SAFE AND SOUND in the FEDTRAW pre-schools

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Busy bees at the FEDTRAW pre-school in Dube, Soweto

The Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW) has started over forty pre-schools for little children in the Transvaal. Learn and Teach spoke to some of the women who run the pre-schools…

EVERY DAY, millions of South African parents go out to work. But who takes care of the young children they leave behind?

Some parents ask the grannie or a childminder to look after their little ones. Others — the unlucky ones — have no-one to leave their children with. They are forced to leave their children all alone.

And that is when accidents can happen. Children play in the streets and get run over. They go near water and drown. They play in old, rusty cars and get hurt.

For these children, the world is a dangerous place.

One progressive organisation, the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW), is trying to solve the problem of children who have no place to go while their parents are out earning money. Since 1986, they have been running pre-schools in the Transvaal for children who are not old enough to go to primary school.

The pre-schools are warm friendly places where little ones play together safely. And the moms and the dads can have peace of mind while they are at work because they know that their children are safe and sound.

YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG!

Mali Fakier is the co-ordinator of the pre-schools project. She told us some of the reasons why these schools started.

“The main reason was to give our children a safe place to go during the day,” she said. “But we were also concerned about the education of our children.

“You know the saying ‘you are never too old to learn.’ Well, we believe that you are also never too young to learn! You see, the first years in a child’s life are a very important time. This is when children are growing in mind and body. They ask lots of questions and want to know about everything. If the parents are not there to answer the questions, then pre-schools are the next best thing.

“But only a handful of our children have the chance to attend a pre-school. Out of five and a half million black children under the age of six, only 110 000 are at pre-school.”

Ma Mali explained that the government has not built many pre-schools for black children. For example, there are only six DET pre-schools in the whole of Soweto and these are very full. Parents put their names on the waiting list and wait for years. Ma Mali says that she knows many parents whose names are still on the waiting list, even though their children are now in primary school!

Most of the pre-schools in the township are private. But many working mothers cannot pay the fees for private pre- schools. Sometimes the fees are as much as R160 a month. “Because of apartheid, our women are paid peanuts,” says Ma Mali. “They earn so little because of the colour of their skin and because they did not get a good education.

“At the FEDTRAW pre-schools, we only charge R20 a month. And we also take children whose parents cannot afford to pay.”

Ma Mali told us with pride that FEDTRAW has started over forty pre-schools in Soweto, Eldorado Park, Noordgesig and Evaton as well as in Tafelkop in Lebowa. They now have requests from people in Pretoria and other areas around Johannesburg to help start pre-schools there.

150 SMILING FACES

Learn and Teach went along to visit one of the pre-schools in Rockville, Soweto. The school is in a big hall at the South African Legion and Social Club.

When we arrived, we found about 150 children in the hall. They were sitting at little tables on brightly coloured chairs. The children were listening to a story that a teacher, Thandi Buthelezi, was telling them.

When the children saw us, they started laughing and clapping their hands. “Woza! Woza!” they called, inviting us to come in. You could see that these children were not shy with strangers!

Thandi explained to us that it is very important to give our children confidence. Many DET schools, she said, did everything to break a child’s confidence. Children at these schools are afraid to ask questions. They are made to listen to everything in silence.

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FEDTRAW teachers, Ma Elizabeth Mpotulo, Ma Dinah Nkomo and Ma Winnie Mazibuko talk to Saul Molobi of Learn and Teach

At the FEDTRAW pre-schools, the teachers want the children to ask questions. “We want them to leave here with their thinking sharpened,” said Thandi. “And you know, the school principals are now telling parents to bring their children here because they do much better in their exams.”

Thandi then took out some toys to give to the children. These were not just any toys — they are special toys that help children to develop their minds. For example, there were jigsaw puzzles and building blocks. “We struggle for money,” said Thandi, “and the teachers get very low salaries. But we only give our children the best toys. We believe that toys help children to learn.

“We teach our children to work together from the very beginning. Our games are not competitive. We do not want to develop the spirit of competition among our children. And that is how education must be.” Are the FEDTRAW methods working?

“Yes!” said Thandi. “Our children treat each other as equals. When they play they share everything and they treat each other with respect.”

“APARTHEID — A ROTTEN TOMATO!”

We asked Thandi how one teacher can look after so many children. “Oh no!” she laughed. “There are more than seven teachers here. In fact, we try to have one teacher for every 15 children. In that way, we can give each child the attention he or she needs.”

