Bra Zacks, father of “our kind of Jazz”

Who is the father of our kind of jazz? Why, Bra Zacks Nkosi, of course. He was the man who could make a saxophone talk.

He did not have a Mercedes Benz or a big double-storey house. He never wore fancy clothes. Bra Zacks lived in an old brick and mud house, ate dombolos and liked to wear amahiya in the traditional way.

Last month Bra Zacks was remembered by a group of his loyal fans, the famous and the not so famous. They met in Alexandra on a Sunday morning to pay their last respects to a son of the soil. They came to put a tombstone on his grave to honour his name.

Outside the house where Bra Zacks used to live, Ntemi Piliso and the Jazz Pioneers brought back memories of Bra Zacks as they played some of his songs. The dust flew as some old toppies jived the tsaba-tsaba, just like old times. It was a day to remember.


Isaac Zacks Nkosi was born in Ingogo in Natal in 1925. Later his parents moved to Alexandra where he grew up.

Like so many other musicians of his time, Bra Zacks began his career by playing a pennywhistle and a paraffin tin guitar.

Then one day his sister Minah bought him an old organ “to keep him off the streets.” The organ changed his life.

“He fumbled with it until he got it right,” remembers Aunt Minah. “Then the other kids started coming over and before we knew it we had a band playing in our house.”

Zacks learned to play almost every instrument he could get his hands on. But it was the saxophone that became his biggest love. With this instrument he did not fumble!


Bra Zacks started playing music at a time when many other jazz musicians were playing American jazz. But he believed in our own music, mbaqanga.

Many people then thought mbaqanga was old-fashioned and not for city people. They believed this music belonged to the ‘Jim comes to Joburg’ types — the people from the farms.

But they had not heard Zacks playing. His music did not sound like Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington, but it was sweet to the ears. This was jazz with a new township beat — our own kind of jazz.

In 1940 Zacks joined a big time band called The Jazz Maniacs, and played alongside such greats as Zuluboy Cele. The young Zacks played at halls throughout the country.

“The forties and fifties were a good time for him,” says Aunt Minah. “He played with many bands like The Havanas, which he started himself, the Boogie Woogies “and the City Jazz
Nine. People were crazy about his music.”


Mr Mike Mazurkie Phahlane, jazz critic and former editor of Zonk magazine, says Zacks’ death in April 1980 was a blow to South African music.

“He was a great musician and music writer. The man’s fresh talent can be heard from his old hits. ‘Alex Township Jive’, ‘Zavolo Blues’ and ’10th Avenue’ are still the country’s best ever jazz hits.

“If they had given prizes to the best musicians of the forties and fifties, Zacks would have taken them all. No one can fill the gap that he left.”

Bra Zacks may be gone but his music is still with us. He will always be remembered for making us proud of our own music and roots — mbaqanga.

tombstone — the stone on top of a grave
fumble — to do something in an unsure way
former— something that happened in the past
a music critic — someone who writes about music
gap — a hole, an empty space



Dear Learn and Teach,
I am a girl of 19 doing standard 9. I would like to thank all the people and organisations who are fighting to save the lives of the “Sharpeville Six”. The judge in the case admitted that there was no evidence to show that anyone of the six actually laid a hand on the dead councillor, Mr Khuzwayo Dlamini. So I say that clemency should be granted to the six. The death sentence is an unfair sentence, especially in South Africa, where there is apartheid and racism. A punishment must teach a person a lesson so that he is warned. You don’t learn from dying so I say the death sentence must be abolished.
Beaufort West

Dear Learn and Teach,
I am a new reader of Learn and Teach – I am very happy with this magazine because it teaches me a lot. I read about the Small Claims Court in Number 1, 1988. Now I am going to claim my money from a man who cheated me. He owes me R600 but when I go there to get my money, he tells me to come back next week. I have spent a lot of money going to him every weekend to ask for my money. Because of Learn and Teach, I know how to take him to the Small Claims Court.
Gilbert Ncube

Go for it, Gilbert! We hope you get your money back.

