FLORENCE MKHIZE - ONE OF SOUTH AFRICA'S WOMEN LEADERS WHO MADE ENORMOUS SACRIFICES FOR THE FREEDOM WE ENJOY TODAY
(SUBRY GOVENDER INTERVIEWING FLORENCE MKHIZE AT GRIFFITH MXENGE'S OFFICE IN THE FORMER GREY STREET AREA OF DURBAN IN AUGUST 1982. NOT SURE OF THE NAME OF THE COMRADE IN THE BACKGROUND)
BY SUBRY GOVENDER
One of the women leaders who made enormous sacrifices for the freedom that we enjoy today is Florence Mkhize of Durban. Born in 1932, Mkhize died in July 1999 at the age of 67. In August 1982 when she was serving her third five-year banning order imposed by the former apartheid regime, I had the opportunity of talking to her about her involvement in the political struggles. I spoke to her at the offices of another political stalwart and lawyer, Griffith Mxenge, in the former Grey Street area of Durban.
This is the article that I had written and circulated on August 19 1982:
“SUFFERING IS OUR LIFE”
When the true history of South Africa is written in the near future it is certain that the name of Ms Florence Mkhize will feature prominently in the section concerning the country’s women leaders.
Forty-two-year-old Ms Mkhize, who is serving her third term of five-year banning orders, is one of the many unsung heroes of the struggle for justice and freedom in South Africa.
Although she has been constantly harassed and intimidated since she was first banned in March 1962, Ms Mkhize has not lost her determination and hope that South Africa will be free sooner than many people cared to think about.
“No matter how tyrannical the white National Party Government becomes and how many people are banned, jailed, killed or forced into exile, we will eventually win because the Government cannot jail and ban all the people,” she told me.
“It is, therefore, important that the struggle must go on no matter what the sacrifice. Our struggle is a just and moral one.”
Ms Mkhize, who is the mother of four teenage children, first became involved in the struggle for justice in 1956 when she found the “pass law” offenders were being treated as criminals and the “bantu education system” was geared at producing slave labour for the mines and other capital industries than aimed at literacy.In 1960 at the age of 20 she joined the South African Womens’ Federation, which was an affiliate of the African National Congress(ANC), in an attempt to improve the lot of African women who were the most exploited of the oppressed people of South Africa.
Within a year she became the secretary of the Natal branch of the organisation and an executive member of the national body.
But at the early age of 22 her introduction into the political struggle was cut short when the authorities served her with a five-year banning order in 1962.
Immediately after being banned and house-arrested, she began working for a group of Indian tailors, Chetty Brothers, in Durban with whom she is still employed 22 years later.
When Chief Albert Luthuli, the then banned president of the ANC died mysteriously in a train accident in August 1967, she began organising a memorial service with a group of ANC members. She was asked by the Durban security police to stop her involvement but she defied them and even travelled to Groutville, on the Natal North Coast, for Luthuli’s funeral.
The authorities arrested her and jailed her for three months.
When she was released, she was served with another five-year banning order, which this time restricted her to her home between 7pm and 6am every day. During her second banning order, she married a Transkei medical doctor, Amos Msimane, who was 30 years her senior.
“I married him because he was very understanding and accepted my involvement in the political struggles. Inspite of the heavy responsibility, we still managed to have four children who are now all grown up. Barnett is 24, Wiseman 22, Elizabeth 19 and Buthle, 15.
“They too are very understanding and do not regret one bit that their mother is banned and restricted. They know that we have to suffer and sacrifice if we are to win in the end.”When the second banning order expired in 1973, she moved straight back into the hurly-burly of the political struggles by openly and vociferously condemning the Bantustan policy of the National Government and what she describes as “their puppet leaders”.
She was especially strong in her condemnation of some of the well-known bantustan leaders who claimed they were members of the ANC and followers of Chief Luthuli.
Late in 1978 when moves were started to get Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders released from Robben Island, she immediately joined the Release Mandela Committee and worked tirelessly with the chairman, Mr Archie Gumede.
She also involved herself in the Natal Indian Congress’s boycott campaign against the National Party Government’s South African Indian Council(SAIC) elections.
She addressed a number of meetings in Durban and in the surrounding Indian townships, exhorting the Indian people to stay away from the “apartheid elections”. Her efforts were not in vain as 90 percent of the people, who were registered voters, boycotted the elections.
This and her opposition to the bantustans prompted the authorities to serve her with yet another five-year banning order in 1981.
“I am not worried because suffering is our life. As far as I am concerned the struggle goes on in spite the bannings, detentions, killings and jailing of our leaders.
“Peace will only come to South Africa when Pretoria negotiates with our true leaders on Robben Island and in exile.”
Ends – Press Trust of South Africa Third World News Agency, August 19 82