Mama Mthiya: a disciplined comrade to the end

Adelaide Mthiya


Allow me to admit from the onset that the likes of me and other members from Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO) and United Democratic Front (UDF) were critical in the early stages of our political involvement, and we started with Mama Adelaide Ntombiyokwenzani Mthiya, our immediate mother in the struggle.

As youth we differed with her very sharply, not in a bad way, but with the fact she was a loyalist to the Gugulethu camps. As “our mother” we used to “berate” her, but she would not be angry, instead tried to convince us. As a result, there would be no hard feelings over our engagement though there was a fundamental difference on the issue.

No doubt, Mama Mthiya knew about the leaders on Robben Island, and UDF but to her, she started with the immediate ones. She did not have a loud voice, but it is through her facial expression you would see when she was not happy.

Before the 1985 uprising, Mama Mthiya mobilised youths in Langa. Without any doubt there were other women who were asking “ngumfazi otheni lo osoloko erhuqana nabantwana, phofu ebasaphi? (what kind of a woman who is always with the youth?)

Even such comments would not deter her, instead, she would continue looking forward until she was joined by other mamas. She risked her life and house; the very fact that she was going solo with the youth and the meetings were held in her house. No one around could not notice that. I do not think there was anything more she could have done more than she did in contributing to the struggle. A street she lived in was named in her honour, what else, is it enough?

She is the “seed” of the 1956 women, she took where they left off in a different and special way based on the material conditions on the ground. She was one of the founding members of United Women’s Organisation (UWO) and of the Western Cape Civic Association (WCCA). She also worked closely with the hostel residents’ association, Western Cape Dwellers Association (WCDA). She worked with the likes of Eric Lusaseni in setting up street committees in Langa. They were involved in the Asiyi Ekhayelitsha Campaign, 20 Million Signature Campaign, and Consumer Boycott.

She was also involved in the formation and functioning of Langa Joint Structure: meeting of ANC-aligned structures. She also worked at Grassroots, a progressive newspaper exposing the evil activities of the Apartheid system especially in the communities of the oppressed. That on its own was a risk, but she made it worse by distributing it to schools.

The way she organised other women in large numbers within a short space of time was so amazing. Therefore, it is not surprising that she was part of the delegation to Lusaka to meet the ANC after its president Oliver Tambo asked them to have one Charterist women’s organisation.

After the unbanning of political organisations, freeing of political prisoners, and the return of exiles, she again had a role to play. She was involved in the creation of favourable conditions for their security, welfare, and integration of the comrades from both exile and prison.

With the struggle taking a new turn, she participated in the building of the mass-based ANC and its women wing, the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL). Also, with the transformation of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) to the mass-based ANC by rallying MDM structures behind the ANC for decisive victory.

She was involved in electoral education since people in the African communities voted for the first time. She was involved in organising of transport for elders to the voting station. Generally, she was involved in the campaign for her organisation, ANC victory, in the 1994 first general elections. One of the things worth mentioning and to be noted, was this single African mother who risked her life and the future of her children. She once hid a shot comrade in her bedroom. She asked other comrades to drive her car for him to escape and get help. She sat at the back of her car with the comrade and covered him with a blanket on her feet.

Yet Langa was surrounded by soldiers with all points closed. Also buzzing in her home of comrades with weapons, AK47, was another risk to her children. His son again would have to wake up and dig for the weapons, yet he still had to go to school. They had to be properly hidden. She never depended on handouts or rewards from the struggle. But that cannot justify the failure to support her as a token of appreciation.

Her son Sithembiso, daughter Busisiwe, affectionately known as Nomfazi, grandchildren and the family at large should be proud of her. Though at times during the height of the struggle they felt neglected by their mother in favour of the struggle. But they understood, went to school, and made it under those challenging and risky conditions.

She played a pivotal part in the revival of the Struggle in the Western Cape, even though repression and other factors stagnated it. In Langa mama Mthiya was there in the forefront having laid a foundation.

Just like any other human she was not perfect, but what one could not doubt was the commitment and “love” she had for the Struggle and the organisation she belonged to. We were also not perfect but made our mistakes.

I remember us “crying” in 1985 when we had a feeling that she was ditching us because she had numbers from the women folk. She said, “I am not ditching you, but you must stand on your own because I have many members to attend to’’. That was not a stand-off or something close to that at all, but a mother allowing her children to learn to stand on their own. There was never any animosity after that. Instead, we grew further and further, initiated, and coordinated structures that combined all our political formations. An instructional slogan ayihlale phantsi ibamb’umthetho that is not understood but parroted would be better understood by her. That was a demonstration of how respectful and loyal she was to the leadership.

Ebesisikhukukazi esithwele amantshontsho omzabalazo, nam ndingomnye walo mantshontsho kuba iintlanganiso besizibambela kwakhe. She was born on 11 October 1932, died on 31 July 2003, and buried on 16 August 2003.

This year the marked 20th anniversary of her demise. A street was name in her honour, good, is it enough? Silele eso sikhukukazi savikela abantwana esibazala ngokwenyama. Asaphelela apho safaka phantsi kwekhwapha laso abantwana baso kwezopolitiko. She gave us her heart and home. A loyal old comrade within the Charterist camp from the beginning until the end.

Her name, Ntombiyokwenzani, is a question and therefore needs an answer. The answer I am giving is yeyokwenda iqaqambise ikhaya layo emzini, iqaqambise nomzi wayo emzabalazwen/esizweni. Fittingly, she was buried in Women’s Month, a month observed as a public holiday today, because of the struggle waged by her forerunners, iimbokodo, on 09 August1956. Her success as isikhukukazi to her biological children and political children makes her a defeater and not a defeatist from the beginning until th end.

Usebenzile uMashiya amahle!

  • Ndabeni is a Langa-based author.