Dear Learn and Teach,
I just want to say ‘Forward with Learn and Teach’. Thank you for your magazine – I have learnt so many things from Learn and Teach. Most of all, I have learnt about the history of our people. Even under this state of emergency, victory is certain. Forward Learn and Teach!
Fort Beaufort

Dear Learn and Teach,
Please help me with this problem – it makes me feel like killing myself. I was arrested for stealing last year and I am worried that this record will mean that I cannot go to teacher’s
training college. My elder brother has promised to pay for me to go to college, but what if they do not accept me because of this police record? What will I do with my life if I can’t finish my schooling. I think I have destroyed my future.

Thank you for your letter. We don’t think you need to worry about the college turning you away because you were arrested. We spoke to some principals, and they say they do not check if students have a criminal record or not. The only thing they check is your school results, so you must try to do well in your matric exams. They will call you for an interview at the college, but they will not ask if you have a criminal record. Don’t let this worry you – so long as you do not get into trouble with the police again, and you do well at school, your future will be bright.

Dear Learn and Teach,
I want to get a licence to run a taxi. Where must I go for it?
Albert Ethusang

Thank you for your letter, Albert. If you want to drive a taxi, you must get a Public Service licence from the municipal licensing department. If you want to run your own taxi, you must have a permit from the Local Road Transportation Board in the area you will drive the taxi. You can find the address under Transport in the government section of the telephone book. The application costs R10 and if you get the permit, it will cost R100. It takes about six months to get a permit. If you want to find out more about running a taxi, applying for a licence and permit, you can write to the South African Black Taxi Association. Write to:
Mike Ntlatleng,
Head – Communications Dept.
SABTA, P. O. Box 269,
Pretoria 0001.
Tel (012) 325-1570

Dear Learn and Teach,
I am unemployed. I was retrenched last December. I don’t see any chance of getting another job. So I want to get a licence to work as a hawker. I want to join the hawker’s association because I think it will help me to defend myself.
Crayton Faye

Thank you for your letter, Crayton. You can join ACHIB – the African Council of Hawkers and Informal Business. Their address is;
Room 803,
Medical Towers,
Jeppe Street,
Johannesburg, 2001,
Tel (011) 23-0542.
They also have a branch in Tembisa at  the Tembi Shopping Centre, Xaxa Section. You widget your hawker’s licence much quicker if you apply through ACHIB. They say it takes a few days through them, but if you apply on your own, you can wait several weeks.

Dear Learn and Teach,
Thank you for all the hard work you are doing for the readers of Learn and Teach. I hope that you will help me to find my wife. She left me in 1977 with our child. Since then I have been trying to find them. Last year my brother-in-law told me she was working on a farm near Rosendal, but was leaving for Johannesburg to find work. She complained about suffering to bring up the child. Now I want to be together with my family again. Please heip me to find them.
Sammy Khoaisi

Thank you for your letter, Mr Khoaisi. Wehope your wife sees this letter and gets in touch with you. It is eleven years since you’ve seen each other, so it might be difficult to get back together again. Maybe it will help if you go to see her family and ask them to help you find her.

Dear Learn and Teach,
Please help me to get my certificates from the Transkei Department of Education. I lost my Std 8 and Std 10 certificates in 1986. I applied for duplicate certificates from the education department in Umtata and they sent me forms to fill in. I returned the forms with a payment of R2. I have written to them and sent them a telegram, but they did not reply to me. I really need my certificates, please help me to get them.
L M Qushwana

Thank you for your letter, Mr Qushwana. We spoke to the Transkei Education Department, but they could not trace your application. Please write again, by registered letter to Mr Mathandabuzo at Private Bag X5003, Umtata and complain about the delay in getting your certificates. Please give him all the dates and details of the postal order you sent.

Dear Learn and Teach,
I am a 16 year old white middle class person. I regard apartheid as a sin and morally I support the liberation struggle. But I have not really done anything to help end apartheid. I have lived comfortably all my life and have done nothing to help others less fortunate than myself.
Kew, Johannesburg

Thank you for your letter. There are many whites in our country who share your problem. But there are things you can do. Join a progressive organisation, such as Links (an organisation of white school students) or Joyco (Johannesburg Youth Congress). Read progressive literature and educate yourself – and educate your friends too. For information about progressive organisations, events etc. write to: Jodac (Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee), PO Box 93118, Yeoville 2143.

