The revolutionary life of a lady called Bertha

2010-11-21 08:15

ANC stalwart Bertha Gxowa, who died in a Johannesburg hospital on Friday, will be ­remembered as a fearless champion of the downtrodden.

The 76-year-old MaBertha, as Gxowa was fondly known, reportedly died of ­complications following a knee operation.

She was one of the 156 people who were charged with treason – along with the likes of Chief Albert Luthuli, Ismael Meer and Oliver Tambo – in 1956 for ­allegedly attempting to bring about a ­communist state.

Gxowa once told the story of how she joined the ANC in 1951 when an ANC ­volunteer came to the East Rand township of Katlehong – where MaBertha lived until she died – to set up a branch. That ­volunteer was Nelson Mandela.

She was also one of the organisers of the famous women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956 in protest against ­apartheid laws. One of the leaders of the march and Gxowa’s life-long friend Sophia Williams-de Bruyn described her as a “a dynamic and ­principled person”.

Williams-de Bruyn said Gxowa had been involved in many of the 1950s anti-apartheid ­campaigns including the Freedom Charter ­campaign and the bus boycott.

She said they were together in Cape Town for Women’s Parliament 2007 when Gxowa first fell ill.
She was later diagnosed with kidney problems and had been on ­dialysis ever since.

“MaBertha, myself and other women did those things without resources and got good results because we were sincere. We were dedicated and believed that what we did was for the future of South Africa,” Williams-de Bruyn said.

Gxowa cut her political teeth in the trade union movement in 1952 and since then had served in Parliament and the ANC Women’s League, among others. She was honoured with the national ­Order of Luthuli for her political contributions.

Born Bertha Mashaba in Germiston ­location, she later married the late Cecil Mntukazi Gxowa with whom she had five children.

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