Just then, we were joined by two other teachers, Ma Winnie Mazibuko and Ma Dinah Nkomo. They had been in the kitchen making lunch for the children. It smelled delicious and our stomachs began making funny little noises.

We asked the two teachers about how they were trained. Ma Winnie explained that many of the teachers do not have matric or even Standard Eight. “But this is not important,” she said. “It is more important that our women feel that they can help build a new South Africa by doing something for their communities.”

All the pre-school teachers are given a three-month course in Early Learning at Funda Centre in Soweto. The course is run by Ma Mali, who was a primary school teacher for many years. Afterwards, the teachers go on follow- up courses which are also run by Ma Mali.

“The course was hard work,” remembers Ma Dinah with a smile. “But it was also a lot of fun. We were in an ‘each one, teach one’ situation. We encouraged each other to write non-sexist and non-racist literature. We workshopped songs and short stories and by the end of it, we had written a book called ‘Our Mama’.

“The book is full of stories and poems by the FEDTRAW women. One poem starts: “Apartheid is a rotten tomato. Freedom is a sweet potato.”

The stories try to explain to the children about apartheid. Ma Winnie explains: “As mothers we did not know how to tell our children about apartheid. And our children were always asking questions. How do you tell your little girl that she can’t go to the beach because it is for whites only? In the book, we tried to think of ways of talking to our children about these problems.”

CLOUDS AND RAINBOWS

Not everything is plain sailing at the pre-schools. There are some difficulties. “One of the problems is getting fathers to come to meetings,” said Ma Winnie. “Many fathers think that children are women’s business. We are trying to show the fathers that having a child is both parents’ responsibility.

“Another problem is that we are harassed by the health authorities. Not all the pre-schools are held in halls. In some communities, the councillors refuse to give us halls. So we have to hold them in people’s houses.

“This means that there are a lot of children in one house and the health authorities complain. But we ask them: “How can you say it’s okay to have ten people living in one house, but it’s not okay for us to look after children in our own homes? At least in our pre-schools they are safe.”

The pre-schools have also been harassed by the Security Branch. They said the teachers were teaching the children politics. It is only in the last few months that these visits have stopped.

While we were talking, a little child in brown trousers arid a woolen cap came up to us. He was wearing boots with pictures of clouds and rainbows on them.

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It’s playtime! A FEDTRAW teacher leads the children outside for fun and games

“What’s your name?” we asked him. He said his name was Xolani Vilakazi.
“Do you like this school?” we asked.
“Yes! I love it here,” he said, clapping his hands.
“How old are you?”
He scratched his head and lifted five fingers, counting one by one: “One, two, three, four and five… I am five years old!”
We all laughed. It was good to see such a happy child.

It was getting late. The big brothers and sisters were arriving to fetch their younger ones. It was time to go home. But before we went, the children asked if they could sing us a song. They sang a freedom song about Comrade Mandela. And when we asked them who Mandela was, they told us he is their leader.

As we left, one of our colleagues said he wished he was still young enough to have the chance to attend a FEDTRAW pre-school. He’s a little too old to do that now!

NEW WORDS
confidence — if you have confidence, you are proud and sure of yourself
non-sexist — non-sexist ideas say that men and women are equal in every way
non-racist — non-racist ideas say that all people, whatever their colour, are equal

Fighting back without hate

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

In 1975 everything was going well for a singer called Thandie Klaasen. She was climbing up the ladder quickly. She was making it.

Then suddenly her whole world fell apart. Some people threw petrol over her face – and lit a match.

Thandie Klaasen’s beautiful face was gone. She now had only terrible pain and a broken life. But she fought back. She started at the bottom of the ladder again.
Learn and Teach spoke to the brave Thandie Klaasen. She told us a bit about her life:

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005OUT OF TUNE
“When I first began to sing, I sang out of tune,” says Thandie. “I first sang in the school choir at St Cyprians in Sophiatown. I grew up in the old Sophiatown.

“A girl with a beautiful voice sang with us in the choir. She always stood next to me. When she sang, all eyes were on her.

“I wanted all the eyes to look at me. So I always sang louder – and more out of tune.”

The young Thandie thought about her problem. And then one day she began to ask herself some questions. Why must I try to sing like the girl with the beautiful voice? Why must I try to copy her voice? And Thandie soon had the answer. “I have my own voice,” she told herself. “Let me use my own voice!”

