Last year people from all over South Africa went to Cradock, a small town, far away in the Little Karoo. They went to the funeral of UDF leader, Mathew Goniwe and his three comrades.
There was an old woman at the funeral. She wore a long black dress with Goniwe’s picture pinned to her back. Her ankles were swollen so it was hard for her to walk. This woman is Mrs Nonyanga Sibanda.
Everyone in Cradock knows Mrs Sibanda. People call her “The General” because Mrs Sibanda is a brave fighter. Mrs Sibanda has fought against the government for most of her life.
We spoke to Mrs Sibanda. Mrs Sibanda told us the story of her life – and the story of Cradock. The two stories are nearly the same story.
CRADOCK – HOME OF CALATA
“Cradock has never been quiet,” says Mrs Sibanda’. ’You know Canon Calata, the first general secretary of the ANC, came from Cradock. So everyone in Cradock knew the ANC right from the beginning.’ I was a member of the ANC Women’s League. I remember our first big fight well. It was at the time of the Defiance Campaign when people all over South Africa broke the apartheid laws.”
KNIVES AND PASSES
“In Cradock we decided to burn our passes. So, one day we went from house to house, collecting everyone’s passes. But we also collected knives because the men often stabbed each other at the beerhalls. We wanted to stop this too.
The next day the police came – on horseback. They carried big sticks. They arrested more than fifty men and women. I was one of them. But it wasn’t only people in Cradock who were arrested. People were arrested everywhere and the jails were full.
“We went to a jail on the Fish River. They kept me there for eighteen months. The police said I was one of the troublemakers. In the end I went to court. They sentenced me to eight more months in jail.”
MRS SIBANDA’S FAMILY
That was the begining for Mrs Sibanda. Her children went to their grandmother while their mother was in jail. But there was a big shock waiting for Mrs Sibanda.
When she came out of jail, her husband was gone. The government chased her husband out of South Africa. They said he must go back to Zimbabwe.
Mrs Sibanda looks very sad when she talks about her husband.”l didn’t know what to do – follow my husband or stay. In the end I decided to stay. I thought I must fight for a better South Africa. Then one day my husband will come home.”
‘WE STAND BY OUR LEADERS’
Soon after Mrs Sibanda came out of jail, Canon Calata was arrested. They charged him with treason. “The people of Cradock were very angry.” said Mrs Sibanda. “They were angry that their leader was arrested. The women came together. We put on our uniforms of black, green and gold. Then we marched to the police station.
“We all carried posters. The posters said, “We stand by our leaders”. “We stood outside the police station. No-one said a word. And the police left us alone.”
In 1959 many women in South Africa called for a beerhall boycott. The women of Cradock joined in.
“We hated the beerhalls.” said Mrs Sibanda. ”Our children were dying because of the beerhalls. On payday some men never went home. They went to the beerhalls. Then they drank until they had no money left. Their families had no money for the week.
“Women were tired of this. So we just marched into the beerhall. We grabbed the beer that the men were drinking. And we threw it out. The men were very angry with us. Then the police arrived. They arrested all of us. We spent the next six months in jail.
When the ANC was banned in 1960, Mrs Sibandawas arrested again. Mrs Sibanda was charged with treason, together with four other women from Craddock. The judge said they were guilty. So Mrs Sibanda spent the next three years in jail. When she came out, she was banned for five years. “People in Cradock carried on fighting,” Mrs Sibanda goes on, “but they did not organise well. When the leaders were arrested, that was it. Noone did anything. They waited for the leaders to come out of jail.
PEOPLE COME TOGETHER
“But in 1983 things started to change. The UDF came to Cradock – mainly because of Mathew Goniwe. People started to organise. The youth started Cradoya – the Cradock Youth Association. The people in Lingelihle started Cradora – the Cradock Residents Association and the women started Crawo – the Cradock Women’s Organisation.
Mrs Sibanda is the deputy president of Cradora, the residents’ association. They have started committees on every street. Even the police say that Lingelihle is well organised. They say all 24 000 people in Lingelihle would hear a message in half an hour – even when meetings were banned.
CRADOCK PAYS A HIGH PRICE
But the people of Cradock have paid heavily. Last year they lost three of their best comrades, Mathew Goniwe, Fort Calata, the grandson of Canon Calata, and Sparro Mkhonto. They disappeared, together with Sicelo Mhlauli, on the road from Port Elizabeth. Later their burnt bodies were found in the bushes.
Mrs Sibanda has also paid. She spent six months in jail during the emergency. And she was sick the whole time. Mrs Sibanda suffers from high blood pressure.
Mrs Sibanda’s face also shows the years of fighting and hard times. But her face still lights up with hope. “I am old, Mrs Sibanda says,” but I can still go on with the struggle. One day everything is going to be alright.”
With thanks to the Weekly Mail.