Written by: Jongi Ndakana – Matjhabeng was burning, Huhudi was burning, the Vaal was burning, Duduza, Thokoza, Zwelethemba, Khayelitsha were burning. It was a difficult period were many leaders from these areas were detained under Emergency regulations and Internal Security Laws; some abducted and killed, while other left the country to join the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe.
The Apartheid regime had implemented a low intensity warfare against the African population and under the auspices of Black Local Authorities Act, co-opted professional, business, and the clergy to participate in illegitimate government structures to rule over the people. Young people were recruited under the auspices of the “Winning hearts and Minds Campaign’ to join pseudo Christian formations such as the Eagles club and brainwashed to work against progressive youth formations and other Civic bodies apposed serve the apartheid regime.
Vigilante groups such as the A Team led by Dr. Tlali, Phakathi, Mhlafu and others were formed in an effort to suppress violently the resistance of the Progressive forces. On the Education front, efforts to divide the student community across tribal lines intensified and educators were used to victimize student leaders at all cost. These groups were armed, some principals armed, security branch given free access to intimidate activists even in classrooms.
Thabong was historically designed to accommodate its community according to tribal lines and the system had hoped it would be difficult to unite this community. In Themba and Thokoza (mix of Ngunis, Shangaans, amaZulu); Maspala, Thelerine and other areas were Basotho people. Hostels catering for single women and men’s hostels were largely mixed.
Trade Unions such as FAWU, SAAWU and NUM were quite strong and most local activists utilised their resources to intensify the organisational work.
Responding to a call to render the townships ungovernable, the strategy that came to mind was to establish organs of people’s power and have alternative structures that would defend our people and establish the Civic Association that would rally our people against the “Koornhof Bills”.
We were weary of what the system could do if it were to use the already divided taxi industry to perpetuate some of its evil deeds. The township itself, safe for people like Merriman Mgabadeli, Dick Soga, Bhunga Xaluva, Tim Khumalo who had remained with the Black Consciousness Movement were quite young, still in the Youth movement and we believed that we should draw in people in the Community to lead the Civic.
Joe Moferefere Mafereka, Fezile Mabuya, Maureen Madumise, Maggie Vanga, Ben Motshiuoa, Mzwandile Khundulu, Mary Ikaneng, Vijaya Mafongozi, Thato Lesupi, Best Monyamane, Rammotso Keketsi, Zwelibanzi Thuthani, Mandla Leeuw, Bashana Matlabe, Joseph Tsatsa, Kholekile Jaca (who later betrayed the Mshenguville residents and the organisation) and many others were rallied around and the Thabong Civic Association was formed.
This changed the face of our struggle in our region and we began to expose racist regime’s evil deeds and how the community of Thabong dealt with the A Team is history. Sponsored criminal elements organized in the form of gangsters such as Zaota to perpertuate the so called “black on black” violence were neutralized in no time.
The Thabong Civic Association, under the guidance of the entire Mass Democratic Movement established street committees, zonal committees and became the People’s Assembly of the people of Thabong. Its monthly meetings were representative and mostly attended by senior citizens of our township, we would take pride in this as we watched crime statistics declining. Of course, young lions would from time to time provide political direction to ensure that we remained within the progressive forces revolutionary agenda which in the event of personality cult emerge, as it was the case with Kholekile, these would be contained earlier.
We established strong relations with hostel communities and established committees that would contribute to the general developmental agenda of Thabong. We would jokingly refer to incidence where police who ask for permission from us to conduct raids or hunt criminals at the notorious G-Hotel.
Another historic and milestone during Joe’s tenure as civic leader was the threat by the Right Wingers and Inkatha to march through the streets of Thabong in response to a consumer boycott that was unleashed to demand the release of the detainees. We surprised the enemy and I think we surprised ourselves; the mobilisation that took place at the time with almost each corner of Mponeng manned by marshals armed to the teeth.
For some, it was probably the first time they saw uKhuzwayo (AK47) and Marcarov pistols. National Union of Mineworkers and other fraternal organisations vowed that “they can come in, but they won’t come out the same route”. Interestingly, the event “exposed” some of our comrade’s capabilities, either as “operatives” or commissars deployed to provide political direction.
Joe as always, was leading from the front and his leadership of the Taxi Industry also played a role in having taxi operators on our side as it was not the case in other parts of the country.
We were charged with the responsibility of establishing an Advice Centre that played a significant role as a political nursery to most activists in our area.
We challenged under the most difficult situations, the notorious Labour Laws that disenfranchised the workers in our area and won most disputes that were processed in our office.
The Advice Office was later absorbed into the Civic Association as its Para-Legal Unit, although when one reflects today, it was not a wise decision and we once held that discussion with Bra Joe and it’s a view that still needs to be explored with Comrades at home.
When combatants of the glorious UmKhonto we Sizwe returned, it was the Thabong Civic Association that organised major welcome home reception activities and even arranged for some to visit their relatives who were both outside Free State and outside Thabong.
He was to be recognised after the democratic dispensation by the ANC through deployment in various capacities and I was to work with him again when he was the Speaker of the Free State Legislature.
One of his attributes in his leadership was consultation, persuasion and consensus in the decision-making process. He encouraged us as management of the Institution to make decisions that we would live and die for collectively, as long as they were consistent with what has to be achieved and the laws of the country.
At the time of his passing on, he was North West Commissioner on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims. As we write important chapters of leaders who have inspired us during the struggle for Freedom, the role of this giant must be mentioned without fail.
I want to call upon Moeti Molelekoa and Molema Mochudi, our erstwhile journalists of the era, to help us to share the stories of Matjhabeng to ensure that the generations to come have a reason to celebrate our heroes and heroines.
We dare not fail! There are many who have not been included in this note and it is not deliberate – I was looking at Joe and the Civic organisation – the collective – the revolutionaries of that incomplete and unwritten chapter of the struggles of Matjhabeng.
A fearless Warrior: A loyal servant of our people: A Skilled negotiator: A unifier and Peacemaker.
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