So Thandie Klaasen began to use her own voice. And the eyes began to look at her. She joined her first group when she was 18 years old. The group was called the ‘Gay Gay ties’.

“One day the group got a job in Durban,” says Thandie. “The leader of the group told me to go home and ask my parents if I could go to Durban. But I was scared to ask my parents. And I really wanted to go to Durban.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“So I went to Durban – without asking my parents. We came back three weeks later. And my father wanted to kill me. I was in real trouble.

“Then I got an idea. I gave my father all the money I made in Durban,­ every penny. My father said something to himself. And he put the sjambok away.”

And on that day, Thandie Klaasen made up her mind. She was going to sing. And her father did not stop her.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005KING KONG
“Then King Kong happened,” says Thandie. “I got a small part in the show. We left for London on the 2nd February 1962. In London I shared a room with Abigail Kubheka. She was a good friend.

“The show was going well in London. Then the lead singer Peggy Pango got sick. I don’t think she was really sick. I think she was actinq. She thought the show was finished without her. But she was wrong. At the last minute they gave me Peggy’s part. That was my big chance and I was ready. King Kong was my big break.”

And so the show went on. Thandie was good and there were no problems. The show went to many places in Europe. “Before we came back we went to Rome,” says Thandie. “And we had a lovely holiday.”

In Rome I found a wishing fountain­ you throw coins into the fountain and make a wish. I wished for happiness for my family. And I wished for my singing to go far. I felt good at that wishing fountain in Rome.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

ROAST BEEF AND DUMPLINGS
“When I came back to South Africa, I heard about a Mr Paljas in Cape Town. He wanted actors for his new play. So I went to Cape Town and Mr Paljas gave me the job. I was the only woman in the play. It was fun.”

Then Thandie got another big break. She got a job to sing in Japan. “I really wanted to go to Japan,” says Thandie. “I was already married with two little children. My husband said I must go. I then told my best friend about the job. And she told me to come for supper that night. She promised to make my best meal ­ roast beef and dumplings.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Thandie in hospital

“When I went to her place, I saw two boys at the gate. I greeted them and passed. I saw her sitting with her baby in the kitchen. Then I heard somebody behind me. And suddenly my face was on fire.

“She hired those two boys to throw petrol over me and set me alight. They were only 18 years old. She gave them R10 and a bottle of whisky for the job.

“I hurt when I think about that time. I don’t know why she did what she did. We had no arguments. Maybe she just didn’t want me to go to Japan.

“I stayed in hospital for over a year. Oh God, that was a terrible time. I don’t like to remember what happened to me. My husband left me. And most of my good friends forgot about me.

“But some people did not forget about me. My family helped me. The nurses and doctors were very nice. And a few old friends like Queeneth Ndaba stood by me. They gave a concert to pay for one of my skin operations.

“And of course, my fans were always there. They didn’t forget about me. They came to visit me. And they sent me letters. I got letters from far away places like Mozambique. And I always had flowers in my room.”

Thandie Klaasen had plenty of time to think in hospital. In the long nights,
she thought about her life. She thought about the girl with the beautiful voice in the school choir. She thought about her angry father with his sjambok. And she thought about the wishing fountain in Rome.

“I thought about those two boys for a long time,” says Thandie. “And after a while, I felt no hate. My face was burnt – but I still had my voice.

“And I also thought about my children. I knew they needed a mother – and I was their mother. I knew I had to fight back.”

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005THE FIGHT BACK
And so after a long, painful time, Thandie Klaasen got out of her hospital bed. She went back into the world with a different face. And she went straight back to the stage.

She got a job in a play called the Black Mikado. “My daughter Lorraine was also in the play,” says Thandie. “I remember that play with sadness. Some of the other actors gave me a hard time. When they turned their backs to the people, they laughed at me. They mocked my face. They mocked me in front of my daughter.”

Thandie suffered very much. But she did not leave the stage. In 1981 she went to sing in Lesotho. She met Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela when they gave a concert in Lesotho.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Thandie now sings mostly at night­ clubs. And her voice is beautiful ­ when she sings, all eyes look at her.

Thandie Klaasen is slowly climbing up the ladder again. But it’s not easy. “I sometimes have no work for a while,” says Thandie quietly.

Thandie Klaasen gets stronger every day. “You know, I often see those two boys who burnt my face,” says Thandie. “I don’t hate them. Hate makes you weak. Now when people hurt me, they only make me stronger!”.