Dear Learn and Teach,
Hello! I’m writing to ask for help with my English. I learned about ‘prepositions’ from the English lesson in the magazine. Now I want to learn about ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ speech. I will be very happy if you can do an English lesson on this.

Thanks for the letter, Johannes. We have passed on your letter to the people who prepare the lesson in the magazine. They say they will try to write a lesson to help you. They also thank you for the idea – and say they will welcome other ideas from our readers. Please write to:
English Lesson,
Learn and Teach Publications
P.O. Box 11074

Dear Learn and Teach,
The South African government is waging war against God. They have banned democratic organisations. Now the next thing they are going to do is silence the media and the church. The Bishops, the Archbishop and the priests are under attack! The Lord said to his disciples: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

Dear Learn and Teach,
I hope you will help me to get my ID book. I was born in 1961 and my mother died when I was very young. My mother was never married to my father and I have never met my father in my life. I grew up with a friend of my mother’s and I use my mother’s surname. I went to Home Affairs in Durban for an identity book. They told me to bring proof of date and place of birth. I explained everything to them. They sent me to the social workers, but they did not help me. I was called to the Home Affairs office again, and they told me they can’t help me to apply for a birth certificate because I don’t want to bring them the proof of date and place of birth. I have told them I don’t have the proof – what can I do?
Thabiso Kgapole

Thank you for your letter, Thabiso. We think the “proof” that the Home Affairs needs is just a sworn statement (affidavit) from you, and from your mother’s friends who brought you up, to say when and where you were born. You can get help in making this affidavit, and having it signed by a Commissioner of Oaths, if you go to the Black Sash Advice Office 27 Ecumenical Centre, 20 St Andrew’s Street, Durban, 4001, Tel (031) 301-9215. The Black Sash is open from 8 30 to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm Monday to Friday and you do not need an appointment. They do not charge for their services.

A mother speaks

“I greet you with a broken heart.” This was how Cecilia Ngcobo began her story of how her children have been taken from her, by death and by detention.

She was speaking at APARTHEID ON TRIAL, an all-day protest meeting held at the University of the Witwatersrand on 23 April. It was organised by the Free the Children Alliance.

The ‘trial’ was held to show the world how the system of apartheid treats its children. And many ‘witnesses’ came to tell their story. There were doctors, lawyers, social workers, priests, mothers and, of course, the children themselves.

They spoke about detention, torture and vigilantes. They spoke about children coming out of detention and not being able to sleep at night. They spoke about what apartheid has done — and is still doing — to the children of this country.

The meeting heard that since the government brought in the first state of emergency in 1985, over 8000 children have been detained. At the moment 300 children are still in detention.


Cecilia Ngcobo from Soweto was the first ‘witness’ to speak at Wits. She is the mother of eleven children.

Ma Cecilia, who has worked as a night cleaner in Johannesburg for the past 20 years, told the meeting what it is like to bring up children under apartheid — and of the hardships mothers have to suffer when their children are part of the struggle for a better South Africa.

She spoke of the heavy price her children have paid. Three have been detained. One of them is still in detention. Another is dead. Her eldest son, Jabulani, was killed in Swaziland by soldiers from South Africa on 16 December 1984.


When Ma Cecilia heard that Jabulani was dead, she went to Swaziland to bring his body home. “His body had more than 100 bullets. There were bullet-holes even in his hands,” she told Learn and Teach after the meeting.

“At first they wouldn’t give me the body. I had to fight for a long time to get it. I felt very hurt. I just wanted to bury his body.”

It cost her R784 to bring the body back to Soweto, and R356 for the coffin — more than three month’s wages. Jabulani, Ma Cecilia’s eldest child, who was killed in Swaziland in 1984


Ma Cecilia’s suffering began in 1982, when her second son Chris was arrested at Fort Hare university in the Ciskei. Chris was a member of the Azanian Students’ Organisation (AZASO). He was detained for eleven months.

