Early one Sunday morning last month, while most of you were still in dreamland, we crawled out of bed and made our way to Mathopestad, in the western Transvaal.
Women from many different places were meeting in Mathopestad. The women were meeting because they are all fighting a struggle that is one and the same. They are fighting this struggle with the help of TRAC — the Transvaal Rural Action Committee.
When we got to Mathopestad, we joined everybody for a meeting in the graveyard. The proud women of Mathopestad wanted to show their visitors the new fence around the graveyard. The fence was the first thing the women built after they won their struggle for Mathopestad to stay in South Africa — and not to become part of Bophuthatswana.
After the fence-opening meeting, the women of Mathopestad gave us a huge, wonderful, tasty lunch. After lunch, we licked our lips, took out our pens and paper, and spoke to some of the women who were gathered in Mathopestad.
Mama Lydia Kompe from TRAC told us: “We brought the women together to build unity. All the women have the same kind of problems. For example, the women from Brits and Huhudi are fighting against forced removal. The people of Matjakeneng, Braklaagte and Bloedfontein are fighting because they don’t want their areas to become part of the ‘homelands.’
“Some of the women who are here have already won their struggle — like the women from Driefontein, Kwa- Ngema and Mathopestad. We wanted these people to tell the others about their struggles and to give them support and hope.”
Ellen Khoza and Johanna Tele from Brits said: “We came to this meeting to talk about our problems as women. Since Friday night we have talked about many things. We talked about removals and self-help projects. We want to make and sell things so that we can use the money to help detainees in our area.
“At this meeting we saw that we are not the only ones who are suffering. We learnt from this meeting that if women are united, then there is nothing to stop us. To the women in Brits, we say: “If we are not united then the government will send us to Letlhabile.”
And another group of women from Driefontein in the Eastern Transvaal said: “We have won our fight against the removals in Driefontein. We came to this meeting to help other women who are still having problems. We want them to know that women can fight their own struggle and win. After the death of Mr Mkhize in Driefontein women took over the fight and won. The only weapon we used was unity.
“We are going to tell the other women in Driefontein about women who are still suffering in other places. At this meeting some women told us about their problems. For example, most of the women say they do not have food for their children. We told them what we do in Driefontein to help ourselves We plant things and sell them. We work together and support one another. And this way we are strong, very strong.”
Dorah Sechogo from Huhudi said: “We came here as women from Huhudi to tell other women about our problems and so other women from other places can help us. Our children are killed by the vigilantes and we have been evicted from our houses. We are now living in the Roman Catholic church in Huhudi. The administration board wants to move to a place called Pudimore. But we an all united and we will soon overcome our problems.”
A woman from Braklaagte near Zeerust said: “We came here because the government in Bophuthatswana wants to give us a new chief who says that Braklaagte belongs to Bophuthatswana. But we don’t want this new chief. We don’t want to be under Bophuthatswana because the government of Bophuthatswana doesn’t talk straight.
“We have learned a lot from other women at this meeting. We have learned that we must be united and strong. We also heard how other women have helped themselves by starting self-help projects. We must now do the same.”
A woman from Mogopa near Ventersdorp said: “In 1984 big white lorries from Bophuthatstwana came to Mogopa one night. They packed us and moved us without saying anything. Now we are waiting to go back home. We know that we must hang on and stand up like soldiers.
“At the meeting here we have heard about the suffering of our sisters in other areas. When we heard their stories, the tears were running from the eyes of every woman. It is not nice to be pushed out of your home.”
“Yes, there was much crying,” said Mama Lydia Kompe. “But then the crying stopped because we know that tears won’t take away the problems. We must have action. I think this meeting was important because every woman agreed that she must work hand in hand with other women. We must start and working together in committees and organizations — and then we must join hands with our husbands and children.”
“WE, THE WOMEN SAY…….”
We, the women of Mathopestad, Huhudi, Brits, Braklaagte, Bloedfon- tein, Matjakeneng, Mogopa, Rooigrond, Driefontein and Kwa-Ngema, gathered here at Mathopestad on 22 November 1986 say:
We demand an end to all forced removals Our sisters from Brits are under daily threats from the bulldozers. Let them stay where they are in peace. Oukasie has been their home for over half a century. They have a right to remain. We believe that all communities under threat of removal have a right to remain.
We demand an end to the stealing of our citizenship Many of us, especially those from Bloedfontein, Braklaagte and Mat- jakeneng are in danger of losing our citizenship to Bophuthatswana. We are South Africans, we refuse to give up our citizenship. Mangope is a stranger to all of us. We want him to leave us and our land alone. We have seen the suffering of people in Bophuthatswana. We do not want to live in fear in that terrible place.
We demand help for all victims of forced removals. We wept when we heard the terrible stories of how our sisters in Mogopa and Rooigrond have suffered. They have suffered the pain of forced removal. They were forced to leave their peaceful homes. Now they are so very poor, living as refugees and squatters. Let them go home now! Let them rebuild their homes and their lives. We demand the same for all victims of forced removal all over our country.
We demand an end to detentions and for the police and vigilantes to leave us in peace Some of us have been detained, others have had our children taken from us by the police. In Huhudi and Brits we have been attacked by the vigilantes. People have been killed and homes destroyed. We demand that we mothers be left to live in peace with our children. We want this, not only for ourselves, but for all South Africans.
Lastly, some of us from Driefontein, Kwa-Ngema and Mathopestad say that we have won our struggles. Yet, this does not mean that we can now sit back. We cannot live in peace until all communities, all over the country, are free from removal, free from losing their citizenship, free from detention, and free from the attacks of vigilantes and police.
We women pledge ourselves to stand together in unity with our communities and other communities who are struggling against forced removals and other evils. We will organize all of our women to do the same. In this way we believe we will move nearer to a free and equal South Africa.