Fighting the magwaza – together

Umbulwane is a small farm near Ladysmith in Natal. Until 1980 Joseph Mkwanazi lived there with his family. They were a poor family.

Joseph didn’t own any land. But the rent was low. They kept some cows and chickens. And Joseph had a job in Ladysmith. The farm was not far from town. So Joseph walked to work everyday.

Life was hard. But the family lived peacefully – until June 1980. In that month white men in trucks arrived at Umbulwane. They painted numbers on the doors of all the houses. Then they left.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

People know the numbers on the door mean trouble

The people of Umbulwane were worried. They knew the numbers were trouble. And they were right. Five months later the white men came back. They came with six vans full of police and guns. And they also came with a bulldozer – the machine that people call “Magwaza”.

On that day Joseph Mkwanazi was at work. So he didn’t see the Magwaza smash h is house down.

“They did not give us a word of warning,” says Mr Mkwanazi. “My wife was outside collecting fire­ wood. Our three year old baby was inside. They took her outside and she ran away.

“I came home and found my house broken down. All my tools were broken. They left me with only one room. Then they came back later to break down everything.”

Joseph Mkwanazi was not the only one who lost his horne. On that day the government knocked down the houses of many people at Umbulwane.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Shacks and tin toilets – the kind of place people are moved to

In 1978 they did the same at another farm nearby. This farm is called Steencoalspruit. They also broke down houses and moved people from their land.

The people from Umbulwane and Steencoalspruit are’ -not the only people who have suffered. Since 1963, the government has pushed over 323 thousand people off the land. They said the people were living in “black spots” – and so they sent them off to the homelands. When the people did not want to move, they sent bulldozers and police.

Now they want to move even more people. Today over 100 thousand people are still living in “black spots” in the Ladysmith area. Their families have lived for over 100 years at places like Matiwaneskop, Driefontein, Ndonyane, Jononoskop, Umbulwane, Balderskraal and Steen­coalspruit.

At most of these places the numbers are already painted on the houses. The people are waiting for the Magwaza to come.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Members of the new organisation

But they will not move easily. In March 1984 the leaders from all these areas had a meeting. They got together to talk about ways to fight back.

They decided to start a new organi­zation. In the organization the people will fight together to stay on their land. For the first time people from all the “black spots” In the Ladysmith area are standing together in their struggle.

Learn and Teach spoke to people from the new organization. They explained why the new organization is so important.

“First everyone must stand together,” said one person. “The landowners and the tenants must stand together. The government likes landowners and tenants to fight each other. This is the government’s biggest weapon when they move people.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

“Our ancestors are buried here – we will not move”

For this reason we want tenants and landowners to fight together in one organization.”

“All the black spots must join the organization to fight for their land,” said another person. “It is easy for the government to move people one by one. But if we stand together they will be in for a surprise.”

“The government has got a big whip,” says Chief Zikalala. He is the leader of the people from Driefontein. “But before they beat us they must hit hard. We will fight with all our strength. Our people will die before they move.”


After the flood

For a long time, people in South Africa have waited for rain. The land is dry and cracked. People cannot grow anything. And their animals are dying a slow, painful death.

At the end of January, the people in Natal, Swaziland and Mozambique got rain. It came and came and came. It didn’t stop.

Strong winds and heavy rain hit the dry land. Soon the rivers were too full. Water flooded the land and many people died.

Many people lost their houses. Roads and bridges were broken. The people lost nearly everything before the rain. But after the rain, they had nothing left.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Philemon Myeni comes from the part of Natal that was hit by the storm. He was not there when the rain came. But his family was there.

Philemon has not heard from his family. He is very worried. He waits and waits. The days pass slowly and painfully. He told us his story:

“l was born in the village of Bhamganoma near Mkuze. It is a country place and the land is good. We keep animals. We plough along the Mkuze river. We grow mealies, corn, small beans and mbumba. The river is fu II of fish and good for swimming.

A few years ago I fell in love. wanted to marry Elizabeth. I needed R 120 for lobola. So I worked in a bakery in Mkuze for R40 a month. I paid the lobola after a few months.

“I lived in Bharnqanorna with my wife Elizabeth Ntombithini and our children. Their names are Bhekuyise, Tholakele, Ndukuzakhe. My grandmother, my mother and my sisters also live there. And so do my two brothers, Joseph and Elias.