At that time Cecilia didn’t know about organisations like the DPSC that helped the families of detainees — so she went to the Ciskei by herself. She was not allowed to see him.

When Chris came out of detention, he went to study at Wits university. He was detained again in June 1986. The next day they took her third son, Bheki. At this time Ma Cecilia did not sleep.

At night she worked — and in the day she went to police stations, and to lawyers and the DPSC for help and advice. Her husband Maxwell, who works as a driver, was not able to help her. He works during the day — and if he does not work, there will be no food for the family.

Cecilia went from one police station to another looking for her sons. “They wouldn’t tell me anything. I tried for a whole week. In the end some students phoned. They didn’t give their names, but they told me where my children were.”


In June 1987 Bheki’s twin brother, Gerry, was also detained. Gerry was an organiser for the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

But Ma Cecilia’s problems didn’t end there. The “blackjacks” and the army raided the Ncgobo home again and again. “They turned the house upside down — stoves, fridges, everything. The blackjacks couldn’t read, so they took everything, even my church book. When I complained they threatened to beat me.”

Gerry was charged with keeping banned literature. The SACC paid his R300 bail, and he was released in August 1987. He was then charged and found not guilty in February 1988. Bheki, was released in July 1987. Chris is still in detention at Diepkloof Prison, 21 months later.

But even when the children come home from prison, there is no peace. Three days after Bheki came out of prison, the SADF came to the house at four o’clock in the morning. “They took me and beat me up,” says Bheki. “The next day they brought me home. Now I don’t like to sleep in my house. I am afraid they will come back.”


Ma Cecilia Ngcobo has been through a lot with her children — but like a true mother, she has stood by her children through thick and thin. It has not been easy: now she has high blood pressure because of all the worry. Her doctor has told her that she will have a heart attack if she is not careful.

Ma Cecilia’s health has suffered — but that does not mean her spirit is also broken. One good thing has come out of all the suffering. She is no longer afraid.

“I used to be afraid. Now I am not,” she says.

The same is true for many of the other ‘witnesses’ who spoke at Wits university. They had also suffered, or seen suffering. But like Ma Cecilia, the fear is gone. They are not afraid to
stand up and talk about it.

They were not afraid to say that the children of this country have suffered enough. They were not afraid to agree with the speaker who said: “A country that destroys its children is destroying its own future.”

The verdict at the end of the ‘trial’ was clear.”Apartheid: guilty as charged!”

alliance — when different groups work together to fight for the same thing
witness — a person who speaks about something they have seen
torture — when people are badly treated, like when they are beaten, given electric shocks or kept alone for a long time in a prison cell
threaten — to scare somebody with words
banned literature — books, magazines and papers that are against the law
release — to set free
verdict — the decision at the end of a trial: guilty or not guilty

The Olympics of the Oppressed

Later this year a flame will be lit in Seoul, South Korea. The flame will mark the beginning of the Olympic Games.

It is a time when thousands of sportsmen and women from all corners of the earth meet to decide who is the strongest, the fastest and the best. It is the greatest of all sporting events.

But winning is not everything at the Olympic Games. For the sportspeople, and for the millions who watch them, just being there is a great moment in their lives.

Under the glow of the Olympic flame, they will join hands in a spirit of peace and togetherness.

But it is a moment that the people of South Africa will not share. Because of apartheid, South Africa is banned from the Olympic Games. It has been this way since 1960 — and it will stay that way until apartheid is destroyed.


But here, in the darkness of South Africa, the flame is not completely dead. It burned brightly in Cape Town for a few days over the Easter holidays.

SACOS — the South African Council on Sport — brought over 500 sports -loving people together to take part in a big festival. They called it the “Olympics of the Oppressed.”

The festival was to mark Sacos’s 15th birthday. The organisation was formed in 1973 to bring together sporting organisations from the oppressed communities in South Africa. Sacos believes that you cannot separate sport from the freedom struggle. Their battle – cry is “No normal sport in an abnormal society.”


In 1982 SACOS also held a festival. At the last minute the only sponsor decided not to back the festival, and SACOS had to fight to get funds for it.

This time the funds came from different sponsors, and the Sacos Olympics were a big success.

