Celebrating Our local Heroes and Heroines.
All the world looks up to a hero and hunts for a hero to worship. What then is a hero and how does one become one? According to Goodreads, “A hero is someone who is better than the rest, been there and done that the best. Heroes come into being when a mere mortal performs extraordinarily under ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.” We are told of great men like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani just to name but a few, stories of how they brought our democracy into light. Though not falling in contradiction with this statement as a girl, one tends to think about the whereabouts of women at those times.
What were they doing? Who were they with? Were they doing anything to contribute to the freedom of the country, its democracy and growth? Well, as a student who is used to reading and writing about outstanding men, l have found that there certainly were women who were at the forefront fighting for this great country who today are not nearly given as much recognition that they deserve.
Plato says, “A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men”. In the year 1880 in Alice, a baby girl was born and named Cecilia Makiwane. She attended Lovedale girl’s School and got a teacher’s certificate and in 1903, enrolled for nursing. On her completion, she was sent to Butterworth Hospital and wrote her final examination (Colonial Med Council) on the 19th of December 1907 and was registered as the first “black professional nurse” on the 7th of January 1908.
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”, Joseph Campbell. Being a sensible and learned woman Cecilia could not stand by and do nothing while her country was in hallow shambles, people brutally killed and living in constant fear and witnessing people being mentally imprisoned, so she looked for something that would help out her fellow citizens. Being politically conscious, Makiwane became a touch bearer for women’s emancipation in South Africa. As an early activist in the struggle for women’s rights, she started getting involved in campaigns that echoed freedom from its deepest dangers such as the first anti-pass movement that took place in the year 1912. A petition was signed by five thousand black and coloured women from all over the country in Free State and was sent to Louis Botha.
After serving Lovedale hospital for many years, Cecilia was granted leave due to her impaired health and moved to Thaba’Ncho to live with her sister Majombozi. After some time, Cecilia Makiwane died at the age of 39 years in 1919. Her death was untimely and it robbed the country and her community of a remarkable pioneer.
Eighty-three years later, the government introduced the Cecilia Makiwane’s Nurses recognition Award for healthcare professionals in her Honour. A statue was created by the nurses of South Africa at Lovedale Hospital in the year 1977 and a hospital in Mdantsane township near Butterworth in the Eastern Cape was named after her.
Back in the day, women were only seen as objects of fulfilling men’s sexual desires, thought of as submissive house slaves and seen as beings who were negligible and species who are incapable of acquiring respectable positions. Yet we have women who rose up from this ‘nonsensical, foolish iniquitous’ myth and were the foundation where our independence lies. A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure inspite of overwhelming obstacles. As David A Cleinman says, “The coward will run away from danger to strike in the dark. The heroine will run through the dark, even though she knows the coward is awaiting to strike.” This is true of our South African heroines. Women are strong and remarkable beings who can achieve any and everything if they place their minds to it. They are intelligent and very influential people who can turn sceptics into believers. They have the power and ability to build and destroy.
“If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.” (Anhill Adams). Women are the pinnacle of every nation, without them, there would not be great men, presidents, kings. This is why women ought to be given great recognition, the respect they deserve and to be given a platform where they thrive in all aspects. Children from every school starting from intermediate phase to high school need to be taught about their history and how this country we get to call ours was reformed and to not only give them knowledge of the males who brought our freedom but also the women who contributed on our democracy and independence. The focus should not only be on those we hear on everyday but also of the minor heroes and heroines who have been forgotten.
A country that does not teach its youth of its heritage is a country implanting disastrous seeds on its bed, making products of destruction before knowing where it is you are going as a country you need to know where you come from. New Generation History for grade 12 states that “Pan- Africanism urged all black people, throughout the world to unite in an attempt to create greater political consciousness and unity in the struggle for equality with the whites.” Exposure to Western education led to African people becoming aware of the concept of freedom and democracy and went into struggle for change in their country, fighting for the withdrawal of the colonial power and for them to end their rule.
Themes of freedom, democracy and fundamental human rights were promoted in the minds of our heroes and heroines. These were also factors that motivated them in pursuing African nationalism and decolonisation and for their country to be part of those who signed the Atlantic Charter which promised “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live.”
An open rebellion against authority was started by people who had the same visions and made fighting for their country’s independence a priority. Being under oppression led them to imperialism and used aggressive methods into gaining their territory back and searching for relief from the grinding poverty that has affected their lives.
Some of our heroes went into exile and all the while the oppressors thought they were breaking their spirit they underestimated the black brotherhood power which existed inside them, that is where the black power salute came to life. The black power salute, a raised fist, it became a symbol of defiance, of strength and of hope. It also served the same purpose in dozens of other struggles for freedom and justice.
Woman were not lazing around either they were up and about trying to fight the oppressors and one of those woman was Ruth First the wife to the late activist Joe Slovo and she was killed in 1982 by a letter bomb that was sent to her office. This to me sends out a message that the colonial power was terrified of woman and their urge for change. There was even a trade union conference in Port Elizabeth in April 1953 and three activists involved in this initiative were Frances Baard (a leader in the food and canning workers union) Ray Alexander (a general secretary) and Florence Matomela the Eastern Cape president of the ANC woman’s league. The aim of this union and the Federation of South African Woman was to bring all women together regardless of race, colour and creed in order to secure equal social, political and economic opportunities for all South African women.
Black women played a key role in the trade union’s opposition to apartheid. They built solidarity amongst black woman and gave them training for political roles. Black woman joined men in illegal strikes of the 1960s and 1970s and played a leading role in organising protests against apartheid. Among these was Cecilia Makiwane.
After many trails, our heroes and heroines hard work paid off for on the 27 of April 1994 South Africa had its independence right on its palms and millions of people both young and old gathered to rejoice for after their struggle they were finally going to taste the sweet nectar of Uhuru for which they had hope in for decades. Black men and women were protagonists against migratory labour and pass laws. No more dom-pass not a single spec of being controlled by Western’s rules. Free, free at last.
We congratulate our great leaders those who have fallen and those who are still in our midst, and we also are grateful to our heroes but most of all our heroines the woman who were at the forefront striving for our freedom and even those who today are still in the political seat trying to maintain the democracy which South Africa still holds. To those great women, I salute. May the legacy of Cecilia Makiwane be etched in the young people’s minds.
My only wish to us as black South Africans is for us to give much deserved recognition to women and not to think of them as armatures but to look up to them and look at them as great feminists who brought our country’s freedom. Long Live the legacy of our Heroes and Heroines Long Live! Long Live indeed.