There is no money in Bharnqanorna. So some of the family must go and work in the cities. Joseph and Elias went to work in the city.

But then Elias lost his job. The family had a meeting. “Elias has worked hard for a long time in the city,” they said. “It is time for him to come home and be with us again.” Now it was my turn to get a job in the city. I had to leave my new wife.

I felt strange. I was frightened and also excited. And for the first time in my life, I felt lonely. The time went as fast as a Putco bus. Too soon it was the day for me to leave.

My wife and children came to say goodbye. They were happy because I was going to fetch money. They smiled and waved. That was the last time I saw them.

I came to Durban and got a place in the Kwa-Mashu hostel. My brother Joseph and other friends were there. I got a job at the animal hospital. That’s a place that looks after sick animals.

They paid me R 100 a month. I sent R40 a month home. I felt happy and proud. My job was to clean the offices for the whites. I also made them tea and fed the animals.

I missed my family. And I didn’t like sharing a small room with four other men. But I was not unhappy. Sometimes we went and watched soccer on Saturdays.

Sometimes we went to the city. We walked the streets and looked In shop windows.
Slowly I was learning the ways of the city. Sometimes people from our village came to the hostel. They brought the news. When people went home, I gave them money for the family. We do not use letters. We cannot write.

One night in January this year my whole life changed. I was sitting in the room at the hostel. All five of us were there. We were talking and cooking. The radio was playing. I was fixing my shoes. Suddenly I heard over the radio the name of our village – Bhamganoma. My hands stopped working. Everybody stopped talking.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Many people lost their houses

The voice from the radio said a storm hit our village. The voice said people died in our village. I could not speak. My body was hot, then cold. Then I knew I must go home.

I went to work the next morning. I went to see my boss. We call him “Zibukwane”. This means “Spectacles” in English. I told him what happened at Bhamganoma. I told him I was scared that my family was dead.

“Spectacles” got angry when he heard my troubles. Maybe he could not understand because my English is not so good. “It’s nothing to do with us,” he said. “I don’t really care. If you want to leave, then leave. But don’t come back.”

Then Spectacles paid me R30 and told me to go away. I asked for my blue card. I did not get it. I asked for my notice pay. I did not get it.

I stood there looking at Spectacles. He looks after animals. But he doesn’t want to look after people. Maybe he only likes animals. Then I walked away from him.

We hired a car with the R30. We took messages and money from many people. We travelled north to Bhamganoma. The roads were full of dirt and stones. Sometimes we had to move broken trees out of the road.

When we got to the Umfolozi river, we stopped and looked. The bridge over the river was broken. We just sat there in the car. We looked at the broken bridge. And we watched the brown, muddy water of the Umfolozi.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Many bridges were broken

Nobody spoke. We knew we could not get home. Then we slowly turned the car around. We drove back to the Kwa-Mashu hostel.

I heard that all the bridges were broken. People from the village coutd not bring any news about my family. I felt helpless and alone.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005For the first time, I wished I knew how to read and write. I wanted to send a letter home. And I wished someone at home could write to me.

I had no money left. I could not pay the hostel rent. So I left the hostel. I went to stay with a friend.

My troubles made me feel sick. I walked to the city. I did not know what to do. I just started talking to strangers. Then I spoke to a middle aged woman. I told her how I got fired. And I told her about my problems at home.

This woman listened. Then she said she could help. She told me of an organization that helps workers. She said the organization could help me.

I went to this place. It is called the African Workers Association. They took me to a lawyer. The lawyer listened to my story and sent a letter to the animal hospital. So now I wait to hear from the lawyer.

I have not gone home yet. People say that all of my family are dead.

But I do not know. At night I dream of angels and brown water. Maybe the angels are my children. As soon as I have enough money, I will go home. I haven’t seen my wife for two years. I must know If she is alive or dead. I want to go home.”