For five days there was a feast of over 20 sports. People filled the stadiums, halls and swimming pools. There were speeches about sports and the struggle for freedom, and there was a programme of music and other arts. Crowds shouted “VIVA SACOS” and sang the national anthem wherever you went.


It was easy to see how exciting the world Olympics must be. The opening ceremony started with a big gymstrada. Over 600 schoolchildren and college students took part.

They had practised for four months for the festival. Dressed in black and yellow, they made beautiful patterns all over the playing field. When they formed the word SACOS across the field, the crowd stood and clapped for a long time.

There was a march-past of all the people chosen for the SACOS games, followed by the presidents of each sporting body: athletics, baseball, boxing, chess, darts, bodybuilding, cricket, tennis, table tennis, squash, swimming, softball, weightlifting, rugby, soccer and hockey.

The SACOS executive was introduced to the crowds. Speakers told of the struggles and hardships of sportspeople who practise and play without proper grounds, and with few or no training facilities. They also spoke of apartheid in sport and how it divides people in our country.

At the opening ceremony one of the speakers said: “The SACOS Olympics will help oppressed people to take their rightful place in a new South Africa. A South Africa free of divisions based on colour and wealth.”


The standard in all the events was high, and the spirit was friendly and sporting. In the athletics there were many brilliant performances. Shaun Verster, one of the fastest runners in Africa, was a big attraction for the crowd.

The volleyball games (male and female) produced a thrill a minute. In the packed hall there was a lively, cheering crowd. The SACOS invitation team played exciting volleyball for over five hours. They showed the skill and fitness that come from years of practice and discipline.

Surf lifesaving was something new for many in the crowd. On a cloudy and windy day, hundreds of people went to Strandfontein beach to watch. The lifesavers gave a great display of their strength and knowledge of the sea.

The swimming gala was also very impressive. The swimmers showed  that they are able to compete against the best in the country. The most attractive event was the water gymnastics. Three teams of young swimmers moved through the water in time to the music.


The soccer match between the South African Soccer Federation amateur team and the National Professional XI was disappointing at first — but it came alive in the second half. The amateur team showed good skills and scored the first goal. But the professionals soon showed their class and came back to win the game.

The table-tennis games were a dingdong (or ping – pong?) affair. Scores in each game were close, and here too the standard of play was high.

On the last day it was athletics again, with high quality softball and baseball games in the afternoon. It was windy, rainy and cold, but the crowds came anyway. Many athletes had taken part in the Senior Schools Sports a few days before, and they were tired — but they came to the Olympics to show their support for SACOS.


All in all the SACOS games were a success for both players and spectators. The festival showed that one day the oppressed people will be able to take their place at the highest level in a future South Africa free of apartheid.

As one player said: “If we can do so well now with so few opportunities, think how much better it will be when all sportspeople in South Africa have the same facilities for training.”

SACOS President Frank van der Horst was pleased. “It was a huge success. People are very excited. They can’t decide if we should have the games every four years or every year.”

There was a sad note, however. There were not enough faces from the townships in the crowds or in the teams. It shows that SACOS needs to work harder to take its place among the people. There is no reason why it cannot do so.

“the oppressed” — the people who are pushed down
glow — the light from a flame
sponsor — the people or company with the money
gymstrada — when lots of people do gym together, a gym display
training facilities — the space and the equipment you need to train.
impressive — very good
compete — to play against
attractive — very nice to look at

Forward with the Women’s Struggle

They came, singing and clapping, from all over South Africa — and together they made history.

It was the first time that the women of Cosatu came together to talk about their problems — and what it means to be black and a woman and a worker in South Africa.

The Cosatu Women’s Conference took place at the Rand Showgrounds in Johannesburg. It lasted for three days, from the 2 2 – 2 4 April.


Workers from all over the world sent messages supporting the Cosatu women. Letters came from Sweden, Holland, Italy, Britain and Norway. Even the ANC’s women’s section sent their greetings to the women at the conference.

