‘I couldn’t allow that’

2017-08-09 14:01
Maureen Zulu (73) from Caluza, speaking about her struggle against the apartheid regime, her near-death experiences and her thoughts on how far women have come in terms of equality.

Maureen Zulu (73) from Caluza, speaking about her struggle against the apartheid regime, her near-death experiences and her thoughts on how far women have come in terms of equality. (Ian Carbutt)

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As the country celebrates National Women’s Day, local unsung heroine, Maureen Zulu (73) recounted her memories of the liberation struggle.

Zulu, who is now an ANC veteran, was born and raised in Caluza. She recalled how everything her family owned had been taken away.

Born into a family of landlords, Zuma recounted the pain of having been stripped off everything by the apartheid government in the seventies.

“We were reduced from landlords to tenants on our own forefather’s land.”

The traumatic childhood experience Zulu said, motivated her to be highly critical of the apartheid government.

“We had to pay the government to stay on our own land. I was still a teenager, but I knew what was happening and that angered me,” she said.

Zulu said after her father died in the 70s, she was forced to assume the role of the head of the family.

She led the fight to regain the family’s lost land and later turned into a champion fighting for the rights of the entire community. “After my father passed on, the government threatened to move everyone from the area.

“I could not allow that to happen. I gathered all the young and old women in the area and led them to the local Induna. I told him that the government had no right to force us to move from our homes and that we were not going anywhere.

“To this day, no one has ever bothered us again,” said Zulu, with pride written all over her face.

After standing up to the apartheid government and staying put on the family land, Zulu was convinced the struggle was over.

However, the mother of two found herself facing a new struggle for survival following the outbreak of the city’s so- called seven-day war in the early 90s.

The Seven-Day War was a week of intense political conflict in Pietermaritzburg between UDF and Inkatha supporters. This war resulted in the deaths of approximately 80 people and the displacement of over 20 000 people from their homes.

Zulu, who resided in an ANC-dominated area, said she found herself again assuming the role of a community leader as she helped her neighbours whenever they were under attack by warning them about approaching attackers and helping them to flee.

“We lived in constant fear. We had to flee our homes almost every night and sleep at other comrades’ homes,” she said.

Zulu said she escaped death when armed men invaded her home.

“I froze for a moment and watched as they approached from a distance.

“They were carrying shields and spears and they were singing and dancing,” recalled Zulu.

Zulu said she ran into the house and told all her relatives to run away.

“My husband was sick and couldn’t run away, I could not leave him behind. I made up my mind that I would remain and die with him,” she said.

She closed the door and sat on the floor next to the door.

“They started by stoning my windows and then used a crow bar to force the door open.

“I saw a spear pierce the door and knew this was where my journey would end. They came in and as they were about to attack, one of the men saw my face and told his accomplices to stop as he knew me and my family. They almost killed me,” she said.

Zulu said her family home was torched and they fled the area. “From a distance we could see the smoke as they torched many of our homes. Many of us lost everything and had to rebuild our homes and lives,” she said.

Zulu said the women who marched for the rights of all South African women in 1956 had instilled in her a militant spirit.

“Had it not been for those women I would have never been able to stand up against the apartheid government and fight for our rights.

“The women of 1956 showed me and other struggle heroines that women also had a voice and that we too could fight and make an impact,” said Zulu.

Zulu said women had more rights in a democratic South Africa.

“Before democracy we were not allowed to own anything, we could not have property or be independent, we were forced to rely on a man.

“South Africa has come a long way and my heart breaks because these young women do not realise the things we had to go through to ensure that they have these privileges that they take for granted,” said Zulu.

Zulu encouraged young women to “get their priorities right and pay tribute to the unsung heroines”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  women's day

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