National Orders present opportunity to reflect about brutal past

The funeral of the mother of one of my friends and comrades last weekend and Friday’s National Orders Awards by President Cyril Ramaphosa reminded me that yes, for me, April is a month for introspection and reflection.

At the funeral service, images of my mother flashed through my mind.

The year 1960. The grills that separated us at Stoneyard Prison in Boksburg framed my mother Nokuthula and my father Letebele.

When she saw me, she burst into tears and my father tried to comfort her. He had to take her to the car and come back on his own. I asked him not to bring her along when he came to visit me.

She was possibly upset when she saw me with a head shaven clean, in prison uniform of a red shirt and khaki short pants and no shoes. I hadn’t seen her since I left home on the morning of Sharpeville Day, March 21.

I can only imagine how she felt every time the police “detained” me, especially when she remembered the screaming headlines of people who had died in police custody after allegedly “slipping” on soap in showers or “jumping” from the windows of their 10th-floor interrogation cells.

Again, as I screamed when live electric wires tortured my wet back while I was covered in a blanket, I felt the pain, but her pain was maybe quadrupled because she was imagining it and not actually feeling it physically.

I remember the pain I felt when I heard Zephania Mothopeng screaming in his rich voice from an interrogation room across the quad at the Alexandra Road police station in Pietermaritzburg.

My pain listening was probably quadruple what he was feeling at the time.

I’d come back after months of detention or imprisonment and be welcomed back as a hero in the township. She remained my mother.

It is time to acknowledged that the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, lovers, brothers, sisters and the children who remained behind were the real heroes and heroines of the struggle for liberation.

We might have been the sharp end of the spear, but it is the weight and control of the rest of the shaft that carried that struggle. We should not be fobbing them off with R350 social grants at the end of the month.

How much and what quality of food can you buy with that? This, of course, does not mean I do not appreciate the annual gesture of the awards.

The Presidency describes the National Orders as the highest awards that our country bestows on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals who have contributed towards the advancement of democracy and have made a significant impact on improving the lives of fellow South Africans.

“The National Orders also recognise the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa as envisaged in our constitution,” he said.

The awards are vital to keep our history alive. Some of the people honoured this year are in my mental files.

Bokwe Mafuna, former deputy president of the Union of Black Journalist, whom we elected at our first meeting at the Donaldson Orlando Community Hall in February 1972.

The National Party government banned him a few weeks after that, and stopped him from continuing to work for the Rand Daily Mail. He had to go into exile and spent a large part of his life as a refugee in France.

The man we chose to replace him, Don Mattera, was banned a few weeks after his election. And then foolhardy me took over from Mattera.

Mono Badela, journalist, trade unionist and general rabble-rouser – they call them activists these days – was loud and clear in his writing about the Eastern Cape and the liberation struggle.

Dr Jiyana “GG” Mbere, who was the “people’s doctor” in Soweto.

We salute the recipients of 2023.

Thloloe is a veteran journalist and former managing editor of Sowetan

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