Some women came from far away. Three comrades came from Namibia. They came from the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW). Helene llonga lives in Windhoek. She is the chairperson of her local Domestic Workers’ Committee. She 18 says: “I was chosen by the union to come to the conference. I was very excited. We were very happy to come here to share our thoughts and to learn from our comrades in South Africa.”


The women sat together and listened to what the Cosatu leaders said. They then split up into four groups and started talking about the women’s struggle.

• The first group talked about women at work — in shops, in factories, on farms and domestic workers. They spoke, for example, about how women sometimes do the same work as men but are paid half as much. And sometimes women want to do such work, but they are told they cannot because they are women.

• The second group spoke about women in the unions. They discussed why women do not take part in.union activities as much as men do — and why there are so few women in leadership positions. They spoke about – the many problems that women face which make it difficult for them to do these things.

• The third group spoke about health and safety. Women must often work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. They can do the same work as men. But they are different to men because they must bear children. This causes many problems for working women.

• The fourth group looked at the problems of women in the community. They talked about women in rural areas and in urban areas. But women all over share the same problems — like housing, childcare and uncaring husbands.


At the conference they talked about ways and means of bringing women together to solve their problems. Some said, “Cosatu must organise women to take the struggle forward”. Others said, “No, it is for the women’s organisations in the community to organise women.”

Said one Cosatu member: “We were not surprised that there were some difficulties. It was the first time the special problems of women at work, in the unions and in the community were looked at seriously.”

But people agreed that women’s organisations in the community should carry on their work. They would work together with Cosatu women, and Cosatu women would work with them in the community.

They decided that women from different unions must come together to solve their problems in the Cosatu Women’s Forums. And they agreed to take the issues of women to Cosatu’s next National Congress.

At the end of the day the women stood together and sang the national anthem. Then they shouted with one voice: Amandla!


The conference made many resolutions. Here are just some of them:

• Women should have the right to be pregnant and give birth when they choose. Pregnant women must have full job security and be given at least 8 months paid leave.
• There must be research and education about the dangers to health at work, especially dangers to women. Union members should set up health and safety committees in their workplaces to fight for better health and safety conditions.
• Cosatu must campaign to educate men not to beat or rape women. Cosatu must work with other organisations to fight for the right of women to have an abortion.
• Cosatu should educate its members about AIDS.
• Farm workers and domestic workers should also get unemployment fund (UIF) money like other workers.
• Cosatu members must be educated about women’s issues. They must know that women can also do union work, and so they must elect women to positions in the unions.
• Cosatu must fight to get equal work for women and men, with equal pay. This would form part of the Living Wage Campaign.

local — nearby, nearest to you
conference — a big meeting
issues — problems, things to speak about
resolutions — the things people at a meeting decide to do

Free Harry Gwala

A very sick old man is lying in a cold cell in Pietermaritzburg’s new prison. Doctors have told him and his family that there is nothing that they can do for him.

The disease has left the 68 – year – old man helpless — he cannot use his hands anymore, even to feed himself.

His name is Harry Themba Gwala — and there is now a fear that he may die if he is not freed soon. His friends, both in South Africa and overseas, have called on the government to let him go.

Last year the Release Mandela Committee (RMC) started a campaign calling for Gwala’s release. This campaign is supported by many other UDF member organisations.

And last month, railway workers in Britain started their own campaign.

The National Union of Railwaymen is sending thousands of postcards to Adriaan Vlok, the minister of Law and Order, asking for Gwala’s release.

But, so far, their voices have fallen on deaf ears.


Gwala, a highly respected leader of the African National Congress in Natal, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1977.

Those who know him, from prison and outside prison, speak of him as a great man who has spent nearly all his life fighting for a better South Africa.

Lulu Gwala, his eldest daughter, told Learn and Teach about her father at their small, well-kept home in the village of Dambuza just outside Pietermaritzburg.

“My father is suffering from ‘motor neuron disease1 which doctors cannot cure. The disease has left him helpless and he can no longer use his hands. He now has to ask other prisoners to feed him.

“Ever since he broke his collarbone while playing soccer one day in prison, he has not been well. His life changed from that day. He began to lose the strength in his hands. Every time we went to see him on Robben Island, he looked worse.