Rape – the crime against women

untitled0-8“A few months ago, I was on my way home to Soweto. When I got on the train, I saw a group of men standing together, in the corner. I did not take any notice of them — till I heard a woman crying.

“I stood up to see what was happening. The cry came from the corner. I saw that these men were raping a woman, right there, on the train. I opened my mouth to say something. But the woman next to me grabbed my arm and pulled me down.

“Then she whispered to me, ‘If you say anything, they will go for you too. It is better to pretend that you see and hear nothing.’ When I looked around, I saw that everyone else on the train was doing just that.

“I got off at the very next station to find help for that woman. But as the train pulled out of the station, I knew that I could do nothing. But I will never forget that woman’s cry, as long as I live.”

Women are raped everyday — in fact, 400 women in South Africa get raped everyday. People think it is only young women who get raped. But babies as young as six months old and women of 90 years old get raped. Every woman lives with the fear of rape all her life.

WHAT IS RAPE?

In South Africa the law says that rape is when a man forces his penis into a woman’s vagina when she doesn’t want to have sex. But women think the law does not say enough. The law must change.

The law must say it is also rape when a man forces his penis into the mouth or the anus of a woman. Or when a husband forces his wife to have sex when she doesn’t want to.

WHY MEN RAPE

People think that men rape because they cannot stop themselves when they want sex. But rape has nothing to do with sex — rape is about power and fear.

Someone told us this story: “I have a friend who rapes. Once I asked him why he did this. He said that he started to work on the mines when he was very young. He was raped by another man. In the end he became this man’s ‘girlfriend’. Now he is used to men. He is frightened of women because he does not know them. So, to have sex with women, he does it by force.”

“I think rape also shows how men think of women. If men see women as less important than themselves, then they think they can rape women. They don’t worry about how women feel. Often when men feel weak, they rape women. Then they feel better. I also think that when a group of men rape a woman, they are just trying to show off to their friends.

“People think that rape happens in dark streets, by strangers. But most men rape women that they know, and many women are raped in their homes. Women are victims because they are weaker than men.”

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM RAPE

If a man tries to rape you, you must decide what is best — to fight back and try to get away, or to keep still. Only you can decide this.

Good ways to protect yourself are to kick a man in his groin very hard, so that he cannot walk. If you stick your fingers into his eyes, he will not be able to see. Even spraying a deodorant spray into his eyes will help you.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE RAPED

Many women do not want to report rape to the police. But it is good to report rape for the following reasons:

1. You can get a legal abortion —that is, doctors will stop your pregnancy if you report your rape.
2. Maybe you will feel safer if you know your rapist is in jail.
3. It makes people know what a big problem rape is.
4. It makes other women safer.

But there are also problems in reporting rape. Women find it hard to tell people about their rape time and time again. If you report rape, this is what you must do:

• You must go to the police straight after it happens. Do not wash or change your clothes — the police will want them for evidence.
• You must tell the polrce the whole story when you make your statement. You can tell the police you want to make your statement in a private room or to the Station Commander.
• The District Surgeon will examine you — he will try to find sperm in your vagina to prove you were raped. If you were hurt, the district surgeon does not treat you — you must go to hospital for treatment.
• When they find the rapist, you must point him out for the police. They make men stand in a line. Then you must show them which man raped you. You must touch him.
• If there is a court case, you go to court as a state witness. The court case is often a long time after the rape. You have to tell the whole story again to the court.

GETTING A LEGAL ABORTION

If you are raped, you can get an abortion. But you must ask for an abortion. If you are pregnant from your rape, you must go and get an affidavit — a signed statement — from the police, to say that you were raped.

Then you take your papers to the local magistrate. The magistrate decides if you can have one. If he say you can have an abortion, he gives you a certificate. You must take the certificate to the hospital. The doctors will do an abortion.

If you did not report your rape, you can still get an abortion, but it is difficult. You must tell the police why you didn’t report it. Then the police decide if they will give you a letter for the magistrate.

GETTING HELP

Very often women feel very bad after they are raped. Women do not like to talk about rape because sex is a private thing. Also some people blame women. They say, “Well, she asked for it.”

Now organisations have started to help women who are raped. They are called Rape Crisis. Rape Crisis helps people to talk about their rape. Talking helps women to feel better. It also helps to stop being afraid of men.