Letters from our readers

Dear Learn and Teach
I enjoy your magazine because I learn a lot, especially about trade unions.
I have a problem. I am working for a building contractor. I work with sand blasting and painting. I have been doing this work for ten years and I am a foreman. But I don’t have any certificates from my work.
My problem is this where can I study more about my work? At school I have done standard seven.
Abraham Malindi

Thanks for the letter Abraham. The Depart­ ment of Manpower says it might give you a trade certificate. To get this you must show that you worked as a painter for at least five years. So your employer must give you a letter. The letter must say how long you have worked as a painter. The Department of Manpower says sand blasting is not a trade. So you cannot get any trade papers for sand blasting. You can go and see the Department of Manpower. Their address is Department of Manpower, 156 President Street, Johannes­ burg. Phone. (011) 29 – 2332.
If you want to study further you can contact the Education Information Centre. They will give you more information. Their address is: 6th Floor Dunwell House, 35 Jorissen Street, Braamfontein, 2001. Phone: (011) 339-2476 Good Luck. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
Thank you for the story on the New Tax Law. Learn and Teach has made light for many workers. Taxation is heavy on the black nation. I did not know that the government gets so much money every year from the sweat of black workers. I want Learn and Teach every month so I can follow the nation’s background and history.
D. M. N.

Dear Learn and Teach
I saw your magazine from a person who was sitting next to me on the bus. I looked through it. I found it very interesting. So could you send me more information about Learn and Teach.
M. Ngxiki

Thanks for the letter. We are glad you like the magazine. Learn and Teach magazine comes out eight times a year. If you send us R4.00 we will send you the next eight issues of the magazine. It is best to send a postal order. Our address is in the front of the magazine. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
Please can you help me. I have a problem. I cannot understand English well. I started standard eight but did not finish it. Please tell me what book to buy so that I can learn more English.
B. K. Nornpilo

Thanks for the letter. A place called SACHED has a book to help people read English. The book is called “Readwell”. The book costs R5.00. You can send a postal order for R5.00 to SACHED. Then they will send you the book. Their address is: SACHED, P.O. Box 11350, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2000. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
Please do me a favour. Send me pictures of Haile Selassie the Emperor of Ethiopia and Chief Albert Luthuli of Groutville.
I really enjoy reading the magazine. The magazine has really improved my English. I and I will survive if I and I can be taught by an African teacher. Jah bless the readers of Learn and Teach.
John Ras Mashampa

Dear Learn and Teach
Please don’t be surprised to get a letter from me. We need your help. We are very worried about our sister who is in Johannesburg. We have not heard from her for a long time. Her name is Nomangesi Ndlwana or Vuma. How can we find her?
Siphiwo Godola
Black 36 M 1
New Brighton

Sorry to hear about your worries, Siphiwo. We hope that our readers will see your letter. Maybe somebody will know your sister. We hope that they will write to you about your sister. Or maybe they will tell her to contact you. We hope this can help you. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
I want to ask about the law in Namibia. Black people suffer here in Namibia. Everyday the law catches many black people and puts them in jail. White people from outside Namibia can come to visit the country. The law does not catch them – only black people. It is a waste.
N. H.

Dear Learn and Teach
Please do me a favour. I want you to write the full story about Chief Albert Luthuli. The story about Chief Luthuli in Learn and Teach number 9 was not complete.
I would also love you to write more about our black leaders, so that we should know our history.
Nthato Mtimkhulu

Thanks for your letter and sorry the story on Mrs Luthuli was so short. The problem is we don’t have so much space in our little magazine. So we can’t make the stories very long. But we will write more about our black leaders – like the story on Toivo ja Toivo in this edition. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
For a long time I have seen the life of black people is heavy. Now I ask you what must we do to get a better life? How do we get more money for our work?
Z. Makopane

Thank you for writing. It’s true – life is really heavy. You did not say what your job is. But one way to make work better and to get more money is to join a union. Write to us again. Tell us what work you do. Then we will give you the name of a union to join. Unions make the workers strong. They help to get more pay. Good luck. -editor

Dear Learn and Teach
I like your magazine very much. It’s not so easy to say why I like it so much. All I can say is that it gives us what we desire. It leads us to greener pastures.
It is Learn and Teach that gives us true stories. We are clear about the new tax law now. We know what is happening instead of filling in forms that we don’t understand.
We have told the people about your help. Everybody in town is talking about the new Learn and Teach.
I wish you feet to visit far and near. I wish you a mouth to tell about things loudly. You are so cheap but are worth more than a car. Sloppy makes things even more loveable.
Themba Sangweni

With his face in the dust and a bullet in his back

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005On a cold winter evening nine years ago, the people of Jabulani in Soweto heard a loud bang. “I wonder what that was?” somebody maybe asked. “Sounds like a gun,” somebody maybe answered. And then a few seconds later, the people forgot all about it.

