Mamatsi ++++



Dear All,

Back in London now I want to send a final post about Mamatsi, my dear friend from Orlando West who’s had such a strong influence on me during my time in South Africa. From my experience her situation is typical of many township dwellers who were directly involved in the struggle against apartheid, for whom the changes from majority rule and 20 years democracy have not changed her circumstances. Mamatsi had grievous personal losses with both her son’s dying young, her oldest in a knife fight with a friend and her youngest as a member of the ‘Mandela United Football Team,’ Winnie Mandela’s bodyguards. She’s spoken with me about recovering his body after he was killed and the shock from seeing his body riddled with bullets. She wanted a family funeral but on the day Winnie came to her home with the Team and took control of the event. Mamatsi’s aware of Winnie’s conviction for involvement in the killing of a Team member Stompie Moeketsi (James Sempei) (1974-1988) and is unsure whether the Team or Security forces killed her son.

Information on Wikipedia about James Sempei’s also known as Stompie Moeketsi who was a teenage United Democratic Front (UDF) activist from Parys in South Africa. Moeketsi joined the street uprising against apartheid in the mid-1980s aged ten, and soon took on a leading role. He became the country’s youngest political detainee when he spent his 12th birthday in jail without trial. At the age of 13 he was expelled from school. He and three other boys were kidnapped on 29 December 1988 by members of the Mandela United Football Club. He was murdered on 1 January 1989, the only one of the boys to be killed.

Moeketsi, together with Kenny Kgase, Pelo Mekgwe and Thabiso Mono, were kidnapped from the Methodist manse in Orlando, Soweto. Moeketsi was accused of being a police informer and after the 4 boys were kidnapped they argued,  strongly  pleading that Stompie wasn’t a police informer. Jerry Richardson, the Football Club coach was convicted of the murder. He claimed that Winnie Mandela had ordered him, with others, to abduct the four youths from Soweto, of whom Moeketsi was the youngest. In 1991, Winnie Mandela was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault, but her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence on appeal. This incident became a cause célèbre for the apartheid government and opponents of the ANC, and Winnie Mandela’s iconic status was dealt a heavy blow.

Appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, she said allegations that she was involved in at least 18 human rights abuses including eight murders were “ridiculous” and claimed that her main accuser, former comrade Katiza Cebekhulu, was a former “mental patient” and his allegations against her were “hallucinations”. The Commission found that the abduction had been carried out on Winnie Mandela’s instructions, and that she had “initiated and participated in the assaults”. However, with regard to the actual murder the Commission found Mandela only ‘negligent’.

What Mamatsi says that on 16 June 1976 when she heard of trouble in Soweto she returned home where she found the situation chaotic, with school children burning Beer Halls, a significant township apartheid institution. Her brothers and younger son were involved in township protests, what she’s told me is that police raided her home frequently, searching for them. Mamatsi was involved in township protests which ended apartheid, transferring power from the minority to the majority, with the first democratic elections on 28 April 1994. What concerns me is that her financial situation now after 20 years democracy is worse for her because the ‘changing of the chairs’ in the transition hasn’t benefitted her. This is because these have been restricted to the ANC leadership, their ‘black diamond’ contacts and a small middle class. Without significant socio-economic changes for Mamatsi and about 80% of South Africans opportunities to improve their life chances have been minimal. Their role in the anti-apartheid struggle hasn’t been acknowledged and there hasn’t been sufficient change in their circumstances to justify their sacrifice.

Mamatsi’s income from her pension and foster care allowances for 4 children also supports her youngest daughter Xolisile with her 3 children, Mamatsi’s great grandson who lives with her and she provides meals for her oldest daughter Tandi who lives with her. She has 3 back rooms on her property but none of the occupants are able to provide regular rent. What I’ve worked out is that Mamatsi has a monthly income of R5860 which is £329. In the South African context this doesn’t meet the minimum amount needed for 8 children which at R1500 a month is R12000. She hasn’t been able to explain fully to me how she manages with the income she receives. The 7 younger children do have school meals which are a saving and the adults living in her back yard pay rent when they can. Whatever the figures are somehow Mamatsi ensures that all the children attend school and university well dressed and there’s always food in the home.

With the older children now being teenager’s education and homework is important, from my trip Mamatsi plans to use the garage as a room where they can do homework. While I can’t provide regular financial support while I was there I arranged for Mamatsi’s washing machine to be connected which will make clothes washing easier. Whatever the figures show Mamatsi does just manages on the income she has. She scrimps and saves as best she can, however what her situation prevents her planning for the long term, with any unexpected payment a potential crisis which creates stress.

Shocking as it is Mamatsi’s financial situation isn’t unusual where she lives and community cohesion creates neighbour support where they help each other informally. In the longer term I don’t think that this situation can continue, unless unemployment and township poverty issues are addressed social unrest will rise. In simple terms township enterprise and employment opportunities need to increase significantly. I’ve been fortunate on this trip to have come with an idea to develop a heritage walking trail on the 16 June 1976 protest route, with people who took part in the march leading the tours.

The Memorial Acre opposite Morris Isaacson School opening last week on Youth Day will be an asset for this route. What I’ve left is a group from the 1976 Foundation to develop the tour, starting on       27 September while I seek Tour operators here who’ll market the tours with their customers. The aim of tours will be to make visitors feel like they’d been on the march and for them to have a township lunch cooked by Mamatsi and Xolisile, increasing tourist income for the area. We’ve registered a Company name which is June 16 Soweto Heritage Trails and the Company registration is imminent. I’m confident that the tours will be a success, with a dedicated team in Soweto organising the tours  where the main income (up to 90%) will be earned. By using a community tourism model, with the Company registered as a cooperative and Directors making a financial investment the primary aim is for the venture to become a community enterprise asset.

I’ve decided to keep the Blog going to keep readers aware how the Tours develop. Feels like a good way to return here. My task will be working with UK based Tour operators to take bookings for the Heritage trail, exciting, ain’t it? Watch this space! I end  with a South African word from the anti-apartheid struggle to remind me from where my motivation comes, ‘ Amandla!’




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