These organisations help women to report rape. They will go to the police station with you. And they will help you with the court case.

PROBLEMS WITH REPORTING RAPE

Rape Crisis say that often when women report rape, they are treated as if they are to blame for the rape. They say this is wrong. Raped women must be treated like people who report assault — that is, when someone hits you.

They also want police women to work with women who are raped. They say when a woman has just been raped, she cannot talk freely to a man.

Rape Crisis also says that women must be checked by women doctors. And they say the doctor must not just check the woman, — they must treat her if she was hurt. She must get drugs for’vuilsiek’ orV.D. And she must be treated so that she does not get pregnant.

CHANGING THE LAW

Rape Crisis says the rape laws must be changed. They say rape is not a special crime — it is the same as assault. If anyone hits you, they are breaking the law. It doesn’t matter what you say to them. Rape Crisis says it is the same with rape. It doesn’t matter how you dress, or what you say, no-one must rape you.

The big problem with rape is that if a man is found guilty of rape, he can hang. Because of this, judges must be very sure that a man is guilty. So they ask the raped woman many questions.

Women have said that in court, they felt they were questioned as if they did something bad — and not like someone did something bad to them. They were asked all about their sex lives. Rape Crisis says women must not be asked about their sex lives. And raped women’s names must be kept secret.

RAPE CRISIS CENTRES

If you are raped, or if you want to help women who are raped, phone these numbers. If rape is a big problem in your community, maybe you can start a Rape Crisis centre in your area.

All these numbers are for messages. You must phone and leave a message. Then the person on duty will phone you back.

A mother for many

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Zora Mehlomakulu of the General Workers Union

Thandisizwe Mehlomakulu is play­ing on the floor. His mother, Zora Mehlomakulu, is sitting at her desk. The office around her is not very tidy and her scarf is slipping off. Zora’s eyes are sleepy while she talks.

Many workers in Cape Town think of Zora as a mother. And the bosses know that they must be careful when Zora Mehlomakulu is around. Zora is an organiser for the General Workers Union.

Zora is not only a mother to the workers. Zora has two children of her own, Nosizwe and Thandisizwe. Learn and Teach spoke to Zora. We asked Zora if she found work in the union hard, especially as a mother and a woman.

“A NO – CHANCE BUSINESS”
“I don’t think that I have found work­ing as a woman in the union difficult,” said Zora.” But when I started in the unions, I had big problems. I was only twenty years old.

“I had problems at home. My father did not want me to work in the unions. He thought that politics was a no-chance business. He wanted me to be a teacher, not a union organiser.

“When the people first asked me to join the union, I did not even know if there was an office. I thought that maybe they met in the veld. I only knew the name of the union — the Commercial and Distributive Work­ers Union.

“I got a big surprise. The union had an office. It was in Queen Victoria Street, in Cape Town.

EXTRA CAREFUL, EXTRA HARD
“The workers wanted the women in the union to wear two-piece suits and high-heeled shoes. They said we must look smart and respectable. I am not a smart and respectable per­son. I found dressing like this very uncomfortable.

“The biggest problem was my age. The workers thought that I was too young. I had to work extra hard and be extra careful to win their trust. I also had to behave like a leader. I could not do what other young people did, especially in those days.

“It was a bad time for the unions. The union belonged to Sactu. Many peo­ple in Sactu were arrested .Soon all the Sactu unions were working as one. There were not enough people to do the work.”

In 1964 Sactu decided that they couldn’t work in the open any more. Many Sactu people left the country and many were in jail. And some, like Zora Mehlomakulu, quietly waited for the workers to rise again.

HARD TIMES
In 1971 many of the old trade unionists came together. They talked about starting a new union. Zora tells us about it.

“We decided to start an advice office and not a union. The Minister of Labour was hard on unions at that time because the workers were still weak. The government wanted committees for the workers — not unions.

“When the Western Province Workers Advice Office started, we had nothing. We even borrowed a desk and a chair. Times were hard. The workers were scared. They thought unions led to trouble. The bosses were hard too. They used to throw us out — or call the police.

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Zora with her son, Thandisizwe

A FINE HUSBAND CALLED FRANK
“In the meantime, I was married to my husband, Frank. Poor Frank soon got used to me going out at night to meetings. The workers used to come to our house at any time with their problems. Sometimes we held meet­ings at the house.

“But Frank has always been under­standing. Without Frank we would live in a big mess and we would never eat properly. When I work late, Frank looks after the children. Frank only gets cross sometimes — when I am away too much.