It was a gun. And a man lay with his face in the dust and a bullet in his back. His name was Friday Mavuso.

On that cold evening, Friday Mavuso began his long, brave fight. He fought for his health. He fought for his good name. And above all, he fought for the other crippled people of this world.

Friday Mavuso told us his story. He laughed a lot. And sometimes he looked a little sad. But he kept his head straight and high – all the time.

“I will start the story a few days before I was shot,” says Friday. “It was a Tuesday and I was on my way home from work. I then met a taxi driver friend of mine. His car was stuck. He said the battery was flat.

“I took him home with me and lent him my battery. He promised to bring back the battery the next day. But he didn’t. When I came home from work on the Thursday, I still did not find my battery. I was now very angry.

“I decided to wait outside my house for my friend. You see, I live on a main road and all the taxis pass my house. I waited and waited. My friend did not come.

“Then I saw his girlfriend. Her name was Lucy. She told me that my friend was coming to fetch her at a shebeen later on. ‘Come with me: she said. ‘We’ll go to the shebeen and wait together.”

And so Lucy and Friday went to the shebeen. And they waited together. The one waited for her love. And the other waited for his battery.

Friday Mavuso did not go to shebeens often. He was not a big “phuza”, but soon he was having good time. The beer was smooth and warm on that cold evening.

Friday the goalkeeper.

Friday the goalkeeper.

The people in the shebeen were very friendly. They all knew Friday Mavuso. He was a good sportsman. He kept goal for the Mbanya Swallows. And when he was not keeping goal, you could find him at a boxing or a karate club.

“I sat with Lucy and another woman:’ says Friday. “Next thing, Lucy and the other woman had an argument. Then Lucy threw her beer at the woman. But she got me instead. My shirt was wet with beer.

“I took Lucy and her friend to the kitchen. I wanted to make peace. Just then this other guy came into the kitchen. Before Lucy threw the beer, he was sitting with five other guys in the sitting room. I only knew one of them. He was a mechanic by the name of Tuli.

“So this guy came into the kitchen. He said the beer also wet his shirt. But he was talking nonsense. The beer did not wet his shirt. I tried to speak to him. But he did not listen. Then he threw a punch at me. I ducked and he missed. He tried again – and missed once more.

“Now it was my turn. I threw three quick punches – a left, a right and a left again. That guy didn’t even see my punches. It was lights out for him.

“Then his friends joined the fight ­ maybe because they felt an injury to one is an injury to all. They all rushed at me together. I fought back – and they dropped like flies.

“Now I decided to leave in a hurry. But some of the guys followed me. Just outside the gate one of the guys tripped me. I lost a shoe – but I didn’t stop. I ran down the road as fast as I could.

“I ran past a big white rock on the pavement. I decided to have a rest. So I sat on the rock. I looked down at my feet. ‘I must go back and find my shoe: I said to myself. And that was my big mistake. I should not have gone back for the shoe. That shoe cost me my legs. All for one stupid, damn shoe!

“I went back to the shebeen. But it was dark now. So I found a piece of newspaper and lit it; Then I heard this loud bang. And I felt this terrible pain in my back – just like a snakebite.

“I lay there on my stomach. I felt sick and weak. And then I saw all these legs standing around me. And then they started to kick me all over. I had a bullet in my back. But that wasn’t enough. They broke two of my ribs as well.

“I lifted my head. And I looked into the mouth of a gun. I knew the gun. It was a .38 special – just like the cops use. And then I knew the cops had shot me.

“I jumped up like a hurt animal. Then this big foot pushed my head down to the ground. And then I heard one of them shout, ‘Sebonego, Sebonego finish this dog.’

“So this cop pulled out his gun again and pointed it at me. ‘That’s it! I’m finished now: I remember saying to myself.

“I lay there waiting. And then I knew I had one small chance left; And I took that chance. I fell on my back and rolled my head – just like I was dead.

