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A green valley in a black spot

Sebe’s Bad Dream

The people of Mgwali tell a story about Lennox Sebe – the president of the Ciskei. They say he had a dream last year. It was a bad dream.

In the dream, Sebe saw a young man and an old man. The young man sent the old man to jail. And then the young man had a lot of bad luck. He had bad luck because he did not respect his elders.

The next morning, Sebe felt bad. He could not forget the dream. And then he remembered a little place called Mgwali. His policemen had gone there and arrested nine people. One of these people was a man called Herman Gija. He was 95 years old.

And so Sebe called his policemen. He told them to go to the prison and to take the old man home.

When the policemen got to the jail, they told Herman Gija that he was free. But the old man did not get up. He did not pack his things. He said that he was not going anywhere without one of his friends who was with him in jail. His friend, whose name is Mr Dyani, is blind.

The old man and the blind man helped each other in jail. The blind man helped the old man to stand up and walk. And the old men helped the blind man to see. Together they were strong.

The police were not interested. They did not want to let the blind man out of jail. For two days they begged the old man to go home. And for two days the old man refused.

Then the police gave in. They took the two friends back home to Mgwali.


Learn and Teach went to the eastern Cape to speak to the people of Mgwali. We wanted to find out why some of the people of Mgwali were sent to jail. And we wanted to know why Sebe has such bad dreams at night.

We took the road from King William’s Town to Queenstown. Just after Stutterheim we turned off the main road. We drove along a sand road for about 20 kilometres. And then we found ourselves in a beautiful, green valley.

The six villages of Mgwali lie in this valley. Each village has plenty of land for their cattle and mealies. The people have lived here happily for a long time. Some of them, like Herman Gija, have grown old in the peaceful, fresh air of Mgwali.


Herman Gija was born in Mgwali on the 30th June 1888. He is now 96 years old, but he still works in the fields and reads newspapers everyday. He does not even need reading glasses.

When he was 25 years old, Herman Gija left Mgwali and went to work in Benoni near

Johannesburg. He worked for the Benoni municipality. He worked hard and saved money because he wanted to go home. His heart was still very much in Mgwali.

“I still remember my days in Johannesburg,” says Mr Gija. “It is not so good there. There is much trouble. Mgwali is a much better place. If the people work hard, they can make money for themselves. So I decided to go back to Mgwali to work in the fields. I came back here in 1932. “

But for Herman Gija, Johannesburg was not all bad. He had some good luck there. He met a beautiful young woman in Johannesburg. Her name was Maria. And when Herman was 36 years old, they got married. They spent 40 wonderful years together.

“God gave us 10 chiIdren, but he took away five again,” says Herman. “I have so many grandchildren and great grandchiIdren, I don’t even know how many.”

Herman Gija has lived in Mgwali for over 50 years since he came back from Benoni. He worked with the people in the fields. They worked hard and everybody had enough to eat.

Some of the young men still went to work in the big cities. But like Herman Gija, they too did not forget their homes. When they came home, the whole community came to welcome them back. And there would be a big feast.

Then one day in 1982 the people of Mgwali got a visitor. The visitor’s name was Lennox Sebe. The people of Mgwali like getting visitors. But they were not happy to see Sebe. He did not come with gifts and kind greetings like most other visitors.

Sebe came to tell the people that they must leave Mgwali. He told them to leave the green valley that they all loved so much.


Sebe told the people that they had to move to a place called Frankfort in the Ciskei. Frankfort is more than 50 kilometres from Mgwali.

Frankfort is a hot and dusty place. The land is not green like in Mgwali. The land is yellow and dry. And there is not much water for the mealies to grow big there.

The 10 thousand people of .Mgwali said they were happy in their villages. They said that they did not want to move. But the governments of South Africa and Ciskei did not hear them. They said that Mgwali was a “black spot” in a white corridor. They said that the land belonged to South Africa.

They said that the people had to move – and that was that. But the people of Mgwali decided that they would not go anywhere. They would stay right where they were. They decided to fight back.

