Home and Away – Ayanda Dlodlo

2012-02-04 12:21

Despite coming from a private school in Swaziland, military camps the ANC set up in Angola were for Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo the most exciting place in the world.

Dlodlo left for Angola shortly after returning to South Africa with her mother from Swaziland, where she had spent her formative years. Her parents moved when she was a toddler to escape the humiliations of apartheid, but when they divorced her mother returned to Johannesburg.

Dlodlo left to join Umkhonto weSizwe in Angola at just 17 in 1980, leaving behind a comfortable life and a fuming father who, as a school principal, wanted his first-born to become an academic like him.

But she dreamt about being like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, her fictional childhood heroes who inspired her to go in search of adventure. The ANC’s military wing proved to be that place.

“I can’t say I come from the poverty that drove other people to the struggle. I wanted to go for the adventure,” she says.

She was sent to Angola via various frontline states.

In Luanda she received a medical check-up and was given contraceptives. Dlodlo went on to become one of three women in a platoon in northern Angola.

She has only good memories of her time in the camps.

“We were treated the same as men, only we didn’t have to cook. The pots were too heavy for us to carry. This is where my strong feelings about gender equality comes from. The only exception was on International Women’s Day, when we would get gifts of panties or chocolates.”

After serving in various camps in Angola and receiving training in Moscow, Dlodlo went to England to study marine and shipping management.

When she came back in 1994, she found her sister dead – killed by the apartheid police – and her mother still suffering the trauma of having being detained and tortured for months. But there was no time for proper mourning.

“We had to deal with a South Africa that hasn’t really changed that much.”

Dlodlo’s first job was with Portnet, where she saw the effects of apartheid and exile in the workplace.

“Exile taught me the skill of survival, but here many of us could not work with money. We were earning salaries for the first time in our lives,” she remembers.

Years later she remains bitter about the opportunities she was robbed of by apartheid.

Point out to her she is in the upper echelons of South African politics, and she doesn’t miss a beat: “If it was not for apartheid, I could have been president.” 

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