Does the name Thembinkosi Mzukwa mean anything to you? If it does not, do not feel bad. He is not a famous person. He is an ordinary person just like you and me.
Thembinkosi Theophilus Mzukwa, together with six other people, was found guilty of “terrorism” in the Cape Town Supreme Court last month. Thembinkosi, who will be sentenced in early August, told the court the story of his life and his reasons for joining the army of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. It is one man’s story but in many ways, he speaks for millions of other people in this country.
AN ORDINARY, SIMPLE MAN
“Will the court understand me as I am?” he asked. “Will the court understand why an ordinary simple man like myself turned to violence? Will this court understand that it is my love for people that drove me to do what I did?”
Thembinkosi started by telling the court about his father who moved from Stutterheim to Cape Town in the 1940s to look for work. “This has been the story of the black people … wandering throughout South Africa looking for work to avoid starvation,” he said.
His father had to sell second hand clothes to make a living because he did not have a pass. He could not get work and often had to hide from police. He died when Thembinkosi was just 13. His mother had to bring up her five children alone.
“She would be absent from home from dawn. She never saw her house during daytime. She would only see her children over weekends. But she was the one who took care of the children of her white employer. Those are the children she reared and I think they are the kids who grew up to shoot my mother’s own children in the townships.”
BOOKS AND BULLETS
Thembinkosi spoke about how in 1976 he got “another bitter taste of oppression and brutality.” At this time students were forced to learn in Afrikaans.
“All over, scholars protested against this. The only answer they got was teargas, bullets, detention and imprisonment. I must say that this was the first time that I heard the sound of a gun so near me.
“It was the first time that I saw a dead person who had been killed by a gun. I thought I was dreaming ….
“When these things happened and I saw the white man in the forefront of this brutality, I started to hate the white man.”
The school boycott in 1980 ~ was another chapter in the story of his life.
“Conditions in our schools were so bad that we were forced to do some thing about it. Everybody was ignoring us. All complaints fell on deaf ears. The answer again was harassment, detention and imprisonment.
“Do not think that we boycotted schools because we did not want to go to school. We were hungry for education. We were thirsty for knowledge. How much we wanted schools! But conditions were so bad it made education impossible.
At about this time Thembinkosi heard about the history of the ANC. He heard “how our leaders begged the government ever since 1912 when the ANC was formed, how all our pleas and peaceful protests fell on deaf ears, and how instead of listening, the government banned the ANC and the PAC in 1960.”
He told the court he left school to help his mother who could not manage on her own. “I watched my mother and in my heart I was crying all the time for her.”
He went to work at the OK Bazaars. Even there he found injustice and humiliation. “Who likes to be called ‘kaffir’ or ‘baboon’ 20 or 30 times a day?” he asked.
He “boiled inside” to hear men of 60 years old called “boy” by white youngsters who had to be called “baas” or “sir”.
After some time he was fired for being absent from work. He got another job at the Athlone power station cleaning dirty boilers.
THE POWER STATION
He told the court about his job at the power station: “When you got out of the boiler nobody could recognise you because you were full of dust from head to toe. Thick dust. There would be dust in your nose, in your mouth, in your eyes and everywhere. It made you sick. But what could I do?”
He got TB and a doctor told him to rest. His bosses refused to give him a lighter job. He was later fired after being off sick. He got no compensation, no wages and no leave pay.
He walked to the bosses’ office in town and back to the power station about 20 times trying to get his money.
“On the last day I became so furious I refused to leave the place without my money. The whites looked at me as if I was a ·criminal. They were scared that I could do anything. They were right because I was in a mood to do anything to get my money. My whole life was one big robbery and now they were robbing me again.”
He got his wages and a part of his leave pay but no notice pay and no compensation.
THE LAST STRAW
“After all these experiences I came to the conclusion that it is better for me to fight to change South Africa and to die in the process rather than to continue living like a slave.
“I was in this kind of mood when the raid by the SADF took place in Maseru. One of my dearest friends was killed by the South African soldiers. For me this was the last straw. Something had to be done. I joined the ANC.”
His few years in the ANC were the “happiest days” of his life. “Because we had committed ourselves to work for freedom, we already felt better.
We were no longer slaves. We were now freedom fighters fighting for our people.
“And those who were with me, respected me and loved me. And I loved them. I experienced love and human feelings inside the ANC like I experienced nowhere else in my entire life. Except, of course, from my mother.
“My joining the ANC did not mean joining violence. Violence, I thought, was forced upon us. I wanted love and freedom. I wanted the Freedom Charter to be put into life. I wanted all of us to live like brothers and sisters in one peaceful land.”