Flowers of the revolution

2011-08-08 08:01

This is the one month that all the women of the liberation military wing of the African National Congress – Umkhonto weSizwe – would look forward to every year.

August 9 was the day to celebrate our being, to recognise our selflessness, to emulate the bravery of South African female revolutionaries, the Sandinista women combatants, the Zipra women in the liberation trenches of the Zimbabwean people, the Fapla female combatants of the Angolan liberation war, Rosa Luxemburg of the German Socialist Movement, Nadezhda Krupskaya – Vladimir Lenin’s wife, a revolutionary in her own right – and many others of the world that were luminaries in the struggle for the emancipation of the struggling masses of the world and women.

During this time, chances of a visit to the camp by the president of the ANC comrade Oliver Tambo were great. Even greater were the visits by the MK high command, commander, chief of staff, national commissar or the head of the ANC women’s section.

This was the day when we were sure of a wholesome meal with lots of meat and two bottles of the local Angolan beer, Cuca or Nocal.

Those of us who were teetotallers bartered with our booze for that prized ration of baked bread, some meat, the shining of your boots and your belt – whatever you could barter for.

This was the day that the male soldiers of our revolution treated us to some cultural activity.

No guard duty for the flowers of the revolution, it was a day of sheer bliss under the scorching heat amid the forest and the dense vegetation of the Angolan landscape.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Umkhonto weSizwe, I would like to observe this month on the factory floor, in the classroom, in our lounges and boardrooms, sharing the beautiful stories of those who have been edited out of history, the unsung heroines of our liberation.

These are the women who are footnotes of footnotes, as Sandra Cisneros puts it in her quest to unearth Latino heroines.

This is the story of Caroline who was the first female casualty on the eastern front in Angola, in the province of Malanje.

This is the story of the three flowers of our revolution who were ambushed and killed in the Piet Retief massacre (Makhosi Nyoka, Lindiwe Mthembu and Nontsikelelo Cotoza).

The story of Zandi (Phila Ndwandwe) and Priscilla (Sheila Nyanda) who were kidnapped by the enemy in Swaziland; with Zandi subsequently assassinated at Vlakplaas.

The story of Minah (Dipuo Mvelase) and Refiloe (Susana Tshabalala), arrested in Operation Vula.

The story of Florence (Pumla Williams) and Lillan (Eva Gabashane) who were captured while on assignment inside the country; the story of Dr Nomava Shangase who died in an accident in Angola; and Mary (Nomkhosi Mini) who was killed in the Maseru massacre.

This story captures the life of Thandi Modise, Marion Sparg, Helen Pastoors, Mpumi Mpofu and a few others I have not mentioned.

JJ died in her teens, Caroline had barely graduated from her teens, and Dr Shangase would have been a treasure to the health sector in a liberated South Africa.

Sadly, I never got to know the real names of both JJ and Caroline. Zandi left her few-months-old baby boy in a car with someone when she was kidnapped and killed. Priscilla lived to tell the story of this horrific ordeal. Minah and Refiloe were principled revolutionaries who would fight for the liberation of their people if they had to do it all again.

Tholi (Makhosi Nyoka), who died in the Piet Retief massacre, would still do reconnaissance even if she were sick, just to ensure other units had a safe passage into South Africa from Swaziland.

Pumla would not have refused a command to infiltrate the country for mass political work.

Lillian had all her nails torn from her fingers and toes and the story is not about whether she broke at the hands of the enemy or not; she experienced barbarism second to none.

Our MK, our ANC, our fellow fighters were proud of us. We were few but mighty.

Barely adults and in the spring of our adolescence, these were but some of the many girls from Soweto, Tumahole, Mdantsane, Sobantu village, Gugulethu, Potchefstroom and other townships who would not and did not spare limb or life for the liberation of our people.

These were the teenagers of yesteryear who responded proudly when the leadership asked, “who do you serve, comrades”, and in their shrill military voices answered, “we serve the people of South Africa”.

This is the military generation of our armed struggle that carried 25kg base plates on their backs for kilometres on end in a tactics or artillery class.

This is the breed of women who sang “Dubula ibhunu” and other liberation songs with commitment and aplomb – as if their world depended on it.

These are the women who traversed the gorges and swamps and springs in the bush of Angola, learning the art of war with bazookas, PKMs, AK 47s, maps and compasses to hone their skills for use in their fight against a brutal system of criminality perpetuated against black people.

These are the women who read Marxism, Leninism, the history of other liberation movements, the Volokolomsk Highway and other politically motivating pieces of literature.

“Flowers of the revolution” was a term coined by one of the best leaders this world has ever produced. This was a term of endearment given to the women of MK by the commander-in- chief of MK – comrade president Oliver Reginald Tambo.

As we celebrate Women’s Day towards the 50th anniversary of the formation of MK, let us bow our heads for the young girls of the 60s, 70s and 80s who sacrificed their childhood and youth for the liberation of all South Africans.

Let us recognise these heroes and heroines whose names are not etched on any monument or heritage infrastructure.

These are women whose names do not appear in any history book, who nobody sings about or shouts slogans about or even mentions in salutation.

This month, as we unburden these sacred and gallant memories, let us do so with humility and grandeur.

This is to all flowers of the revolution – tell your beautiful story to your children. You at least owe it to them.

Long live the memory of our fallen heroines!

» Dlodlo is the deputy public service minister and general secretary of the MK Military Veterans Association

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