“They told us he was suffering from this disease that cannot be cured. Then last year, without telling us, they transferred him to the new prison in Pietermaritzburg. We were upset to find that they are keeping him in the same cell with ordinary criminals.”


Harry Gwala is now in a prison not far from the place where he was born. He was born in a place called Swayimani near Pietermaritzburg. After finishing high school, the young Harry Gwala went to Adam’s College. He got a teacher’s diploma in 1945. He then taught at Swayimani High School where he was a choirmaster.

 From early on, Gwala was very community minded — both in sports and politics. He was a keen soccer player — and it was on a soccer trip to Cape Town that he met Nettie Mkwayi, who later became his wife. They had four children together. Lulu Gwala cannot remember whenher father became a unionist and ANC member. “I was still very young then. But I knew that my father was a special person, a man who cared for his people. Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, and the late Braam Fischer used to come to see him at our house. He was a very busy man.”

Gwala began organising workers in the rubber and brick factories. In the early forties he organised railway workers for the old South African Railway and Harbour Workers’ Union (SARHWU). But he paid the price for his union work. He got his first banning order in 1954.


Gwala was one of the founding members of the South African Council of Trade Unions (SACTU). He was there when it was launched in March 1955.

Gwala was the chairman of SACTU in the Pietermaritzburg area. He was one of the pillars of the organisation in his area and he helped to build many future leaders — like Moses Mabhida, the late SACTU and South African Communist Party (SACP) leader.

In 1960 the government declared the first state of emergency — and Gwala was one of the thousands who was detained. When he was released he carried on with his work of serving the people.

On 8 April 1961 the government banned the ANC. Many people were arrested and many others left the country. SACTU was not able to carry on with its work.

The following year, the Gwala family moved to Slangspruit, a village near Pietermaritzburg. Gwala, who was no longer allowed to teach, worked for some time as a clerk at Edendale Hospital. But he was still an organiser at heart. He organised nurses and other hospital workers for the Health Workers’ Union.

In February 1963, Gwala was banned, together with many other SACTU leaders. In 1964 Gwala was arrested and charged with treason. He was sent to Robben island until he was released in 1972. But he was not a free man. He was banned again, for five years.


Lulu remembers the time her father came home from prison: “My mother died in September of the same year. My father was hit hard by her death. She had always stood by his side and supported him.

“After my mother died, my father spent more time with the family — but the fighter in him never died. He was arrested again in November 1976. That was the beginning of a sad and lonely time for us.”

It was also the beginning of a long trial for Harry Gwala and nine of his comrades. They were charged with “terrorism” and furthering the aims of the ANC. The trial came to an end on 15 July 1977. Gwala and four others were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The others were given long prison sentences. “We missed the old man very much. We often went to see him on Robben Island, but that was not enough. We needed his love and care,” says Lulu.

The Gwala family now lives with the hope that one day they will lead a normal life with their father. Lulu thinks that the government will set him free one day.

“I thought that they brought him to Maritzburg because they wanted to release him as he is now old and sick. But nothing has happened and we do not know what the government will do. We can only hope that they will find it in their hearts to send him home.”

“It is the policy of the SA Prisons Service not to comment on the physical condition or medical treatment of individual prisoners as it is regarded as a private matter between the prisoner, his family and the doctor. It can however be stated that Mr Gwala, like all prisoners, has regular access to doctors and fully trained medical personnel.

“The Prisons Service is satisfied that the medical treatment of all people entrusted to its care is of a very high standard and any prescription or reference for specialized treatment is strictly adhered to. “Mr Gwala was transferred to the Pietermaritzburg Prison on 1987. 07. 28. Contrary to the allegation that his family was not notified of the transfer it can be stated that on 87.07.29, as is standard procedure, Miss Lulu Gwala was notified per letter. Miss Gwala’s first visit to her father took place on 87.08.08.

“It is also mentioned in your report that Mr Gwala broke his collar bone while playing soccer in prison. The truth is that Mr Gwala’s wrist was fractured during a soccer game and he received the necessary medical treatment.

