid to work at the crèche.

I thought about Mrs Paulsen then and, if I had been in Cape Town, I would prob­a­bly have gone to visit her im­me­di­ately. But I also thought about the or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures we had set up in the 1980s and the peo­ple who’d been in­volved.

Many of these peo­ple are now de­spon­dent that the fu­ture we’d thought we were build­ing has not been re­alised.

Some, like Wil­lie Sim­mers, con­tinue to make a dif­fer­ence in Mitchells Plain through the Mitchells Plain Ad­vice Of­fice, which has also been strug­gling to make ends meet for many years. Wil­lie is now in his late 70s and, as far as I know, still vol­un­teers his ser­vices to the ad­vice of­fice.

From time to time, we bump into for­mer ac­tivists at funerals or me­mo­rial ser­vices. Many of them are no longer in the ANC, which would have been their nat­u­ral home af­ter their time in the UDF in the 1980s.

The en­ergy lev­els might no longer be there, but their com­mit­ment re­mains to make our coun­try dif­fer­ent to the one in which we grew up.

Most of them, like Mrs Paulsen, have not been ac­knowl­edged for their con­tri­bu­tion and have never asked for any ac­knowl­edge­ment. The only thing many would have wanted was for our coun­try to be close to what we thought it was be­com­ing: a non-racial, non-sex­ist democ­racy in which ev­ery­one would have equal ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, health, jus­tice and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, among oth­ers.

They would have wanted to play with their grand­chil­dren know­ing that South Africa now of­fered much greater op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately, while our coun­try to­day is very dif­fer­ent to what we ex­pe­ri­enced un­der apartheid, there still re­mains much work to be done to get us even close to what we thought we were fight­ing for.

Yes, it is up to the young peo­ple to take the Struggle for­ward, but we can­not af­ford to let peo­ple like Hilda Paulsen pass on with­out tap­ping into their wis­dom.

I re­gret not hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to see Aunty Hilda in her fi­nal years, but I know that she will for­give me. Af­ter all, for­give­ness is one of the key lessons we learnt in the Struggle in or­der for us to move for­ward. But I would have loved to ask her what she thought about the sit­u­a­tion in our coun­try and what needed to be done.

Rest in peace, dear com­rade. Your jour­ney has not been in vain.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.