“I lay there. I didn’t say a word. I was scared to breathe. People came and went. I lay there for a long, long time.

“I was shot at about seven in the evening. And the ambulance only came at one in the morning. I lay on that dusty pavement for six hours with a bullet in my back.

“Can you believe it? The ambulance did not go straight to the hospital,” says Friday with a big laugh. “They first went to fetch a pregnant woman who was heavy with a child.

“And so there was. In the ambulance with a pregnant woman and a policeman. Then the woman started screaming. Her baby was coming. The policeman also started to scream. I laughed at him. ‘What are you scared of?’, I asked him. He looked at me in anger. He didn’t say anything.

“I woke up in hospital the next morning. And the first thing I saw was three policemen. They were guarding me – like I was a dangerous criminal. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t walk.

“Then the police charged me. They said I was a thief. They said I robbed a man – that mechanic guy who was sitting in the shebeen that night. They said I was carrying a knife. Can you believe it? Me carrying a knife? I have never carried a knife in my life. I didn’t need to. I knew about boxing and I knew about karate. I knew how to look after myself.

“The police asked me to make a statement. I told them I must first see a lawyer. ‘You are a cheeky bastard: they said to me. I did not care. I went back to sleep.

“My family got a lawyer for me. I told the lawyer the full story. The lawyer said the magistrate was coming to the hospital. I shook my head. ‘No ways: I said. ‘I want a real case in a real court. I don’t want a cover up.’ I did not trust the police. When they frame you, it sticks.

“I did not change my mind. And so they took me to a real court in my wheelchair. But they took no chances. They took me In an ambulance with another ambulance and two police cars following behind.”.

“The magistrate found me not guilty. The mechanic Tuli said I was not the guy who robbed him. And the cops got their story mixed up. One cop said one thing. And the other cop said another thing.

“And so my name was clean again. I was not a thief. I did not go around stealing watches and jackets. I did not walk around with a knife in my pocket.

“Then I went back to the hospital. I stayed there for four years. I suffered a lot. But my wife Brenda and my two children Sibusiso and Nonhlanhla suffered even more. Nonhlanhla was born a week after I was shot. Brenda worked hard to feed the children. She stood by me all the way.

“While I was In hospital, I thought about two things. Firstly, I wanted the police to pay for what they did. And secondly, I thought about the people who were suffering with me in hospital.

“I saw these people leave hospital. And I saw them come back to hospital. You know, these people were happier in hospital. They felt bad when they went home. They came back to the hospital because they didn’t want to worry their families.

“I found a lawyer to help me with my case against the police. But four years passed and nothing happened. When my bank book was finished, the lawyer said I must drop the case.

“I was angry – really angry. That lawyer took my money and said goodbye. Then I heard about this organization that helps people with the law. It’s called the Legal Aid Bureau. I wrote to them and they got me another lawyer. We carried on with the case against the police.

“In the meantime, I was thinking of ways to help the crippled people with me in the hospital. When the nurses had a film show to make money, I said I also wanted a film show. The hospital people got angry with me. But I never gave up. I made a few rands whenever I could. It all helped.”

Nine years later, Friday Mavuso won his case against the police. They paid him 74 thousand rand. He bought a house and a special van for himself ­- a van that crippled people can drive. He put the rest of the money away for his children’s education. “I want them to be lawyers so they can help people,” says Friday with a proud smile.

And today Friday is president of an organization that helps crippled and disabled people. “The organization is called SHAP,” says Friday. “SHAP stands for Self Help Association for Paraplegics. We believe in helping ourselves. We have come together to work together. We are disabled ­ but we are still able.”

Friday outside the SHAP centre.

Friday outside the SHAP centre.

You can now find Friday Mavuso in the big new SHAP building in Mofolo Park. His dream to help crippled and disabled people has come true. They now have a building of their own. At this building disabled people can learn useful jobs and they can play all kinds of sport.

And it all started in a hospital bed – by a man who only nine years ago, was lying with his face in the dust and a bullet in his back.

If you would like to get in touch with SHAP, here is their address:

P.O. Box 303 ORLANDO 1804
Tel: (011) 949 – 1832

“Breaking the wire” – The struggle for freedom in Namibia

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Katatura is a small township five miles away from Windhoek – the capital city of Namibia. Like most townships, it is a dull place with sand roads and matchbox houses.

