Rich legacy of Mam’ Thoko must be our guiding light


9 August 2020

Let’s draw strength from her bravery to eradicate women abuse

Ayada Dlodlo

Once again, we are called upon to pay homage to an outstanding veteran of our struggle, a brave soldier of Umkhonto we Sizwe and a woman of strength and substance in her own right.

She follows shortly in the footsteps of our elder, Andrew Mlangeni and many other
luminaries of the struggle.

Mam’ Thoko Msimang was indeed the embodiment of our values and integrity as a movement and one of those cadres who always regarded her place as being in the front and never retreating no matter how difficult the task at hand was. In all that she said and did, she was guided by the principle of servant leadership.

She always spoke fondly and with love about her late friend and comrade Smangele Mathebula, who was my aunt and also a member of the Luthuli Detachment. Aunty Smangele’s combat name was Thoko. Those two were friends that truly loved each other.

Both were healthworkers from their time in MK and later integrated into the new SA
National Defence Force when they returned to South Africa. One trained as a doctor in the Soviet Union and the other a physiotherapist in the German Democratic Republic.

At all times and as a woman soldier, Mam’ Thoko was aware of the gender-based prejudices that often came with being part of a liberation war as a woman. She, like many of her sister warriors,  understood that the role of the female combatant was equal to that of her male counterpart.

As Oliver Tambo once said: “In our beleaguered country, the place of a woman is in the battlefront of the struggle.”

As a former combatant myself, I can attest to the fact that female combatants of MK lived the experience of armed conflict in equal measure with all comrades of Umkhonto we Sizwe. It was women like Mam’ Thoko, General Refiloe Sedibe, Aunt Smangele, Aunt Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and many other gallant female fighters of the Luthuli Detachment who gave us the will to fight.

Through their efforts and unwavering commitment to the people’s cause, we have won our political freedom but we still have a long road towards economic emancipation.

She departs at a critical time in the calendar of our struggle when our country celebrates the heroic struggles of women against discrimination. She departs when we remember those women who neither spared life nor limb for the liberation of our people.

To advance her legacy of heroic struggles against gender discrimination, the Women’s Month campaign of 2020 is celebrated under the theme: Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future.

This forms part of a campaign that links South Africa to global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030. As a mother, professional, revolutionary and soldier of our people’s revolution, she has come to symbolise the courage and strength that was eloquently expressed by the women of her generation, who marched against the draconian pass laws in 1956. In confronting the challenges that face women in present-day conditions, we must draw strength from their resilience, bravery and commitment to the eradication of women oppression.

Justice must prevail for all who experienced brutality at the hands of their partners and a brutal system of apartheid that killed Phila Ndwandwe, Nokuthula Simelane, Mary Mini, Victoria Mxenge, Makhosi Nyoka and many other liberation heroines whose killers were never brought to book.

We must take the struggle against gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide to our homes, places of worship, the boardroom, sporting environments and our workplaces, to demonstrate our
seriousness and the resolve that GBV and femicide have no place in our society.

We owe it to ourselves and the legacy of Mam’ Thoko to heal our society and to restore the dignity of our women and children. As we bid her farewell, we must echo the battle cry: “Wathint’ abafazi – Wathint’ imbokodo” – to remind society that women still possess the strength and courage to confront the ills that continue to beset their lives. Lala ngoxolo.

  • Dlodlo is the minister of State Security.



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