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Mme Kuzwayo – mother of Soweto

If you live in Orlando West, Soweto, you are very lucky. There is always somewhere to go if you have a problem. And that is to the’House of Light’ – or Mme Kuzwayo’s home.

Mme Kuzwayo has many names. Some people call her the Mother of Soweto. Other people call her Ma K. But her names show that people in Soweto love her. They think of her as a helper and a friend.


Mme Kuzwayo is a social worker. She helps people to solve their problems. It doesn’t matter what your problem is. If you are having marriage problems, or money problems, Mme Kuzwayo will try to find a way to help.

Today Mme Kuzwayo is famous for the work that she did when she was a nobody with a big heart. The University of the Witwatersrand have honoured her. They gave her a doctor’s degree.

Mme Kuzwayo has also written a book ‘Call me a Woman’. It is the story of her life. But it is also the story of black women in South Africa.


The story of Mme Kuzwayo’s life starts 73 years ago. Mme Kuzwayo was born in Thaba Patchoa, near Thaba Nchu in the Orange Free State.

“I lived with my mother and my grandparents,” Mme Kuzwayo said. “My parents got divorced when I was very young. I started school in Thaba Nchu. Then my mother sent me to boarding school in Natal. When I finished my matric, I went to study teaching at Adams College.”


“When I finished studying, I did not know what to do. My mother had died. So I went to Johannesburg, to be with my father. I looked for a job there. But when I went to visit my aunt in Heilbron, I decided to stay there and teach. My first two children, Matswene and Bakone, were born there.

“In 1946 my husband and I got divorced. I went back to Johannesburg. But my husband said that my children must stay with my mother-in-law in Heilbron. I missed my children very much.


“I found a teaching job in Johannesburg. While I was teaching, one of my fellow teachers told me about a new organisation – the ANC Youth League. I went to their meetings and by the end of the year, I was the secretary of the Youth League.”

Mme Kuzwayo also acted in her free time. She acted in a film called ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’. Mme Kuzwayo was not a teacher in the film -she was the Skokiaan Queen!


In 1953 Bantu Education was started in the schools. “People were very unhappy about Bantu Education,” said Mme Kuzwayo. “Many children boycotted classes. Parents started “cultural clubs’ to teach the children.

“I left teaching because I did not like Bantu Education. I went to study social work. I saw that people had many problems. And I thought that if I did social work, I could help.”


“After I finished my studies, I worked for the Johannesburg City Council as a social worker. The work was hard. I saw people with so many problems. And sometimes I could not help them.

“When I left the City Council, I went to work for the Young Women’s Christian Association – the YCWA – in Dube. We helped women to start self-help projects. Women did knitting and sewing. Then they sold the things that they made.”


In 1976 when trouble started in the Soweto schools, Mme Kuzwayo was back at university, studying further. “We, parents, were desperate,” said Mme Kuzwayo. “Children were being shot and arrested everyday.

“So I joined the Committee of Ten, together with Dr Nthatho Motlana. We started the Committee of Ten because the people of Soweto had no voice. We only had the Urban Bantu Council who said whatever their bosses told them to say.

“But in 1977 we were all arrested. I spent five months in detention, all on my own, with no-one to talk to. And at the end of those five months, I was freed. The police had no charge against me.”


“People were changed after 1976. I remember one young man that I worked with. He told me how the ‘blackjacks’ raided his family because they could not pay rent. The police forced his parents to stand naked in front of the whole family.

“Before 1976, people accepted that this was life. But in 1976 young people said,”Enough is enough,” – like my young friend. Today children are not children – they are soldiers. And it is Apartheid that has made the children what they are today.”


Today Mme Kuzwayo may be old. But she still is still strong. At the moment she is busy writing a book about the lives of young people in the townships.

Some people are lucky. Their strength, love and care for other people grows with their age. Mme Kuzwayo is of one of these lucky people. No matter how old she is in years, she will always stay young at heart.


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