“It can also be mentioned that the release of all prisoners is considered from time to time by the relevant statutory bodies in the process of which a variety of factors such as the nature of the crime, previous record, length of sentence, portion of sentenceady served, the health condition, age, prognosis etc. are taken into account. It is therefore policy not to speculate on the possible release of any individual prisoners.”

a pillar of SACTU — somebody who helped to build up SACTU
a doctor’s prescription — a letter to take to the chemist to buy medicine
allegation — a claim or accusation
transfer — send
statutory body — a department or committee set up by a law
fractured — split, broken
speculate — guess

A day at the beach

There are not many things nicer in this life than lying on a warm beach with your eyes closed and listening to the sea whispering in your ear.

I felt like a king lying in the soft sand in my pink swimming trunks and with my new “one-way” mirror sunglasses. I thought of my chommies back at the office in Jo’burg and laughed. They never believed I would save enough money to have a holiday in Durban. But I showed them!

After a little nap, I got up slowly and went to cool off in the big, blue sea. People of all colours, shapes and sizes were playing in the water. All of Africa was there for a dip and a flip.

Modimo must have been very happy to see such peace and happiness. Alles was rustig en vrydig in sonnige Suid Afrika…but not for long.


A group of women marched down on to the beach. Some of them were carrying wooden crosses under their arms. There was something about their faces that told me they were not happy like everyone else at the beach.

I watched as the women dug makebelieve graves in the sand and put the crosses on top. Then I heard someone say that the women were from the Black Sash — and they had come to protest the killing of four people by the SADF in Botswana a few days before.

The women stood next to the graves and said a silent prayer. Then they left the beach, leaving the crosses standing in the sand.

I was deeply touched by what the Black Sash mothers did. I looked at the crosses and thought about all the lives that have been lost in the name of a madness called apartheid. I sat there and wondered if Magnus ‘Rambo’ Malan and his soldiers would ever see the light.

Just then a big umlungu, with two tree trunks for legs and a big stomach that comes from drinking too many dumpies, ran up to the graves. Grunting like a wild pig, he pulled all four crosses out of the sand — and then he ran to throw them into the sea.

But the crosses did not want to go away. The sea washed them back to the shore. The big mlungu picked up the crosses and once again threw them back into the sea. People laughed and cheered as the crosses kept coming back to his feet.

Like a man who has lost his mind from drinking too much mampoer, the mlungu started jumping on the wooden crosses. Some other laanies liked what he was doing and joined him in his wild dance. They jumped up and down on the crosses until all that was left were tiny pieces of wood.

The big man then saw that someone from a newspaper was taking pictures of him. He became very angry. Growling like a mad dog, he ran after the photographer. But the woman with the camera was too fast for him. She escaped into the crowd and lived to see another day.

I looked at the big bobbejaan and decided that I did not want to share the same beach with people like him. I picked up my things and walked away without looking back.


After a long walk, I found a nice spot on another beach. I lay down, closed my eyes, and tried to get back into the holiday spirit. Slowly I fell into a world of sleep and dreams.

But not for long. I was woken by aloud voice.

“Hey, what are you doing here? This beach is for whites only. Blacks are not allowed to swim here, especially ones who are as black as you. Loop Jong!”

I turned around and saw a giant of a man with bright red eyes and teeth that were brown from too many Texan plains. He was standing right over me, and I could see the hair growing out of his nose.

I looked him straight in the eye. I wanted to tell him that all the beaches belonged to God and that I too am a son of God. But I kept quiet. Maybe it was the size of his hairy arms — or maybe I felt that I would be wasting my time because the badness of his blood runs so deep.

My tongue was dry and my heart was heavy. I felt like Allen ‘Sorry my baas’ Hendrikse, the ‘coloured’ minister who serves in the kitchen at parliament. He too once went for a swim on a whites only beach — and then ran to makhulu-baas P. W Botha to say he was sorry.

Once again, I picked up my things. Enough was enough for one day. I could no longer stand the beach bullies and the people who hate crosses and black people. “Speedie, is this really good for you?” I asked myself, thinking of home sweet home in eGoli.

Then and there I decided that I will not go back to Durban until the beach is open for everyone. A sea that is not for all is not for me!