But on Wednesday 29 February this year, the place came alive. The streets were full of people. They danced on the street corners. Every­ one sang, laughed and hugged each other.

Police in soldier uniforms stood on the side of the roads. But this did not stop the excitement. Cries of “Toivo, Toivo” and “Swapo will win”, filled the air. And the bright red, green and blue colours of Swapo were everywhere.

And the rain came – a long, wet rain. It was the first good rain in many weeks. Maybe the gods were also happy that day.

A sixty year old man with no hair, a grey beard and shining eyes was coming home. He was home again after 16 years in a far away place called Robben Island. His name Toivo Herman ja Toivo, the founder of SWAPO and the father of the Namibian people’s struggle for freedom.

The Germans tried to kill all the Herero people. Some of the Herero lived. They looked like this.

The Germans tried to kill all the Herero people. Some of the Herero lived. They looked like this.


Toivo’s story really begins In 1958. I n that year he was working in a grocery shop in Cape Town. Like most men from Namibia, he was a contract worker. He was trying to make a living for his family who lived in Ovamboland, the rural area of northern Namibia.

In Cape Town Toivo got interested in politics. He met people from the ANC and the Communist Party ­ organizations that were fighting to change things in South Africa. And he met other contract workers from Namibia – men like Andreas Shipanga, Emil Appalus, Solomon Mifima and Jacob Kuhangua.

These men met together in a small barbershop in Cape Town. They talked about the history of their country and the problems of the Namibian people.


When they met, they spoke about strangers ruling their people. They spoke about the Germans who first came to their country. The German rulers were very cruel. They took the people’s land and forced the men to work on white farms and mines.

Then after the First World War, the South Africans took over the country. For a while the Namibian people were happy. The cruel Germans were gone. But the people of Namibia were not happy for long. Toivo and his friends spoke about the new rulers from South Africa. They said the new rulers were just as bad as the Germans.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Toivo and his friends remembered how people before them fought against the Germans and the South Africans. In 1893 and 1904 the Herero people from the south of Namibia took up arms. The Herero’s wanted to chase out the German strangers and get back their stolen land. Maherero the chief of the Herero people asked other people in Namibia to join in the fight. “Let us die fighting,” he said to the people of Namibia.

Toivo spoke about how these people were crushed by the German armies. The Germans wanted to kill all the Herero people. After the war only eight thousand out of 80 thousand Herero people were still alive.

Then In 1922 the Bondelswart people fought against the new South African rulers. The South Africans had already taken the land of these people. So the Bondelswarts lived by keeping a few cattle and hunting for food.

But the South African farmers did not like this. They wanted the Bondelswarts to work on white farms nearby. So they forced the Bondelswart people to pay a heavy tax. The people refused and also took up arms.

They too were crushed by the South African soldiers. The government even sent aircraft to bomb the village of these people. One hundred Bondeslwart people were killed.


Toivo and his friends also spoke about contract labour in Namibia. They spoke about how they were forced to find jobs in Namibia. They could not choose the jobs they wanted. The people at the labour office checked workers to see how fit they were – just like cattle. Then they chose a job for them to do.

The workers had to sign a paper contract. The contract said all workers must stay in the job for 12 or 18 months.

Contract workers could not choose their jobs. They could not talk about their wages. And they could not leave the job before their contract was over. If workers were cheeky or if they broke their contract, they were beaten and jailed by the police.

Workers knew the contract kept them in chains. That’s why they called contracts “Odalate” – the wire.

But Namibian workers didn’t take their contracts without fighting. They went on strike many times because the contracts were so unfair.

In 1948 two thousand mineworkers went on strike. And In 1952 and 1953, thousands of workers at fish factories stopped work. They wanted an end to the contracts.

Toivo and the other men from Namibia spoke about the “wire” for a long time. They all agreed that the Germans and the South Africans were in Namibia for one reason – to get rich.

The country IS full of good farm land. The sea is full of fish. And diamonds, copper and coal lie under the soil. Toivo said that the whites were using contracts to force the people to work on farms and mines for very low wages. The rulers were using the labour of the people to rob the country.