The people of Mgwali knew that they had to stand together. They came together in a Residents Association. A man by the name of Wilson Fanti is the chairperson of the Association. He knows what it means to fight back. He has spent 10 years on Robben Island.

And so the people of Mgwali began to fight back. But before they started, the old people in the community had a story to tell. They told the young people how they got their land in the first place.


“More than a hundred years ago, a young man from this area went to Scotland,” says Herman Gija. “He wanted to become a priest, so he went to abafundisi’s school in Scotland. The young man’s name was Tiyo Soga.

“When he became a minister, he decided to come back to Mgwali to look for a wife. He told his friends in Scotland about his plans. One of his friends was a woman by the name of Janet Burnside. She said that he should maybe first look for a sweetheart in Scotland.

“Janet then had an idea. She said that she would have a party for the young umfundisi. Maybe he could find a nice wife at the party.

“The minister ,found only one nice woman at the party. And he did marry her. The woman’s name was Janet. Yes, Janet Burnside.

“The young umfundisi stayed In Scotland with his new wife. Then one night he had a dream. In his dream somebody told him to go back to Mgwali to teach the word of God there.

“But Janet’s father was worried about his daughter. He worried about her leaving Scotland and going to a far away land. He wanted to be sure that his daughter would be safe. So he went to the church of Scotland and asked them to give his daughter and her husband some land in Mgwali.

“A chief called Sandile gave some land to the church. He gave the land of Mgwali to the reverend Soga. The umfundisi built a church on part of the land. He then gave the rest of the land to the people of Mgwali. This all happened in 1863. The people have lived in Mgwali ever since.”

When the people of Mgwali heard the story about the history of their land, they made up their minds once and for all. They would not move.


The women came together and started a women’s association. And the young people came together and started a youth association. They started these associations to help the Residents Association in their struggle.

The women and the young people also help each other in other ways. The women make baskets and clothes together. They sell what they make and share the money.

Many young people work in the cities – and they often have different problems from the rest of the people. They try to help each other in the youth association.

But the people of Mgwali don’t only care about themselves. They work with other organisations who are fighting the same kind of problems. They work with the people of Glenmore. The government wants to move the people of Glenmore to a place called Peddie.

They also work with other organisations. The people of Mgwali believe that their struggle is part of the bigger struggle in South Africa.

The people of Mgwali had many problems in their struggle to keep their land. For example, the South African Government said they could not have meetings. Now the people in Mgwali can only meet each other when they go to church to pray.

But the people of Mgwali never gave up. They wrote letters to people overseas. They wanted the world to know about a little place called Mgwali. They wanted the world to know about their problems and their struggle.

And then last year, the Ciskei government knew that the people would never move. They decided to arrest the leaders of the Mgwali Residents Association. And so they arrested the leaders ­ like Herman Gija and his blind friend, Mr Dyani.


In February this year, the South African government said they would no longer force people to move ­ until they first speak to the true leaders. Sebe’s men came to Mgwali soon after. They also said that they will not force the people to move. But the people of Mgwali still do not know for certain what will happen to them. Maybe they will still be forced to move. Or maybe they won’t.

The people still have other problems. The South African government has said that the Ciskei is now in charge of Mgwali. That means that Ciskei must give education to the children of Mgwali.

And the Ciskei will now pay pensions to the old people. And, as the people of Mgwali will tell you, nobody gets a pension in the Ciskei unless they belong to Sebe’s party ­ the Ciskei National Independence Party.

And so for the people of Mgwali, the struggle still carries on. They are taking their case to the Supreme Court in Grahamstown. The court must decide if the people of Mgwali are South Africans.

“We are now fighting for our rights as South African citizens. We want the Ciskei to leave us alone,” says Wilson Fanti.

Maybe the Ciskei should listen to the people of Mgwali. Like the old man and the blind man, the people of Mgwali will not give up easily. They will fight together for the right to live peacefully in their beautiful, green valley. And untiil they have that right, Lennox Sebe and his friends will not have very nice dreams at night.


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