“I looked after the children during the day. Now they are at school. People used to think that it was difficult with the children at work, but it wasn’t. In fact, when we first started to organise, the children made things easier.

LEAFLETS IN THE BLANKET
“When Nosizwe, my first born, was three months old, we were busy organising in the docks. Now, you know that you are not allowed to give out leaflets in the docks. So I used to put Nosizwe on my back. Then I tucked all the leaflets into her blanket.

“No-one at the gate ever looked at me until one terrible day. Just as I got to the gates, Nosizwe started to scream. She shook all the blankets. The leaflets flew all over the place.

“The men at the gate came to see what these pamphlets were all about. They were very shocked. Those men thought I was an old woman, coming to do cleaning jobs. They refused to let me through the gates that day. And afterwards I was extra careful at the docks.

“The children always made it easier to get into factories. Even after Thandisizwe was born, I used to take him with me. I would go to factories with him on my back. At the gates, I used to say: ‘My husband works here and I have come with the sick child.’

“The foreman would show me where to go. Then I would choose any ‘husband’ to be Thandisizwe’s father. I would talk my business with that man, saying that there was a meeting or this and that. And then the foreman would show me out.

CAUGHT SHORT AT DORMAN LONG
“Once I was caught at the Dorman Long factory. I went in, as always, looking for my ‘husband’. I went to a room at the back. Then I started a meeting. Suddenly I noticed all the workers looking very hard behind me. I could see in their faces that they wanted to tell me something.

“The boss had got in quietly while I was talking. But he did not under­stand me because I was talking in Xhosa. So I said in English: “Not everyone has paid for the hats I knitted. I want my money now”

“But the boss knew that I was lying. Someone was waiting for me out­side. She had told the boss I was looking for my cousin. So he threw me out.

“Later when we had more members at Dorman Long, we had a meeting with the bosses. I had long forgotten how they threw me out. But when that boss saw me, he got angry again. He made the union say that we were sorry for telling lies.

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Zora Mehlomakulu does not work in the tidiest office in the world but who would dare to tell her?

GROWING WITH THE CHILDREN
“Things are very different in the union and at home now. My children have grown. They are both at school — except Thandisizwe. He still likes to come to the union and not go to school. Sometimes he creeps into the taxi behind me. When I see him, it is too late to stop the taxi. That is why he is here today.

“The union, like the children, has also grown. We don’t have to lie to get into factories anymore. We don’t have to go and look for workers to join the union anymore. So many workers come to us now. The union is strong, like the children.

The strong arms of Grace Bopape

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Furniture remover Grace Bopape and helper Fernando Numaio

WHEN Grace Bopape came into the Learn and Teach offices, she was wearing a pretty spotted dress and a big smile. Nobody could believe that she really moved furniture for a living — she didn’t look nearly strong enough.

Finally, one of the comrades in the office, Obed, asked her: “Do you really lift heavy furniture? And dump rubbish?” “Sure,” she answered. “And I lift other things too. Give me a minute to change into my work clothes and I’ll pick you up too!”

Obed soon found himself in the strong arms of Grace Bopape — about one metre above the floor! He was scared, but he tried not to show it. Instead, he smiled for the camera. “You see,” said Grace. “I move anything, big or small!”

GRACE COMES TO JO’BURG

Grace was born in Sovenga near Pietersburg in 1958 to a poor family. When her father died, Grace was forced to leave school. She found work in Pietersburg doing piece-jobs as a domestic worker and made some money to help her mother and two sisters and a brother.

When Grace was 16, she went to Germiston. There she stayed with her aunt and did piece-work in the white suburbs. But she was only earning R24 a month and so she decided to look for a new job.

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Never say you can’t do something. Try, try and try again

Her next job was in a garage in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. Grace made tea there for three years. But already she was planning bigger things. She did not want to be a “tea-girl” for ever.

“Every month, I put R10 in the bank,” says Grace. “Then the garage went broke and I found a job as a domestic worker with a family called the Steinbergs. I worked there for seven years, saving all the time. Even though the Steinbergs paid me well, the wages of a domestic worker are not enough to support my family in Pietersburg.”

A HELPING HAND

So Grace decided to speak to the Steinbergs and see if they could help. They suggested that she get a driving licence. Mr. Steinberg taught Grace to drive and soon she was the proud owner of a driving licence.