Workers in a fish factory.

Workers in a fish factory.

The men knew that contracts were the biggest cause of suffering in Namibia. And they new that the fight against the “wire” must go on.


So one day in 1957, Toivo and his friends got together again in the barbershop in Cape Town. They decided to start a new organization. They wanted to end the contracts and fight for the rights of the Namibian people.

Most contract workers came from Ovamboland in the north. So they called the organization the Ovambo­ Land People’s Organization (OPO).

The leaders of OPO sent men back into Namibia. These men held meetings and told people about the new organization. The new organization grew very quickly.

One of the new leaders inside Namibia was a young railway worker called Sam Nujoma – the leader of Swapo today. He went around to the workers compounds. He told workers to join the OPO. “We must work together,” he said. “You, me, all of us – we must fight for our freedom together.”

Soon the new organization had thousands of members in compounds and locations all over Namibia.

In the meantime, Toivo was still in South Africa. He was busy collecting stories from contract workers about their suffering under the “wire”.

Contract workers were taken to their jobs in cattle cars.

Contract workers were taken to their jobs in cattle cars.

He sent these stories on a tape to people overseas – so that the” world could hear of Namibia’s pain.

When the police heard about this, they arrested Toivo. They sent him back to Ovamboland. But Toivo did not stop working for his people. He held many meetings and asked people to join the OPO.


Toivo knew that the Ovambo people were not the only people fighting for freedom in Namibia. So he and the other OPO leaders had talks with the leaders of the Herero and other groups of people in Namibia – like the Nama. They remembered the early struggles of these people. The OPO knew that it must fight for the freedom of all the people of Namibia.

Then one night something happened that made the OPO leaders want· their freedom more than ever. In Windhoek most people lived in the ‘Old Location’ where they owned land. The government wanted to move these people to a dry and dusty location called Katatura.

Katatura was five miles from town ­ just like in South Africa.

The people refused to move.The police arrived with trucks and guns. Suddenly they began to shoot ­ and that night more than 11 people were killed.

Toivo and the OPO leaders were angry and bitter. They began to think about their struggle. In April 1960 the OPO changed its name. The new name was SWAPO – the South West African People’s Organization. And the new organization decided to use guns to free their country. They wanted the people of Namibia to rule their own country.


So like the Herero before them SWAPO decided to take up arms. Thousands of young men left their homes to join the S’WAPO soldiers. They went into the bush to learn how to fight.

But Toivo was worried. He knew the South African army was strong. He was scared that many of his people would die.

“1 did not agree that people should go . into the bush,” said Toivo in a court a few years later. “But I could not refuse to help them when I knew they were hungry. I was not, and I could not remain a spectator in the struggle of my people for their freedom.”

In 1966 SWAPO attacked an army camp in the north of Namibia. The South African government was very angry. Toivo and other SWAPO leaders were arrested. Many SWAPO soldiers were also arrested. They were all put in jail.

Later they were taken to court in South Africa. In 1968 the judge sent Toivo and many others to jail on Robben Island.


But this did not end the struggle. While Toivo sat in jail SWAPO was still alive. Sam Nujoma became the new leader. And one thousand miles from Robben lsland SWAPO soldiers still fought for freedom in Namibia.

Workers also kept up the fight against their contracts. In 1972 nearly 20 thousand workers went on strike for three months. The workers wanted an end to all their contracts.

For 16 years Robben Island was Toivo’s home. And in all this time SWAPO got stronger. So when Toivo came home he knew he could say – “The struggle goes on.”


Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005One night 23 years ago, the black musicians of Johannesburg had a big party. They all met at Dorkay House in Eloff Street to say good bye to the members of King Kong – the famous stage show about life in Sophiatown. King Kong was going to London.

The night was long and wild. Ntemi Piliso was the leader of the band. And the famous Sol Klaaste was also there – playing the piano like never before. Everyone sang, drank and danced until the sun came up.

In the morning the whole party drove to the airport. They all sang Nkosi Sikelela and waved good-bye to the members of King Kong. King Kong was off to London in an aeroplane full of babalas and sore heads.

Jonas on the day he left for England

Jonas on the day he left for England

Some of the men and women from King Kong never came home. When the show in London ended many of them stayed overseas. They wanted to study music or to make records.

