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In the late 1970s the Nats succeeded in creating barriers between black and coloured. Black townships were no-go areas. Malvory Adams recalls the day he and 14 schoolboys undertook a life-changing journey

By unknown | Jun 14, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

A stone's throw from my hometown Breidbach, King Williams Town, lies Ginsberg, a multicultural hub perched on a hill and home to Black Consciousness pioneer Bantubonke Steven Biko.

It was there that I sat at the feet of this great man. I was 11 years old and a singer in the band The Starlites. We were invited to a Battle-of-the-Bands in the Weir Hall in Ginsberg. After the contest, won by that great Eastern Cape band Drive, all the competing bands were invited to an after-party at a home "just around the corner".

Unbeknown to us, it was the home of the Bikos in Tyamzashe Street. Khaya, Biko's brother, thanked us and the party started. I was a "teeny-bopper" -Afro and all. I retreated to one of the quieter corners of the house.

A tall, strongly-built man with a gap between his front teeth entered the room and smilingly shook everybody's hands. I hadn't the faintest idea who this imposing figure was. I vividly remember that everyone addressed him as Comrade Steve or Bra Steve. I sat alone in a corner, out of the adults' way. He saw me and smiled. "Hello, young man," he said. "Do you want a cool drink?"

I nodded and he handed me a glass of 'Kool-Aid'. In a fatherly manner he invited me to climb on to his lap and asked me how old I was and about school. I was very shy, but he put me at ease. It was only in high school that I realised how fortunate I was to have sat at the feet, so to speak, of the iconic Biko.

That chance meeting set the tone for my future awareness and understanding of the political landscape and struggle. This was further buttressed by two of my friends, Leon Meyer and Cliffie Brown, who died in the struggle to free our country from apartheid.

In most parts of the country the black townships were so-called no-go areas. Going there apparently bordered on stupidity, tempting fate, or even worse, death. The Eastern Cape was no different, though we defied the rules probably more than in other places.

Coloureds and blacks also had a deeper bond and the Immorality Act was easier to defy with marriages (and affairs) across "racial lines". It was more the exception than the rule if you were coloured and did not speak or understand isiXhosa.

In 1978 the year Leon and Cliffie joined the movement, 15 rugby players embarked on a journey "beyond borders" to Mdantsane. We got on a bus - just like the men in a 1996 Spike Lee movie who undertook a cross-country bus trip to the Million Man March in Washington. The only difference: we took a council bus that excluded black commuters.

Rugby players from our school John Bisseker High were invited by Mzomhle High to play a friendly match at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium, the site of many a rugby and boxing battle.

Our school officially declined the invitation, but we decided to go on our own. We loved rugby. We wanted to play. Our teachers and principal berated us and compelled us to sign the dreaded Indemnity Form.

We were an eclectic group of characters - Smak, Man Down, Shorty, Dieta, Fuller, Koch and others. The only mission these fearless young sportsmen had was to play rugby. Our only protection: we were free of prejudice.

Unsurprisingly, it was an incident-free bus trip and some of the guys mingled heartily with the locals, who were a bit bemused by these misplaced amacoloured. When we got off the bus near the stadium, a group applauded us. It was evident that the people of Mdantsane respected the fact that we made such a huge effort to come and play against their school.

Mzomhle's players, however, had other ideas. For some strange reason they were in a belligerent mood and mowed our star players down one by one. Late tackles, stiff-arms and elbows were the order of the day.

Despite this volatile encounter, we shook hands afterwards. In hindsight, maybe, our opponents took out their frustrations on us. Maybe they thought we were better off; that being coloured, we were more fortunate.

If the air on the rugby field was hostile, this was not the case with the local spectators. They embraced us and joined us in singing our team song: ulibize igamalakhe, ubize igamalakhe, Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo! ... Yo ... Yo ... Yo ... Yo.

When we approached the bus terminus, Smak, our prop forward, and Mendoza, our fullback, yelled, Bisseker, Amadoda! The commuters applauded us spontaneously. We were battered and bruised, but we kept our spirits high by singing and dancing.

Back at the school, the we-told-you-so choir was in full voice. Our team resembled an emergency ward and we were the laughing stock of the school. But in our heart of hearts we were proud warriors who broke the shackles of a destructive divide-and-rule system.

We had confounded our critics and proved to the coloured half of East London that Mdantsane was, after all, no more dangerous a place than any coloured township. What was considered foolhardiness by our school was hailed as bravery and bridge-building by the community of Mdantsane.

The journey we undertook and the conversations we had in the bus were life-changing. It is not the words or actions of our teachers, principal or those of the Mzomhle players that helped us find understanding and tolerance. Neither was taking part in a rugby match. It was our interaction with the locals and the commuters that made the difference. We believed that this trek into the unknown sent a message of hope to those who strove for true equality.

And that day, for a fleeting moment, I'm sure a smiling Biko peered through the clouds.


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