The Steinbergs helped Grace to buy a van. Now it was time to find a business. “I did not know what I could do. I discussed all sorts of ideas with the Steinbergs. In the end, we came up with the idea of a lift-club.

“By now, I was living at a doctor’s house in Parktown, Johannesburg. There were about 12 children in the area and I started driving the children to school and to their lessons. But I was making only a little money. So I went to talk to the Steinbergs again.”

Grace says she and the Steinberg family have always been very close and friendly. “They are like my family,” she says. Once again, they gave her an idea for a business — taking people to Pietersburg. Every week, she would pack the truck and drive people to Pietersburg. Moving all the suitcases and boxes started Grace thinking. She would start a removal business!

So she put an advertisement in the Star newspaper — “Removals — big and small, heavy and light.” She asked the Steinbergs if they would take telephone messages for her. They agreed happily. Soon the phone calls were pouring in. There were so many people asking for furniture and rubbish removals that Grace could not manage alone. She had to get a helper.

FERNANDO JOINS THE TEAM

Fernando Numaio came from Mozambique to South Africa four years ago. He and Grace made a good team and today they are the best of friends.

Grace and Fernando not only remove furniture, they also dump rubbish. When they started, they charged R30 for one van load of rubbish, but sometimes the dumping grounds were far and they spent more than R30 on petrol. So Grace and Fernando drove around Johannesburg learning where all the dumping grounds were.

Soon people were asking Grace to come and clear their land. So she bought tools and a lawnmower for cutting grass and levelling land. This is hard work, and Grace and Fernando cannot always manage to do this by themselves. Grace employs people without jobs to help for the day. “I help them and they help me,” she says.

Grace’s husband, Obed, is also often there to lend a hand.

Now Grace has regular customers and earns about R1 600 a month. She is able to support her mother and younger sister, who is still in school. And she has saved enough to buy land for a house in Pietersburg.

“NEVER SAY CANT”

To be a mover, you have to be strong. We asked Grace what the secret of her strength is. Lots of mielie-pap, perhaps? “No,” she laughed. “I do exercise a bit, by running in the park. But the secret is to keep trying. Never say you can’t do something until you have tried. When I started, people told me that a woman could never lift these heavy things. But I tried — and I found that I could. And now I am used to it.”

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As easy as pie – Grace lifts Learn and Teach “heavyweight” Obed Bapela, without even trying

Grace says that she loves her job. “Fernando and I are always happy. We never argue even though we work seven days a week. And we also have free time, because it is not a nine to five job.”

Her message to Learn and Teach readers, especially the women? “Never say you can’t do something. When I started my business, I was one of few black people doing it. And there were no women. Today, there are still no women movers. But it’s a great job. My message is this: if you really want to do something, you must keep trying!”

Unity in struggle

Early one Sunday morning, two months ago, while most of you were in dreamland, we crawled out of bed and made our way to Mathopestad, in the western Transvaal.

Women from many different places were meeting in Mathopestad. The women were meeting because they are all fighting a struggle that is one and the same. They are fighting this struggle with the help of TRAC — the Transvaal Rural Action Committee.

When we got to Mathopestad, we joined everybody for a meeting in the graveyard. The proud women of Mathopestad wanted to show their visitors the new fence around the graveyard. The fence was the first thing the women built after they won their struggle for Mathopestad to stay in South Africa — and not to become part of Bophuthatswana.

After the fence-opening meeting, the women of Mathopestad gave us a huge, wonderful, tasty lunch. After lunch, we licked our lips, took out our pens and paper, and spoke to some of the women who were gathered in Mathopestad.

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Women from Bloedfontein at the meeting in Mathopestad

Mama Lydia Kompe from TRAC told us: “We brought the women together to build unity. All the women have the same kind of problems. For example, the women from Brits and Huhudi are fighting against forced removal. The people of Matjakeneng, Braklaagte and Bloedfontein are fighting because they don’t want their areas to become part of the ‘homelands.’

“Some of the women who are here have already won their struggle — like the women from Driefontein, Kwa-Ngema and Mathopestad. We wanted these people to tell the others about their struggles and to give them support and hope.”

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A woman from Brits with a T-shirt that says it all

Ellen Khoza and Johanna Tele from Brits said: “We came to this meeting to talk about our problems as women. Since Friday night we have talked about many things. We talked about removals and self-help projects. We want to make and sell things so that we can use the money to help de­tainees in our area.