One of these people was a young man called Jonas Gwangwa – the trombone player in the King Kong show. After the show he went to America. He studied at famous music schools in New York. He played jazz with big time American jazz men. He made many records and lots of money.

Jonas Gwangwa became famous – a homeboy who made good. He lived in America for 15 years. And those years were not wasted. He met a lot of people, he played a lot of music and he learned a lot. Jonas was doing well – but he was not really happy.

He began to feel alone – like a man floating at sea, cut off from his people.

Jonas in England

Jonas in England

But Jonas couldn’t come home. He couldn’t come home because of his politics. He spent a lot of time in America fighting apartheid. He knew the government in South Africa was not his best friend.

So he did the next best thing. He flew to Gaborone in Botswana to be close by. And that’s where he lives and works today – still making the music that people love so much.

Learn and Teach went to Gaborone to talk to Jonas Gwangwa. We wanted to ask him some questions – like why does a man leave an easy life in America for a not so easy life in Botswana?

He spoke in a quiet way. And his words were full of deep feeling for his country, his people, their history and their music.

“Life in the U.S.A, was good,” says Jonas. “I played trombone with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. I also made a lot of music with South Africans like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

“One time I made a record with Miriam and Harry Belafonte – the great American blues singer. Most of the songs were in Zulu. So I had to teach Harry the words.

“It was great”, says Jonas. “Every time I went to Harry’s place he was sleeping. But I didn’t mind. He was paying me 15 dollars an hour. So I let him sleep. But soon he learnt some Zulu and we made the record. I learned a lot from that man.”

He learned a lot in America. But he never forgot his first lessons – the lessons he learned in the dusty streets of Sophiatown.

He remembered his days at Madibane High. He thought of his family and hard times. Jonas’ father was not so rich – like most black people in Sophiatown. The family could only pay for his sister to go to music lessons. So Jonas had to wait for a long time before he could play the music that was in his blood.

“I grabbed the first chance I got,” says Jonas. “From Madibane I went to St. Peters College in Rosettenville. Father Huddleston was the priest there. He got some old instruments and told us to play.

“I went to the first meeting. wanted to play the clarinet. But I didn’t know the name of the damn thing. So I asked for the first instrument I could think of – a trombone! I was shocked to see how big it was. But I was too shy to say anything. So that’s how I came to play the trombone.”

The boys at St. Peters started their own band and . called it the “Huddleston Jazz Band”. That’s where Jonas met people like Gwigwi Mrebi and Hugh Masekela – also great South African musicians.

Then Jonas joined the famous’ Union of South African Artists. This was a group of musicians who met on the top floor of Dorkay House in Eloff Street. Some of our best musicians played music there – people like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Sol Klaaste, Kippie Moeketsi and Dollar Brand.

And Jonas never forgot the band called the Jazz Epistles. He played in this band with men like Kippie Moeketsi and Dollar Brand. He also remembered playing in big bands like the Jazz Maniacs. And Jonas remembered the last night in Johannesburg when Ntemi Piliso played all night and everyone got sore heads.

“I knew then that I didn’t make it on my own,” says Jonas. “I needed the help of my friends at home ­ people like Kippie Moeketsi, Mackay Davashe, Ntemi Piliso and so many others.”

Jonas also believes that people can’t make music out of thin air. “Music comes from the history of people and from the places they live in,” says Jonas. He believes music comes from the way people suffer and from the way they fight to stay alive.

And in the U.S.A. Jonas was six thousand miles away from his people – the people that helped him make his music. So he had no choice. He had to be nearer home.

Today Jonas still makes music. He plays. with a young group of musicians in Gaborone. They call their band Shakawe — the name of a small village in the north of Botswana. He also works with a group called “Amandla” – musicians from South Africa who sing about their fight for freedom.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Jonas will never forget the old days and h is old friends. He is very sad that he did not meet his friend Kippie Moeketsi before he died.

His biggest wish is for Ntemi Piliso to come to Botswana. He dreams about drinking a cold beer and sharing memories with his old friend.

And one day Jonas Gwangwa hopes to come home to meet everyone else. Until then he waits with his best friend – the trombone. And until then, he will carry on making music about his people and for his people.