“At this meeting we saw that we are not the only ones who are suffering. We learnt from this meeting that if women are united, then there is nothing to stop us. To the women in Brits, we say: “If we are not united then the government will send us to Letlhabile.”

And another group of women from Driefontein in the Eastern Transvaal said: “We have won our fight against the removals in Driefontein. We came to this meeting to help other women who are still having problems. We want them to know that women can fight their own struggle and win. After the death of Mr Mkhize in Driefontein, women took over the fight and won. The only weapon we used was unity.

“We are going to tell the other women in Driefontein about women who are still suffering in other places. At this meeting some women told us about their problems. For example, most of the women say they do not have food for their children. We told them what we do in Driefontein to help ourselves. We plant things and sell them. We work together and support one another. And this way we are strong, very strong.”

Dorah Sechogo from Huhudi said: ‘ ‘We came here as women from Huhudi to tell other women about our problems and so other women from other places can help us. Our children are killed by the vigilantes and we have been evicted from our houses. We are now living in the Roman Catholic church in Huhudi. The administration board wants to move us to a place called Pudimore. But we are all united and we will soon overcome our problems.”

A woman from Braklaagte near Zeerust said: “We came here because the government in Bophuthatswana wants to give us a new chief who says that Braklaagte belongs to Bophuthatswana. But we don’t want this new chief. We don’t want to be under Bophuthatswana because the government of Bophuthatswana doesn’t talk straight.

“We have learned a lot from other women at this meeting. We have learned that we must be united and strong. We also heard how other women have helped themselves by starting self-help projects. We must now do the same.”

A woman from Mogopa near Ventersdorp said: “In 1984 big white lorries from Bophuthatstwana came to Mogopa one night. They packed us and moved us without saying any­thing. Now we are waiting to go back home. We know that we must hang on and stand up like soldiers.

“At the meeting here we have heard about the suffering of our sisters in other areas. When we heard their stories, the tears were running from the eyes of every woman. It is not nice to be pushed out of your home.”

“Yes, there was much crying,” said Mama Lydia Kompe. “But then the crying stopped because we know that tears won’t take away the problems. We must have action. I think this meet­ing was important because every woman agreed that she must work hand in hand with other women. We must start working together in com­mittees and organizations — and then we must join hands with our husbands and children.”

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The old and the young at the meeting in Mathopestad

“WE, THE WOMEN SAY…….”
We, the women of Mathopestad, Huhudi, Brits, Braklaagte, Bloedfontein, Matjakeneng, Mogopa, Rooigrond, Driefontein and Kwa-Ngema, gathered here at Mathopestad on 22 November 1986 say:

We demand an end to all forced removals
Our sisters from Brits are under daily threats from the bulldozers. Let them stay where they are in peace. Oukasie has been their home for over half a century. They have a right to remain. We believe that all communities under threat of removal have a right to remain.

We demand an end to the stealing of our citizenship
Many of us, especially those from Bloedfontein, Braklaagte and Mat­jakeneng are in danger of losing our citizenship to Bophuthatswana. We are South Africans, we refuse to give up our citizenship. Mangope is a stranger to all of us. We want him to leave us and our land alone. We have seen the suffering of people in Bophuthatswana. We do not want to live in fear in that terrible place.

We demand help for all victims of forced removals
We wept when we heard the terrible stories of how our sisters in Mogo­pa and Rooigrond have suffered. They have suffered the pain of forced removal. They were forced to leave their peaceful homes. Now they are so very poor, living as refugees and squatters. Let them go home now! Let them rebuild their homes and their lives. We demand the same for all victims of forced removal all over our country.

We demand an end to detentions and for the police and vigilantes to leave us in peace
Some of us have been detained, others have had our children taken from us by the police. In Huhudi and Brits we have been attacked by the vigilantes. People have been killed and homes destroyed. We demand that we mothers be left to live in peace with our children. We want this, not only for ourselves, but for all South Africans.

Lastly, some of us from Driefontein, Kwa-Ngema and Mathopestad say that we have won our struggles. Yet, this does not mean that we can now sit back. We cannot live in peace until all communities, all over the country, are free from removal, free from losing their citizenship, free from detention, and free from the attacks of vigilantes.

We women pledge ourselves to stand together in unity with our commu­nities and other communities who are struggling against forced removals and other evils. We will organize all of our women to do the same. In this way we believe we will move nearer to a free and equal South Africa.